November 22, 2010

Fr. Theodore N. Centala, O.C.D.

July 22, 1936 - November 18, 2010
Fr. Theodore N. Centala, O.C.D., a Discalced Carmelite Friar and member of the Carmelite Monastery in Washington, DC, was Born to Eternal Life on Thursday, November 18 in Takoma Park, Maryland. Over his 45 years of priesthood, he served in various ministries, ranging from missionary work in the Philippines to being a hospital chaplain in Elmira, NY, to many years of involvement with numerous groups of Secular Carmelites. Fr. Theodore is survived by seven siblings: Marie Kaszubowski of Metz, Michigan; Marcella and Sr. Johanna Centala of Germantown, Gregory and Lawrence Centala of Monroe, Dominic Centala of Metz, MI and Sarita Centala of Milwaukee, other relatives, the Discalced Carmelite Friars and many friends.

Visitation will be in the Shrine Chapel at the Basilica of Holy Hill on Wednesday, December 1 from 3:30 PM until 5 PM Vespers. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in the Shrine Chapel on Thursday, December 2 at 9 AM, followed by burial in the Carmelite Cemetery. Memorials to the Basilica of Holy Hill would be appreciated.

Here I am with Fr. Ted in May of 2004...

October 20, 2010

Existential Obedience

by: Gerald Alford, OCDS

I would like to present obedience in a very elemental way, largely from the heart, without reference to the usual distinctions made in defining it: the dissection of it into its component parts, the noting of its specific differences from other virtues, and its relationships to other virtues in the theological scheme of things. I want to regard obedience as it relates to living our life in union with and after the example of Christ, seeing obedience as a dynamic of our existence as creatures and children of God.

The common denominator of anything said about obedience is this fact of Christian reality: obedience was the leitmotiv, the basic, underlying theme of Jesus as Son of God.

"Here I am to do your will, O God."

The Word was made flesh in obedience to God's plan, and Jesus as the incarnate word lived his life in obedience to the unfolding of that plan as revealed by the Spirit of God. Obedience provided the very sustenance of Jesus' life. He declared that the Father's Will was his very food and drink. He also described obedience to the Father as the criteria by which he qualified our love for Him: if you love me, keep my commandments.

From the example of Jesus during his existence on earth we can discern this: obedience is always an individual's response to God's Will. To be obedient as Jesus, I must choose to conform or be uniform with what God desires of me. Another more basic way of saying the same thing is that obedience is my response to the truth and its demands manifested moment by moment in the fulfillment of my nature as created by God in order to live out the unique life He has provided for me by His Will. The contemplative poet and priest, Ernesto Cardenal wrote: "As the Body of Christ is hidden beneath the appearances of bread and wine, so God's Will is hidden beneath the appearances, the bread and wine, of day-to-day happenings."

More specifically, this existential obedience directs my will to making those choices that will conform my life to that image of the Son the Father desires me to be. I let go of my own desires for holiness in obedience to becoming holy as God desires me to be.

My obedience involves being attentive to the "revelations" about the reality and mystery of this my life, which are manifested to me through the circumstances, opportunities, demands, and consequences of my choices, especially the choice known as "my state in life." Very often the most telling of these "revelations" are the disclosures provided by my weaknesses, failures and way of imperfections. For the truth is always subject to being disguised by the illusions I develop about myself sustained by pride and false witness of the world about me. Nothing can shatter such illusions better then the revelation of how weak, wrong, ego seeking and sinful I can be in my choices and actions.

Discernment and self-knowledge then are important elements in coming to this, "my" truth. However, the truth will not set me free until I acknowledge it as it is and surrender my will to its implications. Obedience, which is this response of surrender to and acceptance of the reality of my life as willed for me by God, is essential for the experience of true freedom. Such conformity to what God in His Providence wills for me normally is discovered by the exercise of my reason enlightened by Faith. Much of who I am is a mystery and can be apprehended only in Faith. My effort to understand what Faith enables me to perceive is sustained by Hope in God who alone can provide the means by which I can be obedient to what I perceive as God's will for me. Motivation and strength for obedience to what God desires of me in fulfilling "my destiny" comes from Charity. The Love of Christ urges me on, impels me to the truth, and strengthens me in my resolve to become who/what the Father desires. Only in so far as the will is strengthened by this love can it overcome its propensity to obey the dictates of ego interests and the "flesh," rather than the urgings of God's Spirit.

If I had lived before Christ, my obedience would be to the truth of whom I was as a creature of God governed by what is known as the natural law, basically expressed in the Decalogue. However, as a baptized Christian I must be obedient to the truth contained in the reality that I am not only a creature of God, but God's son or daughter as well. My brother Jesus who calls me to follow Him as the Way, the Truth and the Light of my life established this filial relationship with God.

Furthermore, my Carmelite vocation is my choice to follow Christ according to the example and teaching of Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross. The Constitutions, which now serve as my guide, has become a part of this, "my truth.” Inspired by the Holy Spirit, I discern and then proclaim, that I am responding to God's call and make a commitment "to tend toward evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels and the Beatitudes." One of the evangelical counsels of course is obedience, and one of the "be"- attitudes that must characterize my obedience is meekness or docility. Obedience inspired by and directed by the Holy Spirit is docile. To be docile is not to be a doormat but a child of God. I acknowledge and accept my total dependence upon God, particularly in the order of Grace and relative to salvation and sanctification. Docility is characteristic of such childlike obedience. No matter how old I am, how rich, powerful, sophisticated and smart I become - when it comes to myself and who I truly am in relationship with God, I am essentially His creature, and, by redemption and pure gift, His child. My greatest distinction is to have God as my Father.

What should matter to us in being obedient to God's Will is not abstract ideals, but profound love and surrender to the concrete "judgments of God." God judgments are our life and our light, inexhaustible sources of purity and strength. As baptized Christians we surrender our will in obedience to the judgments of God as revealed in the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, and the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. As Baptized, our obedience is characterized by filial love since we become God's children through Baptism. When we are professed as Carmelites we surrender to the judgment of God that he is calling us to live out our Baptismal covenant by following the Constitutions given to us by the Order. We make our Carmelite promise to God of course, but explicitly we offer them to the Superiors of the Order, to the Constitutions provided by the Order and to each other. These are generally the instruments God employs in revealing His Will to us. These "instruments." we accept as the means by which the concrete Judgments of God are revealed, manifesting how we are to become holy, as He desires us to be.

We can look to Therese for an example of this kind of obedience.

In writing the story of her life under obedience, Therese explained: " Our Lord has made it clear to me that all he wanted of me was plain obedience."

The substantial force behind and sustaining Therese's obedience was the truth. Therese said toward the end of her life: "... I can nourish myself on nothing but the truth."

"I never acted like Pilate who refused to listen to the truth, " she wrote, "I've always said to God: O my God, I really want to listen to you; I beg you to answer me when I humbly say: What is truth? Make me see things as they really are. Let nothing cause me to be deceived."

Her obedience was a surrender to the truth of her reality. She learned to listen to God in the circumstances and demands of her life as it unfolded in the light of this truth. Her obedience was to what was required of her by her vocation. She was attentive to the ordinary day-by-day demands made of her through her rule and the dictates of her superior. "We must pay attention to regular observance," she admonished. Therese lamented those in her community "who do nothing or next to nothing, saying: I am not obliged to do that, after all.... How few there are who do everything in the best way possible! And still these [who are obedient] are the most happy...." She observed: "... it gives God much pain when we rationalize much."

Selective obedience is game playing with the truth. "I made the resolution," Therese said, "never to consider whether the things commanded me appeared useful or not.... it is love alone that counts. Forget about whether something is needed or useful; see it (the demand, rule, obligation, etc.) as a whim of Jesus." Indeed, because of our Carmelite Promise we should be striving toward an obedience that goes beyond merely following the commandments. Ours should be an obedience to the very "whims" of Jesus, to His desires for us. To know these desires we must not only hear and listen to the Word, but also like Mary, ponder His words and actions. Also, we must be attentive as she was to his revelations unfolding in our life, as already explained.

Therese revealed in her last conversations: "I formed the habit of obeying each one (referring to requests, demands made by her sisters) as though it was God who was manifesting his will to me." Recall that we make our Promises not only to God, the superiors of the Order, but to each other. The needs of others in community can be a matter of obedience. I am present in community, for example, not only because it is required by the Constitution, but also because a brother or sister in my community may need my example and support. In being there, I am being obedient to that need. We should strive to be so sensitive in our obedience that we endeavor to obey not only the letter of the law, but primarily its spirit. The spirit of the law, Jesus taught and demonstrated, was/is Charity. That is why, as already mentioned, he designated obedience as the proof of our love for God.

An essential attitude for obedience is humility and, as we know, humility is truth. Part of the simple humble truth is, as we said, the realization of our dependency upon God, and in the order of Grace, our filial relationship with God. Part of that truth too is that we have natural and acquired temporal and worldly talents. It is the simple truth, not to be denied, in word or in action, that I may be intelligent, knowledgeable, skilled manually, artistically, verbally, physically etc. If I deny such talents and gifts in living out my life, I am being disobedient to the truth of who God wants me to be. As long as we realize with St. Paul and Therese that everything is gift, and that the natural or acquired skills or talents that we possess are to be used for the glory of God and in the service of others, then we remain in the truth. St. Therese warned against using "false currency" in the practice of virtue. Certainly, false humility is a counterfeit coin in the spiritual exchange of the Christian life.

Finally, in the birth of Jesus, the Way and the Truth became incarnate. God really and truly came to share our life and His Life with us. In so doing God exemplifies for us the M.O. (modus operantis) we are to follow relative to our commitments to Him. The promise to obedience that we make can remain an abstraction. If I am to practice this evangelical counsel "divinely," I must incarnate it in "my" life. I must reflect upon its meaning in terms of who I am in my particular day by day life situation. The matter for obedience may not be that unique. The Constitutions, the provincial statutes and the prescriptions of my community's council generally will be the same for me as everyone else about me. However, the form, or the "how" of my practice of obedience may provide unique opportunity for expression. By form of obedience, I mean the way I individually respond to prescriptions of authority. Certain requirements may be temperamentally easier or more difficult for me personally. A particular requirement regarded as a demand of insignificant consequence for one person, may be most difficult for me. I may experience repugnance or reluctance to obey a particular prescription, and so be tempted not to do what is required in order not to be "hypocritical" in practice. However, what counts is faithfulness to my commitment, my intention, and the consistency of my choice. I may find attendance at meeting, for example, generally a burden temperamentally and, perhaps, more often than not, irrelevant to my needs. Even so, I choose to attend meetings regularly as a concrete expression of my obedience, as a sign of my faithfulness to my commitment, as a defense against a possible form of subtle pride which insinuates that I am above others, as a practice of charity sustained by the hope that my presence which may seem useless to me may be in fact a valuable witness to others. The form of practice means too that my practice of a rule such as attendance is not just resignation, but involves a real effort to make my conformity viable. In attending meetings (to follow through on our example), I strive to be attentive to what is going on, to be active in my participation in discussions, and to be responsive to material communal needs presented by volunteering to serve.

In summary: existential obedience is my response to God's will as revealed to me in the here and now, moment to moment, "demands" of my state in life which includes the opportunities and consequences of my choice to follow Christ according to the Carmelite Rule of Life and example and teachings of Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross. It involves a response of NO to all that God's Spirit reveals to me as obstacles to fulfilling God's will for me as His unique son or daughter, but above all, it is a response of YES in imitation of Jesus who St. Paul describes as being always a YES to the Father. This obedience reaches perfection when it is followed through even unto death - death on the cross. For us usually this means death to the Ego which tends to be in conflict, or at cross-purposes with the truth of our identity in God which we may call the Self. When we face this cross, this conflict, in its truth, and submit our wills to its anguish as Christ did, then by that obedience is the conflict profoundly resolved and we are liberated into a share in the Resurrected life of Christ Jesus. Normally this "final" conversion is a gradual process resolved finally at death and perhaps through what is referred to as purgatory. For some it is resolved in life and finalized through the passover of death. In any case, be obedient to the truth of who you are and the truth shall set you free.

Further Reflections:

St John of the Cross has said, "God wants from us the least degree of obedience and submission, rather than all the works we desire to offer Him" (SM I, 13).

Why? Because obedience makes us surrender our own will to adhere to God's will as expressed in the orders of our superiors; and the perfection of charity, as well as the essence of union with God, consists precisely in the complete conformity of our will with the divine will. Charity will be perfect in us when we govern ourselves in each action -- not according to our personal desires and inclinations -- but according to God's will, conforming our own to His. This is the state of union with God, for "the soul that has attained complete conformity and likeness of will (to the divine will), is totally united to and transformed in God supernaturally" (AS II, 5,4).

- cf. Divine Intimacy


St. Paul does not hesitate to exhort: "[Subjects] be obedient to them that are your [superiors] ... as to Christ ... doing the will of God from the heart " (Eph 6,5.6). That is how we are to respond in obedience: by doing the will of the authority, of the "rule," of the one in charge as the will of God, and doing it FROM THE HEART.

If you are the work of God wait patiently for the hand of your artist who makes all things at an opportune time.... Give to Him a pure and supple heart and watch over the form that the artist shapes in you ... lest, in hardness, you lose the traces of his fingers. By guarding this conformity you will ascend to perfection.... To do this is proper to the kindness of God; to have it done is proper to human nature. If, therefore, you hand over to Him what is yours, namely, faith in Him and submission, you will see his skill and be a perfect work of God.

St. Iranaeus (Adversus Haereses, IV, XXXXIX.2.col.1110)

O God,

as docile and as tractable to your artistic spirit

as media is to the artist who uses it,

so that the design the artist has in mind may be brought to completion,

so obedient may I,

to you, my Creative Father,


October 10, 2010


by: Gerald N. Alford, OCDS
In the Gospel of St. Mark (Mark 10: 21, 22), we read the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus for a formula of perfection: What must I do to be perfect?
Jesus' initial response, that he should obey the commandments, did not satisfy him. He emphatically stated that he had followed the commandments from youth. This claim was apparently true because the gospel account tells us that Jesus looked upon him and loved him. This rich young man obviously had incorporated the commandments in his life, which made him pleasing to God. However, just keeping the commandments did not satisfy him; he wanted something more; a greater perfection.

Isn't this the situation of most of us in seeking admission into formation in the Secular Order of Carmel? We want to go beyond the Third Mansion. We are saying it is not enough for us to simply obey and keep the commandments, to avoid sin and to be what most people regard as good Catholics. We feel a desire for a deeper union with God, for an intimate relationship with Him. After two and a-half years of consideration and formation, we decide that this way of Carmel is the way of following Jesus into greater perfection, and so we make at first a temporary and then a final commitment to tend to perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels and of the beatitudes according to the Rule of Life given us by our Carmelite order.

In considering at the counsel of Poverty, we regard that rich young man to see what proved to be the obstacle that kept him from walking with Jesus into deeper union with the Father in the Spirit.

When Jesus told the young man that in order to achieve the greater perfection he was seeking he should sell all that he had and then follow Him, the young man walked away sad for he had many possessions. What proved to be the obstacle to that young man in following Jesus, at least at that time, was a spirit of possessiveness about what he owned. He lacked the spirit of poverty necessary to respond to Jesus' call.

The call to poverty we answer as secular Carmelites is not the radical poverty that is practiced by those called to the religious life. As Secular Order members we are not making a promise of poverty as a religious makes a vow of poverty. When a religious makes a vow of poverty he/she makes a solemn commitment to voluntarily give up the right to ownership to anything. The religious may have use of temporal goods as the Order provides, but cannot claim them to be for his/her exclusive use absolutely. Obviously, as people living in the world we cannot ordinarily make that kind of commitment. Some individuals can and do, but it cannot be a requirement because it might violate the nature of our vocation as Carmelite seculars.

Nevertheless, we are promising to follow Christ in our state of life in the world according to the spirit of poverty required by Christ in order to be perfect, that is, to be through and through His, to belong thoroughly to God and have God Alone as our sole possession. So the question we continually have to ask ourselves in following Christ in this spirit of Poverty prescribed by the Good News, the Gospel, is this: what is our relationship to the goods of this world which we now have in our possession? We continually need to test our spirit in regard to material possessions, and continually be on guard against an inordinate acquisitive and possessive spirit.

In Chapters 1 and 2 of St. Teresa's WAY OF PERFECTION, we find Holy Mother giving reasons for reforming the Order and providing a definition of the Carmelite Vocation. In Chapter 2, she takes up the question of poverty. In doing so, she emphasized the importance of being poor in spirit. She noted:

...although I had professed poverty, I was not only without poverty of spirit, but my spirit was devoid of all restraint. Poverty is good and contains within itself all the good things in the world. It is a great domain - I mean that he who cares nothing for the good things of the world has dominion over them all.... and what do...honors [of kings and lords] mean to me if I have realized that the chief honor of a poor man consists in his being truly poor. (41-42)

Obviously, for Teresa, to be truly poor means to be POOR IN SPIRIT.

As Carmelites we commit ourselves to live a life of perfection according to the evangelical counsels and the beatitudes. Being poor is spirit, of course, is the first BEATITUDE. This beatitude is one of those referred to by spiritual writers as an “antidote beatitude." An antidote is something one takes to counteract a poison of some kind. Being poor in spirit is the antidote against the poison of possessiveness. Looking back at that rich young man in the Gospel, we said that the obstacle that prevented him from following Jesus was his attachment to his possessions - his possessiveness. By possessiveness of course we mean a grasping, a holding on to something, whether it be a material good or a spiritual good as if we possess it by right, by dominion, by an ownership. This is contrary to St. Paul's realization, later emphasized by Therese among others, that ultimately everything is gift. When we view everything as implicitly or explicitly a gift, then we have the perspective that fosters the spirit of poverty.

When we are poor in spirit, we have this attitude of detachment toward possessions of any kind, material or spiritual. For you see, having possessions is not the real problem. What is the problem is how possessive we are about what we have. I think that is the heart of St. John of the Cross' teaching about detachment, which is not always understood or appreciated.

In ASCENT, Book I, Chapter 3, St. John is describing how detachment is like a night to the soul and he says:

We are not treating here of the lack of things, since this [the mere lack of things] implies no detachment on the part of the soul if it has a desire for them; but we are treating of detachment from them with respect to taste and desire, for it is this [detachment from desire] that leaves the soul free and void of them although it may have them.

Remember what Teresa said - "...he who cares nothing [that is, controls his desire] for the good things of the world has dominion over them all." True freedom does not necessarily mean being without things, but having control over our desire for these things. We are not free by the mere fact of material poverty. It is not enough to simply give up possessions, if after the renunciation of the superfluous, the comforts and the conveniences of life, we still remain attached to them by affection. For as St. John reminds us again in Chapter 3:

It is not the things of this world that either occupy the soul or cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and desire for them, for it is these that dwell within it.

After the rich young man walked away sad, because he had many possessions, Jesus commented: How hard it is for the RICH to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

The rich, those who possess a great deal, have difficulty not because of what they have; they have difficulty because it is so difficult for them not to be inordinately possessive about what they have. Those who are materially or physically poor can have the same problem: they may not possess much, but they may desire much.

When Jesus told his disciples, for example, that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved. He certainly did not mean that a person rich in worldly goods could not be saved. His point was that salvation or the possession of divine life could not be had at all, by rich or by poor. To be saved, to share in God's life is impossible for man, period. God alone can save us and give us a share in his very life. EVERYTHING IS A GIFT.

So you see what is at stake in being truly poor is our attitude toward possession itself and the perspective in which we view the material and spiritual goods we have. We can be materially rich or poor by circumstance or by luck, but we can only be truly poor, poor in spirit, by will, by desire, by intention and really only by Grace.

To be truly poor in spirit means to live according to the truth of who we really are. To develop this sense of reality, which is the basis of a true spirit of poverty, we need that Gift of the Holy Spirit, which is Knowledge. This Gift enables us to know God and know ourselves in TRUTH. Such knowledge provides us with the true perspective and sense of reality. It is the science of the saints. When we truly know who God is and who we are in relation to God, how can we help but be left with a spirit and attitude of poverty? How truly poor we are even at our best and most beautiful in comparison to One who is so infinitely and supremely perfect. As Jesus tells us, even when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say: we are useless servants; we have done only what we ought to have done.

In the realization of our poverty, the virtue that sustains us is the theological virtue of hope. How can we, poor creatures that we are, attain to the God Whom we believe to be so pure and good, so infinitely perfect and supreme! The realization of who He is and who we are could only lead to despair if we were not empowered by the virtue of Hope which enables us to have trust and confidence in attaining to the perfection of our calling as children of God in and through the merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When Jesus pointed out to the disciples how difficulty it was for a rich man to be saved, they rightly replied in exasperation: then who indeed can be saved. And Jesus' answer was: NO ONE - no matter how rich they were in earthly power or heavenly power, that is virtue, no one has the power to save him- or herself and gain the kingdom on his or her own.

We speak of the Carmelite way of following Jesus as an apophatic way, the via negativa. We mean that it is the way to God through negation, stripping away of delusions / illusions about God in preparation for the truth or self-revelation God makes of Himself to us, the illumination of our minds and hearts by the Spirit. It is the way of NADA, "nothing." St. John of the Cross advises us: "In order to possess everything (TODA), desire to possess nothing." (Ascent I, 13,11) You see, the NADA of John of the Cross is not a sterile emptiness, but a preparation for the TODA, the ALL. God replaces our ideas, our concepts, our images we have of Him, always doomed to be imperfect and untruthful even at their best, with Himself, in so far as He desires to reveal Himself to us. We seek to be poor, to be empty, not for the sake of emptiness, but so that we can be filled with God.

The spirit of poverty requires then a complete, humble realization of our dependency upon God. Above all we must be empty of any confidence in ourselves relative to spiritual progress. God does not lead us into a higher spiritual life, nor deeper intimacy with Himself until we lose all vestiges of confidence, even the most subtle, in our own strength, initiatives, knowledge or virtues.

The direction to the spirit of poverty is the direction God took in becoming man: kenosis: self-emptying. We read a number of times in the Divine Office that passage from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 2:

Though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of man.

If we wish to be united to God, we must do exactly what the Word did to become united to man. Just as Jesus was willing to let go of his divine status (not his divine nature) in order to become man, so we must be willing to let go of any status we may acquire as man in order to become like God. Because we are in reality so poor, that is, so dependent upon God in the order of the supernatural and its end, intimate union with God, we can only desire to strive for such an attitude of poverty. However, in cultivating such a desire to follow Jesus on this path of humility toward nothingness, we take hope in the teaching of Drs. John of the Cross and Therese who taught that we would not have such a desire if God did not plan to fulfill it. This assumes that it is truly a desire and not just wishful thinking or daydreaming. We pray for an efficacious desire characterized by perseverance in striving "to seek not the best of temporal things, but the worst..." and a striving, for God's sake, "to desire to enter into complete detachment and emptiness and poverty with respect to everything that is in this world." (Ascent I, 13.6)

The spirit of poverty involves such an emptying of all ego claims to status and loss of confidence in our own power. Such emptiness must be in regard to both material and spiritual acquisitions. We always must be willing to let go of what we consider to be pleasing to God for the sake of being truly pleasing to Him, as He desires us to be.

The Carmelite way of poverty is the way of "no-gain". When a novice sighed about her lack of virtue and progress in the spiritual life, and bemoaned how much yet she had to gain, Therese answered: "No, rather so much yet to lose!"

In practicing poverty what do we need to lose? That is the question! Certainly, we must strive to lose the spirit of acquisition. We want to be empty so that we can be filled with God. Make "room in our inn" for God! What more do we need to lose? We must lose too a spirit of possessiveness about even those things we need to have in order to live simply in our particular state of life in the world. We must strive for a sense of simplicity by acquiring only what we need, and by losing any sense of possessiveness about even those goods.

What an ideal! And as in the case of all ideals, we must view this one with the spirit of poverty, recognizing that all we can do is "endeavor to be inclined always towards" fulfilling such an aspiration. An important part of the way to this perfection of spiritual poverty is the "way of imperfection." It is our failures and deficiencies that make us realize how truly poor we are and dependent upon God. God truly then becomes our sufficiency as St. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians: 3, 5. When we are emptied of confidence in ourselves and filled with trust and confidence in God, then we are disposed for total conversion. St. Teresa confessed in her LIFE (chapter 8) that what prevented her from overcoming the last obstacles was really a remnant of confidence, which she had sustained in herself. She wrote: "I must have failed to put my whole confidence in His Majesty and to have a complete distrust of myself."

After we have done all that we have been commanded, as that rich, young man could say, and then have left everything behind in terms of acquisition and possessiveness to follow Jesus; after we have done all this and can say with sincerity: I am a useless, an unprofitable servant; then we are on the WAY. The final word, after our admission of poverty must be: O God, I place all my trust and confidence in you. And not only say it, but live it.

Our confidence in God can never be excessive or exaggerated. Blind, unlimited hope in God is what will sustain within us a genuine spirit of poverty. It is so pleasing to God that St. John of the Cross teaches: "The more the soul hopes, the more it attains." (Ascent III, 7,2) And Dr. Therese, who lived her life according to this spirit of poverty based on hope practiced as boundless trust and confidence in God, made this thought of St. John her own and wrote: "We can never have too much confidence in the good God who is so powerful and so merciful. We obtain from Him as much as we hope for."

As a final word, we go back to the response of Jesus to the rich, young man in answer for his request for a formula for following Him perfectly -

Jesus told him that perfection consisted in selling all he owned, giving the profits to the poor and then come and follow Him.

Our model in a way of understanding what this might mean for us is Therese. Over the years in her spiritual journey, her life was a process of "selling all that she had" As a religious, materially speaking, she did this in a more radical way than most of us can do in our state of life as secular Carmelites. But she was a model to us in living out the spirit of poverty to its fullest and in a real way adhering to what Christ asked: that we not only sell all that we have, but we give to the poor what we earned from this selling. Therese came to the point where she prayed to be dispossessed of any and all merits she may have earned by her practice of virtue, and to have all these merits given to the "poor," those souls in need. She wanted to come to God completely stripped, with empty hands, without any merits accrued for herself, but all merits used for the sake of sinners.

Our personal sanctification as Carmelites is not a dead-end street; if it is, then it truly is a way that ends in death to true sanctification. Initially, we may need to make our sanctification paramount, but the closer we come to God and the more we participate in God's life, the more effusive we become in our concern about others. We truly thirst with Christ for souls: their salvation and sanctification. And so we become like Therese willing to appear before God with empty hands, having given away what "we may have acquired" through our ascetical and virtuous practices for the sake of others.

To reach such an attitude of poverty is something worth hoping and praying for.

April 26, 2010

The Day Our Youngest Son Died...

Gregory Edward Whale Jr

     Our son, Gregory Edward Whale, Jr, was born on September 2, 1991 and for some reason, a reason that we don't know or understand right now, was taken from us on Monday, April 26, 2010 - in a tragic car accident.
     If we had known that Monday, would have been the last day here on earth for our son, we would have taken time to share more of him with others, so that you would know what a gift from God we were given and understand the loss that we are feeling right now.
     Gregory is gone, but will always be a part of us. He is gone, but not forgotten. We know that some day, we will see him again. But now, alone without him, his brothers and the rest of us, must go on. May all of us that knew him, take a small piece of something that he shared with us. Whether it was the way to face life…..or how he would walk into a room and say one word and make us all stop and think of what he just said….yes, even if the word was "Pineapple"
     Life handed him so many challenges from day one, but he met every one of them head on, doing it his way no matter what. He lived more in his short 18 Years; 7 Months; 24 Days; 1 Hour; & 31 Minutes here on earth, than most people lived in a lifetime.
     He left behind his parents, Gregory & Christina Whale, two brothers, Joseph Whale of Florida and David Whale of Palmyra. Grandparents Deacon & Mrs. William Whale of Florida and grandmother, Mrs. Ruth Back of Harrisburg; 5 aunts, 3 uncles, 10 cousins and loads and loads of other relatives who will miss him beyond words.
     He was homeschooled and graduated at the age of 16 and went on to attend Daytona State College in Florida and then Harrisburg Area Community College where he was studying to be a nurse, so that he could help others. In between going to school and studying he also found time to work at Arby's Restaurant and spend time with friends.
     Saying goodbye is something we just can't do right now, so we are going to have a memorial service to celebrate his life at 10 a.m., on Saturday, May 1, 2010 at Jesse H. Geigle Funeral home at 2100 Linglestown Road, Harrisburg. There will be a visitation from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m in the funeral home.
     In lieu of flowers, we would be honored if you would make Memorial Contributions to John Hopkins University, ECMO Department, 600 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21287, where Greggy first started showing us how much determination and strength he really had.

You may leave condolences at the following online Legacy Guest Book page.

April 1, 2010

History of the Scapular

Throughout time, prayer and Carmel have been synonymous and the Carmelites have contributed greatly to the spiritual life and holiness of the Church.

Perhaps one of our most significant contributions has been devotion to Mary, Mother of God, particularly under her title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Tradition tells us that in 1251, Our Lady appeared to the Prior General of the Carmelite Order, St. Simon Stock at Aylesford, England. In this apparition, Our Lady gave him what we call the brown Scapular... a garment that has become the symbol of the bond between Our Lady and the Order of Carmel. The Carmelites have always been her devoted servants.

But Our Lady did not give the Scapular just to the Carmelites. She gave it to the whole world so that all her sons and daughters could wear an outward sign of her love for them. As a "cloak" of grace and love, the Scapular represents the protection and security we find in our heavenly mother's love.

Our Lady has given us her Scapular to wear; a garment of special concern a sign of belonging. Her Scapular is a mantle of grace and love.

Mary expressed her total openness to the will of God when she said, "Be it done to me according to your word." The message of the Scapular is to always follow Christ in faith, hope and charity. Christ is the source of all truth and holiness, and the graces we receive through Mary's intercession come from Him, to lead us to Him.

The Scapular is a constant reminder of Mary's presence in our lives. Through the symbol of the Scapular we strive to live and die as friends of God. This is the substance of the Scapular Promise.

When we are baptized, we "clothe ourselves in Christ," and our new dignity is symbolized by our white christening gown, a garment we are urged to bring unstained to the judgment seat of God. At our First Communion, we usually add a new "cloak," that of Our Lady's Brown Scapular. The beautiful custom of enrolling children in the Scapular puts them, in their innocence, under the tender care of their heavenly mother.

The Scapular, a monastic apron, is still part of the Carmelite habit. The smaller form, most familiar to Catholics, consists of two panels of cloth joined by string and worn over the shoulders. The Church considers the Scapular a miniature religious habit and, as such, is a highly indulgenced sacramental.

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, is very devoted to Our Lady and has a special place in his heart for the Scapular: "Through the Scapular, those devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel express their desire to mold their existence on the example of our Mother, Patroness, Sister, Most Pure Virgin, to accept God's word with a purified heart and devote themselves to the zealous service of others."

March 1, 2010


Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, O.Carm

How hard we find it to forgive, don’t we? Teresa of Avila, who had a good number of mystical bones in her body but was also severely practical, as indeed Jesus was, is said to have asked the Lord one day: ‘Lord, how can I thank you for all the blessings you have given me?’ And the Lord replied: ‘By showing your love and forgiveness to those who are as undeserving of it as you are of mine.’ That certainly brought her out of her ecstasy and down to earth!

Yes, forgiveness, which is at the heart of love, is always a practical challenge. And how hard we find it. When we look at the many conflicts in the world, nearly all rest on memories of past hurts, injustices, hardships that go back for many generations: the conflict between Jews and Palestinians; Croatia and Serbia; Bosnia… Kossovar... East Timor. Those situations didn’t happen overnight. So why can’t we let bygones be bygones? Why cannot we put the past behind and make a new start?

That isn’t easy, because suffering is painful and real; suffering causes deep wounds that need to be acknowledged. Injustice cannot just be wiped out by a thoughtless and casual ‘I forgive you’, and certainly not ‘You/they ought to forgive’ when we ourselves haven’t been touched by the anguish.

Here are two little scenarios to ponder on. The first is set in a convent. It’s exaggerated, of course, and each must make their own application, but maybe it’s nearer the truth than we like to think.

‘Hello, sister, you look really down today.’

‘I’ve every reason to be down. Reverend Mother offended me and I just can’t forgive her.’

‘O, what happened?’

‘Well, when Sister Kateri Tekathwitha was given the habit, Mother gave her a beautiful lace-edged holy picture with a blue silk Our Lady embroidered on it; and when I received the habit I expected to get the same, but all Mother gave me was a picture of the Prodigal son – and the corner was bent too.’

‘I’m sorry your special day was spoiled by that disappointment. Time will help you get over that, don’t worry. By the way, when did you receive the habit? Last week?’

No, forty years ago today.’

Forty years! Forty years of saying the Lord’s prayer daily, going to Communion, receiving sacramental forgiveness in Reconciliation, working and praying in God’s service; all the blessings of life and health and friendship, yet a life poisoned by resentment over something that happened forty years ago when I didn’t get my lace-edged holy picture! What went wrong?

Now for the second vignette.

Father Jean-Marie Lustiger, now Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, but then a university chaplain, was addressing the young people of Germany on the radio when he was unable to get to a meeting in Berlin. Lustiger, Jewish by birth, had lost his whole family in the holocaust, and he was addressing the Christians of a nation that had murdered and tortured his dear ones to death.

During his talk he paused, then said: ‘There is something that is very sensitive to touch on. None of us wants to mention it. But I just want to say ‘I forgive you’. No platitudes there, as when the high-ups in the church come out and say how sorry they are for some injustice perpetrated in the past, and the words just out pat and meaningless. No, here is a man who has suffered terrible wrong. Yet even today one hears in some quarters the taunt that the Archbishop of Paris is a Jew, as if that disqualified him from holding his post – made him less Christian – when he belongs to the very race that gave us Jesus himself.

How often do we hold against another the color of their skin, their racial origins, their difference from ourselves in some way. And why? Have I deserved forgiveness, love, acceptance, while others haven’t? And what I have received as gift, can I not give freely in return?

Recall again the words of St. Teresa: ‘Lord, how can I thank you for all the blessings you have given me?’ ‘By showing your love and forgiveness to those who are as undeserving of it as you are of mine.’ To forgive is to understand something of the heart of God, a heart which is all gift, all self-giving, all for-giving.

Oscar Wilde once said that ‘Love is a sacrament we should only receive on our knees with the words “Lord, I am not worthy”’. Oscar Wilde wasn’t speaking of some rarified spiritual love, something reserved for mystics and saints. No, he was speaking of human love, love between husband and wife, friend and friend, love within a family. All that makes life sweet and beautiful and fills us with joyful surprise. Do we deserve that? No, it is pure gift.

God forgives because God loves. God opens for us the possibility of a new future. We can do that for one another when we forgive. But we can’t do that just of and by ourselves. It is something to ask for, to pray for. The gift not to held captive by the past but to free ourselves and others for something new, something that brings us close to one another and therefore closer to God’s own heart. We cannot help our bitter memories. What we can do is choose what we do with them.

During the last century in France there was a case in which an old woman was murdered and her money stolen. Everyone knew that she would only open her door to the parish priest after dark, and when they found his blood-stained cassock in the garden of the presbytery, the Abbé Pierre was convicted and sentenced to penal servitude for life on Devil’s Island. There, disgraced and humiliated, he had to spend his days working in the swamps with the other convicts who reviled him as a so-called man of God turned murderer – the defrocké, the ‘unfrocked one’.

Meanwhile the Abbé Pierre gradually gained their respect. He could not say Mass, but he would stay up late at night to pray, try to make life a bit more humane for his fellow convicts by tending their sores, fashioning small gifts for their families, ministering to them when they lay dying far from home.

After many years spent like this he was called out one night to a newly arrived convict who had been stricken by malaria. As he bent over the dying man he heard a voice cry out ‘Is it you Abbé Pierre?’ and the dying man told this story…

‘It was I who murdered that widow. I dressed in the priest’s cassock and she let me into her house. But Abbé Pierre saw me stealing away and called me to him. He heard my confession and I promised to tell the authorities what I had done, but I didn’t. I let this man be condemned while I continued my criminal activities. Abbé Pierre, I want these people to know you are innocent. Can you forgive me?’

The priest didn’t trivialize that repentance. He didn’t say ‘It’s nothing; forget it’, for he had been terribly wronged. What he did say went something like this:

‘Thanks to what happened I have become a different man. I was a self-satisfied person with all I wanted to hand. Here I have experienced hardship and sorrow, but I have also experienced heaven in this hell that is Devil’s Island. For that I can feel only gratitude. May God bless you in return and give you his peace.

And indeed, although freedom was offered and his innocence established, Abbé Pierre chose to remain where he was and end his days among the men he had grown to love and who had grown to love him in return.

What happens to us isn’t so important as what we do with what happens to us. The same event can be curse or blessing. It can be a way closer to God or closer to self-pity and bitterness.

‘Lord, how can I thank you for all the blessings you have given me?’

‘By showing your love and forgiveness to those who are as undeserving of it as you are of mine.’

‘Lord, I am not deserving, I am not worthy, and I find it so hard to give and receive forgiveness, when I have been forgiven so much. Lord, I am not worthy – but only say the word and I shall be healed.’

February 2, 2010

It Is Good To Have A Mother…

Homily for Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 2000
Saint Andrew's Church, London, Ontario, Canada
Father Pius Edwin Sammut OCD

What does Our Lady of Mount Carmel mean?

It all started as a story of hermits and pilgrims and adventurers who at the time of the Crusaders dared to travel to the Holy Land. We are in the years 1100. Traveling was not easy. So much so, that many of the pilgrims made their final will before they left, because they knew that there was a serious possibility of never coming back. Bandits on the way, the threat of the Muslims, sickness or simple fatigue would mean death for many a pilgrim. But they went. Fascinated by the idea of walking on the same ground as Jesus Christ did. Lead on by this desire to see the places where Jesus Christ was born, lived, died. After all they knew that He was not a simple man. He was a God!

Some of them were so seduced by what they saw that they decided to remain there. Quite a few stayed and lived the rest of their lives up in the north of the Holy Land, on the fertile promontory of hills of what we call Mount Carmel, adjacent to today Haifa.

Mount Carmel always had a certain charm. Here the prophet Elias made his epic battle with the prophets of Baal. These adventurers felt that God was calling them to live a life of solitude and penance. Not simply to save their souls but to unleash the tremendous power of prayer on the world, which was suffering. They built huts, they utilized caves, and they lived a very simple frugal life alternating manual work and prayer. They were called Carmelites.


But no one can live in a vacuum. External events overtook them and ... their dream. Just a few years after being given a norm of life which simply underlined their main thrust to "dwell in their cells pondering on the Lord's law day and night", the Saracens started another advance into this land, killing anyone in their way. By 1235, it was obvious that the Turks would soon be in complete control. The hermits decided to emigrate. Go to Europe... Cyprus, Italy, France, Low Countries, England. It was the right decision. Mount Carmel was taken and destroyed by the Turks in 1291.

But bustling Europe was different from the solitude and tranquility of Mount Carmel. They felt lost, disorientated. They started losing their drive. Adaptation and flexibility which history was demanding of the Carmelites do not come out easily. The new environment called for creativity. Trail blazing. They had to modify their whole style of life -- from desert to city, from hermit to friar.

Many starting losing hope, Discouragement crept in. Many foresaw a graceful death of the whole Order! But God wanted them to survive.

In a little town called Aylesford, about forty miles from London, lived a very holy Carmelite. His name was Simon Stock. He was the leader of the Carmelites. He tried hard to give a basic thrust to this 'new' religious family. It was not easy. Many Bishops were rather skeptical about these Middle East itinerants. Novelty always arouses suspicion.

Then something happened. A woman intervened. We do not know the details. This Carmelite Simon Stock was pleading for help from above. He was pleading Mary. The Carmelites always had a particular allegiance to Mary. The hermits had even built a small chapel on their beloved Mount and dedicated it to our Lady. They loved the tradition that Mary used to come and spend time in prayer on this Mount!

They had even built a whole spirituality around Mary. Their reasoning was simple. Carmel means a garden. Mount Carmel is known for its verdant beauty. It is always green. It is always fresh. Living with Mary can make our life an oasis of peace, a Carmel. Our passions subdued, the noise within us quieted, we can enjoy an intimate relationship with the One who always loves us.

Mary apparently appeared to Father Simon holding a scapular in her hand. "Hoc erit tibi et cunctis Carmelitis privilegium, in hoc habitu moriens salvabitur" - 'This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall be saved". A sign of a special and dedicated protection, an emblem of salvation, A shield in time of danger, and a great privilege.

A different mother

This image of Mary clothing us is very powerful, because it speaks of motherhood. A mother clothes her children. And she enjoys doing it.

It is good to have a mother. Ask someone who did not have a mother. A mother gives you security and warmth. This Friday a woman was emotional when she was telling me how her mother never really cared for her; she even told her that it was a mistake she did not abort her when she was in her womb! "I hate that song which quotes the Prophet saying 'Can a woman forget her child?' Yes - she told me, trying hard to hold her tears - a mother can forget her child! Mine did!" And yesterday, another woman was saying how lonely and uprooted she felt when her mother died early in her life. "All the girls at school had a mother. I did not have one. I used to go home to... no-one!"

Yet even a good human mother is limited. A mother dies. A mother cannot help us in our real problems of sadness, depression, and loneliness. My mother loves me immensely but she lives thousand of miles away from me.

This is why we need a different mother, someone who can follow closely our steps, day-by-day encouraging us, sustaining us, so that we are never alone.

She can give us the wisdom to avoid drinking that dangerous cocktail which everyone around us is forcing us to drink. A cocktail made up of pleasure, comfortable life, and addiction to work. A lethal cocktail: which is leading so many to depression and grief.

Mary is wise. She can make us smart. This is why Jesus decided to give her to us just before dying. As one last terrific gift.

Just let me be near you…

There is a small village in Germany, which holds a passion play every ten years. All the inhabitants of the village take part in this play. There is one moving scene when Jesus is about to leave Nazareth and his mum, to start his mission of announcing the Gospel. He is now thirty. An adult. He thanks his mum and asks her whether he can make this departure easier in any way. She looks at him and simply tells him, "Yes, son, you can. I want a favor from you. Please let me be near you when you are suffering."

This is the only wish of our Mother in heaven.
This is the only thing she asks of us.
Let us let her be near us.
Let us "take her into our home".
Life will be different. So different!

February 1, 2010


Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, O.Carm.

All we who wear the holy habit of the Carmelites are called to prayer and contemplation. This was the object of our Order, to this lineage we belong. Our holy fathers of Mount Carmel sought in perfect solitude and utter contempt of the world for this treasure, this precious pearl of which we speak, and we are their descendants.

So wrote Teresa of Avila in the Interior Castle, as she bade her sisters remember the beginnings of the Carmelite Order. The first hermits on the holy mountain had sought a life of prayer and solitude, and all who would look to them as their forebears must also be people who learn to love and to live in solitude, for 'to accustom ourselves to solitude is a great help to prayer' as she writes elsewhere, and since we are called to pray 'we must learn to like what promotes it.'

Solitude is not loneliness, although loneliness may be one of the components of the discipline along the way. Solitude is a spiritual way of being that has links with the desert experience of Israel, and the desert experience each one of us must come to grips with as we walk the path of growing intimacy with God.

So much in today's world militates against being alone. Everywhere there in music, noise, talk. These are not wrong, but they can deflect us from facing God and ourselves. To do this in earnest we need a certain amount of quiet. The ability to be alone, without constant distraction, is a sign of maturity. It doesn't happen in a day; like all things the love of solitude takes time to develop, but in Carmelite spirituality it is seen as an essential component of the love of God.

To be alone with the one we love is the way a relationship grows. 'Lovers must have solitude, a heart to heart lasting day and night' sang St. Thérèse in her poem Living on Love. Thérèse writes of Carmel as the desert where she felt God was waiting for her, and the Church uses for her feast the text from Deuteronomy that speaks of Israel's desert sojourn as the time of testing, when God carried his people, caring for them as the eagle cares for her brood in the crevices of rock, enabling them to fly under her guidance. (Deut. 32:10-14) A deep hunger for God and the experience of his love permeated every aspect of Thérèse' life. It enabled her to take responsibilities for her choices and to find God at each moment. Whether she was with others or alone in her cell she wanted only to 'please Jesus'.

Not every Carmelite is called to the enclosed life, or the life of a hermit in actual solitude, but everyone who is linked to the Order must live in ways that welcome elements of silence and aloneness as components of daily living. Accepting moments of quiet as opportunities to turn to the Lord as our companion and friend is one way of showing a desire to spend time with him and to choose him above all the other things that clamour for our attention. Such times may be when on a journey, waiting for a bus, doing the housework, as well as prayerful moments in church or countryside. Gradually our times of silent waiting upon God will not seem barren; they will turn into a garden of solitude, where the desert blossoms (Is 35:1-2).

Today's hermits are found in high rise flats, in semis, in hospital wards, in old people's homes, as well as in remote places. Wherever we turn to God, wherever and however we choose him in the opportunities that come our way, we are embracing solitude as a place where he can 'speak to our hearts'. (Hos. 2:14)

Carmel is not so much an actual mountain as an interior disposition within the soul that is ready for moments in which to encounter the living God. John of the Cross, that unsurpassed lover, saw that solitude is the ambience in which we prove our love. Conversely, it is in solitude that God has the chance to prove his love for us, for 'inasmuch as the soul has desired to be alone, far away for his sake from all created things, [the Lord] has been enamoured of its loneliness, has taken care of it, held it in his arms, fed it with all good things and guided it to the deep things of God'.

In solitude she lived,
and in solitude she built her nest,
and in solitude alone
has the Beloved guided her.
In solitude also wounded her with love.
(Sp. Cant. 35)

January 5, 2010

A Carmelite Vision

How often do you have a deep drawing towards more silence, solitude, prayer, and simplicity? Maybe it comes and goes. For me there came a time when the drawing wouldn't go!

To test my call within a call, I spent two and a half years on exclaustration at a House of Prayer, which afforded a semi-eremitical contemplative lifestyle. (I had made a four-week retreat there, and returned long-term at the invitation of the Core community.) It was a grace-filled experience -- just about everything I had hoped for: in reach -- silence, solitude, simplicity, fostering contemplative life; outreach -- helping to make it possible for others to experience time apart from God. It was a joy to be in this far-reaching life and ministry.

However, Carmel and Carmelites were missing, and I felt this increasingly. How could it be otherwise when Carmel had been my way of life for over 30 years? I loved everything it stood for. My discernment on lifestyle (changing from monastic to semi-eremitic) had spanned a couple of years. But it didn't touch the essence of Carmel. In fact, I felt I was pursuing the essence of Carmel. The difficulty was there was no Carmelite desert place where I could test my call, and eventually perhaps serve.

I left the House of Prayer very grateful to the Core community, but knowing I wasn't called to join them permanently. There followed an encouraging experience of Carmelite family as I shared my difficulty with several Carmelites before accepting the warm invitation of the Hudson community to transfer to their monastery in transition. Their understanding and support has been an outstanding gift. Through their kindness, God showed me how to remain in the Order and still sound out the possibility of a Carmelite desert place/house of prayer.

Christopher O'Donnell, O. Carm. wrote: "If one were to ask what is Carmel's greatest contribution to the Church, the answer would surely be that it has taught the importance of the desert experience and the wonder of the inner journey.... It is in the desert, however experienced, that the Church finds its truest self, its heart of Trinitarian love, that must then be poured out in the service of humanity." (Love: An Ecclesiological Theme in Some Carmelite Saints, Paul chandler, O. Carm. and Keith J. Egan, eds., 1991)

Carmel has indeed taught me the importance of the desert but where do we provide for such an experience?

While I was at the House of Prayer, I often asked myself why someone would have to leave Carmel in order to live such a contemplative lifestyle. No Order can do everything, but isn't contemplative prayer, desert experience, encouraging others to live in the presence of God and pray contemplatively, inherent in our charism?

When people think of Carmel, they hopefully think prayer. Often it is to request intercession for a special need, and we walk with them through their traumatic time. For others prayer IS their difficulty. Of these, some are ready to walk into a they-don't know-what-experience of more prolonged silence and solitude. People even travel hundreds of miles for this. A Carmelite desert place could provide an atmosphere where persons can attune themselves to the working of God within them. Listening needs silence. Intimacy needs solitude. Response needs courage, flexibility, fidelity, perhaps guidance.

The prophetic spirit is also integral to Carmel's charism. Much has been discussed about this in recent years. How to witness to it is one thing; how to empower the prophet is another. A Carmelite writing for Carmelites has put it well: "Silence, solitude and prayer are the stuff which produces mystical prophets. Because the prophet tastes the divine presence, he/she can also taste its absence in history. It is this awareness of the Divine absence which causes the prophet to denounce the old, the reign of Satan, and announce the new, the reign of God. Silence, solitude and prayer are the school of Elijan prophets." (Donald W. Buggert, O. Carm., "Jesus in Carmelite Spirituality", ibid.)

By encouraging one another and others to take Cherith times, gentle breeze times, we help to send prophets into the world. Prophecy is born of encounter with God -- deep encounter, usually through deep prayer.

I remember one person who worked at a Dorothy Day House and really spent herself in the cause of the marginalized. She took off several days a year to spend at the House of Prayer: to pray, read, listen, rest. she is a prophetess -- being voice for those who have no voice, who goes apart to insure her words and work come from God within.

Isn't this what Carmel stands for -- God's fanning flames from within, brightening lights of the world, salting the earth? A desert place is numerically a small ministry, but it supports numerous ministries from behind the scenes.

If this is a painful time for the Church and the Order, some of those pains are birth pains. It is a paving time. By prayer, reflection, sharing and courageous decision-making, the paving (initially, ploughing!) can open new roads along which to carry Carmel's charism into the new millennium. It would mean a willingness to risk some things new; a take-off from Carmel's ancient charism and a landing into a 21st. century expression of it.

"The call to Carmel is primarily an invitation to go aside, as Elijah did at cherith, to be alone with God, communing with him in prayer, completely dependent on his providence." (Prophet of Fire, Kilian Healy, O. Carm., 1990) That providence, that overshadowing, that love, can fashion reality from risk.

The more members of the Order I meet, the stronger sense I have of Carmelite family. An Order is more than a time-honored set of values and ideals. It is the persons who live them. The more I ponder this, the stronger grows my desire to share with Carmelites first of all the pearl of great price God led me to find in a semi-eremitical life and ministry. The grace, I feel sure, is one to be used and shared.

I need your input. Please give this some prayerful consideration and let me know if what is presented resonates in your own heart. Do you see a semi-eremitical place of prayer as a potential life-giving ministry for the Order?

Each house of prayer has its own spirit, so there was no attempt here to go into detail. It is a "we and Holy Spirit" mission. Can you think of any member of the Carmelite family who may be drawn to live and serve at a Carmelite desert place? If so, please let me know, or please encourage the persons to contact me. My own great desire is to live a semi-eremitical contemplative life at a Carmelite place of prayer, and extend hospitality to those who wish to come and be.

I will be grateful for your suggestions, comments, questions. If this desire has been conceived of the Holy Spirit, may it be born of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

Mary Grace Erl, O. Carm. - Carmel of the Sacred Heart
430 Laurel Avenue - Hudson, Wisconsin 54016-1688