This Present Paradise
A Series of Reflections on St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
(Start with part 1 here.)
The week Elizabeth entered the convent in August of 1901, she was handed a questionnaire. Whenever time allowed in those early, busy days, she would jot down her replies to questions about her most-loved saints (St. Teresa of Avila and John, the beloved disciple), virtue (purity), and favorite part of the rule (silence). She shared what name she’d like to have in heaven (The will of God, she said—more on that here) and her own motto: God in me, I in Him, she wrote.
God in me, I in Him. A small glimpse into the interplay between the soul and her Beloved, moving and living. A relationship, deep and dynamic. Six simple words, summarizing her spirituality. In a sense, everything she would write and say and do over the next five years would develop from this one idea. “God in me, I in Him,” she wrote in a letter to Canon Angles before her entrance. “Oh! That is my life!” (letter 62)
This is an ancient tradition in the Church-saints, bishops, and religious orders have long taken mottos to guide their spiritualities, decisions, and actions.
- The Discalced Carmelite order has their own motto: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord; God of hosts”—the words of the prophet Elijah before the Lord God spoke to him in a still, small voice.
- The Jesuits have a famous one: “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam” which translates “For the greater glory of God,” and even now, in that tradition, my little first-grader marks the top of his school papers with a scrawling “AMDG.”
- The Franciscans live by the words: “Pax et bonum”—“Peace and the good.”
- The Dominicans motto, encircling their coat of arms, reads, “audare, benedicere, praedicare”—to praise, to bless, to preach.
- Members of my religious community of Apostoli Viae take “Unum est Necessarium” to heart, the words of Jesus directed to the busy Martha as Mary sat at his feet: “One thing,” he said, “is necessary.”
- Bishop Thomas Olmsted, the shepherd of my diocese of Phoenix, has taken the motto “Jesus Caritas” or, “Love of Jesus,” which he personifies every day.
- Pope St. John Paul II’s was simple but famous: “Totus Tuus,” or “Totally yours,” referring to his total entrustment to Our Lady.
I’ve always loved the idea of a personal motto, and I had thought about mine for years, mulling it over and wondering if there was a verse or a word that could sum up my heart and my calling—and one night it came to me, just like that. I sat up in bed, bleary-eyed, and scribbled it down. It was a direct download from the Holy Spirit.
The words were these: Respect Life, Reveal Truth, Radiate Love.
A three-fold mission blazoned on my heart that night and would become my motto, so to speak. A commission, revealing itself more and more each day, and a compass, too—by which I can set a course or check my trajectory. When I have to make a choice about an action or an opportunity or a direction, big or small, I hold it up to those few words. How well do they align?
For St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, “God in me, I in Him,” would take on layer-upon-layer of meaning as she came to understand how true it was: in her prayer, in her experiences, in her long, dark nights and unifying sufferings. She would go to great lengths explaining it to her loved ones in letters so rich in a lived theology we still are learning from them today.
Have you ever thought about crafting a simple sentence that could sum up your calling? Even if it is just for a particular season—something to help keep you single-hearted, clear, and deliberate in how you live and love and pray. Maybe it is a verse or phrase from the Bible. It could be pulled from a quote of a patron saint or represent a cause you’ve been called to. You’ll have to sit with it a while, and often, I think, the answer comes when you are least expecting it.
But the question itself is like an invitation to God to speak a few syllables of deep meaning over your life, to reveal something about you: when He knit you together, He wove some words in your soul—echoes of the one, eternal Word.
Whether or not you hold an office or a title or can claim a religious community, you have a purpose and were created with a call. You carry a particular part of the Gospel into the world. Claim it, invite God into it. And consider, what is your motto?
Read part 22 here.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.