St. Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Invincible Fortress of Holy Recollection

            St. Elisabeth of the Trinity has captured my mind and heart since I first read her towards the end of college twenty years ago. If I had to sum up in one line what I find so alluring about her, it would be the phrase she invokes about “the invincible fortress of holy recollection” (Last Retreat, Day 12). Over the years, I have found myself returning to these poignant words over and over again in my own life of prayer and preaching.

            It surely helps our attempts at growing in continual prayer or being focused in explicit times of prayer to recognize the invincible fortress we have within us, in the interior depths where the Blessed Trinity dwells. Laying claim to this interior fortress helps us to recollect our souls in the abyss within, where nothing disturbing our peace can reach us. There are times when we are called to withdraw to be alone like this with our Beloved Three and after being renewed to get a fresh start with life.

            However, my appreciation of the phrase has grown over the years. The “invincible fortress of holy recollection” is ultimately not about a shutting off of ourselves from the world and our difficulties. It is rather that the invincible fortress of holy recollection is also an invincible fortress of truth, God’s truth. It is the place of grasping anew by faith the truth of God and ourselves. It is a reawakening to the reality of God and who we are in God’s eyes because of His work of salvation in Christ. The invincible fortress within is a graced space since it is the dwelling place of the Triune God loving and saving us in the present moment.

            Some phrases from the paragraph surrounding Elisabeth’s use of “the invincible fortress of holy recollection” show what a graced space it is. “This is Christ’s work in every soul of good will and it is the work that His immense love, His ‘exceeding love,’ is eager to do in me.” “He wants to be my peace so that nothing can distract me.” “It is there that He will give me ‘access to the Father’.” “It is by the Blood of His Cross that He will make peace in my little heaven [my soul].” “He will fill me with Himself.” “He will make me live again with Him, by His life.” “And if I fall at every moment, in a wholly confident faith I will be helped up by Him.” This is “the invincible fortress of holy recollection” where Elisabeth calls us to dwell and we find it to be a place suffused with the presence and grace of the Triune God and His saving work now (Last Retreat, Day 12).

            The invincible fortress of holy recollection enables us to face reality in all its difficulty and fearsomeness. Seeing everything in light of God’s presence and love, we can go forth to face what seemed so dreadful, but now as an adventure. God is allowing this for our good and walks with us in facing reality in all its unpredictability and challenges as we press on in faith, hope, and love, unto a good beyond all our imagining (cf. Eph 3:20).

            In college, when there was so much uncertainty about my future, my vocation, my self-understanding, and my place in the world, Elisabeth’s words began to draw me into this invincible fortress of holy recollection. Over the years, I have come to experience just how invincible a place it is because it is where the Lord is, who says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

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Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP is an adjunct professor, formator, and spiritual director at St. Joseph’s seminary in New York City, the Provincial Promoter of the Lay Dominicans, and an instructor for the Avila Institute. August 8-11, he is leading a Contemplative Symposium on St. Elisabeth of the Trinity at St. Joseph’s seminary. For more information and to register, click here.

Image: Unsplash

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