Early June found us Carmelites basking in the sun...or were we dripping with water? You may have thought that becoming a Sister meant absolutely no fooling around. Well, think again! As Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI has said..."He takes nothing away and He gives you everything" ...even water balloon fights.
As I drove to the retreat the evening of May 24th, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was looking forward to getting the chance to meet more young women who were also discerning God’s call for them, and of course I was excited to get to know the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, as well. In these moments before the retreat began, I could never have guessed the beautiful experiences I was able to have over the next few days. As I arrived and anxiously greeted some fellow retreatants, my heart was filled with joy and my nervousness began to be replaced with warm happiness. The retreat opened with prayer and welcome, and one of the sisters reminded us to go through this retreat knowing that God had placed us here for a reason, and that through it all his gentle love would guide us. We then prayed compline (the night prayer of the liturgy of the hours) with the sisters, and as we headed to bed, I still had a million questions in my mind about if I was in the right place or doing the right thing, or even of I was worthy to be there. God would not answer these questions in a flash of lightening or a heavenly vision, but through the gentle promptings and experiences of the coming days.
The next morning, we opened with lauds and meditation, and I looked to the days ahead, I simply asked our Lord to make His will mine, and to give me the courage to hear His voice more clearly. After breakfast, as we watched a vocational film and listened to the unique and beautiful vocation stories of the sisters, my heart was pulled to the life I was hearing about. “I want to live for you, just like that, Jesus!” I prayed. As we continued through out day and got to experience a little taste of the Sisters' apostolate, I found my heart open to a central part of the Sisters' lives and exactly how they lived for Jesus as I so longed to. Seeing firsthand how the sisters cared for both the residents of St. Agnes Home and the children at the day care, I saw a type a motherhood I’d never fully recognized: spiritual motherhood. The way that the Sisters interacted with and cared for the residents of St. Agnes Home was truly the same as how I love and care for my own grandparents, and the way they played with and so dearly loved the children at the day care reminded me of the relationship I have with my own older sisters. The sisters loved and made a home for everyone they served, with the light of Christ so clearly touching others through their service. That evening as we prayed vespers and then shared recreation time all together, I felt the peace and love between the sisters permeate my heart and the hearts of the retreatants, and I began to understand that not only are the sisters spiritual mothers, they are a spiritual family unto each other as well.
The next day, as we had the privilege to attend the ordination mass for priests at the Saint Louis Basilica, and we learned more about Carmelite spirituality and the history of Carmel DCJ, I saw that religious life is not only one of love and sacrifice: it is a life full of the beauty of God. It is a life full of relationships, service, prayer, community, solitude, and bringing the souls of the world closer to the Lord. Learning an introduction to how Carmelite spirituality is lived revealed to me how deeply important the silence of prayer is, as well as how powerful. And attending the ordination mass, as well as some amazing conversations I had with the sisters throughout this weekend exposed to me one very important truth: Religious life isn’t about being worthy or doing things right all the time – it is about answering a call. As we had mass the next morning, on the closing day of the retreat, I knew I had been in the right place, and that I would remember this weekend for years to come.
- Reflection from a SLU grad
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