Helen Copeland reviews the latest book on the life of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard.
[New City Magazine – October 2016]
The first challenge of reading a book of retreats and prayers is to find some quiet time to devote to it! Within Elizabeth Ruth Obbard’s beautiful little book ‘The Music of Silence’, there is, however, plenty of help for the soul seeking contemplation. This combination of biography and spiritual writings is presented, as with the other books in the series, with a light touch that makes it highly accessible.
Elizabeth Catez, later known as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, lived in Dijon around the turn of the twentieth Century. Her life and work were physically limited, but the intensity of her few years burns brightly. She experienced suffering at an early age, seeing her father die in her arms when she was only seven years old. Her small loving family grew closer, with Elizabeth and her sister benefitting from the experiences of travel, education, and the nurturing of her musical gifts.
While still a teenager, Elizabeth felt the strong call to enter the nearby Carmelite convent, and ‘give her Master love for love’. Her mother forbade her entry until the age of twenty-one, so Elizabeth set about living her life with the same spiritual intensity that she would have lived in the cloister.
The young Frenchwoman passed through many months of spiritual darkness, yet her writings continually encourage the gaze towards God and the joy of being in his presence. One of the ‘retreats’ adapted by Elizabeth Obbard for this book, is the one written for Blessed Elizabeth’s sister, who was a busy wife and mother. The short reflections on passages of scripture are written with all the passion of a woman in love, wishing to share her joy with everyone. It also expresses the radical (for the time) idea that those outside the religious life are also called to holiness.
Not long after her entry into Carmel, Elizabeth began to suffer the physical trials of Addison’s disease. It exhausted her, caused intense pain and eventually led to her not being able to eat or digest food. The young nun began her final journey by writing another retreat, no less uplifting, but with a tone of deeper resonance. Expressing the poetry and innate musicality that she had had to renounce on entering the convent, she makes her way to her long awaited meeting with God.
Blessed Elizabeth said her mission would be to help others go out of themselves, to cling to God in silence, allowing him to transform them into the image of Christ the Son. Her love for the Trinity perhaps helps to explain the gift she offers us: the relationships within the Trinity are outward looking, relationships of love, while remaining in the highest contemplation of the Divine.
Although her story could lapse into melodramatic stereotype – the ailing young nun yearning for the next life – Elizabeth herself is rooted in ‘my heaven here on earth’, encouraging us to love our neighbour as a natural consequence of silent conversation with God. It would be worthwhile finding some time to spend with Elizabeth, and to listen to her own very special music.