In November 1904, a little more than three years after she entered the Carmel in Dijon, St Elizabeth of the Trinity tore a blank page out of her personal notebook, took up her pen, and wrote the beautiful prayer, “O my God, Trinity Whom I adore.” The riches of this prayer are inexhaustible; it rings with praise for her Beloved. It also challenges us who follow. This is not a prayer for the superficially pious, but for those who want to be intimate with God.
One line (of many) that shakes one’s complacency: she says to Jesus, “I want to be the bride of Your heart.” Encountering this line, one might also encounter a rather agreeable impulse to just skip it. Does it really apply to me? Really? After all, she was a religious, and what if I’m a layperson? Nuns in a sense do seem to marry Christ, although the theology isn’t that simple.
But what about men? St. Elizabeth was a woman, so the bride term does seem appropriate. But a man is going to have a hard time thinking of himself as anyone’s “bride.” This does give us men a pass, though. We too are being invited to a deeper intimacy with God. We have to find a way to respond.
And what about married people, men and women? St. Elizabeth was single, of course. A person currently in the married state can’t very well get married again. But a married person has the benefit of nuptial intimacy on the human level, which is a reflection of the heavenly reality.
My earthly marriage is rich with memorable moments. One in particular: I remember, on my wedding day, standing at the altar, waiting for my bride to appear at the back of the church. We didn’t have a fancy wedding, but it was in a very beautiful old mission church in California. We had a good organist who brought along a friend, a trumpeter, to help with the processional. If you’ve been to a few weddings, you know that the congregation never seems quite sure when the bride is entering. Sometimes the music does not give the cue quite clearly enough, and there’s some hesitant half-standing and awkward looking around. This did not happen at my wedding. Because, when my wife took a step, the trumpeter blew a fanfare that would have done credit to a head of state. The congregation practically leaped to their feet. And my heart, too, leaped. I forgot all the nervousness and all the distracting details around me, as joy picked me up and carried me. God calls us to meet Him in a moment like this, greater even than the greatest joy this life offers.
But the objections cling to us. If I am a layperson, rather than a consecrated religious, my state in life probably will not afford certain advantages that religious have. However, we know from Lumen Gentium that we all must answer “the universal call to holiness.” (para. 39) My state in life is no impediment to sanctity. Certainly, a married layperson’s sanctity will have many differences from the sanctity of a cloistered Carmelite. But these emphatically are not differences in degree. The two people can be equally holy, just as a dandelion and a rose are equally flowers. To become holy, I don’t need to be a rose. I just need to bloom.
Being a man does not excuse me from facing the mystery of intimacy with God. Perhaps I am becoming distracted by the terminology and losing the idea. Of course, I, a man, can’t be a “bride” in every sense of the word. So substitute a word more suitable for a man to pray: “I want to be the beloved of Your heart”; “I want to be the faithful one of Your heart.” When you awaken that desire, even in a confused way, and you start struggling for the right way to say it, Jesus can do amazing things. It takes a certain kind of courage to embrace receptivity.
At the heart of it all is the real issue: is God truly my beloved? Can I contemplate being married, in any sense, to God? Whether man or woman, God calls us to deep intimacy with Him. He initiates that intimacy; even my desire originates in Him, in the grace I received in Baptism and through the other Sacraments. But there is a kind of initiative that must come from me. I need to give Him my “Yes,” which is more than an intellectual assent, and more than a passing experience of closeness. It is a movement of the heart. I must receive the incomparable gift of His self-giving, and then give Him my heart. Here on earth, the model for this receiving-and-giving is marriage.
To be continued…