St. Teresa of Avila and the Carmelite vocation

The Carmelite Vocation ~ a talk given to young women interested in Carmel

The call to Carmel is a call to an extraordinary way of life… a sublime vocation, but it is offered to ordinary modern young Catholic women no different from yourselves. This call is a personal invitation from God Himself to a life of intimacy with Him through the complete gift of oneself.

We Discalced Carmelite Nuns are part of a worldwide religious family… a cloistered Order of women dedicated to the apostolate of prayer and penance at the very heart of the Church and of the world. Our history goes back to the 12th century… and, by tradition, even to Old Testament times and the prophets (particularly the great prophet Elijah), whose lives bore witness to the Presence of God among His people. The great Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, reformed the Order of Carmel in the 16th century (1562), setting up very much the same lifestyle our community follows today, together with more than 800 other Carmelite monasteries throughout the world… on every continent. Our tradition is ancient, but there is nothing old-fashioned about Carmel: our ministry, though still hidden, is as relevant to the times you live in as it ever was… our life of prayer for the Church, for the needs of the world, and for all the peoples of the earth.

Today’s world needs prayer. We pray especially for priests, for the missions, for the poor, the unemployed, the sick and suffering, the hungry; for all those who call or write us continually with their special needs and intentions. Our morning Mass and the seven times each day when we gather in Choir to chant the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church, consisting of the psalms and readings from Scripture, are all a part of the Carmelite’s offering of praise to the Lord and intercession for His people. But the real heart of our life is contemplative prayer, the silent, loving person-to-Person relationship with Jesus Christ which makes of the one who prays herself an offering… a living prayer, that draws all that she is and does into Jesus’ saving work in a powerful and mysterious way. The life of Carmel is modeled on the life of Mary at Nazareth… the quiet, hidden, worshipful service of God and His Will in intimate union with Jesus… carrying out her unique role in the history of salvation.

Remaining in the Lord’s presence always, getting to be His close personal friend, is aided by the peaceful prayerful silence and solitude we find within our “cloister”, known as the Papal Enclosure. Once we enter, we do not leave the monastery grounds except for necessary medical care… nor does anyone else come inside the cloister except for necessary maintenance. But the walls, the grilles, the hiddenness do not cut us off from the sufferings of the world or mean that we fail to appreciate its good and beautiful values; rather our unique vantage point lets us penetrate into the very heart of things. We are free… free to reflect, to ponder life in the light of God’s Word, to concentrate on love. If by our Solemn Vows of poverty, chastity and obedience we give up good things like the right to marriage and a family of our own, to be independent and seek our own ambitions, to own property or to have a rewarding career in the world, it is only to free us to have and to do something even more rewarding.

The life St. Teresa set up for her daughters strikes a healthy balance between prayer, both personal and communal, and manual labor… our daily work; and between solitude and community life. She believed that the best training for generosity with the Lord Jesus in prayer is the generosity we practice in serving our sisters. We are like hermits, but we live in the context of community: we pray together, we take our meals together, and we recreate together each day in a true spirit of sisterly joy. We work in silence, but whatever we do… whether domestic duties such as cooking the meals, cleaning the monastery, doing the laundry, or preparing the chapel for worship; everything is a service of love. It makes us mindful of the needs of others and trains us in caring… and in the love and service of one another, striving to live faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ… for Him and in union with Him.

We find God’s Will in our Rule of life and the order of our day, in the directives of our superiors, in the “quiet whisper” of silent prayer in loving communion with our Blessed Lord… and living in God’s will means living in joy and peace of heart.

Community life is simple and happy. St. Teresa limited the number of nuns in each monastery to twenty-one, so that we might all be true friends and sisters. The particular monastery that we enter is where we are trained in our own Novitiate and where we remain for life. The sick and elderly are cared for right here in the monastery infirmary, and we do not transfer from one Carmel to another. So it is important that each of us gets to know herself and continually strives to become more Christlike in the daily pursuit of holiness and the practice of virtue, that we may become more selfless, humble, generous, and more loving and thoughtful toward others. The challenge is never-ending. It is indeed a spiritual adventure.

Yes, the ideals of Carmel are high, but the women the Lord calls to serve Him here are just like you. We have come from all parts of the country, from all kinds of backgrounds. Some of us went to Catholic schools and grew up around sisters, and perhaps felt from childhood that we wanted to give ourselves to Jesus in a special way. Others pursued studies or careers and only discovered later that the service they were called to render the world was to offer it to God and to dedicate their own lives completely to Him in prayer and penance for His people.

The world needs generous and courageous youth, ready and willing to commit their lives with joy and enthusiasm to serve without counting the cost… to live for others and to love without measure as Jesus said: “greater love than this no one has than to lay down one’s life for others…” If today you should hear His voice… calling you to this marvelous challenge, do not hesitate to “go for it”… to respond with all the love and daring of your young heart. Never doubt that Jesus means YOU, when you hear Him say… “Come, follow Me… and I will show you the fullness of life and joy in this journey of faith we make together… let us climb the mountain of Carmel to the very peak of fulfillment… complete UNION with GOD forever in the JOY of Eternal LIFE!”

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