“Oh God, you are my God, for you I long.”
“Oh God, you are my God, for you I long.” (Ps 63) These words echo the desire of every Carmelite. This desire is enkindled and enlivened as she gazes with the eyes of her heart in love upon our Lord.
In contemplation, we find that not only do we long for God, but He longs for us. We become aware of God’s infinite love for us, of His profound closeness, in the silent whispers of the Holy Spirit, just as the prophet Elijah hid his face at the slight breeze on Mt. Horeb, knowing that the Lord was passing by.
Life in Carmel is first and foremost a life lived in imitation of the praying Christ, of Christ who went up the mountain to enter into prayer with His Father in silence and solitude. Carmel is prayer. Carmel is contemplation.
The Blessed Virgin Mary teaches us contemplative prayer par excellence, receiving the Word Incarnate within her, pondering Him throughout their lives. She was the first to gaze on the face of the God-man, and she remained profoundly united to Him even in His death and burial. Now she gazes upon His glorified face for all eternity.
St. Teresa of Avila defined prayer as “an intimate sharing between friends. It means taking time frequently to be alone with One who we know loves us.”
“A Carmelite,” says Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, “is a soul who has gazed on the Crucified, who has seen Him offering Himself to His Father as a Victim for souls, and recollecting herself in this great vision of the charity of Christ, has understood the passionate love of His soul, and has wanted to give herself as He did!”
For a Carmelite Sister of the Divine Heart of Jesus, this contemplative gaze finds a particular focus in the Heart of Christ. Meditating upon and contemplating the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded and bleeding, yet burning with love for mankind, a desire is born in her to love the Sacred Heart with her whole being and to make Him loved in every heart He has created. In the words of our Dear Mother Foundress, “Every Carmelite should be a victim of love.”
“The Holy Eucharist is the fount and apex of our entire Christian and Religious life, the center of communal life…the greatest privilege our faith gives us.” (Constitutions, 11)
The Mass is the source of all prayer and, in a way, the fulfillment of all prayer, since the Liturgy of the Church is a participation in the Liturgy of Heaven. All of Heaven is present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Divine Office is the song of the Church, in heaven and on earth, to her heavenly Bridegroom.
It naturally follows that the Liturgy is at the center of our religious life. Holy Mass is the vital source of all the charity carried out in our daily life, and the apex of our day, the intimate communion with our Spouse who increasingly purifies us and grants us the strength to do His work. The hours of the Divine Office give a rhythm to our life, a constant return to prayer that is then carried from one hour of the office to the next. This rhythm gives a balance that helps the Carmelite Sister of the Divine Heart of Jesus to recognize love as the total gift of self in every moment, in whatever way her Lord and Bridegroom calls her to love Him in that moment.
In the Liturgy, we are richly fed by the Body of Christ and by His Word. The beauty of the altar, the sacredness of the music, the reverence of our bearing and each gesture, all serve to lift our minds and hearts to God. We prepare all these things with reverence and love, knowing that this is not just a matter of receiving, but of giving. It is an encounter with the Beloved in which we find ourselves face to face with the all-holy One, who loves us enough to come to us in the humble forms of bread and wine. Thus, we most especially prepare ourselves, acknowledging our faults and being cleansed by His Blood in the Sacrament of Confession, and striving to live what we receive by fulfilling His command to love one another. The more we open ourselves to this meeting with the Heart of Christ in the Liturgy, and especially in Holy Communion, the more He is able to fill us with His grace and make our hearts like unto His. The more we are able, as well, to offer reparation to Him and console Him for the times His love is not returned.
“At this fountain of love, the most Holy Sacrament, our souls are refreshed and enkindled more and more with the fire of divine love. That love never rests, but ever sends forth new flames that consume itself in works of charity toward others!” (Bl. Maria Teresa of St. Joseph)
“The spirit of Carmel is the spirit of prayer. A life of prayer and of constant union of heart with God is therefore an essential element of a Carmelite Sister of the Divine Heart of Jesus.” (Constitutions, 88-89)
This life of prayer in Carmel DCJ is centered on the Liturgy. Holy Mass and five “hours” from the Divine Office prayed in community give a structure to the day and form a basis for the constant prayer to which Jesus invites us. Two half hours of meditation and spiritual reading in common, daily Rosary and Stations of the Cross, frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and weekly Adoration and Benediction further help to root us strongly in prayer. We also strive to keep an atmosphere of quiet and to maintain a constant interior posture of prayer. “The spirit of Carmel of the Divine Heart of Jesus is the spirit of recollection and silence which lead to union with God” (Bl. Maria Teresa of St. Joseph).
St. Teresa of Avila reminded her spiritual daughters that God chose to work with us through the Incarnation and that we should remain close to the humanity of Christ, who comes to us in very tangible ways through the sacraments. For the Carmelite Sister DCJ, this finds a particular focus in His Heart. Our Foundress, Bl. Maria Teresa of St. Joseph, desired that we make reparation to His Heart for all the offenses committed against it, especially for all He suffers through heresy, indifference and unbelief, and particularly for the denial of His divinity.
Blessed Maria Teresa had a special affection for the Mother of God. Like Mary, we are called to a life of faith and service, completely devoted to Jesus, interceding for His Mystical Body. Our Foundress’ “love for St. Joseph led her to place her Homes under his special protection. For our various apostolic works she has given us St. Francis Xavier as our model and patron.” (Constitutions, 6) Our other special patrons include St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila), St. John of the Cross, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus. These saints are models for us in our way of life, as well as powerful intercessors and close friends. “As in my own case, we have to fall in love with St. Mother Teresa, with St. Francis Xavier and with the holy Rule. Then our love will grow strong and unconquerable; it will sanctify our souls and lead us to Heaven.” (Bl. Maria Teresa of St. Joseph)