The Question Box – 8 – Do you pray in Latin or English?
We say some prayers in Latin, though we pray mostly in English. The Liturgy of the Hours is in English, and Mass in our chapel is the Ordinary Form of the Mass in English with a chanted Mass in Latin about once a month. We have several prayers in Latin, including the “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” before our hours of prayer, and on Saturdays and special feasts of Our Lady we sing a Solemn Salve Regina.
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!
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.
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.
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.