July 28, 2008

Blessed John Soreth (Priest)

1394-1471 – Optional Memorial - July 28

John Soreth was born near Caen in Normandy in 1394 and entered the Carmelite house there. Ordained priest around 1417, he became a doctor of theology in Paris in 1438 and then regent of studies there. He was Provincial of the French Province from 1440-1451 and Prior General of the Order from 1451 until his death.

Blessed John Soreth was persistent in his efforts at renewal, during what was an especially critical period for both the Church and the Order. He stressed the obligations of poverty, solitude, and fidelity to the religious vows. He dedicated himself entirely to the reform of the Order, traveling across Europe, making canonical visitations, preaching against abuses and excessive privileges, which were destroying community life and promoting a more faithful observance of religious life both in the older Provinces and convents and in the Mantuan Reformed Congregation. Soreth was a gentle and sympathetic person, quietly urging his men, encouraging them to a more dedicated form of life. But despite his compassion and his vigorous efforts at reform, his admonitions were generally unheeded. He wrote a commentary on the Rule, his Expositio paranetica, and published new revised Constitutions in 1462.

His most enduring accomplishment was the foundation of the Carmelite nuns, and the Carmelite Third Order. His efforts with the Third Order seemed to parallel his work with the Second Order. His rule attempted to follow the broad outlines of the Rule of St. Albert, and there is marked insistence upon his constant theme: continual prayer. He prescribes fast and abstinence for the tertiaries, and obliges them to recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, which could be commuted into a number of Paters and Aves. A unique factor of Soreth's rule, distinguishing it from all other third orders, was the profession of a vow of obedience and a vow of chastity according to one's state of life. Soreth's practice of the two vows for secular members endured throughout the centuries, and today Carmelite tertiaries are the only Third Order secular members in the Church who pronounce vows.

He died at Angers on the July 25th, 1471 and the Carmelite, Baptist Spagnoli, the famous humanist, wrote a funeral song for him. He is called blessed and Pope Pius IX officially recognized his religious group in 1866. His feast is celebrated on July 28th.

July 27, 2008

Bl. Titus Brandsma - O. Carm.

Priest & Martyr
1881-1942 – Optional Memorial July 27

Born at Bolsward (The Netherlands) in 1881, Blessed Titus Brandsma joined the Carmelite Order as a young man. Ordained priest in 1905, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in Rome. He then taught in various schools in Holland and was named professor of philosophy and of the history of mysticism in the Catholic University of Nijmegen where he also served as Rector Magnificus. He was noted for his constant availability to everyone. He was a professional journalist, and in 1935 he was appointed ecclesiastical advisor to Catholic journalists. During the 1930's he visited Ireland and stayed in Kinsale with the Carmelite Community there to improve his English before giving a series of lectures in the United States. Both before and during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands he fought, faithful to the Gospel, against the spread of the Nazi ideology and for the freedom of Catholic education and the Catholic press. For this he was arrested and sent to a succession of prisons and concentration camps where he brought comfort and peace to his fellow prisoners and did well even to his tormentors. On July 26, 1942, this Carmelite priest was injected with a deadly drug that, ten minutes later, took his life. To the end he radiated cheerful courage and exhorted all not to yield to hatred but to be patient. John Paul II beatified him on November 3rd 1985.


Each of us must walk our personal way of the cross, sooner or later. For most of his life, the gentle and saintly Dutch Carmelite priest, Father Titus Brandsma, was a distinguished scholar and writer. The arrival of the Nazis, in Holland made him a champion of freedom, justice, and faith, but his life would become a path of cruel suffering.

The life, suffering, and death of Titus Brandsma are mirrored in the lives of millions of victims of oppression and injustice, both yesterday and today. He gives us a powerful example of modern Christian witness. Even in the midst of the horrors of the concentration camp at Dachau, Titus Brandsma found not despair, but peace. His story is important today to all who seek to follow Christ. The life of Titus Brandsma might well be summed up in his own words:

"The person who wants to win the world for Christ…
…must have the courage to come in conflict with it."

July 24, 2008

Blessed Martyrs of Guadalajara

Bl. Maria Pilar of St. Francis Borgia
Bl. Teresa of the Child Jesus & St. John of the Cross
Bl. Maria Angeles of St. Joseph
Virgins - 1877, 1909, & 1905 - 1936 – Optional Memorial – July 24

On July 24th, 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, Communist troops murdered three Discalced Carmelite Nuns at the Monastery of Guadalajara, Spain. They were: Maria Pilar of St. Francis Borgia (age 58/born Jacoba Martinez Garcia - at Tarazona, Zaragoza on December 30, 1877), Teresa of the Child Jesus and of St. John of the Cross (age 27/born Eusebia Garcia y Garcia - at Mochales on March 5, 1909), and Maria Angeles of St. Joseph (age 31/born Marciana Valtierra Tordesillas - at Getafe on March 6, 1905).

After having given witness to their faith in Christ the King and offered their lives for the Church. They were the first fruits, of the many martyrs of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939.

On July 22, with soldiers roaming the city, the eighteen nuns of the Monastery of St. Joseph scattered through the streets disguised in secular clothes. Some found shelter with Catholic families, and Sisters Maria of the Angels, Maria Pilar, and Teresa, along with two other nuns, hid in the basement of the Hibernia Hotel. Two days later, the five left the hotel, two going to a nearby boarding house, the three martyrs making their way up a street. A soldier eating lunch in a parked jeep recognized them and shouted to her companions, "Shoot them! They are nuns!"

Sr. Maria of the Angels died instantly when a bullet struck her in the heart. Sr. Maria Pilar, also hit, cried out, "Viva Cristo Rey (Long live Christ the King)!" The soldiers, furious at the pious exclamation, shot her repeatedly and slashed her with a knife. She died, having lost most of her blood, saying, "My God, pardon them. They don't know what they're doing."

Sr. Teresa was not harmed, and a soldier, pretend¬ing concern, gathered some of his com¬panions and led Teresa to a nearby cemetery, apparently intending to rape her. As they went, she spoke out fearlessly against them, and they angrily insisted she praise communism. To each of their commands she cried, "Viva Cristo Rey!" (“Long live Christ the King”). Told to walk a few steps ahead, she spread her arms in the form of a cross and was shot in the back.

Pope John Paul II beatified them in 1987

Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat

1880-1936 – Optional Memorial – July 24

Mercedes Prat was born on March 6, 1880, in Barcelona, Spain, baptized on the following day. Her parents Juan and Teresa died while she was still a child. She made her first Holy Communion in a school of the Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus on June 30th, 1890. From her childhood she gave herself completely to God, whom she received every day in Communion. She displayed a great love for her neighbor and tried to foster this kind of love in others. During her years in school, she was known for her goodness and her dedication to school work, excelling especially in painting and needlework, which were areas in which she had a natural talent. As an orphan and the eldest daughter, she combined successfully her prayer life, her responsibilities in the home, her artistic talent and her apostolate as a catechist and a member of the Teresian Arch-confraternity. Entering the novitiate of the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus in 1904, in Tortosa, she made her temporary profession in 1907. She was a religious "according to the heart of God:" prudent and truthful, calm and gentle in her reactions, having a natural goodness in all her dealing with others, but firm in character. God was her one love, and her love for God kept growing to the point where she would give her life for Him. In 1920 she was assigned to the motherhouse in Barcelona. From there the path to martyrdom began on July 19, 1936, when the community was forced to give up the school and flee. On July 23, because she was a religious, Sr. Mercedes was arrested and shot; she died in the early morning of July 24.

"A True Teresian" - This is how she was described by one of the Sisters with whom she lived. She was a religious "according to the heart of God": prudent and truthful, calm and gentle in her reactions, having a natural goodness in all her dealings with others, but firm in character. God was her one love, and her love for God kept growing to the point where she would give her life for Him. Mercedes was living in an attitude of submission to the will of God at the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. It was in the month of July 1936 that she was given the opportunity to witness to the depth of her love of God and self-surrender. When asked by the militia to identify herself, she replied that she was a Religious and a teacher. "Do you realize that you can be shot for that?" Mercedes and the sister who was with her were well aware of it. "They are going to kill us," she had said, when leaving the Mother House. "But let us go, I must obey, because it is the will of God."

"An Angel of Sorrow" - Hours of anguish followed, with questioning, threats and pretense of shooting. The 23rd of July was a long day for Mercedes and her companion. Finally, at dawn on July 24th, on the road to Rabasada, the firing squad found her with a prayer on her lips. A few shots rang out. Mortally wounded, she repeated between cries of pain: "Jesus, Joseph, Mary."

Her last words were those of the Our Father: "Forgive us...as we forgive..." To the Sister who closed her eyes she seemed "an angel of sorrow."

July 23, 2008

Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace

Memorial - July 23rd

"The Blessed Virgin Mary was eternally predestined, in the context of the incarnation of the divine Word, to be the Mother of God. As decreed by divine Providence, she served on earth as the loving Mother of the divine Redeemer, his associate, uniquely generous, and the Lord's humble servant. She conceived, bore, and nourished Christ; presented him to the Father in the Temple; and was united with him in his suffering as he died on the cross. In a completely unparalleled way she cooperated, by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity, with our Savior's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is Mother to us all in the order of grace." (Lumen gentium, 61)

July 20, 2008

Our Spiritual Father - Saint Elijah

Prophet & our Father - Feast - July 20

This prophet of God, Elijah, was the chief of the monks, from whom the holy and ancient Order of Carmel took its origin. For it was he who, desirous of greater progress in the pursuit of divine contemplation, withdrew far from the cities and, despoiling himself of all earthly and mundane things, was the first to adopt the holy and solitary life of a prophet which he had established, at the inspiration and command of the Spirit.

In a vision God had ordered him to depart from the ordinary dwelling of men and to hide himself in the crowd, and thus live alone in solitude in the manner described according to him. This proved from clear testimony of holy Scripture. As was written in the book of Kings:

"And the word of the Lord came to him (Elijah) saying: 'Get you hence, and go towards the east and hide thyself by the torrent Carith that is over against the Jordan, and there you shall drink of the torrent: and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there."

Between the years of 1206 and 1214, there existed this group of hermits living in Mt. Carmel in Palestine that had formed themselves into a group under the leadership of a man named Brocard. This group proceeded to ask Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to provide them with a "formulae vitae" or rule of life which became the Carmelite rule. Because of the association of Mt. Carmel with the Prophet Elijah, these first Carmelite hermits took him as their "Dux et Pater", leader and father. They also had a particular devotion to Our Lady, building an oratory, which is a place of prayer, which we now call a church, dedicated to her and by doing so pledged themselves to her service and placed their community under her patronage and protection. Hence, they later became known as: "the Brothers of St Mary of Mount Carmel."

Hermits, belonging to ancient Orders or New Institutes, or being directly dependent on the Bishop, bear witness to the passing nature of the present age by the inward and outward separation, from the world. By fasting and Penance, they show that man does not live by bread alone but by the work of God. Such a life "In the Desert" is an invitation to their contemporaries and to the ecclesial community itself, never to lose sight of the supreme vocation, which is to be always with the Lord.

Our knowledge of Elijah comes mainly from the biblical stories in the First Book of the Kings. He lived around 850 BC when the king of Israel was Ahab. The king married a foreign princess, Jezebel, who was a worshipper of the god Baal. She set out to supplant the worship of Yahweh, the God of Israel, with the worship of this idol. The reign of Ahab was a time of prosperity for Israel but riches were for the few while poverty and oppression were the lot of many.

Elijah is an enigmatic figure - he arrives on the scene very suddenly without any introduction and makes a dramatic exit in a fiery chariot. Elijah is portrayed as a man of God and a man for the people. The central experience of Elijah as a man of God was his journey to Mount Horeb. Elijah had just won a stunning victory over the prophets of Baal when his sacrifice was accepted rather than theirs. Yet despite this demonstration of Yahweh as the God of Israel, fear of Jezebel left Elijah downhearted and depressed. God provided Elijah with the food that gave him strength to journey to Horeb. There God spoke to Elijah not in the mighty crashing of thunder or earthquakes but in the sheer sound of silence. Strengthened by his encounter with God, Elijah is given his commission to return to his ministry. This scene is clearly a highpoint for Elijah and reflection on this scene caused him to be chosen as patron of hermits in Christian times. Yet it is throughout his ministry that we see Elijah portrayed as a man totally at God's disposal. The Word of God dominated the life of Elijah. He is the servant of God before whom he stands. The Word of God pointed Elijah toward service of people.

Elijah was a model of the man of prayer, of one who listened for the voice of God in silence and solitude. The Carmelites changed from being hermits to being mendicant friars when they came to Europe. Then Elijah became for them also a model of their availability for the service of people. Elijah, and the Carmelites after him, became a man for people because he was a man of God. He proclaimed the justice of God in a world full of injustice. Elijah showed his solidarity with the poor and oppressed, with the marginalized of society. This too is an important part of the life of Carmelites.

Elijah and his ministry therefore speak to the two sides of the Carmelite vocation - contemplative and active. We seek to be people of God like him. God gave Elijah the strength to preach His word in difficult circumstances. Our world is very different from that of Elijah but we too are called to proclaim the word of God in and to a society, which is often far from ideal. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ whose whole life was dominated by the desire to do the will of God. He proclaimed that God's Reign was close at hand. By our prayer and service of others, we seek to help people become aware of the presence of God in their lives. By being faithful to both aspects of the Carmelite vocation, we will be faithful to our motto taken from the words of Elijah:

"I have been full of zeal for the Lord God of hosts."

July 17, 2008

Blesseds Teresa of Saint Augustine & Companions

16 Blessed Carmelites - Feast Day - July 17th
The Martyrs of Compiègne as Prophets of Modern Age
Terrye Newkirk, OCDS - ICS Publications

     In mid-July, 1794, in the closing days of Robespierre s Directoire, sixteen Carmelite nuns were guillotined at the Barrière de Vincennes in Paris, convicted of crimes against the state. They were buried in a common grave in a makeshift cemetery, where a single cross today marks the remains of 1,306 victims of the guillotine.1 They were a mere handful of the Revolutions victims; they should have earned at most a footnote in history books. Instead, they have commanded the attention of historians, hagiographers, authors, playwrights, composers, and librettists for two hundred years. In our century the Martyrs of Compiègne have been the subject of at least one massive scholarly history, a German novella, a French play, a film, and an opera. In 1902, Pope Leo XIII declared the nuns Venerable, the first step toward canonization. They were later beatified by Pius X in May, 1906: Carmelites celebrate the memory of the prioress, Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine (Lidoine), and her fifteen companions on July 17, and Catholics may adopt them as patrons. As the bicentenary of their death is observed, many are petitioning for their canonization.
     Within the church, the influence of the Martyrs of Compiègne has been profound, beginning with their fellow prisoners, the English Benedictine community of Cambrai. Catholic religious orders were still forbidden in England, and these exiles had sought a haven in France. But the nuns were imprisoned by the Revolution in October of 1793, and they welcomed the Compiègnoises" when they, too, became inmates of the same house of detention in June, 1794. Learning that the Carmelites were daily offering themselves as victims to divine justice for the restoration of peace to France and the church, the Benedictines regarded them as saintly; when the Reign of Terror ended only days after their martyrdom, the English nuns credited the Carmelites with stopping the Revolution s bloodbath and with saving their own community from annihilation. The nuns of Cambrai preserved with devotion relics of the martyrs the secular clothes they were required to wear before their arrest, and which the jailer forced on the English nuns after the Carmelites had been killed.2 Indeed, the Benedictines were still wearing them when on May 2, 1795, they were at last allowed to return to England, where they became the community of Stanbrook Abbey.3 The Abbess of Stanbrook, on the centenary of the martyrdom, wrote to the Prioress at Compiègne:

     We hold these things in high honor, as twofold relics; relics of the martyrs, and relics of our own Mothers, who were almost martyrs. How happy we are to have kept this sandal for so many years! It seems to invite us to follow in the footsteps of those who, in the person of our [Carmelite] Mothers, bade us farewell so tenderly, before getting into the cart to reach the throne of glory by way of Paris and the guillotine.4
     Other religious communities have also drawn inspiration from Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine and her companions. As a young woman, Saint Julie Billiart, who would one day found the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, often visited the nuns of Compiègne, whose conversation fostered her desire for prayer and sacrifice. Later, in her instructions to her Sisters, the foundress held the martyrs up as models of fidelity and courage under persecution. Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was born five years after the executions and seems to have shared a devotion to the Carmelite martyrs; Father Lamarche, who, at the risk of his life, served the Martyrs as chaplain during the Reign of Terror, was the spiritual director of both Saint Julie and Saint Madeleine Sophie. 5
     One of the best-known devotees of the Compiègne Carmelites was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She kept at least three images of these martyrs in her books, and joined enthusiastically in the 1894 celebrations for the centenary of their martyrdom, the year before her own famous Act of Oblation to Merciful Love." 6 In turn, Thérèse s act has become one of the most renowned prayers in the modern church, serving as a model for countless prayers of self-offering. Among them is O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore" by Elizabeth of the Trinity, the Carmelite mystical writer who died in 1906, the year the Martyrs of Compiègne were beatified.7 That Elizabeth was also directly inspired by the martyrs is shown in her letters:
     How beautiful the [beatification] ceremony of our Blesseds [of Compiègne] must have been, and how you must have given thanks to God, who has led me onto this mountain of Carmel, in this Order made famous by so many saints and martyrs. Oh! how happy I would be if my Master also wanted me to pour out my blood for Him! But what I ask of Him especially is that martyrdom of love which consumed my holy Mother Teresa, whom the Church proclaims a victim of charity." 8
     One can understand the interest of religious people in the nuns; but why should enlightened moderns find these obscure French women so fascinating? Why has a version of their story, Poulencs opera Dialogues des Carmélites, become perhaps the most widely loved modern opera, even among non-Christians and nonbelievers? How does the skeptic empathize with these stubbornly pious women, vowed to remain forever behind monastery walls, devoting themselves to mental prayer and corporal penance and who died rather than abandon their way of life? The opera s compelling image of the sixteen nuns, chanting the Salve Regina as one by one they mount the scaffold, challenges most of modernity s assumptions, after all.9 Juxtaposed with eighteenth-century philosophy, it forms an eloquent critique of the Enlightenment. It is an unspoken Yes, but " that haunts every claim of scientific advance, political emancipation, and intellectual triumph in the post- Cartesian era. The nuns’ Revolutionary contemporaries understood this. But for us to understand why the nuns of Compiègne were considered dangerous enemies of the new French republic, we must glance at the historical background of the Carmelites in France and into French religious history of preceding two centuries.
     The Discalced Carmelites arrived in France at the beginning of the seventeenth century, having overcome formidable political and cultural obstacles to their immigration. Among the Spanish sisters who came to France were several who had been close companions of Saint Teresa of Jesus herself, including Anne of Jesus and Anne of Saint Bartholomew. They were also formed in the spiritual life by Saint John of the Cross. They thus transplanted the very flower of Spanish Golden Age culture, with all its Baroque and militantly Counter-Reformation conventions, to a France, which was already a hotbed of pietism. It was a meeting of two drastically different cultures. The French novices are said to have been astonished when Mother Anne of Jesus danced in the choir. 10
     The first foundation of nuns at Paris was the project of Barbe Acarie, a brilliant and beautiful mother of six who became one of the principal spiritual lights of her age. A mystic who worked tirelessly to relieve the spiritual and material poverty that surrounded her, Madame Acarie attracted to herself the leading religious figures of the day. Among those who frequented her Paris salon were Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Vincent de Paul, André Duval (Regius Professor of Theology at the Sorbonne and Barbe s first biographer), Jacques Gallement, and her young cousin Pierre (later Cardinal) Bérulle, founder of the French Oratory. 11 Of Barbe Acaries wide contemporary influence, French historian Henri Brémond writes:
     The activity of this woman, an invalid and ecstatic, who died at fifty-two, was miraculous. To her is due the introduction into France of the Carmelite Order founded by S. Teresa, which at her death already numbered seventeen houses on French soil; as much and even more than Mme de Sainte- Beuve, she laboured to develop the Ursulines; the reform of the Benedictine Abbeys owes her much, and countless other works also occupied her; lastly, she knew, grouped, stimulated and directed wellnigh all the leading religious spirits of her day. It is not too much to say that, of all the spiritual hearths kindled in the reign of Henri IV, none burned more brightly or equalled the intensity of that of the Hôtel Acarie.12
     Madame Acarie was deeply influenced by Spanish mysticism (she later entered the Carmel at Pontoise); but, strange to say, the most profound impact on her spiritual life may have been made by an Englishman, a convert and Capuchin friar, Benet of Canfield (or Benoît de Canfeld). His small book, Règle de Perfection réduite au seul point de la volonté divine, served as a manual to two or three generations of mystics." 13 Brémond writes further: Completely forgotten today, it is somewhat difficult to realize the importance of his influence; nevertheless, all that his panegyrists say of him falls short of the truth. Master of the masters themselves, of Bérulle, Madame Acarie, Marie de Beauvillier and many others, he, in my opinion, more than anyone else gave our [French] religious renaissance this clearly mystical character which we see already stamping it and which was to last for the next fifty years.14

     Like all authentic Christian mystics, Canfield was neither anti-intellectual nor lacking in aesthetic sensibility. On the contrary, he was a subtle theologian," possessed of the imagination of a poet," whose writing style is marred precisely because he was constantly oscillating between English, French, and Latin." 15 According to Canfield, the mystic annihilates" images even while meditating on them, is detached from ascetical practices even while performing them. Though we have the representation of a crucifix the immensity of faith absorbs and annihilates it." 16 Nonetheless, Canfield, like all genuine contemplatives, aimed for balance and wholeness, avoiding extremes and distortions (such as the exaggerated passivity of some later Quietists). Though sometimes identified with the abstract school" of mysticism, his is an Incarnational spirituality, integrating body, mind, and spirit. On many points, one is struck by a surprising correspondence with St. John of the Cross, though Canfield cannot have known him." 17
     The connection of English Counter-Reformation theology (such as Canfield s) to Spanish mysticism and Protestant poetics has been carefully drawn by Malcolm Mackenzie Ross in Poetry and Dogma: If [the Anglican poet] George Herbert [1593 1633], dismayed by the secularizing tendencies of his day, is driven to an interior and otherworldly piety, how much greater must have been the pull of a pure and detached spirituality on the will of the hated and persecuted [English] Catholic! Certainly, Catholic poets from [St. Robert] Southwell [1561 1595] to [Richard] Crashaw [1613 1649] proclaim contempt for the world, which seems to be just as antihistorical as the note of the disenchanted spiritual Anglican.
     [However,] Southwell s yearning for martyrdom, for an exodus from the historical, is preeminently a yearning, by way of the addition of the merit of his own sacrifice to the corporate treasury of merit, to strengthen the practical life of the visible church, the church which Southwell believes to be a leaven in the world and therefore fully involved in history. His own death, while a personal release from history, is an oblation intended to further the action of the church in history. Here, then, is contempt for the world in the interests of redemption of the world. This is the central paradox of a fully Catholic spirituality. In St. Teresa, withdrawal is an act of renewal; it is a moment in the rhythm of fulfillment, a coiling up of hidden powers which soon will spring into actualization, into history just as in St. John of the Cross detachment from the images of the created order is a high strategy to repossess them, as they really are.18
     With the coming of the Discalced Carmelites into France, the movement Brémond calls the Mystical Invasion" culminated: All that generation, great and small alike, resembled these two [Francis de Sales and Barbe Acarie] more or less. After them, and during the first half of the seventeenth century, the movement continued to extend and develop, but also to grow complicated until the time when we seem to see in the very complication symptoms or menaces of approaching dissolution .19
     As with any great popular movement, there were inevitably abuses and excesses, which provoked a reaction. By the end of the seventeenth century, mysticism had become an object of derision in France. By the time of the French Revolution, contemplative life had receded to its customary and, some would say, proper obscurity. The cloistered nuns of Compiègne maintained some ties with prominent persons: several noble families had been the benefactors of the sisters, who depended entirely upon alms for their sustenance. Since the days of Louis XIV, when one of his former mistresses entered another Carmel as a penitent, the monastery (not far from one of the royal residences) had enjoyed the crown s favor; indeed, the first historian of the martyrs, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, was apparently the natural daughter of the Prince de Conti.20 Mother Henriette of Jesus was the grand-niece of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, chief advisor to Louis XIV. But, for the most part, the nuns avoided political entanglements, asking only to be left unmolested to live their vocation to prayer. Far from being aristocrats themselves, their fathers were shoemakers, stockbrokers, cabinetmakers, laborers little blue blood, a great deal of red." 21
     It was, however, the nuns supposed sympathy for anti-revolutionists that led to their arrest. Within the monastery, authorities found a portrait of the king and images of the Sacred Heart similar to those used by reactionary groups. The religious were accused of halting the progress of public spirit." 22 In reality, however, political factors figured little in the nuns’ condemnation to the guillotine. Something more threatening, something less well defined, and provoked that retribution by civil authorities.
     Throughout the events of the Revolution, the nuns of Compiègne, like most religious communities, obeyed the civil law insofar as possible. Doubtless, they prayed for those in authority over them, as all Christians are counseled to do. It is likely that they kept the royal portrait as a memento of a family that had been kind to them. The Canticle to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" (see Appendix, pp. 37 40), written by a Parisian priest and used as incriminating evidence in the nuns trial because a copy was found in their monastery, bespeaks a longing for peace and order brought about by divine love as any reasonable person shocked by the escalating butchery might have felt. It looks forward to a time when the King will be free," but makes no special mention of his restoration to power. Indeed, in the context this could refer as easily to a heavenly as an earthly king. Yet the state found that grounds existed for executing the sixteen nuns. Why?
     In the Assemblée Nationale on February 13, 1790, M. Garat- l Aine expressed the sentiments of many revolutionaries against religious orders:
     The rights of man will they thus be won? This is the real question. Religious orders are the most scandalous violation of them. In a moment of fleeting fervor, a young adolescent pronounces an oath to recognize henceforth neither father nor family, never to be a spouse, never a citizen; he submits his will to the will of another, his soul to the soul of another; he renounces all liberty at an age when he could not relinquish the most modest possessions; his oath is a civil suicide.23
     Religious life, especially religious obedience, simply makes no sense to the enlightened." Active orders might be tolerated because they provide education or medical care; contemplative orders are, to the rationalist, a mere absurdity. Perceptively, Georges Bernanos places these words in the mouth of the former prioress of the Compiègne Carmelites, Mother Henriette of Jesus:
     We are not an enterprise for mortification or the preservation of the virtues, we are houses of prayer; whoever does not believe in prayer cannot but take us for impostors or parasites.24
     If not impostors or parasites, the poor sisters must, at least, be deluded or intimidated, the revolutionaries believed. When monastic vows were suppressed by order of the Assemblée, city authorities came to the monastery to interrogate each sister as to the motives of her vocation and to offer freedom to any who wished it. When none chose to leave, the officials returned with armed guards that they posted as sentinels within the cloister: they believed that the sisters were afraid to speak for fear of being overheard. One by one, the nuns were brought to be examined. When Mother Henriettes turn came, she handed them a written response and asked them to read it aloud to her:
     How false are the judgments that the world makes of us! Its profound ignorance disapproves of our promises; all that it adorns itself with is but pure vanity. Its only reality is the sorrow that devours it. I despise its pride, I consider its hatred an honor; and I prefer my chains to its spurious freedom. O day of eternal celebration, O day forever holy, when, vowing myself to Carmel I won the heart of God. O beloved and precious bonds I strengthen you each day; all that the earth can offer me is worthless in my eyes; your sarcasm, world-lings, compared to my joy is a dead giveaway: that joy outweighs all the cares to which your soul is prey.25
     It is crucially significant not only that the former prioress elected to reply in verse, but that her answer, while perhaps not a great poem, is both competent poetry and a well- constructed argument. An even more striking example of reasoned rhetoric turned against the nuns would-be liberators occurred when, in 1790, Mother Nathalie of Jesus (Grenelle) addressed the Assemblée Nationale on behalf of French Discalced Carmelites: The most complete liberty governs our vows; the most perfect equality reigns in our houses; here we know neither the rich nor the noble and we depend only on the Law. In the world they like to broadcast that monasteries contain only victims slowly consumed by regrets; but we proclaim before God that if there is on earth a true happiness, we possess it in the dimness of the sanctuary and that, if we had to choose again between the world and the cloister, there is not one of us who would not ratify with greater joy her first decision. After having solemnly declared that man is free, would you oblige us to think that we no longer are? 26
     Such pleas availed little; religious houses were ordered dispersed, and it was even forbidden to meet for common prayer and to wear the habit. The nuns of Compiègne were forced to leave their Carmel on September 14, 1792 the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the day on which the long penitential season in Carmel began.27 Sometime shortly before, the women had pledged themselves to a course of action their persecutors would have found even more incomprehensible than monastic life: through a communal act of consecration, they offered their lives for the sake of peace.
     Between June and September 1792, Mme Lidoine [Teresa of St. Augustine] avowed to her daughters that having made her meditation on the subject, the thought had come to her to make an act of consecration by which the Community would offer itself as a holocaust to appease the wrath of God, and in order that the divine peace which his dear Son had come to bring into the world would be bestowed on the church and the state.28
     Like generations of Carmelites, the sisters had made dramatic representations of martyrdom part of their recreation; these were imaginative rehearsals for the real thing, always regarded as a possibility. Yet they knew that seeking martyrdom too actively could be sinful, a temptation of pride. For almost two years after first making their act of consecration, the nuns, in quiet defiance of the law, lived apart in small groups, dressing as laywomen but meeting for common prayer. Eventually, in mid-June, 1794, they were arrested and tried before the Assemblée Nationale, without attorney or witnesses.29 In the following dialogue the irrational" mystic, Teresa of St. Augustine (Lidoine), answers the charges of the enlightened" president of the tribunal:
     If then you require a victim, here I am; it is I alone whom you should strike, my Sisters are innocent." The President: They are your accomplices." If you judge," said Mother, that they are my accomplices, of what can you accuse our two extern sisters?" Of what? Have they not been messengers for carrying your letters to the post?" But they were ignorant of the content of the letters and did not know the address where I sent them; besides, their position as women in service obliges them to do what they are told." Shut up," answered the President, their duty was to inform the Nation of it." 30
     Testimony was halted there; the nuns were sentenced to the guillotine. An ironic sidelight: the one nun of royal blood, Marie of the Incarnation, happened to be away at the time of the arrest and thus escaped execution; one of only three survivors of her community, she became the martyrs first historian, collecting eyewitness accounts of the nuns deaths.30
     Reverend Mother Émilienne, Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, wrote in a letter:
     I learned from a person who was a witness to their martyrdom that the youngest of these good Carmelites was called first and that she went to kneel before her venerable Superior, asked her blessing and permission to die. She then mounted the scaffold singing Laudate Dominum omnes gentes. She then went to place herself beneath the blade allowing the executioner to touch her. All the others did the same. The Venerable Mother was the last sacrificed. During the whole time, there was not a single drum-roll; but there reigned a profound silence.32
     Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, seventy-eight and an invalid, having been thrown roughly to the pavement from the tumbrel, was heard to speak words of forgiveness and encouragement to her tormentor.33
     Sister Julie had an extreme horror of the guillotine; yet she refused to leave her sisters even when her family sent for her, saying, We are victims of the age, and we must sacrifice ourselves for its reconciliation with God." 34
     Another witness said of the nuns, they looked like they were going to their weddings." 35
     Throughout France a vaunted new age of spiritual maturity, free from the bonds of sectarian religion, was underway. On June 20, 1794, a Feast of the Supreme Being" was celebrated in Compiègne. 36 In November of the previous year, the worship of Reason was officially proclaimed: the church of Saint-Jacques in Compiégne became the Temple of Reason. The church of Saint- Antoine became a public meeting hall and fodder storehouse. In December, the Mayor of Paris had announced in the Temple of Reason that the Declaration of the Rights of Man would henceforth be the catechism of the French, and that the Constitution would be their Gospel.37 The prevailing mood of the times is reflected in a letter of July 17, 1794, from municipal officials of Compiègne to the Comité du Sureté Nationale: The citizens of the Commune of Compiègne and of the District celebrated a civic festival on the 26 of this month (Messidor) in memory of the taking of the Bastille and in rejoicing for the recent victories of our armies. The minutes of the Municipalites attest that everywhere people were animated by the same spirit. The festival was concluded with dances and patriotic banquets.38
     Yet there must have been a growing public unease not evident in this letter. Something in the sight of the nuns being executed seems to have affected even the hardened Parisian crowd, accustomed to cheering loudly each fall of the guillotine blade. Within ten days, by July 27, 1794, Robespierre and the provisional revolutionary government were finished.39
     The double dimension, mystical and prophetic" is the essence of the Carmelite charism: according to ancient tradition, the order traces its origins to a community of hermits gathered near the fount of Elijah on the slopes of Mount Carmel, forever linked in Scripture with the memory of the great prophet. It was only natural, then, that from the beginning Carmelites should see themselves as the spiritual heirs of Elijah, living in his power and spirit; the feastday of Saint Elijah is still celebrated with solemnity in Carmelite monasteries throughout the world. It is certain that since Elijah, carried off like a flaming whirlwind in a chariot with fiery horses, a prophetic spirit has not ceased to breathe on the family of Carmel." 40
     But in what sense are the Martyrs of Compiègne prophets? It may help to recall that the role of the Old Testament prophet was not to predict the future, except incidentally, but to summon the people of Israel to return to their former fidelity: their function was a radically conservative one, in the best sense of both words. The martyrs point backward to something lost; as well as forward to the inevitable consequences of that loss. In the brutal execution of these cloistered religious by a democratic" state founded ostensibly on human reason, we find a metaphor, perhaps, for our own condition, for T.S. Eliot s famous dissociation of sensibility" that has violently subjugated our intuitive, reflective, contemplative selves to rationalism, materialism, and pragmatism.
     In his influential 1954 study, The Poetry of Meditation, Louis L. Martz argues persuasively for the direct connection between religious meditation, especially the Ignatian kind, and the form and content of Metaphysical poetry.41 Approaching the subject from another direction, Father William McNamara, OCD, has speculated on the relationship between what he terms the secular contemplative" and the religious contemplative," asserting that the cognitive and psychological processes for the artist and the mystic are essentially the same.42 Similar conclusions have been reached by researchers Claudio Naranjo and Robert E. Ornstein, among others.43 Still others, such as Carl Jung and Evelyn Underhill, have posited some connection between art and religion, or, more properly, between artistic creation and mystical consciousness. The linkage of poetry with madness and religious ecstasy, indeed, is ancient and common to all cultures. The parallel apparently goes back to the time when the poet, the prophet, and the priest were one and the same and when madmen were considered the special children of the gods, invested with prophetic and magical powers." 44 This relationship may help to explain the perennial fascination with the Martyrs of Compiègne why, for example, a guest fundraiser on public radio recently described hearing Poulenc s opera based on their story, Dialogues des Carmélites, as the most profoundly moving experience of my life."
     Ultimately, however, studies that limit themselves to exploring phenomena common to mysticism and art provoke more questions than they answer. Of course, the connection exists and is well documented. Among the Carmelites of Compiègne alone, for example, the prioress, Teresa of St. Augustine, was a poet and artist two of her pastels have been preserved. 45 Mother Henriette, as we have seen, was a talented poet; Marie of the Incarnation was brilliantly educated" and a gifted scholar.46 But none pursued art for art s sake. Historically, the origin of art, especially of poetry, was in religion; for the mystic, it still is.
     Needless to say, with few exceptions, religion is at best wholly irrelevant to modern artists; at worst, it is a subject for derision or desecration. Even many artists who profess themselves Christian are horrified at the thought of mixing aesthetics with theology; didactic" has become a dirty word.
     When did this radical separation occur? Why have literature, the fine arts, music to some extent, culture itself been abandoned to the secular realm? Louis Martz, like other critics, locates the divorce in the seventeenth century and explains that: the fundamental reason [for the earlier harmonious integration of art and religion] surely lies in sacramental doctrine, in the emphasis on Incarnation which Catholic doctrine involves, and in the consequent sanctification of the sensory which flows from this. It was the doctrine of the real presence" that made possible that delicate sense of presence" which characterizes Catholic meditation on the life of Christ. The reverse, we may suppose, would tend to happen in the mind of one who denied the real presence." 47
     The Anglican critic Malcolm Mackenzie Ross extended this argument in his still-provocative study, Poetry and Dogma. It was, he says, the Reformation theologians tampering with dogma, particularly eucharistic doctrines, that led to imprecision in language and the abdication of the Christian artist what he calls the unfleshing of the Word."
     The fixed star at the centre of the Christian firmament of symbol is the dogma of the Incarnation. The Christian artist, when he knows what he is about, respects his medium, respects his material fact and the historical event, and respects the practical, objective limits of forms. He cannot be, as Shelley was, the poet of an unbodied joy." 48
     The analogical sense of Christian symbol is perpetuated by the Eucharistic insistence on the validity of the material and temporal order. - It is precisely this analogical esteem for things, which falters, in the seventeenth century.49
     The loss of the sense of the presence of God in his creation through the sacraments, Ross claims, underlies the slow dissociation of spirit and matter that occurs over the next four centuries. Matter, unsanctified by the ongoing sacrifice of Christ, becomes an obstacle to, not a means of, reconciliation with God.
     ...The decline of the medieval order of faith may be traced in a growing disharmony between the dogmatic, conceptual, and rhetorical levels of Eucharistic symbol and act. In other words, one can observe in the dissolution of the Christian culture a process of dissociation between faith, thought, and art. The firmament within which Christian poetry had moved during the Ages of Faith was compounded of nature and grace, action and contemplation, matter and spirit. The tension between opposing principles, the structural stress of this firmament, issued from the Eucharistic mystery itself, and is most fully articulated in the Thomist doctrine of analogy.
     The disintegration of this firmament is characterized by a loss of tension, by a springing apart of grace and nature, action and contemplation, matter and spirit.50
     Ross observes that in the poetry of Milton and the Anglicans: time is never understood to be in any way contained by the Presence of Christ. In the [Anglican] prayer book, as well as in Presbyterian and sectarian theology, the sacrifice of Christ is understood as pinned to a receding point in time. Now if the sacrifice is confined to a moment within history, it cannot be conceived of as encompassing history, nor can history, in any degree, fulfill an event from which history must ever move farther away.51
     Puritan iconoclasts, while trying to save Christians from idolatry, end by surrendering the world to it, according to Ross: Paradoxically enough, Calvin aids and abets the antireligious impulse of the hated Renaissance. He abandons to the world what the world is willing and able to have and to hold. In this way the Reformation connives with the Renaissance in the secularization of the arts. To the severe Calvinist cast of mind, art is at best a distraction, not only from formal worship, but also from the serious duties of every day. At worst, art is the occasion of sin. In any case, the artist is invited to go his own way. It should not be surprising that this invitation is extended by a theology which confines the Incarnation to a pinpoint in time and separates the spiritual and ethical values of the Eucharist from the species of the temporal and physical. 52
     Is it simplistic to draw a parallel between the iconoclasm of some figures of the Reformation and that of French revolutionaries? The most radical reformers suppressed monastic life, desecrated sacred places, destroyed religious art, and rejected ornament and nuance in language. So did the revolutionaries. Can it be that contemplation, and the meditative arts it produces, are the enemies of any absolutist movement, political, religious, or literary? If so, what could be more dangerous than a community of women dedicated to prayer centered on the Eucharist, to study, to religious art?
     In its fullest intention the Eucharist is clearly eschatological, lifting the whole body of the faithful out of history and into that ultimate relation with God for which man was created. In discovering and experiencing the end for which he was created (an end beyond history), man also discovers that he must fulfill himself within history. He is called eternally to redeem the time. In this fruitful tension which dogma proclaims between eternity and time there is no support either for an idealistic otherworldliness or for a materialistic immersion in the natural and historical processes. There is room neither for an easy utopianism nor for a stoic despair.53
     It is no wonder that the sixteen Carmelite nuns of Compiègne were killed. Like the Hebrew prophets, they were living witnesses to the former integration of faith, thought, and art." 54 And they pointed to the inevitable consequences of its loss. In living lives wholly focused on the one thing necessary" the contemplation of the Incarnation of God mystics of all ages call into question any less compelling vocation. By their very existence, they force us to reflect on our own lives, our own values a scrutiny that extremists of any kind can scarcely stand.
     Is it only coincidence that Song at the Scaffold, Gertrud von Le Forts novella about the Martyrs of Compiègne, was first published in Germany in 1931 as Adolph Hitler’s’ National Socialist party was gaining phenomenal power? Or again that the Carmelites Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein, who herself wrote admiringly of the Compiègne nuns55) and Blessed Titus Brandsma were among the martyrs of Nazi inhumanity? Like the Martyrs of Compiègne, they embodied timeless spiritual ideals and held to them in the face of torture and death. In Song at the Scaffold, which formed the basis for Georges Bernanos s Dialogues des Carmélites and Poulenc s opera of the same name, von Le Fort s protagonist is a Blanche de la Force (Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ). Unlike other characters in the novella, Blanche is entirely fictional. Throughout her life, she is plagued by overwhelming fear of the Revolutions, of change, of death, even fear of her-own cowardice. Faced with arrest and certain execution, she flees while the rest of her community is imprisoned. Ultimately, through the prayers and example of the other nuns, Blanche gains courage and, at the last moment, joins her sisters in martyrdom. Blanche, I think, stands for all of us who hesitate to confront evil out of fear not only great evils, when speaking the truth can mean pain or death; but the everyday evils, when truthfulness brings only unpleasantness or embarrassment. Like Blanche, we too are the beneficiaries of the prayer and witness of all contemplatives.
     Reformers, reactionaries, or revolutionists any who attempt to separate spirit from matter, faith from works, words from their meanings are right to fear such people. Robespierres avowed purpose was to implement concretely the romantic philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Frances public life; Hitlers diabolical vision apparently derived in part from Friedrich Nietzsches doctrine of the superman," together with a literal reading of theosophical and other occult texts. Such theories, promulgated without regard for objective truth, cannot withstand the light either of reason or of faith. Contemplatives bring both to bear.
     The twentieth century has seen the death of more martyrs for the Christian faith than all preceding centuries combined. In the final scene of Poulencs opera, the Martyrs of Compiègne file serenely to their deaths, as if they were processing from choir to the refectory, singing the Salve Regina to the horrifying cadence of the guillotine s fall. One by one, their voices cease, until the last voice that of Blanche is abruptly silenced by the crash of the blade. It is a stunning moment. One feels suddenly the profound absence of these prayerful spirits.
     As I write these last paragraphs, I am listening to an audiotape of songs sung throughout the year in the Carmel of the Trinity, San Diego. Since the tape was recorded, three nuns of that community have been called home to the Lord. As we mark the two-hundredth anniversary of the Martyrs, let us pray that the contemplative voices in the world will not die out, one by one. Through their prayers; may we all have the courage, like Blanche; to join our voices with theirs, to deepen the life of prayer in the church. Now, more than ever, we need the example and intercession of Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine and her fifteen companions.

The main article from the pamphlet by the same name, copyright 1995 by ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included.

The 16 were:

• Madeleine-Claudine Ledoine (Mother Teresa of St. Augustine), prioress, b. in Paris, 22 Sept., 1752, professed 16 or 17 May, 1775;

• Marie-Anne (or Antoinette) Brideau (Mother St. Louis), sub-prioress, b. at Belfort, 7 Dec., 1752, professed 3 Sept, 1771;

• Marie-Anne Piedcourt (Sister of Jesus Crucified), choir-nun, b. 1715, professed 1737; on mounting the scaffold she said "I forgive you as heartily as I wish God to forgive me";

• Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret (Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection), sacristan, b. at Mouy, 16 Sept., 1715, professed 19 Aug., 1740, twice sub-prioress in 1764 and 1778. Her portrait is reproduced opposite p. 2 of Miss Willson's work cited below;

• Marie-Anne Hanisset (Sister Teresa of the Holy Heart of Mary), b. at Rheims in 1740 or 1742, professed in 1764;

• Marie-Françoise Gabrielle de Croissy (Mother Henriette of Jesus), b. in Paris, 18 June, 1745, professed 22 Feb., 1764, prioress from 1779 to 1785;

• Marie-Gabrielle Trézel (Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius), choir-nun, b. at Compiègne, 4 April, 1743, professed 12 Dec., 1771;

• Rose-Chrétien de la Neuville, widow, choir-nun (Sister Julia Louisa of Jesus), b. at Loreau (or Evreux), in 1741, professed probably in 1777;

• Anne Petras (Sister Mary Henrietta of Providence), choir-nun, b. at Cajarc (Lot), 17 June, 1760, professed 22 Oct., 1786.

• Concerning Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception accounts vary. Miss Willson says that her name was Marie Claude Cyprienne Brard, and that she was born 12 May, 1736; Pierre, that her name was Catherine Charlotte Brard, and that she was born 7 Sept., 1736. She was born at Bourth, and professed in 1757;

• Marie-Geneviève Meunier (Sister Constance), novice, b. 28 May, 1765, or 1766, at St. Denis, received the habit 16 Dec., 1788. She mounted the scaffold singing "Laudate Dominum". In addition to the above, three lay sisters suffered and two tourières. The lay sisters are:

• Angélique Roussel (Sister Mary of the Holy Ghost), lay sister, b. at Fresnes, 4 August, 1742, professed 14 May, 1769;

• Marie Dufour (Sister St. Martha), lay sister, b. at Beaune, 1 or 2 Oct., 1742, entered the community in 1772;

• Julie or Juliette Vérolot (Sister St. Francis Xavier), lay sister, b. at Laignes or Lignières, 11 Jan., 1764, professed 12 Jan., 1789.

• Catherine Soiron (Marie-Anne Soiron), b. at Compiègne, on 2 Feb., 1742, entered the community in 1772;

• Teresa Soiron (Marie-Teresa Soiron), b. at Compiègne, 23 Jan., 1748, entered the community in 1772

The miracles proved during the process of beatification were:

1. The cure of Sister Clare of St. Joseph, a Carmelite lay sister of New Orleans, when on the point of death from cancer, in June, 1897;

2. The cure of the Abbé Roussarie, of the seminary at Brive, when at the point of death, 7 March, 1897;

3. The cure of Sister St. Martha of St. Joseph, a Carmelite lay Sister of Vans, of tuberculosis and an abcess in the right leg, 1 Dec., 1897;

4. The cure of Sister St. Michael, a Franciscan of Montmorillon, 9 April, 1898.

Five secondary relics are in the possession of the Benedictines of Stanbrook, Worcestershire.

July 16, 2008

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

1251 - Solemnity - July 16th
Today, the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
Is the great feast of the Carmelite Order.

     As the Mother of the Redeemer, Mary has a special place in the life of the Church and each Christian. She helps lead us to Jesus and as at the wedding feast of Cana, she pleads for us with her Son. Each religious community also gives her a special place in its life and spirituality, honoring her according to its charism. In Carmel Mary has always held a singular place.
     Mary is the primary patron of the Order of Carmel under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Order of Carmel began on Mount Carmel under the patronage of Our Lady. In the thirteenth century, crusaders, fighting to free the Holy Land from the control of the Turks, realized at Mount Carmel that the first and unending battle for the Church is spiritual. Laying their arms and armor at the foot of the mountain, they ascended it to live as monks fighting to win souls to Christ in solitude and prayer. Taking as their Father and inspiration the Old Testament Prophet Elijah, who had on that very mountain a millennia ago defeated the enemies of God and returned the people of Israel to worship of the one true God, the monks erected a chapel in honor of our Lady of Mount Carmel and took her as their patron. Mary truly became the Lady of Mount Carmel for she reigned in the hearts of these crusaders turned monks by their special consecration and imitation of her. The first Carmelites sought to imitate Mary in her life in Nazareth. They saw as their ideal her silence, solitude, poverty, and especially her close intimacy with Jesus.

     With Mary as patron and ideal of Carmel, she also became the Beauty and Flower of Carmel, the Flos Carmeli. In Mary's perfect “YES”, the Church sees itself brought to perfection. Her splendid purity and loving humility adorn the Church in the eyes of her Divine Spouse. So Mary gives her own beauty to the order of Carmel. Carmelites rely on Mary, their Mother, to bestow on them her own virtue and merit. By her scapular, Mary clothes her children in Carmel with her very self.
     Thus Carmelites see Mary as Mother in the order of grace and honor her under the title Mother of Divine Grace. Carmelites wish to continue on earth the filial love and affection of Jesus toward His Mother. This filial relationship means that Carmelites see all grace as coming to them from Jesus through the loving hands of their Mother. Mary became Mother of Divine Grace itself at Calvary when she held to her heart her dead Son, immolated to become the Fountain of all grace.
     This Divine Grace, which comes to us through Mary, guides us through life as a star guides a ship through the tumultuous sea. Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, is another title for Mary that is very special to Carmelites. It beautifully describes the role of Mary for us, a shining light guiding us in the right way to the Father amidst the storms of life.
     The Church has bestowed many titles on Our Blessed Mother, each one highlighting a different aspect of her beauty and virtue. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Flower of Carmel, Mother of Divine Grace, and Star of the Sea are the titles, which have long been beloved by Carmelites.
     The Sacred Scriptures speak of the beauty of Mount Carmel where the Prophet Elijah defended the faith of Israel in the living God. There, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, under the title of "Saint Mary of Mount Carmel" the Order of Carmelites had its formal beginning. From the fourteenth century this title, recalling the countless blessings of its patroness, began to be solemnly celebrated, first in England and then gradually throughout the whole Order. It attained its supreme place from the beginning of the seventeenth century when the General Chapter declared it to be the principal feast of the Order, and Paul V recognized it as the feast of the Scapular Confraternity.

     Carmelites see in the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and model of the Church, the perfect image of all that they want and hope to be. For this reason, Carmelites have always thought of Mary as the Patron of the Order, its Mother and Splendor; she is constantly before their eyes and in their hearts as "the Virgin Most Pure." Looking to her, and living in spiritual intimacy with her, we learn to stand before God, and with one another, as the Lord's brothers and sisters. Mary lives among us, as mother and sister, attentive to our needs; along with us she waits and hopes, suffers and rejoices. The scapular is a sign of Mary's permanent and constant motherly love for Carmelite brothers and sisters. By their devotion to the scapular, faithful to a tradition in the Order, especially since the 16th century, Carmelites express the loving closeness of Mary to the people of God; it is a sign of consecration to Mary, a means of uniting the faithful to the Order, and an effective and popular means of evangelization.
     Hermits lived on Mount Carmel near the Fountain of Elijah (northern Israel) in the 12th century. They had a chapel dedicated to Our Lady. By the 13th century they became known as “Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” They soon celebrated a special Mass and Office in honor of Mary. In 1726 it became a celebration of the universal Church under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. For centuries the Carmelites have seen themselves as specially related to Mary. Their great saints and theologians have promoted devotion to her and often championed the mystery of her Immaculate Conception.
     St. Teresa of Avila called Carmel “the Order of the Virgin.” St. John of the Cross; credited Mary with saving him from drowning as a child, leading him to Carmel and helping him escape from prison. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus believed that Mary cured her from illness. On her First Communion she dedicated her life to Mary. During the last days of her life she frequently spoke of Mary.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
     The early hermits on Mount Carmel quickly became known as "The Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel" because their little chapel was dedicated to her. The Marian title meant a great deal to the brothers and influenced the spirit by which they tried to live the Gospel message. Many of the older religious orders pick out a special facet of Our Lord's life or teaching, which they want to emphasize and keep alive. From early in their history the Carmelites took on the role of emphasizing the love that Jesus has for his mother, and they have tried to keep that love alive and active in the world. In doing so, they are true to the simplicity of the Gospel where we find that because Jesus loved her, he listened to the implicit prayer of Mary at Cana and again, because he loved her, almost his last words on earth were words of love and concern for her. Mary loved and ministered to Jesus while he was on earth. She is also the mother of the Body of Christ, which is the Church; since we are the Church, she is our mother. As our mother she intercedes for us, showing the same love and concern for the Church as she did for Jesus.

     At the Annunciation, this ordinary young Jewish girl is confronted with her extraordinary vocation. After her prudent concern has been laid to rest, she responds with tremendous faith, hope and love. Faith enabled her to live each day with its worries and fears without doubting the providence of God. Hope filled her with supreme confidence that the promises of God would be fulfilled even when she stood at the foot of the cross. Love possessed her so completely that she was full of grace, full of love and this impelled her to give a loving service to others, to her cousin Elizabeth and to the couple at their wedding in Cana.
     For Carmelites, therefore, Mary is the mother who continues to love and care. She is the model of unobtrusive, gentle, loving service to others. In a very special way she is also the model of quiet, intimate prayer for she pondered all things in her heart and she persevered in prayer with the disciples.
     The fact that Carmelites are a worldwide community with Mary for their mother has given the Order its distinctive family spirit. Visitors who come to stay in Carmelite houses for a few days expecting to meet austere, remote "monks" are surprised to find very ordinary, approachable men, living a fairly ordinary family life with its joys and sorrows and sometimes its family tensions which have to be resolved in a spirit of Christian love. The Church sees the wearing of the brown scapular as an outward sign that the person wearing it wants to try and live the Gospel message taking Mary as mother and model and being united with others as members of the family of Carmel. The desire to love Mary as Jesus loved her, the desire to take her as the model Christian and the desire to live a simple, sincere, unselfish family life are factors which play a very significant part in the life of a Carmelite.

July 13, 2008

Saint Teresa of Jesus ‘of Los Andes’

1900-1920 - Optional Memorial - July 13th

     Juanita Fernandez Solar was born at Santiago, Chile on July 13, 1900. Her parents Miguel and Lucia Fernandez had her baptized two days later, with the Christian name Juana (Joan or Jane); but her family and friends always called her Juanita. From her adolescence she was devoted to Christ. The Fernandezes were able to afford her education in a convent school conducted by the nuns of the Society of the Sacred Heart. From her earliest years, Juanita showed herself a devout child. She was especially attracted to Our Lady, and when still very young she made a promise to recite the rosary daily - a promise that she always kept faithfully. Juanita also showed a precocious thoughtfulness for the elderly and the poor. Once when she discovered that a certain child was in need, she donated her own watch to be raffled off for the benefit of the youngster. These charitable tendencies, however minor, were signs of a deepening spirituality. Juana, although a lively young woman, showed increasing interest in the stories of women saints. The Carmelite mystics St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity had a special influence on her. A religious vocation was in the making.
     Towards the end of secondary school, in 1917, Juanita began corresponding with the prioress of the convent of Los Andes, a monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns. Her request to be received into the order was accepted, and on May 7, 1919, she was clothed with the habit, taking the same name as that of the great Spanish foundress of the Barefoot Carmelites, St. Teresa of Avila: “Teresa of Jesus”. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 3, 1987, at Santiago, Chile, and proposed as a model for young people. As the Holy Father would point out, her significance was precisely an example of one old in wisdom, but contemporary in age.
     “Big” St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) had had a fairly long life, dying at 67. This “little” Teresa of Jesus was a nun for less than a year. The details of her spiritual career are not yet widely known, but it must have been one of intensive maturation.
     Preaching at the Mass of her canonization, the Holy Father pointed out the young nun's deep sense of her calling to offer up in silence her prayers and pains for the redemption of sinners. “We are co-redeemers of the world,” she once wrote, “and the redemption of souls is not obtained without the cross.” Her own cross was a heavy one. On April 2, 1920, she became gravely ill with typhus. Receiving the last sacraments, she was also allowed to make her religious profession on her deathbed, a month before her novitiate would have been complete. She died on April 12, 1920.
     She is the first Chilean and the first member of the Teresian Carmel in Latin America to be beatified. [Pope John Paul II canonized St. Teresa of the Andes on March 21, 1993; in St. Peter's Basilica.]
     Holiness will out, even if the holy one lives a cloistered life. Devotion to this modern Teresa of Jesus grew apace after her death, and her cause of canonization was introduced as early as 1947. John Paul II sees in her a sign of contrast to today's “Me Generation”. In an epoch in which the word “love” is “too often profaned,” St. Teresa of the Andes proves, says the Pope, “the perennial youth of the Gospel”. The teen-aged nun understood that true love consists not in self-seeking but in self-giving. Thus her radiant example proclaims to the whole world “the beauty and happiness that come from a pure heart.” She was “a daughter of light.”