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.