‘I Am Loving’: St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s Advice for Daily Life
BOOK PICK: ‘This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey With St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’
THIS PRESENT PARADISE
A Spiritual Journey With St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
Sophia Institute Press, 2021
240 pages, $15.95
To order: Sophia Institute Press
Claire Dwyer’s This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey With St. Elizabeth of the Trinity is a well-written and inspiring examination of late 19th- and early 20th-century Carmelite mystic St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and her journey toward union with God and its significance for both the author’s and the reader’s lives. Through the witness of St. Elizabeth’s great intimacy with God, lived in Christian perfection and deep prayer, Dwyer endeavors to draw the reader along in his pursuit of the same.
The work is arranged thematically and chronologically according to the saint’s life, with reflection questions for the reader (or potentially for a book club or study group) at each chapter’s conclusion.
Elizabeth’s is presented as one voice amongst the choir of saints through quotes and vignettes from her life and writings, as well as those of other spiritual giants (like St. Teresa of Calcutta, Venerable Fulton Sheen, Blessed Solanus Casey, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Edith Stein/St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and others). Dwyer’s text is shaped by Scripture, the Church’s teaching and the saints’ wisdom.
The reader is familiarized with key events from St. Elizabeth’s life, but in associating her own personal experiences and insights with Elizabeth’s life and advice to family and friends, Dwyer succeeds in presenting this saint’s wisdom as profoundly relevant for the spiritual life of today’s reader, lay or religious, particularly all those engaged in the world.
Dwyer recounts that she found in Elizabeth “a Saint who perfectly bridged the divide between Carmel and the kitchen, the chasm separating the cloister and the carpool.”
Before Elizabeth was able to make her entrance into Carmel, she lived three years as a “Carmelite-outside-the-walls.” During this period, her obedience and profound surrender to God’s will in her life’s circumstances prepared Elizabeth as a witness to and teacher of the pursuit of intimacy with God through deep prayer, asceticism, and the practice of virtue lived out in the world.
As Dwyer observes, “Many of us can relate to the experience of having doors close us off from what we genuinely believe to be God’s will. We are ready to rush into careers, parenthood, marriage, moves, mission — our hearts bursting with the desire to serve Him in great ways, and God whispers, ‘Wait.’ ... He also wants our wills. ... This is a greater, interior crucifixion.
“While filling out the postulant’s questionnaire, [Elizabeth] was asked, ‘What name would you like to have in heaven?’ Her answer said it all: Will of God.”
Her surrender, combined with her natural intuition in recognizing other people’s particular needs for fostering their spiritual growth, makes Elizabeth a gifted adviser to those wanting to progress in the spiritual life. In a natural and compelling way Dwyer’s work highlights all of this and assists the reader in entering into a personal dialogue with Elizabeth through her teachings and advice.
“Elizabeth wrote to her sister Guite, who couldn’t make it to Mass on Holy Thursday, the day after her second baby was born: ‘I’ve carried your soul with mine everywhere …’ . [S]ince you could not go to Him, I told Him to come to you.’ ... ‘We will breathe in love and draw it down on souls and on the whole Church.’”
Dwyer uses the reflection questions found in the book to propose examination of: the place of the Eucharist in your life; the opportunities your personal gifts and circumstances afford you to not only grow in holiness by loving more, but also to glorify God and sanctify the world; what God is asking you to surrender more perfectly in order to be conformed to his will; the connection between your name and your life’s mission; the sanctifying and redeeming effects of your own personal sufferings, no matter how small; your experience of prayer; the power of loving silence; and so much more.
I found This Present Paradise an enjoyable read and engaging in a way few books have been since the beginning of the current world situation. The short chapters allow for episodic reading — the kind that happens when the children run outside to play for a few minutes or on the train ride home at the end of the workday, or even in the final minutes of morning prayer time.
The fare is rich enough to carry through the day, applying its practices and remedies to the soul.
Not only was I encouraged, but I was also challenged, and the flame of holy desire was fanned in my heart. Spiritual practices I had taken up under St. Elizabeth’s encouragement upon first meeting her years ago, were brought back to mind and reproposed with new urgency and renewed attraction. By turns I felt I was meeting up with an old friend and then discovering her previously unrecognized talents and gifts.
In fact, longtime spiritual friends of St. Elizabeth will appreciate hearing her in harmony with other saints and with God’s word, so formative in St. Elizabeth’s own spiritual life. Those looking to meet St. Elizabeth will find here a wise friend who understands their needs and desires surprisingly well.
St. Elizabeth stands as a truly prophetic witness to the universal call to holiness that rests as the foundation of contemporary lay spirituality. Together with many saints and theologians, she knew that the mystical life is a normal part of the spiritual life and is a fruit of the Christian life that is offered to all the faithful, as Dwyer explains:
“She became aware there was a cell in her soul ... one where she could hold constant vigil ... she could hide away with [Jesus] even in the midst of the world.”
Dwyer has done a great service to those looking to know St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and draw from her wisdom and witness of a life of holiness. As she writes,
“One day, while Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity was hurrying to complete a task in the convent, one of the older sisters stopped her to ask what she was doing. ‘Oh, my mother,’ she answered, ‘I am loving.’”
Julie Enzler is the translator of Sister Giovanna della Croce's work Elizabeth of the Trinity: A Life of Praise to God, published by Sophia Institute Press. She lives with her husband and five children in the Washington, D.C., area.