Glimpses of Carmel – 4 – St. Teresa

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Glimpses of Carmel – 4 – St. Teresa
JM+JT
When our Holy Mother St. Teresa wrote the Way of Perfection, she was responding to the request of her nuns who asked to be taught about prayer. What was intended to be a collection of practical advice for her Carmelite daughters, however, was destined to become a valuable guide on the spiritual life benefitting the entire Church.
She sums up her whole aim when she writes, “Everything I have advised you about in this book is directed toward the complete gift of ourselves to the Creator.” In her delightful conversational style, she seems to address those who, like the rich young man in the Gospels, realize they still lack something to fulfill their highest aspiration, the goal he calls “eternal life.” This something could be described as spiritual freedom, and it is a quality so central to the writings of St. Teresa and beautifully observed in her life.
Our Holy Mother had great interior liberty, making her docile and receptive to the extraordinary graces Our Lord gave her in prayer. This enabled her to live in a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus, always aware of His loving gaze upon her and striving to please Him in all her actions. As a mother and teacher, her desire is that we too might come to know ourselves in the light of God’s infinite mercy and goodness, and humbly acknowledge our dependence on Him.
St. Teresa thus encourages us in the virtue of detachment to bring about this “holy freedom of spirit,” which she tells us is needed to “fly to your Maker without being held down by clay or leaden feet.” Time and again she urges us to reflect on how swiftly the things of this world pass away. “This helps remove our attachment to trivia and center it on what will never end.
Detachment according to the Teresian ideal is not somber deprivation . It is the joyful renunciation that results in enlargement of soul, increasing our capacity to receive God’s own life. As our Holy Mother says, “What helps is that the soul embrace the good Jesus our Lord with determination, for since in Him everything is found, in Him everything is forgotten.” By freely choosing to reach out to the eternal good, our hands necessarily let go of what prevents us from attaining the true happiness we seek.
The connection between freedom and the eternal good is at the heart of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), which celebrates its 25th anniversary on August 6 this year, the feast of the Transfiguration. St. John Paul II states: “Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called.” The gift of freedom bestowed on us by God reaches its peak when we use it to make a gift of ourselves to Him. Our Holy Mother affirms, “O my Sisters, what strength lies in this gift! It does nothing less, when accompanied by the necessary determination, than draw the Almighty so that He becomes one with our lowliness, transforms us into Himself, and effects a union of the Creator with the creature. Behold whether or not you are well paid and have a good Master.”
The rich young man in the Gospels went away sorrowful because he could not give up his possessions, nor ultimately his very self, to follow Jesus. But it is not too late for a happy ending. Echoing the words of our Good Teacher, Jesus, our Holy Mother St. Teresa extends the same invitation to each one of us.
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have
treasure in heaven; and come … ” Follow Him.

Categories: Carmelite Life

The Question Box – 6 – What do you eat? Are you vegan?

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Question:
What do you eat? Are you vegan?
Answer:
We have three simple meals a day, a plain breakfast of a muffin or roll, with coffee and juice in the morning. Then we have our main meal at noon and a smaller meal in the evening. In the summer, we also have a snack in the afternoon. We do not eat meat, but do eat fish, so we are not vegans. We also eat dairy products, such as milk, cheese and eggs except on Fridays and during Lent.

Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a Carmelite Nun? To live in a cloister? To spend your days seeking the Face of God?

If you have any questions about Carmelite life, you are welcome to post them here. We will do our best to give an answer and we look forward to hearing from you!

 

Categories: Carmelite Life

Life Matters – 2 – Entering the Interior Castle

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Entering the Interior Castle
In “The Interior Caste,” St. Teresa of Jesus encourages the reader to enter within themself and to roam through these mansions of their own soul. How can I do this? How can I enter within myself and wander around my soul?
Teresa writes, As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and consideration. How can prayer and consideration be a door into my soul? What does she mean by prayer, and what does she mean by consideration?
She has already given her famous definition of prayer: Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends: it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. Elsewhere she also writes: If, while I am speaking with God, I have a clear realization and full consciousness that I am doing so, and if this is more real to me than the words I am uttering, then I am combining mental and vocal prayer. For Teresa, prayer is a conversation, an exchange with God. I am speaking to Him and listening to Him speak to me.
Also, what does she mean by consideration, and why do the two together make a doorway into one’s soul? For Teresa, prayer and consideration are inseparable: As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and meditation: I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation. If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips. True, it is sometimes possible to pray without paying heed to these things, but that is only because they have been thought about previously. So in order to enter into the interior castle of my soul, I must speak to God and think about what I am saying when I do so.
When I pray, who is it that I am addressing? At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples, Who do people say that the Son of Man is? He was given various answers in reply: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. Then He asked them, But who do you say that I am? This is the question that He asks each of His disciples, including you and me. We can give Peter’s answer, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. But that is Peter’s answer, the answer the Father gave to Peter. What is my answer? Who do I say that He is? And why do I pray to Him? What do I ask Him? What do I hope from Him? These are some of the questions that I must ask myself, and it is this very asking which opens the door to my interior castle.

Categories: Carmelite Life

Glimpses of Carmel 2 – Seeking the Face of God

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Seeking the Face of God with a Praying Heart
            In June, 2016, Pope Francis published the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere to promote and support the life of contemplative women religious. Recently, in April of this year, the Vatican published Cor Orans, the Instruction giving the directions for implementing the Pope’s Apostolic Constitution.
            Both texts are directed to the various orders and congregations of cloistered contemplative nuns. Both are also quite specific in the matters they address. At first glance, it can seem that the Vatican is forcing all cloistered nuns into the same straitjacket. That is a mistaken impression.
            Love is infinite because God is infinite. And the ways that love expresses itself are beyond number, for they are as vast as the people who love God and neighbor. Yet with all the wide variety of ways of showing our love, there is still a recognizable pattern shared by every act of true love. This is the action of the Holy Spirit. Every act of love inspired by the Holy Spirit is unique to that person in that situation. Yet all acts of love bear the stamp of His grace, love, joy, peace, patience, goodness and all the other Fruits of the Holy Spirit.
            It is the same with religious congregations. Each is unique, and yet they all share a similar pattern, just as each human face is unique though every face has the same structure of a mouth, two eyes and a nose. Cloistered life has indeed a common underlying structure shared by all those who profess it because they all start from the same beginning, our common human nature, and they all seek the same goal, perceiving the Face of God.
            In Vultum dei Quaerere, Pope Francis considers twelve essential elements of the contemplative life. These are: formation, prayer, the word of God, the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, fraternal life in community, autonomy, federations, the cloister, silence, the communications media and asceticism. All cloistered contemplative communities have these elements, but each community lives them in the spirit proper to their charism. A book could be written comparing the different ways each element is lived by the various congregations and institutes, but we won’t attempt to do that. In this blog, we will simply consider each element and give some idea of how it is lived in our community. We hope that in doing so, we will give some glimpse of the vast richness of cloistered contemplative life.

 

Categories: Carmelite Life

Glimpses of Carmel 1 – Why a website

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Why a Website?
            Recently, the directors of our web design program made a policy change which forced us to re-design our website from the ground up, with the result that you now see. It was a learning curve for our Sister Webmistress, and there is still work to do to get the site to correspond to what we want. It also caused us to consider anew why we are doing this. Why do we have a website? Should we have a website? What made cloistered contemplative nuns decide to have a website, and to have this website?
            People have questioned the whole idea of nuns posting on the World Wide Web. Aren’t cloistered nuns called to live a hidden life? A life of silence and solitude? Why have an enclosure wall and shutters and Turns so that we are not seen, and then post our thoughts and photos on the internet?
            The answer is simple: we are called to be witnesses to the world of the power of hidden and silent prayer. Yes, we live a hidden life, a silent life, a life of prayer and communion with God and with one another. That is our vocation. And as religious, we are called to witness to the world that this life has the power to radiate God’s grace into the lives of other people. All religious are called to be witnesses of God’s love and power, and we are not excused from that call by the wall which enfolds our hiddenness. This is part of the challenge of the cloister.
            The cloistered life has always had a certain mystique even within the Catholic Church. In past centuries, however, most Catholics knew about nuns and the vocation they were called to live. Most Catholics had heard of St. Therese of Lisieux or had read her biography, “Story of a Soul.” In this way they came to have a certain understanding of what she was and of what she was called to live. People knew about monasteries and they visited them and talked with the Sisters at the Turn, or they wrote to them, asking their prayers. Cloistered nuns lived a hidden life, but it was not an invisible or unknown life.
            But this familiarity with the cloister has greatly diminished and almost disappeared among American Catholics. The ordinary witness of our lives given in the past to family members is greatly reduced. This however, does not excuse us from witnessing. We just need to discover new ways to do so. A website is one of those ways. Like the Turn, where we converse with visitors without being seen, we can express our thoughts and make known our lives without losing our hiddenness. It is a powerful means of witnessing and that witnessing is all the more needed as people find their lives sliding into meaninglessness.
            Pope Francis understands the importance of cloistered nuns and the witness we are called to give. In his Apostolic Constitution, “Vultum Dei Quaerere,” he writes, Dear sisters, …The world and the Church need you to be beacons of light for the journey of the men and women of our time. This should be your prophetic witness.
            A beacon is meant to shine out and radiate light. We hope that our website will help to accomplish this.

Categories: Carmelite Life

Glimpses of Carmel 3 – The Abuse Crisis

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            Four hundred and fifty years ago, St. Teresa of Avila, our Foundress, wrote The world is on fire!  The Church of her time was being torn apart and she agonized over the suffering of this Lord of mine Who is so much oppressed by those to whom He has shown so much good that it seems as though these traitors would send Him to the Cross again! The Church today is again in suffering as the revelations of sexual abuse by her members daily come to light. Christ has indeed been crucified again, thousands of times, in the persons of the victims of horrendous abuse. Jesus said, Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do to Me. He has been abused in the persons of girls and boys, men and women, and those who have crucified Him are His own ministers. The suffering Christ shown in this drawing by St. John of the Cross depicts the agony of every abuse victim. Of all the members of the Church, they can the most identify with Him who was rejected and abused by His own.
            For us, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Flemington, New Jersey, the sense of betrayal is heart-wrenching! We are called to a life of prayer. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, Contemplative prayer is a communion of love bearing Life for the multitude, to the extent that it consents to abide in the night of faith. The Paschal night of the Resurrection passes through the night of the agony and the tomb—the three intense moments of the Hour of Jesus which his Spirit … brings to life in prayer. In this night of the agony, we identify in prayer with each person who has suffered abuse.
            We Carmelites are called especially to pray for priests. Prayer is a relationship of friendship with Jesus. In 1962, one of our Carmelite Friars, Fr. William McNamara, OCD, wrote, a religion without Christ is a corpse; an education that does not convey ideas of Christ that are vital, real, precise, and compelling is a farce…It is impossible to look into the face of Christ without being drawn into the action of Christ. That is what Francois Mauriac meant when he said: “Once you get to know Christ, you cannot be cured of Him.’… Religion will thus cease to be a moral code, a list of forbidding commandments, a dull, drab affair. It will take on the thrill and excitement of a love affair between God and man. It will mean, above all, a friendship with Christ.
            St. Teresa insists that we must ask God, too, to make …the preachers and theologians  highly proficient in the way of the Lord. And … we must pray that they may advance in perfection, and in the fulfilment of their vocation, for this is very needful. We pray for every priest that he will know this love affair between God and man. Anyone who does not have a deep intimacy with Jesus will look for intimacy elsewhere. That is a temptation for all Christians but especially for those who have made a vow of chastity. We support with our prayers all the many good and faithful priests who continue to minister to the People of God. We also support with our prayers the bishops who are called to shepherd all the members of their flock, including the victims, the abusers and those who are affected in any way in this crisis. May Our Lord support and guide them.
            Faced with the agony of the Church in her day, St. Teresa wondered what she could do. We ask ourselves the same question. There have been many initiatives made public recently, good and helpful, and some perhaps not so helpful. St. Teresa’s response to the fire burning in the world of her day was simple and straightforward: This troubled me very much, and, as though I could do anything, or be of any help in the matter, I wept before the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this great evil. I felt that I would have laid down a thousand lives to save a single one of all the souls that were being lost there. And, seeing that I was a woman, and a sinner, and incapable of doing all I should like in the Lord’s service, and as my whole yearning was, and still is, that, as He has so many enemies and so few friends, these last should be trusty ones, I determined to do the little that was in me — namely, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could, and to see that these few nuns who are here should do the same, confiding in the great goodness of God, Who never fails to help those who resolve to forsake everything for His sake.
            We promise to try to do the same.

 

Categories: Carmelite Life

Life Matters – 1 – Exploring the Interior Castle

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  Exploring the Interior Castle
             In her great book of spirituality, the “Interior Castle,” St. Teresa of Jesus starts by urgeing us to learn to appreciate the beauty of the human soul. She spares no words to try to bring us to glimpse the wonder of our soul, comparing it to a castle made of a single diamond or of a very clear crystal.  It is not a small castle but one in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions. The soul of a righteous person is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight. The beauty of this castle cannot be exaggerated,  for God  says that it is made in His image. The grandeur of this castle is so great, that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.
            We are not used to thinking of ourselves in this way, as something beautiful and precious. Indeed, Teresa says that it is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. She laments that we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. We are very concerned about our bodies, which are the rough setting of the diamond, and…the outer wall of the castle. We give hardly a thought to our soul, which animates our bodies and makes us a living person. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are – those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty.
            She urge us to imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; and in the center and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul. In considering the castle of one’s soul, You must not imagine these mansions as arranged in a row, one behind another, but fix your attention on the centre, the room or palace occupied by the King.…Just so around this central room are many more, as there also are above it. In speaking of the soul we must always think of it as spacious, ample and lofty; and this can be done without the least exaggeration, for the soul’s capacity is much greater than we can realize, and this Sun, Which is in the palace, reaches every part of it. It is very important that no soul which practices prayer, whether little or much, should be subjected to undue constraint or limitation. Since God has given it such dignity, it must be allowed to roam through these mansions — through those above, those below and those on either side.
            How can one roam through one’s own soul? There is a long history of spirituality which can guide us in this exploration, and which we will consider in our next articles.

Categories: Carmelite Life

The Question Box – 4

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Question: What is the brown tabard you wear?
Answer:
What you call a tabard is a scapular, from the Latin word “scapula” which means “shoulder.” It was originally worn as an apron, but very quickly became a symbol of the protection of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and of the Carmelites’ devotion to her. Down through the centuries, Mary has shown that she protects and guides those who entrust themselves to her under the sign of the Brown Scapular.
Carmelite friars and nuns wear the full-length scapular, but there is also the small version, and anyone can wear that. You can learn more about it here: http://ocarm.org/en/content/ocarm/scapular and https://ocdfriarsvocation.org/the-habit-of-the-discalced-carmels/

Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a Carmelite Nun? To live in a cloister? To spend your days seeking the Face of God?

If you have any questions about Carmelite life, you are welcome to post them here. We will do our best to give an answer and we look forward to hearing from you!

 

Categories: Carmelite Life

The Question Box – 3

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Question: Do you have a vow of silence?
Answer:
No. There are some religions where members can take a vow of silence, but that does not exist in the Catholic Church. For us, words are sacred because they are meant to be echoes of the one Word of God who “became flesh and lived among us.” Because we worship the Word made Flesh, we greatly value silence. Silence, interior and exterior silence, is necessary for listening, and only a silent heart can hear the Word of God. As St. John of the Cross wrote, The Father spoke one word, who was His Son, and this He speaks always in eternal silence, and only in silence is it heard by the soul.” (Sayings of Light and Love, # 99)

Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a Carmelite Nun? To live in a cloister? To spend your days seeking the Face of God?

If you have any questions about Carmelite life, you are welcome to post them here. We will do our best to give an answer and we look forward to hearing from you!

 

Categories: Carmelite Life

The Question Box – 2

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Question: What do you do all day?
Answer:
People often ask this. The answer to that is We try to turn everything into prayer. We take the ordinary things of everyday living and we try to transform them into prayer. We try to turn housework into prayer, to turn garden work into prayer, to turn laughter and conversation into prayer. And most of all, we try to turn prayers into prayer, for saying prayers is only the doorway to prayer, which is to look at the hidden face of God.

Do you ever wonder what it is like to be a Carmelite Nun? To live in a cloister? To spend your days seeking the Face of God?

If you have any questions about Carmelite life, you are welcome to post them here. We will do our best to give an answer and we look forward to hearing from you!

 

Categories: Carmelite Life