I still remember the moment I first heard the prayer of St Elizabeth of the Trinity. In the quiet of our convent chapel on Staten Island, New York, Father Bruno Forte—Italian theologian and now Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto—led our community in a profound meditation on silence and prayer. We each had a small copy of the famous prayer of Elizabeth of the Trinity. Bruno Forte opened up the treasures of each phrase one by one, leading us deeper and deeper into interior recollection. It was a defining moment of my spiritual development and the beginning of my friendship with Elizabeth.
What happened to me that evening during meditation was not unique. Near the end of her life, Elizabeth sensed that she had a mission that would continue after she was in heaven. A few days before her death, on October 28, 1906, she wrote to a friend:
“It seems to me that my mission in heaven will be to draw souls to an interior recollection by helping them to come out of themselves and adhere to God in a very simple and completely loving movement. And to help them to stay in this great inner silence enables God to cast them in his image and to transform them into himself.”
This is the prayer to the Trinity written by St. Elizabeth of the Trinity on September 21, 1904. On that day, the Carmelite community at Dijon had renewed their vows. Later that night, alone in her cell, Elizabeth poured out her heart in a prayer that not only sums up her whole life in God, but serves as a map of the spiritual journey for all of us.
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to forget myself completely and to establish myself in you, as still and at peace as if my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me away from you, O my unchangeable One, but let every minute carry me further into the depths of your mystery!
Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your beloved abode, and the place of your rest. Let me never leave you there alone; but keep me there totally present, completely vigilant in my faith, totally in adoration and wholly surrendered to your creative action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I want to be the spouse of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you... until I should die of love… Yet I feel helpless. I ask you to clothe me with yourself, to identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, to submerge me, to fill me, to substitute yourself for me, so that my life may be only a radiance of your life. Enter me as Adorer, as Redeemer, and as Savior.
O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, I want to become totally teachable so that I might learn everything from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, and all helplessness, I want to be centered on you always and remain in your great light; O my beloved Star, make me so captivated that I no longer move away from your radiance.
O consuming Fire, Spirit of love, let it be done that an incarnation of the Word may occur again in my soul. May I be for him another humanity in whom he may renew his whole mystery. And you, O Father, incline yourself toward your little creature, see in her only the Beloved in whom you are well pleased.
O my “Three,” my all, my beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Bury yourself in me so that I may bury myself in you, until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your grandeur.
(November 21, 1904)
As Jean Lafrance writes in Give Peace to My Soul: Discover Elizabeth of the Trinity’s Secret of Prayer, “Too often, we speak of prayer as an activity apart from life, as if contemplative prayer does not have a deep bond with the rest of our existence. In reality, there is only one Christian life, and all of our spiritual efforts must tend toward the unification of the whole person. Life becomes a continual prayer and our thoughts are united to the truth of God himself. We substitute God’s point of view for our own, and charity transforms and divinizes our natural way of loving. Thus grafted onto the heart of God, people’s hearts love God, the world, others, and themselves with a love that participates in God’s love.”
During her last retreat before entering the Carmel, on January 23, 1900, she was already offering this prayer:
“Divine Master, may my life be a continual contemplative prayer; may nothing, nothing at all, distract me from you; neither my occupations, nor pleasures, nor suffering; may I be engulfed in you. Take my whole being, may Elizabeth disappear; may there remain only Jesus.”
Elizabeth used to stay up late at night, writing letters to her mother and friends, sharing simple yet profound guidance for a life of inner prayer. She once wrote to a friend:
“Prayer is a time of rest, a moment of relaxation; we simply come to the one we love and stay very close to him like a little child in its mother’s arms, and we let our heart go . . . There is only one occupation for a Carmelite sister: to love and to pray.”
Since God has given us Elizabeth of the Trinity as a gifted spiritual guide in our time, we can go to her as disciples, taking her prayer as our own, and asking her to teach us the art of prayer.
by Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP