By: Sr. Mary Michael
The Easter season is one of my favorite times of the year. This is not due solely to the fact that we can eat chocolate at breakfast, dinner, and supper (part of a certain convent tradition), though that is an amazing gift from Jesus! It is also because I love the Mass readings that the Church gives us to contemplate, which are so incredibly beautiful and intimate.
Just recently I was discussing the gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday with our lay staff from our daycare center. We reflected on ‘Doubting Thomas’ a bit until eventually one of them remarked, “If someone just appeared here and said, ‘I’m God. Believe in me.’ I wouldn’t believe them. I don’t blame the apostles for being slow to believe.” It’s hard to illustrate the full effect for you in a short little article, but with that, I felt like Jesus on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples. My heart was burning with the desire to open the scriptures (or simply Truth) to them. “You are so right and justified in saying that!” I said. “That’s exactly why Jesus doesn’t do that to us, nor did He make that demand up His apostles. Instead, He spent three years revealing Himself to them!”
God desires relationship. It wasn’t solely in that split second in the upper room that Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples, nor was His revelation limited to His awe-inspiring miracles or profound words. In everything that He did He revealed His Heart and the love of the Father - every look that He gave, every smile that played on His lips, every one of His actions. He desired that the disciples come to know Him, and through this intimate knowledge of Him, to come to trust Him and believe in Him.
And so it is the same with us. Jesus is unceasingly inviting us to encounter Him in the scriptures and in the sacraments. He invites us to recognize His intimate presence in all of the events of daily life. He invites us to share our hearts with Him and listen to the response of His Heart in personal prayer each and every day. He invites us to come to know Him, to grow in relationship with Him, to receive Him in His longing for us, and then to let Him transform us through our trust in His word. He invites us to trust that He is God, He is faithful, and He is the fulfillment of all our desires.
As we continue to contemplate the scriptures this Easter season may we not only pray, “Stay with us Lord,” as did the disciples on the road to Emmaus, for He is always with us. He does not leave us. It is we who get distracted and leave Him. Thus, may we hear His gentle plea borne of His longing and intense desire for us – “Stay with me! Abide in me.” May we resolve all the more firmly to respond to this intimate divine invitation.
Amidst the buzzing of technological distractions today, one might say we have muted Christ’s knocking on our hearts. It was not until giving up my own “beloved” Android Samsung, that I was able to see just how often I was running from silence by checking it all throughout the day. How long, I wondered, has Jesus been waiting to enter the silence of my heart, just for me to turn away and check my phone? With this in mind, I couldn’t help but worry, how will children search for Christ in a world that offers so many distractions? Only a few weeks in our Carmelite Child Development Center proved to me that Christ goes much deeper than the distractions of the world. One encounter I had speaks for them all. While working on an art project, a few children had crowded around my lap and began asking questions about the crucifix around my neck – nothing new. “Why did Jesus want to die for us?” and “How can I be better friends with Jesus?” were only a few of their remarks. All the while, one little girl, “Ruth”, gently held the little cross in her hands, gazing at it intently. Eventually the questions ceased, the children returned to their play, and I refocused my attention to the painting station. Without noticing that Ruth was still hanging on to the crucifix around my neck, I continued directing the project. After a great silence passed Ruth finally looked up, “Sister,” she asked quietly, “Can we keep talking about Jesus? I like it and I really want to know more.” Such sincere words! Suddenly all the children painting had stopped to listen to me, eagerly waiting to hear more about Jesus. How beautiful it is to witness the joy of little ones seeking to know Christ. Is this not the cry of each of our hearts? Lord, help me to desire to befriend you, just like your little ones at Carmelite.
"Glory to the Newborn King!” “God is with us, Emmanuel.” “God to sinners reconciled.” For me, expressions like these used to be largely reminiscent of lyrics to Christmas songs growing up. That’s all the deeper it went. It was a song to sing at Christmastime, and, when the songwriter must’ve really thought about it, it often rhymed. It just “fit” nicely. But let’s take a moment and ponder one of these lines: “God is with us…” Do we even fathom what that means for us? God Himself became man for our sake. He came as a tiny baby to live and die with us and for us, like one of us in all things except sin. What a tremendous mystery! God so loved us that He chose to send His only son for us, born in humble lowliness, unrecognizable except to the eyes of faith.
Here in the convent, we live Advent and Christmas differently from the world. When we sing, we anticipate the mystery of the Incarnation with these eyes of faith. What a privilege it is to truly enter into the Liturgical seasons to prepare our hearts for Christ. Advent is no exception. While much of the world is busy “shopping till they drop,” finding the perfect present, and taking pictures with Santa, we are focused solely on the coming of Christ into our hearts. Christmas in the convent is one of the most beautiful experiences. Yes, there is a time for all the fun of the season, but we save it for the time it is liturgically celebrated. There is true joy, anticipation, prayer, and focus on the coming of Christ. I think sometimes in this world we miss out on many things because we are so focused on the hype of the season. Christmas exists as a holiday because of Jesus Christ’s coming to earth as man. Many times I see bumper stickers at this time of year that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas”. Yes, indeed, let us not remove Him from the feast that belongs to Him from its existence!
Recently in a meeting I had with a priest, I brought up the idea that at times I just feel plain inadequate. We all feel that way sometimes, don’t we? During this Advent, I was invited to counter that lie with truth found in prayer. I hope you can too! Here is what I mean: We need to hear from our Lord that the lie of our inadequacy is from the Evil One. God comes to bring us the knowledge that we are deeply loved by Him. We need to counter the lies because we are so precious to the Father that He sent Jesus to us as a tiny vulnerable baby, as God, to be one with us. That is love! This priest also told me that to the eyes of many, Baby Jesus seemed “inadequate.” He didn’t seem to be “enough” to save His people. But it is precisely through this littleness and vulnerability that He conquered. The devil is always afraid of truth, humility, littleness, and simplicity! I was invited to ponder the Christmas crèche at Christmas Eve, to look at the Baby Jesus. He, too, didn’t seem like “enough” to save the world. But, oh, how He was! One day, many years ago, there was a Virgin who gave birth to the Savior of the World, and His name is Jesus. Let us never forget such tremendous love. Indeed, this Love is more than enough. The beautiful truth is that it also makes us more than enough in His precious eyes! We are loved!
By: Sr. Mary Joseph
Juan, Juan, Juan! Come closer! My Son, Juan Diego, whom I love tenderly, like a small and delicate child. Where are you going? (First Apparition)
Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your life and health? Are you not in my embrace and in my prayers? What else do you need? (Fourth Apparition)
I remember as a young religious the impact these words of Our Lady had at a time of uncertainty and confusion. “Am I not your Mother? What else do you need?”
The incredible power of a mother! I have recently taken to calling it just that, “mommy power”. As women, we can easily lose sight of our “feminine genius” - the ability to give birth to love, a love conceived by a posture of receptivity to Love. It is thus that a mother’s strength is manifested, giving birth to this love time again and again, through her tender availability, compassion and receptivity to the other.
Not too long ago, I shared with my own mother a very deep struggle I was enduring. In her efforts to comfort me, she likened my struggles to that of another story she had heard. I stopped her. I said, “Mom, I’m hurting right now, and I really need you to use your ‘mommy power’. You have the ability to ease my pain simply by hugging me. You can kiss a boo-boo away. And I have experienced my pain lessening just by you praying with me and taking my sufferings to yourself. Please . . . use your ‘mommy power’ now.” And with that we both stopped and she entered into my suffering, we cried together . . . and I stand here to bear witness to the truth - there is nothing that can withstand the power of a mother’s love.
Juan Diego on his way to Mexico City was entrusted by Our Lady with a task that seemed beyond his capabilities to perform. In his confusion, and even his avoidance of her in his attempt to get help for his uncle, she gives him a message that resounds for all of us today “Am I not your Mother? What else do you need?”
Let us give praise and thanks to God on this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe for sending us so beautiful a mother. May she intercede for us for the grace to be receptive to His Word so that we may become spiritual mothers to all of His children on earth. May they know His love and compassion through our own “mommy power” – easing the pain of a suffering world through our acts of love.
¡Viva de Virgen de Guadalupe!
¡Viva Christo Rey!
August 22, 2017, was more than just the magnificent feast of our Lady's crowning in heaven. This year, it was also the entrance date for our three new postulants. "I have come because I feel that our Lord has called me," they stated in their entrance ceremony...and how true this is. Entrance into religious life does not come about simply from a conclusion after detailed analysis that "this way of life would be most fitting for me" or "I think this way of life will make me happy." It is, rather, a response to the gentle whisper of the Lord in one's heart saying, "Come." Without knowing exactly what the future will hold or where it will ultimately lead, those in consecrated life respond as Mary did centuries ago, "Fiat, Lord. Thy will be done."
Please pray for our postulants as they learn the way of Carmel and further discern what the Lord desires of them.
In the Gospels Christ tells His disciples that: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundred times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” The part of this statement that I never quite understood is that we will receive hundredfold in THIS LIFE and in the next! Is that really true? That even in THIS LIFE our Lord will give us the hundredfold? Well, I can certainly say that Jesus decided to make this more of a reality for me this Easter, surprising me with more than I could have asked for. This is an old story now, but I’ll assume you don’t mind…
Easter Monday I found myself at a lake house in Innsbrook, MO with an opportunity of a lifetime... To my great surprise there are horse stables connected to this lake house community; and for me, a long-time horseback rider, the thought of seeing a horse filled me with excitement. You see, horses were one of those things I “gave up” to come to the convent and in the developed town of Kirkwood horses are scarce. So what did I do? I begged my sisters to take me there and they happily complied to my request. In the matter of minutes I found myself stroking a chestnut Tennessee Walker and having the time of my life just being near this beautiful animal. Her name was Willow and she was a sweetheart. With the permission of her owner, we spent the next 45 minutes together and this time resulted in a great horsie/Sr. M. John Paul bond that I’m sure never to forget.
So our Lord really does mean what He says! He knows and cares for our needs and even our littlest desires- we just have to give Him the opportunity to provide!
God’s plan for us is infinitely greater than our own. If you are anything like me, at some point in your faith journey, your discernment has to be purified. Jesus will ask us point-blank, at some specific time: My daughter, are you living for you, or do you want to live for Me? He leaves us free; But we know that the choice we make will bring us closer to Him and to the fulfillment that can only be found in His Heart. Understandably, we are mostly driven by fears, insecurities, and anxieties when we are still young in our faith journey. We are all affected by original sin…which led us to have trust issues with God our Father. This enters into our discernment as well, anxiously questioning: What does God want of me? Will I miss His plan? What if I choose the wrong path? The thing we so often forget is that God is our true Father. God is a Father who wants us to know the path infinitely more than we want to know it. He is our Daddy who picks us up when we fall and hurt ourselves and holds us until we calm down and rest against His heartbeat.
One of my favorite quotes is by Henri Nouwen, and it totally changed my life at a time when I had to either surrender to God or embark upon a path other than religious life for my life because Jesus seemed to be asking “too much”. Here is the quote: “Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me.”
Surrender to our Father. Growing in that relationship with the Father is key. Before discernment even begins, we need to orient ourselves to a God who loves us unto death. So knowing the path isn’t the key. Trust and surrender to His perfect timing is. Speaking with girls who are discerning their vocations, I often find myself remembering so well what it felt like to be at that time of life: high school/ college-age, wondering what the next great step in life would be. ...Then came the waiting and waiting for what seemed like an eternity for God to reveal His path to me and for me to “actually get started” with my life. God must have smiled a lot upon me in love, gently telling me to “wait”. His perfect plan was coming! I just needed to live in the moment and hold on just a little bit longer. I often grumbled, wondering why He wasn’t telling me what I wanted to hear, namely that, “you have a vocation!” But it wasn’t an experience like a clear-cut voice that told me I was called to be a sister. It has been a journey all through formation here in the convent where I have been learning how to surrender to my Father in JOY, peace, serenity, healing, and hope. It has been a time where the “yes” I say when I renew my vows each year until final vows becomes freer and more authentic. This paradoxical journey is one that typically I wouldn’t have thought would bring me freedom, but it has and it continues to do so.
I smile because the advice I want to give to young people is exactly what I would NOT have wanted to hear at high school and college age. But life teaches us slowly. I love these young women so much because they are now my spiritual children. I want what God wants for them. They are precious is His eyes. And FIRST and foremost, God wants them to know that He loves them…as a Father who is not trying to hide His plans from them. …That they can trust Him. -Sr. Mary Elizabeth
"Behold this heart, which has loved men so much, and yet men do not want to love Me in return. Through you, My divine Heart wishes to spread its love everywhere on earth." So went the words of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alcoque centuries ago -- and yet the message remains fully relevant today. Not only are men's hearts cold in response to the sufferings and love of Christ in our present culture of instant gratification and secularism. The second half of Jesus message holds true today also. It's though US, you and I, that the Lord wants to bring His love into this world. He desires that we be His hands and His feet. He longs that our Heart be transformed into His Heart, loving recklessly and daringly, setting the world afire with His love. Might I take this opportunity to quote our Dominican friend, St. Catherine of Sienna who said, "If you are who you are meant to be you will set the world on fire." Jesus desires nothing less of us than radical, all-consuming holiness which, though a single flame, ignites all those with whom it comes into contact with the same fire.
So went the theme at our annual Carmelite Day retreat for 6th-11th grade girls on June 3rd (pics above) & 10th (pics below) as we Sisters tried to express to young women the magnitude of love pouring from the Sacred Heart which has won our hearts. Take a glance at the pictures...and perhaps you can join us next year!
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!
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.”