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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Saint Joseph and Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity

Elizabeth of the Trinity confided her purity to Saint Joseph in a very special way. She had earlier in life dedicated her virginity to the Lord, but as she entered young adulthood, her mother wanted her to marry a young army officer. He was a very good man and it would have been a good match. At the same time, Saint Elizabeth's heart already belonged to Jesus. They went to a dance together and the two for them truly enjoyed the evening. Saints, more than others, have the freedom to have fun. Ultimately, however, she walked away from this relationship and all the wonderful possibilities it held out. She did not do so out of rigidity or fear - pious people are always accused of such things. She did so because she understood the love of Jesus that lived in her heart and she wanted to respond to that no matter the cost. She confidently prayed to the "great Saint Joseph" to "come to her aid."

Why were Saint Joseph's prayer a source of confidence for Saint Elizabeth? He is especially concerned that those who follow His Son not only grow in chastity and prayerfulness, but that they also know His Son's mirth and playfulness in life. Mirth and playfulness reveal the characteristics of freedom we too often overlook. Yet it is these very characteristics that chastity and prayerfulness open up in the heart. Saint Joseph helps the heart cultivate both of these inner dispositions in a way that unleashes human freedom. He prays remembering the mirth and playfulness of his Son and his Bride, and he wants us to know something of this too so that we might make the very best decisions. Chastity is a propensity to keep up good boundaries in our relations with others and as it is mastered, it makes the most wonderful friendships possible. It is a matter of finesse, not prudishness, in one's relationships. Such finesse requires a certain self-possession and self-awareness, a knowledge of what one can handle and of what cannot handle, and a readiness to say no to anything that might threaten one's integrity. Such a virtue is not automatically given. It requires conscious effort, courage and determination. In difficult situations, it also requires prayer. And this is where St. Joseph, who protected Jesus and Mary, also prays for those who are trying to be chaste. He was a pure and chaste man and his prayers for those who want to be chaste are powerful before the throne of His Son. St. Elizabeth was especially gifted at helping her friends stay oriented to God. She did it with a light touch - a simple comment or a quick glance could change the whole direction of a conversation. Friendship, so important in this life, can also become an obstacle to spiritual growth when we do not keep it directed to God's love. To keep oneself chaste is a lifetime struggle, and this struggle is only compounded when the culture in general and one's own friends particularly, look down on it. One of the many things that I will always be grateful for at Franciscan University of Steubenville was that I found a group of peers who were striving to maintain good chaste relationships in their lives. This positive peer pressure helped me make good decisions. Sometimes, when I think about the example that Saint Elizabeth provides, conversations I had with many of my friends from those days come to mind. How was she able to help her friends stay pure? This brings us to the second virtue that she cultivated: prayerfulness. Interior purity of thought and imagination are born in the effort to enter into silent prayer. Conversely, this interior purity of heart deepens as one cultivates the practice of contemplative prayer. To have a good spiritual life, one needs to discern good spiritual reading, a solid sacramental life, and healthy forms of entertainment. It is sometimes suggested that living such a life is too somber. In the case of Saint Elizabeth, this did not lead to a miserable life without friends -- she was in fact "the life of the party" according to her friends. It seems the piety and purity do not diminish fun ... quite the opposite, they can make real fun possible. Saint Joseph was a hardworking man who had a awesome responsibility. At the same time, because of his purity of heart and prayerfulness, his heart was open to a deeper kind of play ... one that man was meant to know before God. He is concerned that our lives be filled with healthy fun and play. The freedom of this is good for our spirits. It also allows us to navigate difficult situations and to take on tough moments of discernment - without losing the mirth that is the Christian life. He helped Saint Elizabeth do just that ... and today, on his feast day, I am sure, even during a pandemic, he wants to help us realize the same mirth in our homes too: a playfulness born on the freedom that chastity and prayerfulness make possible.

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