Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the Carmelite Sisters’ Motherhouse Chapel, Alhambra, CA

Directed to Christ and oriented to Him, Carmel is also directed to Mary and oriented to her. ‘Completely Marian’, Totus marianus est, Carmelite authors like to repeat throughout the centuries, and of all their titles none is dearer to the sons (and daughters) of Elijah than that of Brother (and Sisters) of our Lady. It is historically certain that the first hermits who retired to Mount Carmel…made their center a chapel consecrated to our Lady, and from that time of…the first Prior General, the Carmelites were called Brothers of our Lady of Mount Carmel. So devotion to our Lady is seen to be one of their disctinctive signs.

‘Despite its historical inexactitudes, the Book of the Institution of the First Monks shows that the Order is dominated by the two great figures which represent on different levels, its ideals: Elijah and our Lady.’ At Carmel what is true of our Lord is also true of our Lady. Contemplative life advances by assimilation and union, much more than by images, examples and models. Preserving all due proportion, what we have said of Christ, we repeat about Mary.

Our Lady is for Carmelites not only the Mother of Christ and their own mother. She also represents and expresses the soul’s essential attitude before God. Mary not only sums up the whole Old Testament, she represents all humanity. She is its soul athirst for God, longing for God, hoping for God. All her strength and all her faculties are turned toward God so that she may receive and fully live by Him.

Our Lady is also the place of the divine response, of the divine coming. In her, humanity becomes conscious of God’s desire and fully efficacious will to give Himself to us. Mary is the place of this meeting; better still, she is the temple in which is consummated God’s espousals with humanity, the hidden sanctuary in which the Spouse is united with the bride, the desert that flowers at the breath of God.

In Carmel God is the objective, but the soul will become more and more Mary. The reason why the Rule does not mention our Lady is clear. Carmel seeks to gaze upon God and love God with mind and heart. What Mary represents is the soul itself. As the soul is united to Christ, so Carmel is hidden in Mary. For Carmel, Mary is, beyond any doubt, the infinitely admirable and lovable Mother, the all-merciful Mother, but deeper than this, she is the one who was chosen and formed by God to be the Mother of the Savior; she is the purest, highest, and most perfect expression of the soul that is open to the divine action and lives in Mary’s light and in Mary’s love. She is par excellence, the contemplative soul.

Original painting of St. Elijah and St. Elisha in the Carmelite Sisters’ Motherhouse choir, Alhambra, CA

Excerpt taken from Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition By Paul-Marie of the Cross, O.C.D. Translated by Kathryn Sullivan, R.C.S.J.

“Although it is certain that ‘schools of prophets’ were established on Mount Carmel in the footsteps of Elijah and Elisha, it is impossible to discover how and when these schools became permanent institutions. Despite the mystery of these beginnings Carmel has always claimed Elijah as its own and has seen in him one who inaugurated the eremitic and prophetic life that is its characteristic. …he is the man whom the Spirit of Yahweh led into deep solitude and who, drawing waters from the ‘torrent of Carith’, drank from the rivers of living water and tasted, in contemplation, pleasures that are divine.

Therefore, if it is in documents that we wish to find the spirit of Carmel it is to the chapters in the first book of Kings dealing with this prophet that we must go. In Elijah, Carmel sees itself as in a mirror. His eremtic and prophetic life expresses its own most intimate ideal. In studying the life of Elijah, Carmel is aware of a growing thirst for contemplation. It perceives its deep kinship with this man who ‘stood in the presence of the living God’. If it share his weaknesses and his anguish, it also knows his faith in God and his zeal for the ‘Yahweh of armies’, the Lord of Hosts, and it has tasted the same delights of a life hidden in God that the prophet also experienced.

When it discovers in the light of the inspired word that Elijah, ‘in the strength he drew from the divine food, walked forty days and forty night to Horeb, the mountain of God’, it is not in the least surprised. There, in the bleak wastes of Sinai, we read in the book of Exodus that Moses, silent and alone, perceived Yahweh’s mysterious presence in the light of fiery flames that burned the bush without soncumin it. There the incommunicable Name, the divine transcendence and benevolence, were revealed to him. How could the father of contemplative life not have been drawn to this mountain, where God spoke to Moses ‘as one speaks to a friend’, where a human being dared address this prayer to God: ‘show me Thy glory’? How could he have failed to see that all the essential elements to contemplation were already contained in the scene on Horeb?

So we may say that having found its model in Elijah, Carmel advances with him toward the very origin of true contemplative life. Or, it might be more exact to say that having found the contemplative experience in its origin, the Carmelites, wishing to renew this experience, feel obliged to recreate in their souls the climate in which this life grew: the desert with its spiritual solitude and silence. And they in their turn, feel constrained to undertake this persevering march toward the mountain of God where the fire burns but does not consume.”

Statue of St. Teresa of Avila in the Carmelite Sisters’ Motherhouse choir, Alhambra, CA

Saint Teresa of Avila was born into the respected and well-known Cepeda y Ahumada family, a name associated with nobility, influence and power. She was a spirited little one — very pretty, very smart, witty, self-willed, and ardent.

At the age of seven, she heard that the Moors were killing Christians, sending them straight into heaven as martyrs. Teresa convinced her little brother to join her on a journey to find these Moors, become martyrs and gain their tickets to heaven. Luckily, an uncle intercepted them. At the age of fifteen, she had the life-wrenching pain of experiencing the loss of her mother.

Five years later, against her father’s wishes, she entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain. Her father eventually gave her his blessing. Although she still carried her noble name and title, it was not recognized in the monastery. During her first years as a Carmelite, she led a superficial life. That life satisfied her for a while, but never completely. When she became ill, God entered into that illness with Teresa. During this time, Teresa embraced the power of mental prayer and contemplation and deepen

ed her interior union with Christ. Teresa began to live the spiritual life seriously, but found herself distracted by worldly temptations and distractions. One day, while walking down the convent hallway, she took special notice of a statue of Christ she had passed many times. On this encounter, however, her life was changed. From then on, prayer framed her life. Teresa was a mystic, a reformer, a gifted writer.

After twenty-five years as a Carmelite nun, she began her God-given mission of reforming the Carmelite order. Teresa established monasteries of Discalced Carmelite nuns. She was asked by her confessor to write about her intense life of prayer. She struggled to put into writing the depth of her prayers and the intimacy of her relationship with God. Her masterpiece, The Interior Castle (her journey through the seven stages of prayer), symbolically expresses her own interior prayer as well as her struggles to put these experiences into writing.

Saint Teresa learned that her weaknesses and faults were not obstacles to God’s powerful love. God needs only our sincere, consistent effort. He will bring us where He wants us to be. He does not need our success. He needs us to make a sincere, genuine, effort to progress on our spiritual path. He wants us to converse freely and intimately with Him. He wants us to be open to His will and to invite Him into our hearts. He is there –waiting for us.

Teresa died in 1582 and was canonized a saint in 1622. In 1970, St. Teresa of Avila was proclaimed “Doctor of the Church.”

Relief of St. John of the Cross in the Carmelite Sisters’ Motherhouse chapel, Alhambra, CA

Excerpt taken from Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition By Paul-Marie of the Cross, O.C.D. Translated by Kathryn Sullivan, R.C.S.J.

Carmelite spirituality owes just as much to St. John of the Cross as it does to St. Teresa. The mystical doctor considers mystical life under its essential and complimentary aspects. First, he discusses the work of detachment in a soul advancing toward God; then he examines God’s direct action in a soul who submits passively to this divine action. He then sings of the joys and splendors of divine union. In other words, his work embraces the whole question of the transformation of our being and our way of acting under the influence of the Spirit of God.

St. John of the Cross has given us a work that is unique because of its richness of his experience (as much psychological as mystical) and the holiness of his life. He goes beyond pure speculation because he wants lovingly, tenderly, and warmly, to persuade souls to journey along the path to divine union and to show them its treasures. To do this he makes use of a very rare poetic gift that enable him sweetly to communciate to souls the lights he has received and the living flame of his love for God.

With the whole tradition of Carmel to support him, John of the Cross unhesitatingly answers, ‘the path of the Bible and the Gospel, that is to say, the path that is Christ.’ At Carmel, the soul always draws strength fromthe divine Word. Of course this means both the Old and New Testaments, for Carmel’s roots are fixed deep in Scripture… What St. John seeks is the path that leads quickly and surely to the summit of the mount of perfection and therefore to union with God.

From this point of view the place he gives to faith is better understood. Its mission is to purify the soul’s vision of God. In fact, it alone can remove whatever acts as a screen or an obstacle to the possession of God and enable us to see things truthfully, because faith is ‘an interior light derived from the light of God which illumines all things in the light of God and makes us see them as He does.’

Statue of St. Therese in the gardens of the Carmelite Sisters’ Motherhouse and Sacred Heart Retreat House, Alhambra, CA

Excerpt taken from Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition By Paul-Marie of the Cross, O.C.D. Translated by Kathryn Sullivan, R.C.S.J.

“Those who concentrate on the life and doctrine of this child of Carmel who died at the age of twenty-four are seized with wonder and admiration. They discover, in fact, that her contribution to spirituality is as original as it is profoundly traditional. They also discover that hidden under the Gospel-like simplicity of her message of ‘the little way of childhood’ is a spiritual structure both strong and perfectly balanced from the theological point of view. Her life of love of the absolute and of absolute love is of rare depth and fullness. It was a combination of certain interrelated spiritual principles and constitutes a true doctrine: this is ‘the little way of childhood’. This doctrine is derived from a rediscovery of the central teaching of the Gospel, which may be expressed in this sentence: We are, in Christ, God’s children, and we ought to love our Father in heaven with a filial liove full of confidence and abandonment.

St. Therese had very great desires, yet she would never admit that she was a great soul or that she had the strength necessary to do great things, like the saints who had been proposed to her as models. So she had to find a way in keeping with this littleness of which she was so deeply conscious. More than this: she sought a way that depended on this very weakness. Had not the Apostle said: ‘When I am weak then I am strong’…Confidence in God led St. Therese by paths of self-forgetfulness and poverty of spirit, to a wonderful simplification of the spiritual life. As she made spiritual childhood her own, so she made poverty of spirit her own. She aspired to be nothing more than ‘a poor little child’ who looks to her Father for everything and who obtains everything from Him because of this same poverty.

When we look at the life of St. Therese of the Child Jesus we are struck by its simplicity and wonderful transperancy. We are amazed to discover through her not only the purest Gospel teaching but Christ Himself. We also notice that the unity of her spiritual life, and death are of a price, yield the same tone, and are proof of an equal plenitude. Like her Master, Therese is true, and also like Him, her person and her message are one.

St. Teresa of the Andes

This article is taken from “Catholic Spirit,” April 2009, (Diocese of Austin, Texas) by Mary Lou Gibson

“To lovingly offer ourselves to the father in order to accomplish his adorable will –– this I reckon is the plan of holiness.” These are not the words of a theological scholar, doctor of the church or eminent clergyman, but of a 19-year old Carmelite novice, Teresa of Jesus. She was born Juana Fernández Solar in Santiago, Chile on July 13, 1900. Known as “Juanita” to her family, she was 6 when she knew that God was drawing her to him. She wrote later in her diary, “It was shortly after the 1906 earthquake that Jesus began to claim my heart for himself.” (“God the Joy of My Life, The Diary of Blessed Teresa of the Andes,” translated by Michael D. Griffin)

Juanita’s parents, Miguel Fernández and Lucia Solar, were members of the Chilean upper class. She grew up with three brothers and two sisters, her maternal grandfather and several uncles, aunts and cousins. She was educated in the college of the French Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Juanita developed a profound devotion to the Eucharist that became more intense after she made her first Communion at the age of 10. She was a naturally proud, self-centered and stubborn girl who was transformed by the Eucharist that gave her the mystical grace to lead a life of prayer. The holiness of her life was evident to friends and family and shined in all situations.

Editor Bernard Bangley (“Butler’s Lives of the Saints”) related that when Juanita was in her early teens, she read the “Story of a Soul” by Thérèse of Lisieux. She was so moved by this autobiography, she decided she wanted to become a Carmelite nun. She also read the biographies of Teresa of Avila and Elizabeth of the Trinity, which further increased her desire to join the Carmelites. In May 1919 she entered the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in the township of Los Andes, some 90 kilometers from Santiago. The Carmelites there lived in extremely primitive conditions, Bangley reported. She took the name of Teresa of Jesus. Love, service and prayer dominated her religious thought. She felt fulfilled in the Carmelite way of life and knew it was what she was born to do.

A few months into her novitiate, her health began to deteriorate. Rosemary Ellen Guiley (“Encyclopedia of Saints”) wrote that by the following March she knew that she would soon die. She began to write letters sharing her thoughts on the spiritual life with many people. (“Letters of Saint Teresa of Jesus of the Andes,” translated by Michael D. Griffin) Teresa contracted typhus on Good Friday, April 2, 1920. On April 7, because of danger of death, she made her religious profession. She died on April 12 as a Discalced Carmelite novice. Her remains are venerated in the Sanctuary of Auco-Rinconada of Los Andes where an estimated 100,000 pilgrims visit each year.

Pope John Paul II declared her Blessed on March 4, 1987 before a million people in Santiago. He canonized her in 1993. St. Teresa of Jesus of Los Andes (Teresa de Jesús “de los Andes”) was the first Chilean to be declared a saint. She is the first Discalced Carmelite nun to become a saint outside the boundaries of Europe. St. Teresa of the Andes is the patroness of young people. Her feast day is April 12 and her attributes are a small cross and flowers.

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

An estimated six million Jews and four million Christians died in the Holocaust. One of these was Edith Stein (Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D.), philosopher, scholar, Carmelite nun, and now – canonized saint. Edith was the eleventh child of Siegfried and Augusta Stein. She was born in Breslau, Germany, into an observant Jewish family on the “Day of Atonement” which fell that year on October 12, 1891. As a young child, she was described as “headstrong and saucy.” By age seven, her contemplative spirit became apparent when she began to speak of a sweet hidden life within her.

Although Edith was brilliant and at the top of her class consistently, she dropped out of school when she was fourteen. Her principal, seeing her academic potential and the high caliber of her schoolwork, was utterly disgusted. During the following ten months, which she spent helping her sister Else with her first child, Edith lost her faith and began what she called her “search for the truth.” It led her to the university, the study of phenomenology, a doctorate in philosophy, summa cum laude, and a brilliant career as a phenomenologist. She considered herself an atheist and wrote, “My only prayer now is my search for the truth.”

One evening she picked up a book, a German translation of the Autobiography of St. Teresa and read it in one night. When she finished reading, she closed the book and exclaimed, “This is truth.” She soon became a Catholic and then entered Carmel in 1933, receiving the name Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. When the Holocaust was reaching its darkest days, she was discovered by Hitler’s S.S. agents and, together with her sister Rosa, was taken to a concentration camp on August 2, 1942. One of the witnesses reported that, as they walked hand in hand to the corner to board the waiting van, Edith (Sister Benedicta of the Cross) said to Rosa, “Come, let us go for our people.” They died at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942, from Zyklon B poison gas.

The Red Cross, eight years later, confirmed the date of their deaths. A prolific writer as well as a brilliant scholar, Sister Benedicta of the Cross has left many books and other writings to us. In her writings, she delves assiduously into truth and investigates the deeper questions of life. “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?”

Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on May 1, 1987, and canonized her on Oct. 11, 1998.

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

Excerpt taken from Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition By Paul-Marie of the Cross, O.C.D. Translated by Kathryn Sullivan, R.C.S.J.

St. Elizabeth Catez was born in France in 1880. After her father’s death in 1887, the family moved to the second floor of a house that overlooked the Dijon Carmel. During her first visit with the prioress of the Dijon Carmel, her prioress told her that her name meant “House of God.” This deeply affected Elizabeth. As her spirituality deepened, she grew in awareness of the presence of God within her. She accepted her mother’s wishes to wait until she was twenty-one before she entered the Carmelites. She died in 1906.

In her brief twenty-six years, Elizabeth encapsulated the Carmelite attributes of reflective prayer, living in the present moment, loving God wholeheartedly and serving others with simplicity. Her life can be a witness for each one of us. With the help of grace, we, too, can live in intimacy with God and in service to others. Isn’t this connected to our baptismal call? She envisioned each incident and circumstance of life as a sacrament, which brought God to an individual and assisted an individual to become more aware of God’s indwelling presence. “Every happening, every event, every suffering as also every joy, is a sacrament that gives God to the soul,” she tells us.

Elizabeth had an intense love for scripture. As she prayerfully and reflectively read the gospel, she grew in God’s love. She did not preach the gospel with words; she lived it with her life. Elizabeth encourages us to live our Christian vocation to the full, by living every aspect of our day generously and with ardor. She challenges us to plunge deeper into our spiritual life, thus broadening our understanding of other aspects of our lives and the workings of the mysteries of God therein.

Elizabeth’s Prayer to the Most Holy Trinity:

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth f from you, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your cherished dwelling-place and the place of your repose. Let me never leave you there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to your creative action.

O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you even unto death! Yet I sense my powerlessness and beg you to clothe me with yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Savior.

O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on you and to remain under your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave your radiance.

O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were incarnate again in my soul. May I be for him a new humanity in which he can renew all his mystery.

And you, O Father, bend down towards your poor little creature. Cover her with your shadow, see in her only your beloved son in who you are well pleased.

O my `Three’, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your splendor!