I have just been looking at two recently published books in a series: Holiness for Everyone: St Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life and The Music of Silence: Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity for Everyone. They are both written and illustrated by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard OCD and published by New City for £5.95 each.
De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life is a famous classic book on spirituality, but I wonder how many Catholics have actually read it? It is written in a rather formal idiom and this is what Sister Obbard hopes to “translate” for those who read her book. She tells me that these are the latest in a whole series of simplified and illustrated spiritual classics, in a list which includes St Teresa, St Therese, St John of the Cross and St Francis of Assisi.
“The whole idea”, she explains, “was to produce editions of the classics that were in contemporary language, with the “kernel” extracted from a lot of repetition or old-fashioned language, so that these works were accessible to ordinary people.”
And what about her illustrations which are in a “naive” style for which she is well-known? She tells me that they “add just that touch of accessibility, and often make a point as much as the words.” She adds, “I just choose whatever seems to be a good text and go from there. Elizabeth of the Trinity did not write a “classic” as such, but I find that many people with very active lives find her helpful as a teacher of the interior life, and she is also due to be canonised in the near future.”
Sister Obbard assures me that, notwithstanding the charming but simple black and white drawings that accompany the text, her books are written for adults, though she thinks that “children might warm to the Thérèse and Francis ones.”
She emphasises that St Francis de Sales’s book “persuades by gentleness and love before all else. “May Jesus live” was Francis’ motto. His great desire was to see Jesus live in all men and women who came to him for direction. He wants Jesus to live in each one who reads this book too, and he shows us how.”
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, 1880-1906, is not as well known as her Carmelite predecessor, St Thérèse of Lisieux. A gifted pianist and with a forceful temper, Elizabeth sacrificed her music for the “music of silence” when she entered Carmel. Her mystical teaching are encapsulated in the two Retreats she wrote, which are reprinted in Sister Obbard’s book, as well as her celebrated “Prayer to the Trinity” which reflects its author’s absorption in “The Three” as she termed them, and her love of adoration, silence, peace, conformity to Christ and surrender to the Holy Spirit. So expressive is this “Prayer” that it is also included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Dying of Addison’s disease aged 26, Blessed Elizabeth’s last words were “I am going to Light, to Love, to Life.”
She is a mystical writer well worth discovering – especially in our own relentlessly materialistic age.