By: Sr. Maria Josefa
I was sitting on the platform in the St. Therese (3-year-old) classroom of our Carmelite Child Development Center when “Lori” turned to me and asked, “Sister, why do you wear the same clothes every day?” I answered, “Because I’m married to Jesus.” Lori then got a very confused look on her face and asked, “Well then, uh, Sister, do you live at St. Agnes Home or in Heaven?”
Being with the children, it is not unusual to be asked questions about my habit, my veil, and many externals. However, even though Lori’s question was about my habit, and then subsequently about my home, it had a lot of depth to it that reached beyond the mere externals.
I physically live in a convent attached to a building called “St. Agnes Home;” yet, as a Carmelite I am called to live Heaven on Earth. What does this mean? It means to live before the face of God, as a beloved daughter of the Father and a Bride of Christ. It means to unite myself to Him and lead others to Him. It means to seek to save souls for and with Him. It means to undertake the lifelong journey to be transformed into Him.
Lori was prompted to ask her initial question because she did not know the meaning of my habit. However, my response led her to think of the eternal, and I could have truthfully answered, “Yes, I do live in Heaven.”
By: Sr. Mary Elizabeth
In early January, Sr. Mary Michael and I put on our cowboy boots (not literally) and headed down south to San Antonio, Texas! The occasion was the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) SEEK Conference, which occurs every other year. This was our first time at SEEK, and boy, were we in for a jaw-dropping experience! We registered to have a table at this event to help promote vocations. Sister and I were surprised at the sheer size of it: 13,000+ college students! It was incredible, to say the least. We were moved by their enthusiasm, joy, and desire for truth. The conference took place in the heart of San Antonio, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, a short walk from the renowned Alamo.
To put this amazing conference into words is nearly impossible. SEEK is an opportunity for collegeaged Catholics to come together and hear amazing talks by well-known Catholic speakers, which for this conference included Audrey Assad, Fr. Michael Gaitley, Mark Hart, Matt Fradd, Sr. Miriam James Heidland, Scott Hahn, and so many others. It was breathtaking to attend Mass with several bishops and 400 priests presiding. We were able at certain times to join in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament together and pray the Divine Office in the middle of the convention center. Catholic fellowship was abounding!
Amongst our favorite moments from the conference was meeting all the young people who were unafraid to come up to sisters and speak with us regarding their discernment. There is so much HOPE in the Church! The talks were also very enjoyable. It was amazing to witness the longest lines for the Sacrament of Confession we’d ever seen in our lives! In fact, it was so long, that the local Fire Marshal had to regulate the line length because it was a fire hazard in the giant convention center! How incredible is that!? This event also gave us the occasion to visit our daycare and convent in San Antonio and our Mt. Carmel Home in Corpus Christi, Texas. It was wonderful to see all of our sisters, including some of our sisters who have recently been transferred there. What a blessing to spend time with familiar faces and meet new faces called to the same charism! We are all one family in Carmel DCJ!
During our two-hour drive to Corpus Christi, TX from San Antonio, Sr. Mary Michael and I enjoyed the different landscape in the south. The highway traversed across cactus and sage-filled areas! For us, this was a real sight in general, let alone in January! In Corpus Christi, we held their first annual Carmelite Day, which had about 20 attendees, both junior high and high school young ladies. It was a huge success and definitely not the last time we will be amongst them!
To close our visit to the south in mid-winter, we couldn’t help but take a walk to the beach, located just a few minutes walk from the convent! It’s definitely NOT like Missouri to see palm trees in January! It made me recall God’s infinite ocean of mercy, and how our sins are lost in the depths of the sea. Our God is so good! Just “sea” the pictures on the next page to catch a glimpse of the SEEK Conference, Carmelite Day, and the ocean!
A wonderful day for the Church was celebrated on October 16th, 2016…a day of joy for all Carmelites throughout the world. It is the canonization of Elizabeth of the Trinity, a cloistered Carmelite nun who died at the tender age of 26 in Dijon, France, from Addison’s disease. October 16th is a celebration for several of our sisters in particular, who have either taken their name from her religious name or her name as their title. She is a powerful intercessor in many ways, most especially for those who desire to grow in understanding the love of the Trinity dwelling within them as baptized persons. Elizabeth was a lover of silence and recollection, but this did not take away her sociability and cheerfulness! She sacrificed much to enter the convent, including a reputable career as a pianist. She willingly gave all and did all for God. It was hard not to love her! Even prior to entering the convent, Elizabeth socialized at parties and dances, but kept her heart and mind fixed on God. One of the young men at a dance was speaking to his friend, thinking about asking Elizabeth to dance. The friend replied, observing her heavenly face, radiant with love of Christ, “Look at her expression, she’s not for us.” Elizabeth was a favorite of everyone who encountered her because she truly loved them and the God dwelling within them. A fervent reader of St. Paul’s epistles, she felt herself drawn to his words. Some of her best writings are her letters from Carmel, written to her family and friends. These display a truly open and human soul, yet one in love with Jesus, desiring to share that love with others. Elizabeth was truly gifted in prayer, but she was also very human. Most notably, she had to overcome a very strong and willful temperament growing up. Words that she would often use to describe this were, “boiling inside”! She is easily relatable and a true friend to those discerning the Carmelite way of life. She especially is helpful to those who have parents who are having a difficult time accepting their children’s vocations. I encountered her in my later discernment, and she has been a true friend and powerful intercessor ever since. Get to know her! The saints are our best friends in heaven who want us there even more than we want to get there! St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us! - Sr. Mary Elizabeth
Sr. Mary Joseph and I, Sr. Mary Michael, had the pleasure of spending a week in Rome this past September. Picture 1 - Isn't St. Peter's beautiful! Why the trip, you ask? Our congregation was having a meeting of formators (those involved in forming our postulants and novices). We stayed at our convent in Monte Mario (a suburb of Rome). Picture 2 - Our convent chapel. The home there is actually a pilgrim house. So, if you pass through one day, you can stay with our Sisters! Picture 3 - All of our Sisters in for the occasion, from Croatia, Netherlands, Brazil, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and our Superior General and General Council members.
One of the most exciting parts of the trip was getting to see the church called Maria della Scalla - picture 4. The entire Church is very Carmelite (which I was unaware of), but in the back left corner there is a gorgeous side chapel that contains a relic of the foot of St. Teresa of Avila...and we're not just talking a little chip of a foot. We're talking a foot! Picture 5 - You can see it in the picture, as it's the foot shaped darker spot standing atop the pedestal above the sanctuary. Our foundress actually prayed many times in this little chapel before this relic when attempting to establish our congregation. It was such a grace to walk in and fall to my knees at the kneeler, knowing she likely knelt at the spot a century ago pouring out her heart to our Lord and St. Mother Teresa (as we call her), longing to be one of her daughters in Carmel.
Picture 6 - Randomly running into our friend, His Eminence, Cardinal Burke on a street corner was also a treat and wonder of God's providence. As the week progressed, St. Peter's, became the one spot that we knew how to get to and from by heart-without a need for google maps. If we could make it to St. Peter's, we knew we could make it back to the convent. Piazza di San Pietro really did come to feel so familiar, so comfortable, so much like...home. It was an incredible experience!
Who said discerning a vocation is boring?! Sr. Mary Michael and Sr. M. Grace Augustine had a ball at Fiat Days, a vocation camp directed by Arlington's Vocation's Office. It was held on Mount Saint Mary's Seminary's beautiful campus in Emmitsburg, MD. The theme was "I Desire Mercy, not Sacrifice," and the many talks centered on vocations in the light of mercy. After all, a vocation is a particular, personal response to the voice of the Father who is "rich in mercy." And, after receiving such a gift, one can only pour out one's entire being by striving to be "merciful like the Father." The beautiful and faith-filled campers, counselors and religious sisters were such a consolation to us - so many young women seeking the will of the Father! For a slideshow of more fun pictures from the camp, click here!
"I, Sister Maria Josefa of the Pierced Heart of Jesus, call upon Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Saint Father Joseph, all our holy Patrons and the Sisters here present to witness my Profession..." On July 2, 2016, after three years of living, praying, and working with our community throughout postulancy and novitiate, Sr. Maria Josefa professed the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. A blessed day it is when one is wedded to the One who created her and desires to be with her for all eternity. The day was also the celebration of the 65th Jubilee of Sr. M. Andrea of the Holy Cross, as well as a time to commemorate 125 years of our congregation, which was started in Berlin, Germany in 1891. We must mention, too, that on the evening of July 1st, our postulants became Carmelite novices clothed in the habit taking the names Sr. Marya Perpetua and Sr. M. John Paul.
Smiles, laughter, crazy fun, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, beautiful meditations on our Lady and womanhood...what more could you ask for? This year's Carmelite Days (photos above) hosted in April for girls in 6th-11th grade were a great success. Believe it or not, it was the timeless classic Cinderella that provided a thought-provoking theme for the day and a platform from which the Sisters shared their reflections on our mother, Mary, and Jesus, our prince.
"The old traditional fairy story is the story of God and the world: the King's Son who comes dressed as a beggar to win a poor girl for his bride, putting off His crown and His royal robes and coming empty handed, in order that she may receive Him without fear and may love Him for Himself alone." - Caryll Houselander
“YES, Lord, I want you totally!...NO, don’t make me give that up!...YES, NO, I DON’T KNOW!” Sound familiar? Is the Lord tugging at your heart, but you can’t seem to figure out what part He’s tugging on? How does one discern her vocation well? Fr. Henry Purcell (pictured above) joined us as a guest speaker and confessor for our June vocation discernment retreat and spoke to the topic using the rules of discernment from St. Ignatius of Loyola as a springboard. The following lines are an attempt to share a few of his thoughts for those of you who weren't able to join us!
Maybe you’ve received the following pieces of advice: “Well, just pray about it.” “I guess your confessor can help you.” “Follow your desires.” Helpful, right? More like insufficient. We’re a species with a fallen nature, so our desires sometimes overlap each other if not outright contradict. And a confessor can’t really tell you your future based on a two-minute synopsis of this month’s sins. And praying about it, yes, that’s critical, but not always abundantly and immediately clear. So how do we discern? In addition to frequent prayer, the sacraments, living a moral life, and learning about religious congregations, it’s important to examine ourselves before the Lord.
Perhaps you feel very drawn to the consecrated life, but there’s something (or somethings) holding you back. What is it? Is it a false humility? You’re not holy enough? Well, if I may be so bold, forget yourself and become aware of how much He is in love with you as you are. Is it pressure from your family, friends, or the world around you? Saying yes to God will be the best thing you could ever do for those you love. Is it that you’re worried you’ll mess up? “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor 12:9) Are you questioning if you could really be happy in religious life? “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) God only gave the Israelites enough manna for each day, yet they never went hungry. He will always provide for you one day at a time.
There’s a lot for us to ponder before the Lord, but most of all, we need to always remember how much He loves us. He wants our eternal salvation more than we do. And that’s what a vocation is for: it’s a gift to lead us to Heaven. The gift is useless if we choose to just stand in the path. Hence, we need to eventually make and act on a decision. (After all, perpetual discernment is NOT a vocation!) On the other hand, imprudent/hasty discernment is like cutting through the Enchanted Forest of Doom because your blind guide thinks it’s a shortcut. The balance, of course, lies in the middle. We must patiently listen for the Holy Spirit, and then act upon His word when we hear it. We can trust that He will lead us to the right place at the right time.
Below our retreatants pose before the Holy Doors at our Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis...a little pilgrimage during our retreat!
"Father of Mercies" was the theme for our Lenten holiness retreat held March 4-6. Six young women joined us for a beautiful weekend which included an outstanding meditation from Fr. Anthony Gerber, priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, as well as talks from our Sr. Mary Elizabeth of the Divine Heart of Mercy. Read some of her reflections on God's merciful love...
One of the most profound truths I encounter every day is that of God’s great mercy. I am not a Sister because I knew I was holy enough to be one. I am a Sister because, although I am a miserable sinner, I am and have been a recipient of God’s great mercy, unworthy though I be. Encountering God’s mercy in the midst of our brokenness and sinfulness is never easy. Part of us wants to run away and hide, like the little child who fully knows he took and broke one of Daddy’s tools without permission! After all these years we are still like that little child! It all goes back to Adam and Eve in the garden, who also hid themselves from God. When I was younger, I used to think of God walking through the Garden of Eden, trying to find Adam and Eve in a booming, angry voice… “Where ARE you?!!” Maybe you did too! Let’s change the tone of voice for a moment…to that of a loving Father and a little child. There will be consequences, but ultimately there is the love between the Father and the son. Right in the midst of our sin, God simply wants to love us and allow us ask for forgiveness that He is already waiting to give. God asks us the very same question in the midst of our sin, with a longing ache in his Heart, “Where are you?” He calls out to us to ask us to come home to Him.
We just can’t stand showing God the weakest part of ourselves! When it comes to Confession, sometimes it still is difficult to admit our failures out loud. I have to smile, though, when I ponder this. At the same time we fear God’s mercy, we greatly desire it as well. How many of us haven’t felt the true peace and joy of the Holy Spirit after a good Confession? We LOVE being forgiven! We LOVE being free! We LOVE being…well, LOVED! It is as if God is looking on us when we hide away in our shame, like a loving Father, saying to us, “My Little One…Don’t you think I have already seen what you have done? You don’t ever have to hide from Me. Come to Me, come to Me quickly and receive mercy! I ache to pour it upon you that My very Sacred Heart is burning with the flames of merciful love!”
When we accept God’s mercy trustingly and willingly, we honor Jesus’ greatest act…His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. This was done for our sins to bring us home to heaven with Him one day. It was done for YOU and for ME. We give God glory when we simply accept His mercy without question or conditions. Even if He knows we will fail again and again, He just loves when we get up from our falls and run to Him like a little child. Be not afraid of the God who knows you already. Be not afraid of the merciful heart that asks you, “My child, will you let me just love you?” In this year of Mercy, let us say with full heart, Jesus I trust in You!