Sunday, January 11, 2015

Catechism: Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD, Meets the Saw Doctors

I love the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) for some of the reasons I love Pandora, the internet music-streaming service. You just never know who you’re going to hear.

The Catechism is a direct experience of the communion of the saints: all those voices, all that heavenly music. Tune into a chapter on any subject and you may hear St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, or a chorus sung by the Second Vatican Council.

Likewise Pandora. I enjoy what you might call Celtic folk rock: traditional tunes from Ireland and Scotland played with electric instruments, often with a helping of punk. If you start a Pandora station with the Irish band The Saw Doctors, as I have done, you’ll end up hearing songs not only by other Irish bands like The Pogues but also from Scotland (Runrig), Brittany (Tri Yann), Newfoundland (Great Big Sea), and even the USA (Flogging Molly and Boston’s own Dropkick Murphys). Except for the Dropkicks, I didn’t know any of these bands before starting the station.

Just as I didn’t know Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity until I reopened the CCC this afternoon. A French Carmelite nun, Blessed Elizabeth was a sort of Little Flower Junior, who died at the age of twenty-six in 1906, nine years after Thérèse of Lisieux.

Here’s how I met Blessed Elizabeth:

For nearly two weeks I had been beating my head against the Holy Trinity, re-reading sections of the CCC on “The Revelation of God as Trinity” and “The Holy Trinity in the Teaching of the Faith” (paragraphs 238–260). I told a friend I was having trouble understanding the Trinity and she told me to read St. Bonaventure. I tried that and did more damage to my head. As I discovered, St. B is a serious philosopher, and I have always been intimidated by philosophy, like theology.

I’d rather walk a day with St. Francis than listen to St. Dominic for an hour. That’s just me.

Not knowing where to turn, I went back to the CCC again this afternoon and heard some new, surprising music. At the very end of the Holy Trinity section, right after the line about “the ultimate end of the whole divine economy,” i.e., just as I was nodding off, I saw a prayer, at the end of the last paragraph, 260.

Glancing down at the footnote, I saw that it was a prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (part of her prayer actually). It goes like this:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.

That prayer warmed my heart instantly. I spent much of the evening reading about Blessed Elizabeth on line. Here’s a link to a lovely 8-minute You Tube bio. Here’s an appreciation by a Carmelite father.

At the end of the day, I understood something a bit more about the Trinity. I saw that it can be experienced rather than merely thought about. The Trinity may be something you can live without having to lecture on.

Blessed Elizabeth had a personal experience of the Trinity in her own heart, beginning on the day of her first communion at age eleven. Much like Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection another Carmelite who predated her by two hundred years, Blessed Elizabeth “practiced the presence of God.”

She didn’t give lectures on the Trinity. She lived it.

And so she had an experience not exactly like but possibly analogous to what the Saw Doctors are singing about here, in one of their very best songs.

Blessed Elizabeth knew how she felt about You.

I was dumb, I was wrong, I let you down. 
But I know how I feel about you now . . .

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