Part 28 of This Present Paradise
A Series of Reflections on St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
(Start with part 1 here.)
My heart plummeted to my feet. As I had emptied the car of groceries that steamy summer day, there was one thing that I could not carry in because it was not where it should have been. My purse was no where in sight.
The shopping cart.
I must have left it in the cart when I loaded the bags, I thought miserably. I flew back to store, berating myself the entire way, spilling tears over the steering wheel. It’s just like me—I am so forgetful! I lose everything!
I pulled into the parking lot, noticing immediately that there were no carts left where I had been parked. NO! I dashed into the store. As soon as I reached the service desk, I choked out my story and the clerk reached under the counter and pulled out—my purse. Someone had brought it in, totally intact.
I dissolved in tears again, this time in gratitude for an unnamed stranger, kind and honest and a sign of God’s protection of me that day.
Another time, I ‘lost’ my cell phone at a work conference, running around the convention center, begging security guards to let me into the closed auditorium to scour the aisles. After a long back-and-forth over walkie-talkies, they reluctantly agreed to escort me into the vast darkness, shining flashlights under rows of seats until I had to admit defeat. I dejectedly returned to my hotel room—and found the phone in my bag.
My husband is used to me doubling back home to grab a forgotten list or phone or being late for an appointment because I misplaced my keys. I never buy expensive sunglasses because I have to replace them so often. I can’t for the life of me remember birthdays or phone numbers. I have to heat up my coffee five times a day because I carry it around the house and promptly lose it on a bookshelf or a washing machine. It’s frustrating! But, it’s me.
It was also St. Elizabeth of the Trinity.
Given the job of second (assistant) portress she was in charge of communicating with the extern sisters, Carmelites from their order who had access to the outside world. When these sisters needed something from the enclosed convent, they would find Elizabeth ready at the ‘turn’ to help secure an item or deliver a message. She was ready, she was willing—but she was also forgetful. Her superiors were exasperated. “Elizabeth was often so recollected that this made her forgetful in material things. This led her to cause great inconvenience, for she was always losing the keys—of the turn, the enclosure, and even the enclosure door! She would conscientiously take down a message—only to forget the name of the sister to whom she was supposed to give it!” (Joanne Mosely, Elizabeth of the Trinity, The Unfolding of Her Message)
I suppose she was daydreaming about Jesus. A little too much Mary when it was time to be Martha, maybe? (I wonder if she had a devotion to St. Anthony, invoked by countless Catholics when things go missing.) But what is refreshing is that her absent-mindedness makes her that much more human. Which I think is what we need our saints to be sometimes. We need heroic virtue, we need inspiring stories. Every now and then we love to hear about a heavenly vision, an astonishing miracle, a little bit of levitating. But once in a while, when our own humanity hits us over the head, we find comfort in knowing that saints were people, too. And it can help us to not admit defeat.
I asked my friends, What saints can you identify with? It didn’t take long to hear back: Pope St. John Paul II was often late (distracted by the Eucharist, apparently!), St. Thérèse fell asleep at prayer, her mother St. Zélie Martin stressed about being a working mom, Fr. Solanus Casey had a squeaky voice and little talent for the violin he insisted on playing (to the dismay of his fellow friars). Clumsy saints, impulsive saints, doubtful saints, saints who wouldn’t be saints until they mastered their addictions and surrendered their fragmented lives to God.
Saints who say to us: I am one of you.
And so, suffice it to say, St. Elizabeth endeared herself to me in her own forgetfulness. It doesn’t excuse it so much as it suggests that there’s hope for me, for all of us imperfect humans.
At the same time that she was losing the keys, gloriously, she had ‘found’ something that she had lost for over a year: the consolation of God.
January 11, 1903—Epiphany Sunday—she had professed her final vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience to her superiors and the Rule of the Carmelites. Right up until that day, and even as she made her vows and laid prostrate before the altar, she was still much in a state of darkness.
Immediately afterward, however, the night suddenly lightened into a long-awaited dawn, breaking radiantly across her spirit like a sudden sunrise spilling open the day.
She would not experience the same flood of consolations she had before, but there was peace in her soul, a soul matured by immense interior suffering. She was now tasting a more subtle sweetness—the sweetness of a deep, quiet faith. And that was one thing that would never be lost in her life again.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.