From a very early age, Elizabeth Catez worked to overcome her hot temper and her overly sensitive nature. She sought to be totally dedicated to God and by the age of 14 she was ready to enter a Carmelite monastery.
However, her widowed mother would have none of it and so, it was not until Elizabeth turned 21 that she was able to enter the monastery near her home in Dijon, France. By then, she believed she had thoroughly conquered her intemperate passions and was ready for a fuller union with Christ.
On her first evening in the monastery, the superior found her under the crucifix in the garden and asked her what she was doing. "I have passed into the soul of my Christ," Elizabeth responded. "I want to make him loved by the whole world" (recounted in Ann Ball, Modern Saints, Book 2, pp. 249-52).
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity died only four years later, but today is regarded as one of the great mystics of the 20th century. Her most distinctive characteristic was a profound awareness of the Holy Trinity abiding in her soul.
At one point, she wrote asking Jesus to "immerse me in thyself, possess me wholly; substitute thyself for me, that my life may be but a radiance of thine own." In these words, we can hear the fulfilment of Christ's promise at the Last Supper: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (John 14:23).
This "passing into the soul of Christ," this having Christ and the Father coming to make their home with me, is something unique to Christian mysticism. Without Jesus, I can still know that God exists and know my need to be united with God. This knowledge can inspire a fervent search and a lifetime of ascetical practices. Without knowing Christ, I can still strive to liberate myself from the inordinate attachments and habitual sins which blind a person to God's presence.
I can follow this "negative way" so as to accept suffering as inevitable and to rise above the idolatries of my society and personality. Yet I will not know God in this way. My meditation will draw a blank. In fact, this is the goal of the Buddhist monk _ to come to an awareness of the nothingness at the centre of all being.
There is a genuine form of spiritual enlightenment in this _ the awareness of the futility of all human pursuits. But the one who has received such enlightenment stands at the brink. For this person has not yet found the love of God, the love which can rescue human pursuits from futility. Such a discovery requires one more step _ the step of Jesus Christ into one's heart.
Another 20th century mystic, Father Thomas Merton, wrote that, "God is everywhere. His truth and his love pervade all things as the light and the heat of the sun pervade our atmosphere. But . . . God does not touch our souls with the fire of supernatural knowledge and experience without Christ" (New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 151).
Jesus Christ enters one's soul through the power of the Holy Spirit. "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). It is the Holy Spirit who transforms the person through baptism and confirmation. It is the Holy Spirit who changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.
Some people, such as Elizabeth of the Trinity, live this truth with great intensity. But all Christians are called to be touched by "the fire of supernatural knowledge and experience." All are called to be mystics. Father Jordan Aumann, a contemporary theologian, wrote that "the mystical state is not something extraordinary in the full development of the Christian life; it is the normal atmosphere that grace demands" (Spiritual Theology, p. 271).
I need to be animated by the name and power of Jesus. I must pray to Jesus and be aware of his presence within me. This is especially true after receiving the Eucharist when Jesus has become physically present within my body.
But at all times, one can invoke the presence of Jesus. One can meditate on the mysteries of his life and teaching as well as simply repeating the name of Jesus with a reverent and attentive spirit. The Way of a Pilgrim is a classic Russian Orthodox tale of one man's quest to pray constantly through non-stop recitation of the Jesus prayer _ "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that "To pray 'Jesus' is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies" (no. 2666).
I can perceive the existence of God and know my need to be united with God without having encountered Jesus. But Jesus is the one who takes this striving to know God and turns it into reality. Jesus is the key that starts the engine. Jesus is the one who puts God in my soul.
Because of that, the Bible tells us point-blank: "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12)
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