The Discalced Carmelites in Clarendon Street have been serving the people of Dublin for over two centuries.

Today as in the past St. Teresa’s continues to be a quiet oasis of prayer, administered by a community of brothers and priests who live a life of prayer, contemplation and pastoral ministry. We are most grateful for the support of so many people who visit the Church every day.

Their faith in and need for prayer, Masses, Sacrament of Reconciliation, coupled with our availability to their needs and claims on us, have always issued in their support for our way of life. The deep faith of the people of Dublin, their love for prayer, their appreciation for our accompanying them with our prayers, compassion, friendship, liturgy, spiritual direction, occasional lecture and sharing has built up a close bond between our community and the people we serve.  

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St Elizabeth of the Trinity
 
 
Fr Eugene McCaffrey who has written a no. of books on Bl Elizabeth - all available in our bookshop.
New book - 'From Grace to Glory' by Sr Patrice of Tallow Carmel to be published soon!
St Elizabeth of the Trinity - Retreat day at Avila Carmelite Centre - 3rd Dec
 
 

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Just inside door off Johnson's Court.  Come browse our extensive collection of carmelite writings. 
 
 

 

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I remember once I was giving a talk on Elizabeth of the Trinity in our Retreat Centre in Preston when three ladies arrived at the last minute having come all the way from Manchester. I presumed they had a special devotion to Elizabeth and were already very familiar with her life and teaching. Afterwards I spoke to them: they told me they knew absolutely nothing about her but had seen her photograph on a poster in the parish church and said to themselves, ‘That’s a face that speaks about God, we must find out more about her.’  

I imagine many of you this morning may be in the same position as the ladies from Manchester.  And so I invite you to look at the photographs here on the altar this morning, to look into the face of Elizabeth and let her speak to you; her words are more important than anything I will say.

I’m not going to try to cover all the details of her life but I think it’s important to have a few dates just to place her in some historical context.

She was born Elizabeth Catez in 1880 and lived for the first twenty-one years of her life within the confines of her own family until she entered the Carmelite convent in Dijon where she died of Addison’s disease five years later at the age twenty-six.  

During her life she was unknown to the world at large, highly conditioned by her French cultural background, hidden away for last five years of her life practically unrecognised even within her own community. Yet today she is seen as one of the great spiritual writers of twentieth century and her influence is increasing and expanding all the time, and this morning, even as I speak, thousands have gathered in Rome for her canonisation.

Elizabeth was not a born saint and we do her no favours if we think of her as some kind of spiritual icon. If anything she was a born rebel; she had, as we say in Ireland, ‘a fierce temper’, and sometimes boiled with rage and fury, so much so that her mother threatened to pack her off to a ‘house of correction’ for unruly children! But she gradually learned to overcome her ‘tears of rage’ and soon blossomed into a bright, intelligent, lively girl who made friends easily, loved music, dancing and was very fond of hiking and travel.   

Elizabeth was a gifted pianist; she often spent four or five hours a day practising at the piano and at an early age began to play at public concerts. She won many prizes for her piano-playing, including first prize in the Dijon Conservatory of Music when she just thirteen. She obviously had a great future ahead of her if she wished to pursue it. But Elizabeth had other thoughts:  already she was tuning into a different voice and a deeper kind of music.

From an early age Elizabeth felt a personal call to prayer and become more and more aware of God’s presence in her life. When she was nine years old she made her First Communion and was given a picture card which explained to her the meaning of her name: Elizabeth ‘house of God’. A small gesture indeed yet one that had a profound effect on her. From that moment she was determined to make that house a ‘home’, a place where God would be welcomed, honoured and loved, where she would always try to be attentive and aware of his presence, a presence that, she gradually realised, was nothing less than the indwelling presence of the Trinity.    

From the age of fourteen Elizabeth wanted to become a Carmelite but her mother strenuously opposed the idea and even forbade her to visit the convent. Though disappointed she accepted the decision and waited another seven years before her mother relented and she was able to fulfil her dream.

Her five years in Carmel were indistinguishable from that of the other sisters, apart from the unseen workings of grace and the action of the Spirit in her heart. In 1904, she composed her beautiful Prayer to the Trinity, one the best-known and best-loved prayers of contemporary spirituality, which has even made its way into the Church’s Catechism.   In spring of 1906 she was diagnosed with Addison’s disease and began a long nine-month descent into suffering, her frail body ravaged with pain and exhaustion, her spirit plunged into darkness and turmoil, and her life distilled drop by drop, sharing, as she had longed to do, in the passion of the one who loved her even to the folly of the cross.

 

Such, in broad outline, is the life of St Elizabeth of the Trinity. But what we may ask is her message and the significance of her life? Has she any relevance for us today, living in the postmodern world of twentieth-first century? 

Elizabeth was born in one century and died in another. Yet in some ways she belongs to neither. Like every saint, she transcends time: she belongs to every age and her message is universal.  Saints do not grow old; they are never just figures of the past; they speak to every age and witness to the world to come.  Elizabeth is no exception. 

It has been said that her message is not always be easy to grasp – if so, it is not because it is difficult but because it is so utterly simple.  Elizabeth is a simplifier, just as Jesus was. Simplicity must be intuited whole, it cannot be taken piecemeal.  The contemplative gaze sees things in their fullness. It offers a vision of the greater reality and of the essential truths that give meaning and purpose to our lives.   Elizabeth’s spirituality, like the musical compositions she played so well, revolves around one major theme: her passionate love for and her joyful surrender to, the Triune God hidden in her soul: ‘God in me and I in Him’, she exclaimed, even before she entered the convent, ‘that is my life.’

 Elizabeth saw all life flowing from and returning to God. For her the Trinity was not a ‘mystery’, a dry dogmatic statement but a truth to be lived and shared, a free gift, a loving presence that we receive at baptism. For her, God was a Lover, a Friend and a Companion.

John Paul II said of her that she speaks ‘with a prophetic force’ and that she is ‘a brilliant witness to the joy of being rooted and grounded in love’. She reminds us of the greatest truth of all: the reality of God and the centrality of love.  One of the last words Elizabeth spoke to her sisters was, ‘Everything passes... in the evening of life love alone remains’.

During the week there was is a large gathering here in Dublin, focusing mostly on the development and wellbeing of young people. It was called Zeminar because, in case you don’t know, we now live in what’s called generation Z!  In a world of ever increasing noise and activity Zeminar acknowledges the stress, anxiety, tension, cyber bullying and the increasing risk of suicide under which so many of us – young and not so young – live out of our fragile lives. Many contemporary movements and concepts were explored: meditation, mindfulness, awareness, the power of the now – all very worthwhile ideas and helpful supports as we try to hold a balance and cope with the pressure and confusions of the world about us.  

Yet, there are other voices we should not ignore: the saints and spiritual guides of every age that carry a wisdom and a sacred tradition as old as time. The   reality is we live in a world where God seems so often to be absent or ignored, a world, in fact, where God is not only missing but not even missed. And then the God of surprises, who so often writes straight with crooked lines, sends us someone like Elizabeth, someone who speaks from her own experience, reminding us that God is eminently present in the world, and his love is real, personal and intimate, despite all appearances. 

We carry within ourselves a rich treasure that cannot be accessed through iPad, Face book or Twitter or from the vast overload of social media that surrounds us. We need to stop and listen. We need silence, we need stillness, time to stand back and open ourselves to the still small voice of the Spirit within. Success isn’t about being rich or famous, but about finding meaning, peace and a sense of who I really am. Peace of heart, true peace is the one thing that can never be counterfeited. It comes from within. And what lies within is much more important and precious than what lies without.

To our disconnected, lonely world, desperately seeking love and friendship, Elizabeth invites us to discover the companionship of God, a God who dwells within each human heart and loves each of us with what she called ‘an exceeding great love’. We carry within ourselves a little heaven where the God of love has fixed his home: ‘I have found my heaven on earth’ she tells us, ‘since heaven is God and God is in my soul’.

Her message is clear and simple, as simple as the Gospel itself: believe in love, a love that is a free gift of the Beloved, given before the world was made. Shortly before she died Elizabeth wrote a short farewell letter to her Prioress. ‘If you only knew’, she said, ‘how much he loves you and how every passing moment he wants to give himself to you’. Six times in that brief letter she repeats the same phrase ‘Let yourself be loved’. I feel she is saying the same thing to us this morning.

Elizabeth was a contemporary of Thérèse of Lisieux, ‘Sisters in the Spirit’, they have been called. Shortly after Elizabeth entered the convent in Dijon they sent a photograph of the community to Lisieux. The Prioress added a few lines: ‘you’ll notice, she said, we have a new novice; her name is Elizabeth of the Trinity. I have no doubt that she is a saint’.

Today that prophecy has been fulfilled. The child with fire in her eyes, the virtuoso pianist with rhythm in her head, the teenager who lived life to the full, the lay contemplative at ease in a world of travel, parties and dance, the nun wrapped in silence, the lover of Christ pouring out her life for the Church and the world, now belongs to all of us – a sure and trusted guide and perhaps, most of all, a friend, a friend who whispers to each of us today: God is love: He loves you today as He loved you yesterday and will love you tomorrow. Receive the free gift of his love: Let yourself be loved.

St Teresa of Avila

Saint Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515. She died in Alba, October 4, 1582. Her family were originally Jewish and became conversos, and have been traced to Toledo and Olmedo. Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a son of a Toledan merchant, Juan Sanchez de Toledo and Ines de Cepeda, originally from Tordesillas. Juan transferred his business to Avila, where he succeeded in having his children marry into families of the nobility. In 1505 Alonso married Catalina del Peso, who bore him two children and died in 1507. Two years later Alonso married the 15-year-old Beatriz de Ahumada of whom Teresa was born.  Of her parents she wrote the following:

'The care my mother took to have us pray and be devoted to our Lady and to some of the saints began to awaken me ... to the practice of virtue.'

'It was a help to me to see that my parents favoured nothing but virtue.  And they themselves possessed many.'

Early Life

Teresa was the "most beloved of them all." She was of medium height, large rather than small, and generally well proportioned. In her youth she had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years.  Her personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances. She was skillful in the use of the pen, in needlework, and in

household duties. Her courage and enthusiasm were readily kindled, an early example of which trait occurred when at the age of 7 she left home with her brother Rodrigo with the intention of going to Moorish territory to be beheaded for Christ, but they were frustrated by their uncle, who met the children as they were leaving the city and brought them home.

At about 12 the fervor of her piety waned somewhat. She began to take an interest in the development of her natural attractions and in books of chivalry, a bad habit she picked up from her otherwise devout mother.  Like a typical teenager of now, boys, clothes and idle gossip became her mainstay.

'I began to dress in finery and to desire to please and look pretty, taking great care of my hands and hair and about perfumes and all the empty things in which one can indulge, and which were many, for I was very vain.'

Of her mother: 'Even though my mother was so virtuous, I did not, in reaching the age of reason, imitate her good qualities; in fact hardly at all.'

Her affections were directed especially to her cousins, the Mejias, children of her aunt Dona Elvira, and she gave some thought to marriage to a cousin. They were not very good companions and flattered her ego.  Her father was disturbed by these fancies and opposed them. Her mother was in bad health and was unable to keep her under check constantly.  She wrote in her Life later reflecting on the importance of parents working to build virtue in their children above all and giving them good example of the same.

'I sometimes reflect on the great damage parents do by not striving that their children might always see virtuous deeds of every kind.'

Regarding keeping bad company she writes:

'I was strikingly shrewd when it come to mischief.  It frightens me sometimes to think of the harm a bad companion can do, and if I hadn't experienced it I wouldn't believe it.'

'If I should have to give advice, I would tell parents that they ought to be very careful about whom their children associate with.'

In 1528, at the age of 15, while she was in this crisis, her mother died, leaving behind 10 children.  Afflicted and lonely, Teresa appealed to the Blessed Virgin to be her mother.

'When my mother died.. I went, afflicted, before an image of our Lady and besought her with many tears to be my mother.'

Seeing his daughter's need of prudent guidance, her father entrusted her to the Augustinian nuns at Santa Maria de Gracia in 1531.

'God delivered me from all these occasions and dangers in such a way that it seems clear he strove, against my will, to keep me from being completely lost.'

Vocation
The influence of Dona Maria de Brinceno, who was in charge of the lay students at the convent school, helped Teresa to recover her piety. She began to wonder whether she had a vocation to be a nun.

'...there was a nun... She told me about the reward the Lord grants those who give up all for him.  This good company caused my mind to desire for eternal things and to gain freedom from the antagonism that I felt strongly within myself towards becoming a nun.'

'My soul began to return to the good habits of early childhood, and I saw the great favour God accords to anyone placed with good companions ... May you be blessed, Lord, who put up with me so long!'

Toward the end of the year 1532 she returned home to regain her health and stayed with her sister, who lived in Castellanos. Reading the letters of St. Jerome led her to the decision to enter a convent, but her father refused to give his consent. Her brother and confidant, Rodrigo, had just set sail for the war on the Rio de la Plata. She was terribly worried about the state of her soul and whether she would be worthy of heaven.  She felt that a life in the convent would be a more sure way of entering heaven than living in the world, so her desire for religious life was prompted by fear.  She decided to run away from home and persuaded another brother to flee with her in order that both might receive the religious habit.

On Nov. 2, 1535, she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila, a convent of some 200 nuns of various states, where she had a friend, Juana Suarez; and her father resigned himself to this development. The class systems existed in the convent also and as she was from a wealthy family she was given her own suite of rooms and a servant.  Her substantial dowry allowed for it.  She was very close to her father and felt the parting deeply:

'When I left my father's house I felt the separation so keenly that the feeling will not be greater, I think, when I die.  For it seemed that every bone in my body was being sundered.'

The following year she received the habit and began wholeheartedly to give herself to prayer and penance.

'As soon as I took the habit .. within an hour, the Lord gave me such great happiness, it never left me ... sometimes while sweeping, during the hours I used to spend in self-indulgence and self-adornment, I realised that I was free of all that and experienced a new joy which amazed me.'

Shortly after her profession she became seriously ill and failed to respond to medical treatment.  She herself attributes it to the food and the lifestyle at the Convent.  Some however think it was that she suffered a type of nervous breakdown from the strain and tension brought on by her great hunger to please God in one place and the awareness of her own sinfulfullness on the other.  Doctors found no cure for her and as a last resort her father took her to Becedas, a small village, to seek the help of a woman healer or quack famous throughout Castile, but Teresa's health did not improve but in fact left her much worse. Leaving Becedas in a terrible state in the Autumn of 1538, she stayed in Hortigosa at the home of her uncle Pedro de Cepeda, who gave her the Tercer Abecedario (The Third Alphabet) of Francis of Osuna to read.

"I remained in that place almost a year.. suffering severe torment from the harsh cures they used on me .. although during this first year I read good books...I did not know," she said, "how to proceed in prayer or how to become recollected, and so I took much pleasure in it and decided to follow that path with all my strength" (V--4.6).

Instead of regaining her health, Teresa grew even more ill, and her father brought her back to Avila in July 1539. On August 15 she fell into a coma so profound that she was thought to be dead.

'At this time they gave me the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, and from hour to hour or moment to moment they thought I was going to die; they did nothing but recite the Creed to me, as if I were able to understand them.  At times they were so certain I was dead that afterwards I even found the wax on my eyes.'

After 4 days she revived, but she remained paralyzed in her legs for 3 years. After her cure, which she attributed to St. Joseph (V. 6.6-8), she entered a period of mediocrity in her spiritual life, but she did not at any time give up praying. Her trouble came of not understanding that the use of the imagination could be dispensed with and that her soul could give itself directly to contemplation. During this stage, which lasted 18 years, she had transitory mystical experiences. She was held back by a strong desire to be appreciated by others, but this finally left her in an experience of conversion in the presence of an image of "the sorely wounded Christ" (V 9.2). This conversion dislodged the egoism that had hindered her spiritual development. Thus, at the age of 39, she began to enjoy a vivid experience of God's presence within her. 

'I tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me, and that was my way of prayer.'

'This is the method of prayer I then used: since I could not reflect discursively with the intellect, I strove to picture Christ within me, and it did me greater good - in my opinion - to picture him in those scenes where I saw him more alone.'

'The scene of his prayer in the garden, especially , was a comfort to me; I strove to be his companion there .. I though of the agony he had undergone in that place.  I desired to wipe away the sweat he so painfully experienced.'

She realized that the safest course of action was not to hide this from her confessor but to tell him humbly of all the favours she had received.  She was glad to have the opportunity to submit her spirit totally to the judgement of the Church.  However, the contrast between these favours and her conduct, which was more relaxed than was thought proper according to the ascetical standards of the time, caused some misunderstanding. Some of her friends, such as Francisco de Salcedo and Gaspar Daza, thought her favors were the work of the devil (V 23.14).  She herself though very fearful of the devil's deceptions initially came to a state of complete peace regarding him. 

'I don't understand these fears, "The devil! The devil!, when we can say "God! God!, and make the devil tremble.'

She always sought the counsel of very learned spiritual men to affirm the favours the Lord was giving her.  She was particularly fond of the Jesuits whom she believed to be very holy men.  Diego de Cetina, SJ, brought her comfort by encouraging her to continue in mental prayer and to think upon the humanity of Christ. Francis Borgia in 1555 heard her confession and told her that the spirit of God was working in her, that she should concentrate upon Christ's Passion and not resist the ecstatic experience that came to her in prayer.

Nevertheless she had to endure the distrust even of her friends as the divine favours increased. When Pradanos left Avila in 1558 his place as Teresa's director was taken by Baltasar Alvarez, SJ, who, either from caution or with the intention of probing her spirit, caused her great distress by telling her that others were convinced that her raptures and visions were the work of the devil and that she should not receive communion so often (V 25.4). Another priest acting temporarily as her confessor, on hearing her report of a vision she had repeatedly had of Christ, told her it was clearly the devil and commanded her to make the sign of the cross and laugh at the vision (V 29.5).

But God did not fail to comfort her, and she received the favour of the transverberation (V 29.13-14).  In August 1560 St. Peter of Alcantara counseled her: "Keep on as you are doing, daughter; we all suffer such trials."  He was a deeply devout and saintly Franciscan friar who understood her and through his own experience was able to explain things, comfort and encourage her.

When the Inquisition banned many of the spiritual writings that she had gained so much insight from she was deeply grieved however she received a locution from the Lord telling her not to be sad but that He would become for her a living book.  Because of the subsequent lack of availability of spiritual books on prayer she later wrote her own books to explain and give instruction to her sisters and friends about the path to spiritual union with God.

St Teresa started writing The Book of her Life when she was almost 50 years old.  She had been experiencing mystical graces for almost 10 years at this stage.  She was obliged to report in writing on her experiences to submit to the judgement of professionals.  She was however lacking in the language necessary to explain her mystical experiences and sought the words of other spiritual writers such as Laredo whose Ascent of Mt Sion told of something similiar.  Her book is not so much an autiobiography as description of the supernatural realities of the interior life.  She uses historical dates as a background to the work God was carrying out in her soul.  It is a book of fact, mystical grace and above all is a wonderful lesson in prayer, using many different images from nature and life to explain the development of the soul in prayer - such as the 4 ways of watering a garden (Life Ch. XI) and she later uses in the Interior Castle, the similitude of the silk worm to explain the soul's progress toward perfection.(5th Mansions, Ch. II)

St Teresa felt called to reform the life she was living and believed that a return to the Primitive rule was the way in which to do this.  She eventually founded the monastery of St Joseph's in Avila, a community of 12 nuns where she spent 3 peaceful years before becoming the Prioress of the Incarnation.  From there she went on to found a number of reformed convents for nuns and began the reform of the Friars with the help of  St John of the Cross.  She wrote voraciously and carried out a substantial correspondance which showed her deep love and affection for those she knew.  Her letters gave advice on spiritual matters as well as health, diet, matters of the heart, marriage etc.  Her gift for friendship was her greatest skill and she used this to deepen her relationship with God, spending quality time with him as a friend. 

'Prayer is nothing more than an intimate conversation with one whom you know loves you.' 

She died in Alba de Tormes whilst returning from a recently founded convent on the 4th of October 1582.  She was beatified in 1614 by Pope Paul V and canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.  Pope Paul VI proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.  Her feast is on the 15th of October.

Along with her letters and her Autobiography, she wrote The Foundations - and account of the epic work of founding her monasteries, the Way of Perfection as a spiritual guide for her sisters, The Interior Castle - her supreme masterpiece of spiritual writing outlining the souls path to union with God, and other minor works such as Spiritual Testimonies, Soliliquies, Meditations on the Song of Songs and her Poetry.