In this Edition:
- St. John of the Cross
- Website News – Gift Ideas
- Community News
Dear Friends of Carmel,
We promised in our last letter to be in touch again soon. These months of November and December are so full and busy for everyone. They are filled with plans, appointments, and commitments. But happily, they are also filled primarily with God’s grace and overseeing Providence, so Advent, Christmas and His saints’ feastdays also pervade these days. One of the special saints celebrated during these days is our own holy Father, St. John of the Cross. We know he enjoys a perfectly miserable reputation among many Catholics: gloomy, strict, distant, and cold. A good many Carmelites will have to admit that they, too, had their qualms and reservations about this man, and about whether or not he would be someone they could follow—even from a distance! But his spiritual doctrines are loved and fostered by the Church. And St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila), for her part, marveled at the goodness of this man, once writing, “Though he is small in stature, I believe that he is great in God’s eyes.” The following is said of his letters: “Revealing John as warm, compassionate, and deep, his correspondence served mostly for the purpose of spiritual direction…” He applied his teaching “to the particular needs of the individuals,” urging souls to “live in the poverty of faith, hope, and love because to receive the embraces of God you must be empty of desire” for the things of earth. Here are some of the things he wrote, either in letters or in his “Sayings of Light and Love”:
“In tribulation immediately draw near to God with confidence, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.”
- “Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved.”
- “Keep spiritually tranquil in a loving attentiveness to God, and when it is necessary to speak, let it be with the same calm and peace.”
- “In the evening of life, we will be judged by love alone…”
Let us see if we can dispel at least a few of the mistaken notions and fears by sharing with you the opening remarks of a brief biography by Fr. Christopher Rengers O.F.M. Cap. (taken from The 33 Doctors of the Church).
Doctor of Mystical Theology (1542-1591) …When a young woman came very fearfully to his confessional at Avila, he encouraged her: “…The holier the confessor, the gentler he is, and the less he is scandalized at other people’s faults, because he understands man’s weak condition better.” Sometimes as superior in the monastery he coughed or rattled the rosary hanging from his belt, to warn an offending friar of his approach. This was St. John of the Cross, often and even commonly thought of as the utmost in severity.
St. John was essentially a very gentle person, yet very intense. If he drove a generous and well-disposed penitent and spiritual child hard, it was only to lead him to greater union with God. He was not anxious to catch anybody breaking silence or infringing on some other monastic rule. He was willing to look the other way; yet he never closed his eyes to what really needed correcting. His strong sense of justice and the desire to see others advance led him to impose punishments that were on occasion severe.
… He could never compromise, but his
sense of balance between justice and love was delicate… St. John of the
Cross dipped deeply into the wells of contemplation, and his union with
God reflected some of the justice and mercy of God, which to most
mortals often seem apparently contradictory—unless a person can look far
below the surface of things.
St. John of the Cross was a many-sided man—in both his character and in his teaching. He was a great lover of nature, perhaps more so than any noted Saint, except perhaps St. Francis of Assisi. Still, he taught that all natural goods and all natural beauty must be forsaken if we wish to find God. He was affectionate and attached to friends, yet he said we should love and be forgetful of all in an equal way. Even by his biographers St. John has been interpreted from opposite viewpoints…”
A fascinating study of his life and work can be found in God Speaks in the Night. We have come to love greatly this beautiful saint after years of learning gratefully the lessons of the path to the summit of Mount Carmel.
We promised to give you gift ideas for the Christmas season—gifts that reflect more faithfully than toys and computers the unsurpassed Gift of the Incarnation! As ever, the rosary makes an ideal gift of lasting value and meaning. You might try building a Birthstone/Patron Saint rosary for loved ones, a gift quite personal and individual. Introducing new devotions through our prayer chaplets is another fine idea.
We do want to mention our selection of quality Christmas cards. Even some of the most “secular” companies have this year produced exceptional religious cards. One card was even titled by its artist “Midnight Mass”! Another features an illuminated page from an altar Missal, with the opening words of Christmas Mass in Gregorian chant: Puer natus est! A Child is born! These cards are little gifts in themselves to friends and family, near and far… We also still have lovely Christmas ornaments on sale… A wonderful gift at Christmas, of course, is a wood-carved Nativity set. Ask the Sisters about adding additional figures to these lovely manger scenes, hand-carved by expert artists in the Italian Alps.
We are real music-lovers here at Carmel, and some of the Sisters have even had training and performance experience. However, all that is past now, since Carmel hides us in God and leads us on other paths. But music-lovers we remain, even though we seldom have the chance to listen to anything other than chant and liturgical hymns now! That is why, at Christmas, on the days of celebration prescribed by our holy Mother St. Teresa herself, we enjoy listening to and singing the beloved carols of Christmas. A few years ago, some delightful chamber music Christmas collections were produced: the three volumes of Rejoice! A String Quartet Christmas. These recordings, sent to us by their producer, quickly became favorites of the Sisters during the Nativity Season recreations. Among the three CDs, you will find all the best traditional Christmas Carols and classic compositions that have, over time, become Christmas favorites. A perfect Christmas gift—for your family and friends—or for yourself!
You know we always recommend good books for gifts and spiritual reading. With Advent coming, try not to let those precious December days be swallowed up in busy rush of the world. Rather, make a little time each day for prayer and reflection. The Advent and Christmas Wisdom books will help you. For each day of the Advent and Christmas seasons, they give short quotes from the writings of Saints illustrious for their holiness and goodness. The quotes are followed by significant passages from Scripture, a prayer and suggestion for how to apply the lessons learned. The best thing about these books is the wonderful words of saints, who know well how to guide us on our journey to Bethlehem… Remember the little Sacred Heart book by Fr. Daniel Lord, S.J.? It’s back in print and still a wonderful way to teach little ones about this important devotion… For Third Order Carmelites and others interested in Carmelite saints, you will find of interest a book about Ven. Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament, the Carmelite Religious who was chosen by Heaven to promote devotion to the Divine Infancy of Our Lord: A Gem from the Diamond Mine. It was she who composed the very popular Chaplet of the Infant Jesus. Also of Carmelite and universal interest is the biography of St. Theophane Venard, a favorite saint of a saint: Therese of the Child Jesus! In him, she found a true pattern of her “Spiritual Childhood” doctrine… Friends often think of us when they send gifts at Christmas, and they always want to get the Sisters something different—something they know the Sisters would never get for themselves! Food from other monasteries is among those special gifts to the Community, especially at Christmas. The final book we recommend to you is not a spiritual book, but shares a bit of “Catholic culture”. The title says it all: A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns. Part history/travel guide, part cookbook, the author beautifully captures the heart and spirit of the holy work that goes into producing treats from chocolate to cheese.
A Taste of Heaven leads us to a little news about us. In the early years of our Monastery, we made and sold bakery to assist in the support of the Community. This was, needless to say, before the Internet! We would have a bake sale about every month, which drew not only the people who attend Mass at our chapel, but also folks from around the neighborhood—Catholic or not! When we were able to find a steady support through rosary-making and sacramentals, we no longer had the sales, which were quite draining, as well as a real challenge to the regular observance and schedule of prayer, etc. We’re not quite sure, but somehow we got ourselves into a bake sale this year! That is, now! So, as one Sister is contributing to this letter, others are packing up English toffee and almond bark, baking scones and pies, labeling and pricing the bakery, etc. The monastery remains in peace and quiet, but again we find the challenges and thank the good Lord for the double benefit of our supporting and apostolic web site. Even so, the toffee sure is tasty…
Yes, to all the curious friends who wanted to know if we are finishing the St. Catherine of Alexandria vestment in time for her feastday, November 25th. We are privileged to have made this vestment set in honor of the patroness of preachers, teachers and philosophers—in spite of so many God-sent “interruptions”. We show here photos of the vestment, front and back. The “Palm & Cross” is the symbol of Christian martyrdom—note that St. Catherine is depicted holding the palm and the wheel, the means of her torture and martyrdom.
As we continue this month to remember in our prayers the souls of our deceased loved ones, we also look forward to a holy Advent and pray for you. God bless you and keep you in His loving will and Providence. And as Our Holy Father St. John of the Cross so often opened or closed his letters, “May Jesus be in your soul!”
Your Carmelite Sisters