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St Elizabeth of Schonau
Virgin (entered heaven in 1164)
I do so wish that I could tell you where I am. I am certain that as you backpack across Europe this summer (a generous graduation present, if I might say so – my sister always was one for nice gifts) you will very nearly pass by my doorstep. Alas! If I mention anything remotely indicating the nature of my imprisonment or the location of my captors, my last and greatest comfort (email) will be taken from me, and I doubt that as yet I am strong enough to endure such torture. In any case, as you travel (or should I say wander?) around, count on the accompaniment of my prayers.
Since one of the objectives in this vernal trek of yours is discerning your next step in life, I will take the opportunity to remind of an important factor: the devil. Society tries to convince us not only that God is habitually irrelevant, but also that the devil is a mere concoction of the medieval imagination. Nothing could be further from the hard and bitter truth. To disbelieve in the devil, you would have to disbelieve in Christ himself, since in the Gospels Jesus repeatedly speaks of about Satan, has run-ins with Satan, casts out demon after demon, and never once tries to explain to his benighted followers that the devil does not exist. As St Paul puts it, “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Ephesians 6:12) Therefore, keep in mind that just because an idea occurs to you, that doesn’t mean that it comes from God. And just because you feel an attraction to something or someone, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should act on it. And just because you find a good excuse to disobey the quiet urging of your conscience, that doesn’t mean you should accept it. No, my dear nephew, you are not the only one interested in God’s plan for your life; you want to discover and follow it, but the devil wants to lead you down any other path he can find (sometimes he even reluctantly points out paths that are good, as long as it will keep you off the path that is better).
Today’s saint can help keep you on your guard. Elizabeth entered one of the largest German convents of her times when she was just 12 and professed her vows when she was 18. Her determination to make her life a pleasing offering to God never wavered; even in the face of continual ill health and spiritual torments, she wore a hair shirt (like a very rough undershirt that causes constant and sometimes maddening discomfort) and an iron chain. During her twenties, God allowed the devil to tempt her in horrible ways. Demons would appear to her, in her cell and elsewhere, and mock, mimic, and threaten her. Satan himself would appear to her in different guises, once as a huge black bull, once as a raging black inferno, once as a herd of grotesque goats. Perhaps some souls destined for great holiness have at various times been deterred by such attacks, but Elizabeth only increased her fervor, her faith, and her obedience, and God graced her with equally remarkable consolations (ecstasies during Mass and community prayers, visions of scenes from the life of Christ, etc.).
Although the devil may prefer to use different tactics these days, we can rest assured that he is still hard at work, “prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) After all, his hatred of God and those who love God knows no respite. Don’t be scared – our Lord has conquered death and evil and will be faithful – but do be prudent, making your trip more of a pilgrimage than a party. And don’t forget to pray.
Love, Uncle Eddy