In this Edition:
- Lent in Secret
- Website News
- Community News
Dear Friends of Carmel,
Due to unexpected events, by the time you receive this letter, we will already be well into the season of Lent. But before Carmel’s yet deeper retreat from the world during these Holy Forty Days, we pass onto you a few lessons the Church offers her children to guide them through this time. It is the season that reminds us of the necessity for fallen man to unite himself with the redeeming work of Jesus our Savior by a spirit of penance. Lent, by its fasting and other penitential exercises, enables us to share in this work ever more closely. “No Lent,” the St. Andrew Missal instructs, “is worthy of the name without a personal effort of self-reformation, of leading a life more in accordance with God’s commands and an attempt by some kind of voluntary self-denial to make reparation for past negligence. But the Church, together with the personal effort which it requires of all of us, her children, sets up in the sight of God the cross of Christ, the Lamb of God who took upon Himself the sins of man and who is the price of our redemption.”
In taking up our penances and persevering in them, we have no better teacher than Jesus Christ, the Master of self-denial and of peaceful suffering for sin, Who Himself observed a forty-day fast in the desert. We read from the Sermon on the Mount (St. Matthew’s Gospel, 6:1-21) His careful instructions regarding the three special practices of penance: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Our Blessed Savior will not have us performing penance simply out of obligation or blind keeping of custom, just for show. Nor would He have us doing penance with half a heart. He urges the soul to purity of intention and to have as our whole purpose union with our heavenly Father. We must give alms, fast and pray “in secret,” that our Father, who sees in secret, may fittingly reward us. We hide the difficulty of our sacrifices and efforts behind a patient, gentle manner and a cheerful countenance, our whole endeavor being to please God alone, to love Him with a pure heart and to set right and repair our life in His sight, for His glory.
So what are we to learn, and how are we to be changed and truly sanctified by this time of Lent? Holy Mother Church, using St. Paul’s words of counsel to the early Christians (2Cor. 6:1-10), urges us to understand that “now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” and to “conduct ourselves in all circumstances in much patience… in fastings… in innocence… in long-sufferings, in kindness… in the word of truth…” But ever mindful of our weakness and spiritual poverty, we know that all of this can only be accomplished “in the power of God”, so that all our trust is in His loving help, His grace. With a certain urgency, the Church exhorts Her children each day during Lent, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near!” And one of the beautiful “responsories” in our Lenten Divine Office reads: “This time of fasting has opened to us the gates of paradise. Let us accept it, praying and beseeching that on the day of the resurrection we may be glorified in the Lord.”
And so we shall spend the days of Lent, as best as we are able, “in secret,” prayerfully united with our Crucified Lord, Who tells each one of us, “If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
A wonderful Carmelite Saint who faithfully followed the Savior’s example in mortification was St. Teresa Margaret of the Divine Heart (Feastday: March 11). She was born into a large, devout family in Arezzo, Italy in 1747. She was a fashionable, spirited girl, who nonetheless was filled with a deep love of God, even from her early youth. One of her biographers tells us that “she would have been rather short-tempered if she had not learned from childhood to curb herself. She was very sensitive and felt great repugnances. She managed to overcome them but the effort in doing so often made her face glow with color. She retained this imperfection to the very last years of her life… she had to combat her dislikes to the end of her life.” Strengthened by her love of God and determination to be entirely His whatever the cost, she bore these defects as reminders of her poverty and need for God. And dedicating her life at age 17 to the Carmelite enclosure in Florence, she embraced a hidden life of sacrifice and prayer. The cornerstone of St. Teresa Margaret’s spirituality was to remain hidden, to live, pray, suffer, “in secret” and to appear just like everyone else in spite of her heroic virtue. And so she is a fine pattern to follow during Lent. To learn more about—and from—this wonderful saint, we invite you to read some of the favorite books of our community, which we offer on our web site. She is equal to St. Therese in her example of simplicity of soul and fidelity to God’s love.
Since we are rather “in-betwixt and in-between” with our new web site, adding new books and other items to the site is difficult now. But we will mention briefly here a few new books and gifts that are now available nonetheless—just email us for details. Lenten reading will greatly assist you in keeping the season holy and making it fruitful. Although several weeks will have passed by the time you read this, it is not too late to take up a good book to be your companion through the remaining days. Besides the Lenten Books we offer, we direct you to all of the books we currently have under Spiritual Life. We highly recommend Attaining Salvation by St. Alphonsus and The Holy Way of the Cross by Father Boudon. The leather bound Blessed Sacrament Prayerbook, compiled by the generous and holy Father Lasance, as well as the Our Father in Gethsemane: Thoughts for the Holy Hour by the early 20th century Jesuit poet, Father Francis P. Donnelly, are new books that will make excellent reading and prayer for this holy season and can be obtained by emailing us.
We have had a tremendous response to our cord rosaries and now make several with a carved wood crucifix, pictured here. With the First Holy Communion time, as well as Mother’s Day coming in May and June, we know that rosary bracelets make a perfect gift. In addition to those with our special rose lampwork bead bracelets, the Sisters have designed new bracelets: several with crystal beads, one with pearl, and one very unique two-tone, gold and silver bracelet. In addition, the Patron Saint Rose bracelet is now available in an excellent quality oxidized nickel silver, in appearance just like the sterling, but less expensive. Please email us to receive photos and prices for these bracelets, along with details for ordering.
Lastly, remember that we have a fine selection of greeting cards for Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, First Communion and Confirmation. We are so looking forward to expanding our greeting card selection on the new web site!
You know by now that the Sisters don’t let any grass grow under their sandals! For people who think nuns, even contemplative nuns, have little to do but sit still in prayer all the day long, with solemn faces and rather morose moods, let a day in Carmel enlighten them! And let the record of the Saints, too, especially our Carmelite Saints, alter their mistaken notions: St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, who used to bake bread for her entire community during the night, since her daytime hours were filled with so many other duties; St. Teresa Margaret, who selflessly served as infirmarian, often missing her meals to fulfill that difficult office perfectly; St. John of the Cross, who engineered a waterway system for one of his monasteries and then labored along with the masonry builders to construct it. The list goes on—and we try to walk in the footsteps of those before us. Yes, Carmelites do pray “all the day long,” striving to keep the Lord’s holy counsel to pray without ceasing. But prayer is in every task we must take up in holy obedience for the love of God. So besides the daily work of cleaning, cooking and laundry, we are forever getting ourselves into more vestment projects! As we learn more about the machine embroidery, we are trying to incorporate this in each of our projects now, even if only in a small way. Reminded so often of the priestly counsel we received, “You can’t do today’s work with yesterday’s tools,” Mother Prioress has assigned two of our Sisters to learn the embroidery from teachers all over the world—but without leaving the enclosure, of course. The Internet again becomes such a useful tool, through “webinars” with detailed instructions and examples. As we gaze with reverence and awe on the very old pieces of hand-embroidered appliqués made by nuns over a century ago, we know that the art of “painting with thread” is all but lost! Somehow to preserve this art with the new tools now available is a goal of our sewing and embroidery endeavors for the Church.
In other labors at Carmel, the rosary-making Sisters got a big surprise in mid-January, when a puzzling number of orders and inquiries arrived in the mail for Holy Infant chaplets. After daily receiving up to several dozen orders, we finally read in one of the mailed notes that a religious magazine had published an article all about the Holy Infant devotion and its history. The source given in the article to obtain a chaplet was—you guessed it—Sisters of Carmel. As of this writing, we are headed towards one hundred chaplets, and the Sisters’ bending of wire goes on! Late winter is the time to do some pruning out in the yard and garden, so our Gardening Sister, between stitching and bending wire, takes a few minutes each week to prune at least one or two of the shrubs. We all are fond of that recently-coined term, “multi-tasking”. Carmelites have been doing that for centuries, probably!
Telling you of these few current projects at Carmel suffices for this letter. But let us add just a little remark about the “solemn faces and morose moods” mentioned above. So far is this from the case in a true Religious that St. Teresa, Our Holy Mother in Carmel, used to say, “God save us from sad-faced Saints!” She wrote once of her Carmelite monasteries that God would always provide members of the community particularly gifted to “entertain the rest”—and we have found this to be undeniably true! We know from the canonization testimony about St. Therese, the Little Flower, that at recreation she loved to amuse the Sisters at her Carmel with little mimics that had them all laughing to tears! Some years ago, when one of our Sisters was a postulant fresh from the world, after a few weeks of Carmel’s recreations she blurted out, “When I was younger and even in college, I used to see nuns and think they were dull, without much personality… What a shocker!” She was very surprised to find in Carmel a great deal of personality indeed among the Sisters, along with witty and interesting stories and insights concerning just about everything. Of course, always peppered with a good dose of teasing. Short spiritual communions are customary several times during recreation and keep us constantly in remembrance of the Divine Companion of all our recreations, all our labors.
Please know of our remembrance of you during these Lenten days—that all may grow in holiness, innocence, purity—and especially in love of our Savior, Whose generous and merciful love endured so much to win for us eternal happiness.
Your Carmelite Sisters
P.S. Knowing that our letter will be sent out to you near or on the Feast of St. Joseph, we commend you all to this great Saint’s prayers—he who was loved and honored by Our Lord Jesus Christ as His father upon earth.