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A year ago, I wrote about a new cloistered Carmelite community that was being established in the Diocese of Oakland. A daughter house of the Carmel in Valparaiso, Nebraska, the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the only contemplative community in the Oakland diocese.
On October 1, the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of Oakland celebrated Mass with the nuns. He told them that their vocation is similar to the Beloved Disciple, Saint John, saying, “You are the ones who recline next to Christ at His breast at the table at the Last Supper, you are the ones who have that intimate place with Him, by giving your life to Him and coming into the walls of this monastery. You are the ones that people, priests and bishops come to.”
The bishop spoke from the heart for his association with the Carmelites goes way back.
When he was a little boy, his grandmother and aunts would take him to the Carmel of Cristo Rey (an IRL Affiliate community in San Francisco). There he noticed a bowl next to a statue of St. Teresa of Avila in which petitions were placed. Later, as a young man hoping to be accepted into the Jesuits, he wrote out his own petition. Twelve years later another prayer request went in, asking that his ordination to the priesthood be approved. Finally, as a chaplain going to Iraq, he asked the sisters to pray that he and his 3000 marines would be safe during the deployment. Not one of his men was killed.
In a beautiful article in The Catholic Voice, it states that the sisters normally have six lit candles on the altar during Mass. The seventh is lit when the bishop comes. What a beautiful tradition. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 79: “On or near the altar there are to be candlesticks with lighted candles, at least two but even four, six, or, if the bishop of the diocese celebrates, seven.”
The Carmelites, said the bishop, are looking for “land on which to build a new monastery or an existing building that could be converted.” They try to be self-sufficient and simple, growing their own vegetables and raising farm animals for milk and eggs. The sisters are vegetarians.
Mother Sylvia Gemma has welcomed their first postulant with another expected within the next few months. Said the bishop: “There are women, 500 years after St. Teresa of Avila, who are still giving their all to God.”
In this month of July devoted in particular to the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, it is fitting that the Church honors today the Martyrs of Compiegne in France. In 1794, sixteen members of the Discalced Carmelite community offered themselves as a holocaust, poured out their blood, to end the bloodshed of the French Revolution, in particular the Reign of Terror.
Their Superior, Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine, said, “Having meditated much on this subject, I have thought of making an act of consecration by which the community would offer itself as a sacrifice to appease the anger of God, so that the Divine peace of His dear Son would be brought into the world, returned to the Church and State.”
On July 16, 1794, on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the 16 women (13 nuns, 2 externs and 3 lay sisters) were brought before a court in Paris, accused of treason, sedition, etc. for holding fast to the ancient Faith of France. Sentenced to death, they were led one by one to the guillotine. As each sister was helped up the steps by Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine, they kissed a small statue of Mary hidden in the palm of her hand (still preserved by the Carmelites). The Reign of Terror lasted only 10 more days after this sacrifice. As Warren Carroll, founder of Christendom College, so beautifully put it in his book on the subject: “The Cross had vanquished the guillotine.”
O blessed Martyrs of Compiegne,
you were offered the choice of life versus death, and you chose life eternal!
We too are asked to make sacrifices big and small for the sake of the Kingdom.
Help us to courageously stand with Christ no matter what the cost.
Today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we reflect on this title of Our Lady as the patroness of the Carmelite order, under which she appeared to St. Simon Stock and presented to him the brown scapular. The Carmelites, who began as a community of hermits on Mount Carmel, Israel, in the 1200s and who point back to Elijah (hermit and prophet) as the first to be fired with the zeal of Mount Carmel, have spread throughout the world and continue to live the charism of seeking a direct and intimate experience of God.
But this kind of intimate union is purely a gift from God, which raises the question, how do we go about seeking it? How do we attain it? The answer is that we simply ready ourselves for it, so that if God seeks to give it, we are there with open hands. St. Teresa of Avila explained our hearts as a garden, which we weed and seek to water, so that if God wishes, He may come into it and take His delight. Carmelites characteristically have a deep-seated desire to be touched by God in this way, and so they accept many purgations and challenges of growing in virtue, that their hearts might become a beautiful and inviting dwelling place for the God Who placed this desire within them.
This union with God is the end goal of all of our lives, although most of us will experience it only in heaven. But St. Teresa tells us that many of us are called to experience it to varying degrees here on earth too. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us, that we might also desire interior intimacy with God and be willing to do what it takes to be receptive to it!
Not much has changed for the Carmelites over the past 900 years. Their priorities remain unchanged – prayer, solitude and work to support the community. But for the Carmelites of Santa Fe, New Mexico, a new era has dawned – they have a website! www.carmelofsantafe.org
This IRL Affiliate community of 8 nuns was established in 1945 by Mother Mary Teresa who was forced to flee Mexico in the face of the terrible persecution suffered by Catholics in that country. She died in 1997 in Jefferson City, MO, at another Carmel that she also had founded.
The Santa Fe Carmelites are situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains, on the high desert of northern New Mexico. They are a part of the Spanish Catholic legacy that has been present in Santa Fe for more than 400 years. Santa Fe means Holy Faith!
The charism of the sisters is guided by their foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, and by St. John of the Cross, another Carmelite. They live in the presence of God, in imitation of Mary and the prophet Elijah, who awaited God in his hermitage on Mount Carmel, 900 years before Christ.
See a story about the Santa Fe Carmelites in the Santa Fe New Mexican
The Discalced Carmelites from Lafayette, LA, recently sent us some brochures which included some fascinating vocational stories. Two that were very interesting were the stories of Sr. Joseph of the Eucharist and Sr. Camille of Jesus. Both sisters are from the Hue Carmel in Viet Nam and came to the US at the urging of Father Marion Joseph Bui, a Discalced Carmelite Friar who came to the US himself as one of the “boat People” in 1981 in order to become a priest. He was ordained by Bishop Xavier Labayan, OCD, in the Lafayette Monastery Chapel in 1995.
At the solemn profession of the two sisters, Father Marion Joseph said that being a Carmelite means being ready to sacrifice all, including family and country, for the needs of the Carmelites and the world.
In a meditation on “The Priesthood, Mary and the Carmelite Nun” which I am sure that you can order from the Carmel, it says that the Carmelites have a special relationship with priests, in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary whose life was “inseparably interwoven with the priesthood and sacrifice of her Divine Son.” While the priest carries the doctrine, she multiplies sacrifices; he casts the seed, she waters it with her tears. He is an apostle by his words, she is an apostle by her immolation; and both save souls.
Sr. Camille was in the first group to enter the Hue Carmel after the Communists returned the monastery to them. The sisters have a true missionary spirit and have willingly chosen to come here. “For us, it is not a matter of being Vietnamese, Filipino or American. We are all Carmelites.”
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Philadelphia have launched a new website that is quite unique. The information included is primarily videos on their spirituality and heritage.
The order was originally founded in 1593, and in 1902, a monastery was established in Philadelphia by four Carmelites from Boston, with permission from their superior. Eight years later, the monastery was moved to the location where it stands today. Four foundations eventually evolved from this monastery.
St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross inspire the nuns to live holy lives true to their founders. The spirituality of the order is rooted in prayer, silence, and solitude, which serve to foster growth towards Christian sanctity. Enclosure is also a foundation of the order, and is viewed by the nuns as a safeguard for prayer.
Prayers and sacrifices are offered for the service of the Church and the salvation of the world. Although St. Teresa was never a missionary, she held priests and missionaries in a special place, praying for the clergy, the spread of the Gospel, those who had left the Church, and those needing spiritual assistance. The vocation of the nuns is at its heart apostolic and missionary. It is not an active ministry, but one mystically rooted in prayer.
The stories of this order, and videos, can be found at the new website. A Triduum in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux will be held September 29 – October 1, 2012, with Vespers, Benediction and Mass.
Our website, www.cloisteredlife.com, has a beautiful description of a “Day in the Life” of a cloistered Carmelite nun. The nun is from the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Cross in Iron Mountain, MI, which has a community of 17 nuns, including externs.
How beautiful to hear first thing every morning: “Praised be Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, His Mother. Come to prayer, Sisters, come to praise the Lord!” As Sister says, “These few words capture the essence of what a Carmelite’s whole life is all about; namely, prayer and praise of God.”
One handy feature of our website is a glossary of terms for the cloistered life. I have to admit that Sister’s use of the term Hebdomadary threw me for a loop. A hebdomadary I come to find out is the sister (or monk) whose duty it is to begin and end the Hours of the Divine Office and the Solemn “Salve,” and to lead the prayers at the graces before and after meals. A hebdomadarian is the one who carries out this task.
Also, please say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Sr. Elizabeth Marie of the Holy Trinity, OCD, who died at the monastery on August 30th at age 70. She is survived by six brothers and seven sisters including Sister Pauline Marie, OCD, and Sister Verone, OSF. What examples the parents must have set before them to nurture these vocations to the Church!
On March 25, 2012, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Sioux City, IA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of their monastery of Our Lady of the Incarnation. Mother Joseph said the seven sisters “pray for priests. We’re here for the world and for people. There are so many people needing prayers for various hardships, whether it’s unemployment or sickness, addictions, all sorts of things. We’re just here for God’s children and we offer our lives in prayer and sacrifice, but mainly it’s a thing of love.”
She also explained the significance of the religious habit: “We think this is Our Lady’s scapular. It’s a witness to the world set apart for God, I believe. We’re not following the fashions. We’re the people that are chosen as the brides of Christ.”
Young Brittlyn (Sr. Teresa), at left and Kalyn (Sr. Faustina) are here seen rejoicing in the gift of Our Lady’s habit. It didn’t come easily for either of these Lafayette Carmelites.
“Daddy, Go back”
Kalyn Meche met the Sisters when she was about ten years old. Her family was driving by their monastery when she saw one of them in the yard.
“Daddy, go back. I’d like to talk to that Sister!” From then on, there was a desire and love for Carmel that never left her. She kept in contact with the community, made days of recollection at the monastery, and received encouragement and advice from her spiritual director. After going through many trials and difficulties, Kalyn entered the monastery on October 1, 2010, at the age of 18.
Her first months were not easy but she remained firm in her determination to be a Carmelite. On September 30, 2011, Kalyn received the Habit of Our Lady and became Sister Maria Faustina of Merciful Love.
The date was significant for her in that it is the date of St. Therese’s death and the birthday of Mother Theresa Margaret, their Foundress. Sister has always had a great devotion to St. Faustina and St. Therese. She loves their spirit of total abandonment and trust and endeavors to incorporate these childlike virtues in her own life. Her desire of many, many years has been fulfilled.
“All I want now is to be a true Carmelite and a loving Bride of Jesus.”
Dying Mother’s Blessing
Brittlyn Sonnier, likewise 18 when she entered, came to know of the Lafayette Carmelites through one of the weekend Veritas Retreats. She had struggled against a vocation for a few months, but after the retreat and coming to see the community, she knew that Jesus was calling her to Carmel.
When asked what she expected to find in Carmel, her reply was: “I really don’t know. All I know is that Jesus wants me there.” The date of her entrance was set for October 15, 2010.
Brittlyn’s mother was dying of cancer, and she wondered whether she should enter as planned or stay and help her father care for the other four younger children. Being a family of deep faith, they encouraged her to go to Carmel if she felt God calling her.
She then asked her Mother, whom she was caring for in the hospital. True to her conviction of Brittlyn’s vocation, Monique gave her eldest daughter her blessing and encouraged her in her desire to give herself entirely to Our Lord.
This is indeed the niche God has chosen for her. She has imbibed the spirit of the community from the start and has a deep spirit of prayer and generosity. On October 15, 2011 Brittlyn received the habit and became Sister Teresa of Jesus.
For more information on the Lafayette Carmelites, click here.
Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of the great Carmelite doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross.
In a particular way, we want to send feast day greetings to the Discalced Carmelite Friars, St. Joseph Province, one of our IRL affiliates.
The friars are disciples of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, and they live as brothers in community. With Mary as their patroness, they serve Christ and His Church through ministries of prayer, presence, evangelization, and pastoral care.
As with all Carmelites, their primary ministry is prayer. All of their other ministries in the Church are but an outpouring of that relationship with God. They serve in parishes, retreat houses, spirituality centers, hospital pastoral care, spiritual direction and prison ministry with a special emphasis on their service to Carmelite nuns and seculars.
The St. Joseph Province encompasses most of the western United States, with most of their houses in California and Arizona.
For more information on discerning a possible vocation with this community, click here.