“She flipped out,” is how one young man described his mother’s reaction after he told her he wanted to be a priest. “She said I could do so much better than be a priest and said her friends would think me abnormal on account of choosing voluntary celibacy.”
Ever conscious of public image, his mother never did give him her blessing, but she continued to go Mass, “so that the neighbours would not think she was lapsed”. Her son never entered seminary.
I heard of another young man who ran away from home to join a very strict religious order – against his parents’ wishes. When his father picked a fight with the head of the religious order, his son said to him that he had to leave their home in order to follow Christ and that Jesus said in the Gospels that a man who could not leave his parents was not worthy to be His disciple.
The two cases above concern men who are contemporary Catholics. Yet Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose canonisation has just been announced, would have shared their pain. Elizabeth was born in France in 1880; at the age of 14, she felt an aching hunger in her soul to be a Carmelite nun. But when she was old enough, Elizabeth’s mother strongly objected.
Feeling oppressed, Elizabeth wrote, “When shall I have the happiness of entering Carmel? But mama is not willing, I will wait ’til she is resigned.” It wasn’t that the monastery was far away – they lived 200 metres from the Discalced Carmelite Community in Dijon. Rather, Elizabeth’s mother was determined that her young and attractive daughter would find a good husband.
Having found the “perfect” man for Elizabeth, she was taken aback when Elizabeth rejected the suitor. Other men asked Elizabeth to marry them, attracted by her striking good looks. In her heart, however, Elizabeth started putting her religious calling first. “The attraction of Carmel is a force that nothing can hinder.”
It wasn’t as if Elizabeth did not have other options. She was a prize-winning pianist who was considered musically gifted. Finally, when she was 21, a full seven years after first feeling drawn to Carmel, Elizabeth made plans to enter the monastery. But on the very night before she entered, her mother tried to emotionally blackmail her into staying in the world, asking, “Why do you want to leave me?”
Elizabeth responded, “How can I resist the voice of God calling me? He is holding out His arms to me telling me He is despised, scorned, forsaken. Shall I abandon Him as well? He wants my sacrifice.”
For five years, Elizabeth was hidden in Carmel, before Addison’s disease ravaged her health and she went to her eternal reward in 1906. It is thought likely that she will be canonised later this year. In view of her health torments, she is considered a patron of sick people. She could just as well be a champion for young people undergoing a white martyrdom on account of the persecution they face when they even so much as look into religious life.
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