Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Carmelite Vocation

Some years ago, I decided to become a Lay Carmelite, a member of the Carmelite religious order, a Third Order member of the Order of Carmelites 
(O. Carms.). It was a big commitment and somewhat time consuming. At the time, my sons were in their teens. I had many obligations. I searched for a chapter that would work for me, with a meeting I could commit to. I tried a few different meetings in the tri-state area and various times, until I found the right fit. I had to study Carmelite spirituality which was fine for me, because one of the reasons I wanted to become a Lay Carmelite was my love of Carmelite spirituality. I had read the sublime mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross and his amazing life story in my 20's. I read the stories and writings of St. Teresa of Avila, (St. Teresa is the only woman who ever reformed a men's religious order. She was quite an extraordinary woman and a close friend of St. John of the Cross). I would later develop a great devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux and study her writings in depth but that was later. On the day of my profession, my aunt, the Italian matriarch of the family, (who can sometimes get information confused), told relatives that I was "carmelized" that day. Not exactly, it sounded like I had been covered in carmel candy! A Carmelite call is not that sweet. Fulfilling, enriching and a great path to a deep relationship with God, but the sweetness of carmel candy, not really. 
I once heard a Carmelite speaker say that Carmelites can be called to suffer. Suffering is part of the Carmelite vocation-for some. (Yet, Carmelites can produce "great fruit" for the Church while suffering.........St. John of the Cross would be an example. He wrote amazing poetry while imprisoned by his own religious order.) I never look for suffering but realistically it can happen to any of us. Jesus said it would. Suffering is part of the human condition.
I decided that between the Feast of the Assumption and the Feast of the Nativity of Mary was as good a time as any to write about my Carmelite spirituality.
And so that's the story of my Carmelite connection. At a recent Communion Breakfast with the Carmelites, in my chapter, one remark from a former director of the chapter was poignant. She said, "When I look around the room and see the deep spirituality these people have and the goodness in them, it makes me feel like crying." There is a lot of goodness in the Carmelite order. It's a great blessing in my life to be part of the Order. Historically known as the Third Order, the Lay Carmelite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel is made up mainly of lay persons like me. An interesting note about the Carmelites-the Order is named after a mountain range in the Holy Land called Mt. Carmel. Many religious orders are named after a person such as the Franciscans (St. Francis of Assisi), the Dominicans (St. Dominic) and so on. Members of the Third Order can be called Tertiaries, Third Order Carmelites, Secular Carmelites and the most common term-Lay Carmelites.

Prayer is a door that opens up to the mystery of God and at the same time furnishes us with the means of communing with God.  
St. Teresa of Avila-Doctor of the Church