Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity - "I Am not Hungry, Jesus Has Fed Me"
Continued from page 1 (Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity - Biographical Sketch)
"I Am not Hungry, Jesus Has Fed Me"
Sixteen months separated her from that day. Elizabeth fervently applied herself to the catechism lessons, which, however, did not prevent her from being sentenced one day by the vicar to kneel with a little friend in the middle of the walk.
What took place in her heart on that April 19, 1891? During Mass and thanksgiving tears of joy flowed down her cheeks. As she left Saint-Michel’s she said to Marie-Louise Hallo: “I am not hungry; Jesus has fed me. . . .”
We can guess the intensity of the first encounter with the Body of Christ from a poem of her youth (P 47) written on the seventh anniversary of this communion—one of those poems written only for herself in Jesus’ presence as part of her intimate diary.2 On the evening of her first communion, in her beautiful white dress, she went to visit the Mother Prioress of Carmel. Marie of Jesus explained to her the significance of her Hebrew name: Elizabeth, that is, the “House of God.” The little girl was, and remained, profoundly impressed by it. That morning she had felt so strongly that God dwelt within her!
On June 8, 1891, she was confirmed in the Church of Notre Dame.
Witnesses unanimously emphasize her very noticeable progress in making a gift of herself after her first communion. Gift to whom? To Jesus: she understood the love that he shows us in his suffering and death, in his eucharistic presence among men. Jesus animated her in her inmost depths. Often, when she received communion, tears of joy covered her face. With all her energy she learned to forget herself for Jesus, for others. Her fits of anger were lived through and conquered within. She felt won over by Jesus. She loved to pray.
Around the age of thirteen, her confessor helped her to get through a painful phase of scruples. The catechesis of that time surrounded the approach to God with meticulous prescriptions; the danger of sin threatened on all sides and the just Judge did not overlook anything!
At fourteen, one day after having received the Body of Christ, Sabeth Catez felt irresistibly impelled to consecrate her whole life to him and to make a vow of perpetual virginity. A little later, the project of the religious life which she had nourished since she was seven took shape in this word which was spoken to her interiorly: “Carmel.”
But let us not consider only the interior physiognomy of her whom Canon Angles, a close family friend, remembers as “always at the head of the group.” The young girl of fourteen will herself complete her image in a composition exercise that Mlle. Forey, her new teacher, gave her:
To draw one’s physical and moral portrait is a delicate subject to deal with, but taking my courage in both hands I set to work and begin!
Without pride I think I can say that my overall appearance is not displeasing. I am a brunette and, they say, rather tall for my age. I have sparkling black eyes and my thick eyebrows give me a severe look. The rest of my person is insignificant. My “dainty” feet could win for me the nickname of Elizabeth of the Big Feet, like Queen Bertha! And there you have my physical portrait!
As for my moral portrait, I would say that I have a rather good character. I am cheerful and, I must confess, somewhat scatterbrained. I have a good heart. I am by nature a coquette. “One should be a little!” they say. I am not lazy: I know “work makes us happy.” Without being a model of patience, I usually know how to control myself. I do not hold grudges. So much for my moral portrait. I have my defects and, alas, few good qualities! I hope to acquire them!
Well, at last this tedious task is finished and am I glad!3
There are, however, two big lacunae in this charming exercise without complexes. First of all, not a word about her musical talent. She had already won her first prize at piano when she was thirteen; she participated in the concerts the Conservatory organized in town, which were reported in the papers.Le Progrès de la Côte-d’Or, for example, wrote on August 8, 1893:
Mlle. Catez, first prize at the piano, of M. Diétrich’s class, received unanimous applause after the Capriccio Brillant of Mendelssohn. It was a pleasure to see this young child scarcely thirteen years old come to the piano; she is already a distinguished pianist with an excellent touch, a beautiful tone, and a real musical feeling. A debut like this permits us to base great hopes on this child.
In Letter 7 Elizabeth relates with dignity how the Prize of Excellence was unjustly taken away from her in 1894.
A second and greater lacuna: not a word about what is the flame of this life, the soul of her soul—her love for Jesus. If, obviously, she cannot speak of it in a homework exercise, she will do so freely in the intimate journal of her poems, as in the following few verses that are almost contemporary with the exercise just cited:
Jesus, my soul desires You,
I want to be your bride soon.
With You I want to suffer—
And to find You, die. (P 4)
“For My Heart is Always with Him”
A mysterious Presence already accompanied her. Few of those close to her realized that her rich vitality was orientated towards another Life: within, without, beyond. A nostalgia for Jesus, for Carmel, for Heaven, filled this young girl of fifteen and sixteen. Then, at seventeen, she discovered the earthly perspectives that this love implied; she accepted her concrete situation and all that caused suffering to her young heart, already animated by a very contemplative desire for oblation, as witnesses, for example, Poem 43.
After her first prize in piano, it would have been necessary for her to go to the Conservatory of Paris to perfect her art. But she took two more years of harmony at the Conservatory of Dijon. Private lessons of general education were intensified, but too late, alas, to bear their fruits. We do not know their frequency, but music continued to take most of her time. At eighteen Elizabeth also studied English, and at this time she found a real enjoyment in sewing lessons as she loved beautiful clothes.
As a daughter of an officer and wife of one, used to moving, Mme. Catez loved to travel. From the age of eight at least, Elizabeth, with her mother and sister, took long trips during the summer vacations. They often went South, where Mme. Catez had spent her youth; there were prolonged sojourns in Saint Hilaire, where the Abbé Angles had been curate for some fifteen years, and at Carlipa, where the Rolland aunts lived. Four times at least the Catez spent their vacations in Lorraine, the Jura, and the Vosges.
In her letters (for example to Alice Chervau, Marie-Louise Maurel, and Françoise de Sourdon), Elizabeth spoke of her enthusiasm for the beauty of nature, the mountains and the sea; she expressed her joy at seeing her friends, at playing tennis and croquet, of joining in musical sessions. Everywhere she was loved. A person who was with her only a few days summed up her memories sixty years later: “Very lively, endowed with great charm, she enthusiastically shared in the diversions of our age . . . Elizabeth was too attractive for one to forget her.”
But there were not only girl friends, there were also young men. The Souvenirs is deliberately vague on this subject: “. . . her charming appearance aroused many hopes around her. . . .”
“Without Making a Face”
Here we invite the reader to read in Volume III our introduction to the Diary which she wrote at the age of eighteen and nineteen; it is, so to speak, part of this biographical sketch.
Let us simply recall that March 26, during the great mission preached in Dijon, Mme. Catez finally consented to her daughter’s entrance into Carmel—but not for two years. Five days later, “full of excitement,” Mme. Catez came to speak to her of a “superb match,” even though that day was Good Friday. Sabeth reaffirmed her total adherence to Jesus (D 124 and P 69 on the same day).
From her Diary we can infer that the young girl, without ever having made a vow of obedience like her neighbors, the Carmelites, had many occasions to practice it. But soon Mme. Catez lifted her former ban on speaking with the Sisters (the Externs and the Prioress) of Carmel. Elizabeth asked for admission in June 1899. Nevertheless, earlier, faced with her mother’s opposition and, above all, the question of conscience that her mother’s ill health raised, Elizabeth had completely agreed to fulfill the concrete will of the Lord, even if it went contrary to her own plans for the monastic life. In her hope she lived in total abandonment, throwing herself “without making a face” (the expression is her confessor’s) into her situation as a young layperson in the world.
So she continued to travel and meet her friends in Dijon and elsewhere. She dressed elegantly and her hairstyles were impeccable. She was noticed in the circle of military families and at the dances where one met many people; Mgr. Brunhes, future Bishop of Montpellier, boasted of having danced with her in his youth. And the more perceptive men said to themselves: “She is not for us; look at her expression.”
Sabeth radiated his Love. During a dancing party one evening, a lady suddenly said to her: “Elizabeth, you see God.” Her whole being was orientated towards him. When Charles Hallo, Marie-Louise’s brother, complimented her on her talents, she answered teasingly: “Charles, you annoy me!”
Her passion was Jesus, to “share” his joys and his griefs, to be near him and to give him absolutely everything. As she did not yet live in his presence in Carmel, she, like Catherine of Siena interiorized her “cell”:
May my life be a continual prayer, a long act of love. May nothing distract me from You, neither noise nor diversions. O my Master, I would so love to live with You in silence. But what I love above all is to do Your will, and since You want me to still remain in the world, I submit with all my heart for love of You. I offer You the cell of my heart; may it be Your little Bethany. Come rest there, I love You so. . . . I would like to console You, and I offer myself to You as a victim, O my Master, for You, with You. (PN 5)
The word “victim” used here is owed to Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1899 one of the first conquests of The Story of a Soul was Elizabeth: Thérèse helped her to rid herself of all that still remained of Jansenism in her image of God. But above all, it was the mystical experience of divine love that often inundated her heart which was the best antidote for her fears. Already, before her entrance into Carmel, Elizabeth had given God this title which would remain very dear to her: the God “Who is All Love.”
Elizabeth of the Trinity
In her heart the young girl dreamed of taking the name of Elizabeth of Jesus in Carmel. Not without sacrifice did she accept Elizabeth of the Trinity which the Prioress proposed to her in memory of a Carmelite of Beaune.
July 1, 1900, we find this name for the first time in Letter 28 which she addressed to another aspirant to Carmel, Marguerite Gollot. Shortly before, Elizabeth had met for the first time Père Vallée, Prior of the Dominicans of Dijon, a highly esteemed preacher in Carmel. The long conversation with this Father, whom she saw again several times before her entrance, intensely encouraged her to believe in the God “Who is all Love” who dwelt in her, a presence she had felt so strongly. The priest gave her wings to continue her rapid course. Not that he had revealed to her the reality of the indwelling of God in her soul for she was already living that. But she was surely enriched by what P. Vallée told her of the love that, not only Jesus, but God—Father, Word, and Holy Spirit—bore for her. How she must have drunk in these words; she who had written two years before on the day of Pentecost, 1898, in speaking of the Holy Spirit whom she “invoked each day” and from whom she awaited the fulfillment of all her desires:
Holy Spirit, Goodness, Supreme Beauty!
O You Whom I adore, O You Whom I love!
Consume with Your divine flames
This body and this heart and this soul!
This spouse of the Trinity
Who desires only Your will! (P 54)
During the summer of 1900, this “spouse of the Trinity” said her last goodbye to the world in the course of a three-month trip. One last time the meetings and parties began again in Dijon, but also the apostolate to which she gave herself in the parishes of Saint-Michel and Saint-Pierre: the youth club for the children of the workers at the tobacco factory, catechism for the children who were preparing for their first communion, visits to their parents and to the sick, choir rehearsals.
Time passed quickly; her twenty-first birthday and her entrance into Carmel drew near. Elizabeth went through a period of aridity in her search for God. She suffered. And even more than that, she “suffered from making others suffer” (L 67): her mother and sister counted the days they had left with their Sabeth. “My poor darlings whom I am crucifying,” she groaned (L 71). Later, Canon Angles would call to mind the “two loves” which, like a horizontal and vertical beam, formed a cross in Elizabeth’s heart: “Love of God and love for her mother whom she cherished passionately.” But the daughter of the officer did not retreat before the greatest sacrifices if it was to respond to the highest Love.
Marie of Jesus knew the value of her young postulant, and she decided to take her with her to the foundation of Paray-le-Monial. Elizabeth’s trunks were already there when, at the last moment, they consented to leave her in the Carmel of Dijon out of consideration for Mme. Catez.
Those were heart-rending hours, that last evening, that last night together.
But August 2, 1901, also brought to Elizabeth the profound peace of at last being able to say yes to Jesus who wanted her in Carmel. That very morning she wrote again to Canon Angles: “We are going to receive communion at the eight o’clock Mass, and after that, when He is in my heart, mama will lead me to the enclosure door!”
When He is in my heart. . . . She ended, “I feel that I am wholly His, that I am keeping back nothing. I throw myself into His arms like a little child” (L 81).
Before leaving forever the house on Rue Prieur-de-la-Côte-d’Or, she knelt before the portrait of her father and asked him for a last blessing.