My Peace…I give to you..

(The beautiful chanted Salve Regina, with which my Carmelite Community always ends our meetings.)

Today was my monthly meeting for the Secular Discalced Carmelites, of which I have been a member for 16 years.

It is hard to believe that it has been that long since I nervously walked into my first meeting, not knowing anyone, but feeling called there by a desire which had long been in my heart. It is fascinating to look back and see how God begins preparing us for the future, even though we are completely unaware.

I had been taught by Carmelite sisters, of the Order of Ancient Observance (O.Carm.), from first grade all the way through highschool. I remember receiving my acceptance letter into Mt Carmel Academy.  It began, “Dear Carmelite..,” and that especially delighted me for some reason.

Years later, I read The Story of a Soul, and immediately fell in love with St. Therese and sat at her feet imbibing her wisdom and her science of love, as I read every available book I could find about her.  I have a personal collection of at least fifty such books, and have read more besides, in addition to countless articles in Carmelite publications throughout the years.

And then, in God’s timing, I learned that there was a community of Secular Discalced Carmelites in my area, and after a retreat and much prayer, I gathered the courage to attend that first meeting.

This morning, I was rushing as usual, praying not to be late, and trying to shake a migraine which had awakened me before dawn.  During the past few years, it is always that way. I have come to expect that meeting days will be a challenge.

In the beginning, it was quite the opposite. I looked forward to these special days and always arrived a bit early to talk and laugh with my formation companions. I loved my formation classes and never fell behind in the required reading and other assignments. LIke the first steps in the spiritual life which are usually strewn with much spiritual joy and many consolations, so also were my first steps in Carmel.

Now it is different, as there are always challenges just getting out of the house. I am not one to see the devil behind every bush, but I do believe he is always at work trying to grind us down, and discourage us from anything which will enable us to progress in our love for and union with our God. 

My current journey in Carmel also reflects the spiritual desert I have been living in for some years now. It is hard to pray, impossible to meditate … a spiritual existence devoid of any sweetness or consoling feelings.  As I walk through day after day like this, I also greet my monthly meetings in much the same way. My closest friends have left Carmel, and other beloved members have passed away. There are many new members I hardly know, as they joined during the two years before my parents died, a period when I had to miss many meetings. There was a certain disconnect, as I was not present for some clothings and professions and not available to participate in discussions about implementing changes, etc.

So now, I tend to sit in the back, quietly listening and observing, and endeavoring to be faithful to my current assignment as infirmarian, which makes me responsible to see that our sick and homebound members are not forgotten.

But, as on the spiritual journey, no matter which stage one may be in…no matter how dark and dreary and dry as a bone one’s soul feels, yet, deep within, there is that Peace which the Savior promised, a peace the world cannot give. It is in the center of the soul, where the King dwells with His treasures.

This peace is not so deep in the beginning, and can still be disturbed when especially painful crosses fall upon us, but as time passes, it penetrates more deeply into our hearts, and like a welcome anchor, is not easily shaken. And joy too remains…not the sunny bursts of joy which once made our souls dance and sing, but a quieter joy which comes from being absolutely certain that God is always with us, and will never abandon us. We have learned that He does not leave when the consolations go, and that is such a comfort. We have not lost Him because we no longer feel His Presence. We continue to trust, and that is much more reliable evidence than feelings.

For a Carmelite, it is now living what we once only learned about in formation, from our spiritual masters and Doctors of the Church, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Jesus.

And so I thank my Almighty King Jesus, that the Peace and Joy which lit up my soul on meeting days in my early years in Carmel, are still with me today, although now they are more like a gentle breeze, wafting across my heart, ever so gently, and reassuring me that: Yes, the vocation I embraced 16 years ago was indeed God’s Will for my life.

Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Evening Prayer II
Responsory:

The whole creation proclaims the greatness of Your Glory.
-The whole creation proclaims the greatness of Your Glory.
Eternal ages praise,
-the greatness of Your Glory.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
-The whole creation proclaims the greaness of Your Glory.

Promises

With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord, God of hosts. (I Kings 19:14)

Today is very special to me.  Ten years ago, on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I made my Definitive (final) Promise as a Secular Discalced Carmelite.  It was the culmination of six years of preparation.

I think the special dates in our life, such as birth, death, baptism, marriage, etc., often have some significance, and so I was delighted that the day of my Definitive Promise fell on such a magnificent feast.

Three of us made our final commitment in Carmel that day.  A storm raged outside the Church, dedicated to Our Lady.  We could hear the rain pouring, as we read our Promises following the gospel at a special Mass being celebrated for our Carmelite community.

“For the rest of my life….”  It was like a wedding.  I dreamed of being the perfect Carmelite.  My two companions and I were giddy with excitement.  We took pictures.  We cut a cake.  We wrote out and signed the text of our Promise in a special log book.  Many had filled that book before us.  Some had passed into eternal life.  Others had left the Order.

Now, ten years later, one of us has severe back problems and can no longer attend meetings.  Another has left the Order, and as for me, well I am certainly NOT a perfect Carmelite.

A wise Franciscan priest, now deceased, once counseled me:  A vocation is the work of a lifetime.  You will always fail at times.  Don’t become discouraged.

My friend left because she felt she was not living up to her Promise.  I stay because I keep believing that tomorrow I will do better. 

My “wedding” was ten years ago, and today I live as in a marriage, with good times and bad.  Ups and downs.  Outpourings of love and faithfulness and periods of lukewarmness where prayers and promises get overwhelmed by the sheer demands of daily life.

But always there is the desire to remain faithful, to keep promises, to begin again, to seek refuge and forgiveness in the Merciful Heart of the Divine Spouse who somehow never gives up on me.

I am grateful for my 16 years in Carmel, and especially for my tenth anniversary today.

A vocation to a secular order is a great gift.  Many Catholics are not aware of this possibility for them — to belong to a secular (third) order.

I plan to write more about this topic in the future, with the hope that others will consider one of the many secular orders in the Church.  They all offer a beautiful path to holiness, and a unique way to serve others.

Meanwhile, I give thanks to the Triune God Who has taken me this far, my Beloved Three in One Who chose this day as a feast for me too.

Jesus came to be flesh like me,                                
The Father’s gaze trusting the Virgin
While the Spirit overshadowed her.
Most Holy Trinity, I love You so!

Queen, Beauty of Carmel, pray for us!