Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Carmelite Saints – Their Pathway to Holiness DAMIEN PEILE

In the Library on Wednesday the 6th of March Damien Peile conducted a Carmelite Conversation on five saints of the Carmelite tradition.
Were they born saints?
A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. Depending on the context and denomination, the term also retains its original Christian meaning, as any believer who is "in Christ" and in whom Christ dwells.

There are over 10,000 named saints and beati from history, according to the Roman Martyrology and Orthodox sources.

What was their path to holiness and to the Carmelite way of Life?

Was their path smooth and easy, sudden, painful, slow, questioning? What do you think their reaction would be if they were told they were going to be saints? And, have you considered your own faith journey a pathway to holiness?

What is their relevance for us today?

In the eight hundred years of our Carmelite existence, God has chosen many holy and sometimes not-so-holy people to live together “in allegiance to Jesus Christ” including St. Peter Thomas, St. Andrew Corsini, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, St. Raphael Kalinowski (Bernadette Micallef speaks on this saint in September), St. Teresa of St. Augustine and the Martyrs of Compiegne (Emily Frazer speaks on the Martyrs next month), St. John Soreth, St. Elisha, St. Albert of Trapani, Blessed Titus Brandsma (Sr Paula speaks on him in May), St Margaret Redi and many more.  These are huge personalities in Carmel and we treasure them with their lives and examples of true love of God. There is a four-volume work titled ‘Profiles in Holiness’ by Carmelite Fr Redemptus Valabek  which provides further reading about the lives of men and women who have climbed Carmel.

But the Carmelite saints I have selected are ones that will be well known to you:
Teresa of Avila – 16thC
John of the Cross- 16thC
Therese of Lisieux –Late 19thC
Elizabeth of the Trinity and – late 19thC
Edith Stein – 20thC

Were they born saints?
Each of these saints had their own personality and temperament.  And the influences of their family background, education, and social environment as well as the world they lived in, gives further insight into their lives.

Family Background: What emerges here is a difference in their standard of living
John – poor and struggling family, suffered near destitution
Teresa            - stable family
Therese – fervent religious family
Elizabeth- military family, loving parents
Edith – devout Jewish family

All five suffered the loss of a parent at an early age. No formal grief counselling services or bereavement support programs were available, such as we have today.
John – age 3 death of his father, Gonzalo
Teresa – age 11, death of her mother, Beatriz
Therese – age 4 6/12 when her mother died, Zelie
Elizabeth Catez –age 7 death of her father, Joseph
Edith Stein – age 2 death of her father (sunstroke)

For some the pursuit of knowledge and learning led them to God; for others, the drawcard was their heart’s desire for God.  Knowledge and learning? Or the desire of the heart? Or both?
Two of these saints had minimal formal education and died young (TL, EC)
Two were highly educated, intellectual giants (JC, ES)

Carmelite Life – entered at different ages
Elizabeth Catez (1880-1906) –               age 21 -5 years in Dijon Carmel.
Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)          age 15 -9 years in Lisieux Carmel
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)                age 20 - 47 years – 16 foundations
John of the Cross (1542-1591)           age 21 when he took the Carmelite habit -28 years
Edith Stein (1891-1942)                       age 42, 9 years in Carmel

What was your age when you became interested in Carmelite spirituality?

It is quite remarkable the differences in their personalities, family and social background of these Carmelite Saints. 

Teresa of Avila was a vivacious extrovert. 1515-1582
Carmelite nun, saint, mystic, writer, reformer, theologian.  Beatified 1614, canonised Saint 1622, 32 years after her death. One of four Doctors of the Church, two of which are Carmelites, the other being Therese of Lisieux.

Teresa was not a born saint.
Her strong, vibrant personality yielded only gradually to the powerful workings of God’s grace in her life. She was a woman of immense desires, rugged determination and generous spirit. She had a gift for friendship and an ability to please. She loved life and all things human and was not afraid either of her own weakness or her own strength. It is hardly any wonder that she has become one of the most endearing of all Christian saints and the most approachable of the mystics.
Ref: D › Saints of the Day › Saints   Oct 15, 2012 - Teresa of Avila1 Eugene McCaffrey OC

”Teresa’s personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances”.           (Parish Newsletter – St Teresa of Avila, Protero Hill, San Francisco.) In many ways an extrovert, she was cheerful and friendly, a happy conversationalist, whom people found pleasing to hear as well as look at. Besides her talent as a writer, she was also gifted in the use of the needle and in household tasks.

Family Background
Teresa was born into a well-to-do family, long established in Spain and was raised by strict and devout Christian parents.   Teresa was one of ten children in her family. As a child, Teresa was pious and outgoing—sometimes a mixture that her parents couldn't handle. When she was seven years old, she and her brother left home planning to travel to Muslim territory to be beheaded. They were stopped by an uncle.

Teresa was not a learned woman.  She was not scholastically trained.  She could read and write Spanish.  She was biblically literate and knew the Sacred Scriptures through the liturgy (as vernacular translation of the Scriptures was forbidden).

Political and Social World
Teresa also lived in turbulent times: the New World had been opened to exploration just before her birth, the Inquisition had been influencing the church in Spain, and the Reformation began two years after she was born in 1515 in Ávila in what is now known as Spain.  In the world of the Spanish Golden Age, society was not very inclined to the “independence of women; rather, it was just the opposite. Men were in control, and women had to adapt,” explained the Italian Carmelite, who explains how, from an early age, Teresa “showed that she knew how to get what she wanted.”

Dates are approximate but give some idea of her time-line.

7(1512)          - ran away from home with her brother Rodrigo, and when asked by her anxious parents why she had done this, she replied : ‘I went because I want to see God, and to see him we must die ‘ This reply foreshadows her life-long quest – to live in the presence of the living God who loved her. 

14(1529) – death of her mother: Grief stricken

20 (1535) – Enters convent –not very happy at the beginning; shortly after became seriously ill (3 years) that may have been, at least in part, psychological, brought on by the stress of not living wholeheartedly her commitment. Continued to pray and meditate.

43 (1558) - she experienced what she called her second conversion, when she saw a graphic image of 'the much wounded Christ' (L 9:1), and determined to follow him totally and give herself wholly to him. Lives at Avila until 1567.

47(1562) - commences reform of the order. Assists John of the Cross in the first foundation of Discalced Carmelite Friary at Duruelo.

47(1562-82) – Founded Discalced Convents through Spain.

67(1582)          Dies at Alba de Tormes (TB)

Saint John of the Cross, 1542 -1591
Saint John of the Cross, who is well known for his mystical writings and poetry, was closely associated with Saint Teresa in her work of reform Carmel.

Personality – a gentle introvert.

Family Background
Juan de Yepes was the son of a poor silk weaver of Fontiberos, Toledo, and was born in 1542. One of the interesting things about John of the Cross is the story of his father, Gonzalo. He was from a very wealthy family involved in the silk trade and the management of many silk weavers who functioned as outworkers. Gonzalo fell in love with a poor weaver, Catalina, an orphan. His family was horrified at this romance with someone so far beneath his social status and forbade the wedding, and when they did marry ostracised and disinherited them. They were reduced to poverty; the children grew up always underfed, so that to the end of his life Juan remained dwarfed in stature. St. Teresa, in one of her flashes of humour, speaks of him in one place as "half a man."
They had three children, of whom one (Luis), died quite young, perhaps of malnutrition. Gonzalo died when John was three, and his mother in desperation turned to his family, but they refused to have anything to do with her or their grandchildren. So John's childhood experience was of parent’s crazy in love with each other, and a father who gave up everything for love. It must have influenced very deeply his image of God. John remained very close all his life to his surviving brother, Francisco.

John’s father died when he was three. The death of his father and the lack of family support for his mother meant that he was no stranger to destitution. John's life was marked by suffering but he knew the security of the genuine selfless love of his mother and elder brother, Francisco.

Juan first went to a poor school in Medina, where the family then lived. Then he tried to learn a trade, but apparently could make nothing of it. At fourteen years of age, since he had to earn his living, he found a post as an assistant in a hospital in Medina; at the same time he contrived to attend the classes of a school conducted by the Jesuit fathers. Here at once the genius of the boy appeared. He was a born artist, and every form of art appealed to him. Music was his delight; not only the music of song and instrument, but also the "silent music," as he later called it, of the woods, and the waters, and the stars. He had a relish for sculpture; he could paint and design; but most of all he revelled in poetry, and found in it the medium for the expression of his soul. Of all things else Juan de Yepes was a poet born; with a poet's vision, a poet's ambition, a poet's restlessness and dissatisfaction, a poet's special held of delight, last of all a poet's need to find expression in rhythm and verse.

Political and Social World
Along with Teresa, John also lived in turbulent times: the New World had been opened to exploration just before her birth, the Inquisition had been influencing the church in Spain, and the Reformation began

Principal Events in the Life of Saint John of the Cross
1542   Born Fontiveros, near Avila
1563   Took the habit of the Carmelite Friars, Medina. Abandons plans to join Carthusian Order
1564   Profession, Salamanca University (arts and theology)
1567   Ordained a priest. Meets St Teresa of Avila
1568   Takes vows of the Reform at Duruelo
1577   Kidnapped by Carmelite friars, take prisoner to Toledo priory
1577-8            In prison, writes poetry to express his inner spirit
1578   Escapes Toledo, sent to El Calvario as Vicar
1578-9            Begins his commentary ‘Ascent of Mount Carmel’
1579   Establishes a college of the Reform at Baeza, Rector 3 years
1581   Attends Alcala Chapter of the Reform.  Last meeting with Teresa of Avila
1582   Arrives at Granada, elected  Prior, continues writings (Spiritual Canticle,         Ascent of Mount             Carmel, Living Flame of Love)        
1585   In May, the Lisbon Chapter appoints John second definitor and vicar
1587   The chapter of Valladolid re-appoints John prior of Los Martires.       
1588   Attends the chapter of the Reform in Madrid, John takes up his new role as prior of             Segovia
1590   John is re-elected first definitor at the extraordinary chapter held in Madrid.
1591   General chapter opens in Madrid. John sent to La Penuela to prepare for assignment          to Mexico. He arrives at La Penuela in August. John falls victim to severe; leaves La         Penuela for Ubeda, dies age 49.

Elizabeth of the Trinity - a passionate nature 1880-1906
Family Background
The main facts of her life can be easily outlined:  Elizabeth Catez was born into a military family near Bourges, France in 1880 and died of Addison’s disease in 1906, five years after entering the Dijon Carmel. She was born on 18 July 1880 as Élisabeth Catez in the military base at Avord in Cher, the eldest of two children – another daughter Marguerite – of Captain Joseph Catez and Marie Rolland. She was baptized at the camp's chapel on the following 22 July. Elizabeth's father died unexpectedly on 2 October 1887 and as a result the family moved to Dijon.
In childhood she is described as an incessant chatterbox, vivacious crawler, tantrums with a strong will. Known as Sabeth and called the little captain, and would often fly into rages. This caused her mother to threaten to send her to a house of corrections run by the Good Shepherd Sisters: Mother and sister even packed her suitcases.  Her irritable temper tantrums continued; they were so persistent, her parish priest said that Elizabeth would be a saint or a demon. With God's grace she transcended the demon and fulfilled the meaning of her name. 'Elizabeth, with her temperament, will be either an angel or a devil,' declared a priest friend of the family.
But at the same time, from a very early age, she tried to conquer her temperament.  However, Elizabeth was always contrite. Elizabeth was sensitive to music and nature, beautiful things which reminded her always of God, and in which she saw reflected the harmony of their creator.
She was an upright girl with a loveable nature and generous heart. Her straightforward approach to life led her to make good resolutions, albeit mischievously. She learned her catechism well and made her first communion just before her eleventh birthday. That evening she had her first visit with the prioress of the Dijon Carmel. The prioress told her that her name meant "house of God." This deeply affected Elizabeth. The following month she was confirmed. At that time she intensified the gift of herself to Jesus. She wished to be near him and share his joy and grief.
The year 1887 marked a great change in seven-year-old Elizabeth's life. The year began with the death of her maternal grandfather in January. In October of that same year her father Joseph, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of fifty-five. Madame Catez and her two children (Elizabeth's sister, Marguerite, who had been born in 1883) soon moved from their former house to an apartment in what could be called the suburbs of Dijon. From the window of her room in her new home, Elizabeth could see the monastery of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns.
After the death of her father, Elizabeth's outbursts of anger increased both in number and in violence. During the course of the same year, though, the child experienced for the first time the sacrament of Penance, "which brought about what she styled her ‘conversion'." She henceforth began to struggle noticeably against her violent temper, promising her mother that she would strive to be the very model of a "sweet, patient, and obedient" daughter.

However, it was only four years later that Elizabeth would manage finally to conquer her difficult temperament. In the spring of 1891, when she was almost eleven years old, Elizabeth made her First Communion. Sensitive by nature, especially to things sacred, she was profoundly affected by her first reception of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Tears of joy were seen to run down the young girl's face after her Communion. Upon leaving the church, she said to a close friend, "I'm no longer hungry. Jesus has fed me."

‘Despite her lively intelligence, the young Elizabeth received a poor general education, but she was very gifted in music and obtained a first prize in piano at 13 years.  She enjoyed sewing lessons, loved beautiful clothes and wore the latest hairstyles. She made many trips with her sister and mother and relished the beauty of the mountains, sea, sky and all of nature. She enjoyed her friends, parties, fine dining, playing tennis and croquet, and participating in impromptu music sessions. Although she did not speak of God, he radiated from her so vividly that perceptive people at these gala occasions could not help but notice.
Political and Social World
Her death came amid great social uncertainty for the Church and her Carmelite community in Dijon. Earlier that spring, the French government turned against the Church, by advancing a more aggressive secularism. The local church was already racked with scandal, the local bishop having been removed from office by the Holy See. The state was taking legal action to confiscate Church property and put the Carmelites in exile.
1880. Born into a military family near Bourges, Frances
1883. Birth of only sibling Marguerite – described as gentle
1887. Death of Father – retired 1885. Marie moved her family to the second floor of a house that overlooked the Dijon Carmel.
1888. First Communion; enrolled at the Conservatory of Dijon.
1891. Confirmation.
1893. First prize in piano competition
1901. Enters Dijon Carmel.
1903. Final Vows
1905. Health deteriorate – infirmary for 8 months
1906. Elizabeth dies of Addison's disease
Therese of Lisieux, 1873-1897

St Therese of Lisieux was a French Catholic who became a Carmelite nun at an early age. She died in obscurity at the age of 26. However, after her death, her autobiography – Story of a Soul was published and became a best-seller around the world. Therese was canonized in 1925 and made a  Doctor of the Church in 1997 by John Paul II.

She was born into a pious and loving Catholic family - the daughter of Marie-Azélie Guérin (usually called Zélie) and Louis Martin, a jeweller and watchmaker.  Zélie was so successful in manufacturing lace that by 1870 Louis had sold his watchmaking shop to a nephew and handled the traveling and bookkeeping end of his wife's lacemaking business.  Both her parents were devout Catholics who would eventually become the first (and to date only) married couple canonized together by the Roman Catholic Church (by Pope Francis in 2015). They had nine children. From 1867–70 they lost three infants and five year old Hélène. All five of their surviving daughters became nuns:
Marie: Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, d. 1940
Pauline: Mother Agnes of Jesus  d., 1951
Léonie:  Sister Françoise-Thérese, after several failed attempts to join the Carmelites, became a nun in the Order of the Visitation. d 1941
Céline: Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face d.  1959, and finally
Thérèse (Françoise-Thérèse) d.1897

Due to Therese's weak and frail condition at birth, she was taken care of by a nurse for her first year and a half. Because of this care, she became a lively, mischievous and self-confident child. But Zelie was not blind to her baby's faults.

Personality – Melancholic
Childhood -Described as precocious, self-willed, proud, stubborn, prone to impatience and tantrums, if she did not get her own way. She was close to her fervent religious family and filled with a great desire to please God.

Tragedy and loss came quickly to Therese when her mother Zelie died of breast cancer when she was four and a half years old. Her sixteen year old sister Pauline became her second mother -- which made the second loss even worse when Pauline entered the Carmelite convent five years later. Therese was only 8 ½ years of age. A few months later, Therese became so ill with a fever that people thought she was dying.
Her outward personality was deeply affected by the death of her mother; now described as shy, over-sensitive and teary – continuing melancholy.

In October 1881, Louis enrolled his youngest daughter (Therese) as a day boarder at Lisieux's Benedictine Abbey school of Notre-Dame du Pre. Therese hated the place and stated "the five years I spent there were the saddest of my life." (1881 - 1886) She worked hard and loved catechism, history and science, but had trouble with spelling and mathematics. Her continuing melancholy and ill health brought about an end to her formal schooling when she was thirteen, and she then had a governess for lessons. From around this time she was also plagued by scruples about her thoughts and actions that she considered to be sinful. In Carmel she received help and guidance from her older sisters and from wise confessors, but the scruples only really ended when the word of a priest enabled her to set sail on a sea of confidence.

Aged 13, plagued by scruples of thoughts and actions that she considered to be sinful. Aged 14 – Christmas Eve, Therese received a special grace –her teary and childish behaviour changed – she became happy and lively, with a good sense of humour which suggests a return to her natural temperament.  With the grace of God, the stubbornness of earlier years gave way to fortitude and an inner freedom although she remained very dependent on her biological sisters while at home and in the Carmel at Lisieux. 

A childlike simplicity and relative lack of formal theological training, she is one of only four women in history to hold the title of Doctor of the Church in Catholic tradition.

1873   Born Therese Martin in Normandy, France
1878   Death of her mother
1880   First confession
1883   Sudden cure of illness (psychological?) – the blessed virgin’s smile
1884   Confirmed
1886   Conversion experience
1887   Pilgrimage to Rome
1888   Enters Lisieux Carmel aged 15/16
1890   Final profession. Writes Manuscript A (17)
1895   Therese’s makes her Offering to Merciful Love; First haemoptysis
1896   Beginnings of her ‘trials of faith’. Begins Manyscript B & C.  Mother Agnes records   conversations
1897   Continued haemoptysis/feelings of suffocation/ viaticum ‘final words’ – My God, I love you.


Closest to us historically is Edith Stein. Edith spans the role of Jewish woman, non-believer, Christian, scholar, teacher, philosopher, Carmelite, martyr, saint.

Family Background.
Stein was born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) Lower Silesia, into an observant Jewish family. She was the youngest of 11 children and was born on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Hebrew calendar, which combined to make her a favourite of her mother. Edith's father ran a timber business. Her mother was a very devout, hard-working, strong-willed and truly wonderful woman,

Headstrong child, wilful, merry, became infuriated when she did not get her own way. Edith writes that, when lying in her tantrum on the floor, she would deliberately make herself rigid, and once locked in, did not submit to her fate but lay screaming and kicking the door until she was liberated, usually by her mother. She was a precocious child who absorbed everything.

Her father died of sun stroke when she had only just turned two.  Her widowed mother - now had to fend for herself and to look after the family and their large business She was determined to give her children a thorough education and consequently sent Stein to study at the University of Breslau.

She was a very gifted child who enjoyed learning, in a home where her mother encouraged critical thinking, and she greatly admired her mother's strong religious faith. By her teenage years, however, Stein had become an atheist.  However, she did not succeed in keeping up a living faith in her children. Edith lost her faith in God. "I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying," she said. 

Attends the University of Breslau (1911-13). Her studies include philosophy and psychology followed by further studies at Gottingen University.

Influences on her faith journey – University colleagues
It was at Gottingen that Stein was first exposed to the Roman Catholic faith. A fellow student, Max Scheler, who was also a Jew by birth but would later convert to Catholicism, gave lectures on religious philosophy that introduced Stein to the tenets of the faith. Scheler's work involved the ranking of human values, and he placed religious values as the factor that defines humanity. While his teachings showed Stein the richness of the Christian faith, it also made her reflect on her own lack of religious beliefs and started her on her own search for religious meaning. She was also influenced in this thinking by another phenomenologist who converted to Christianity, Adolf Reinach. Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany.

1916. Edith met Pauline Reinach in Frankfurt. Together they visited the cathedral, where something happened which made the ‘deepest impression’ on Edith: “While we looked around in respectful silence, a woman carrying a market basket came in and knelt down in one of the pews to pray briefly. This was something entirely new to me. To the synagogues or to the Protestant churches which I had visited, one went only for services. But here was someone interrupting her everyday shopping errands to come into the church, although no other person was in it, as though she were here for an intimate conversation. I could never forget that.”

1917 the death of her friend Adolf Reinach at the battle at Flanders. She was approached by Reinach's widow, who asked her to organize her husband's academic papers. In Reinach's writings, she found many references to Jesus Christ, and this led her to read the New Testament. These experiences convinced Stein that she believed in God and the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Important to note that after Reinach’s death, Edith and Anna became very close friends. Because of Anna’s great strength and faith after losing her husband, Edith credits her largely for her own conversion to Catholicism.

1921.While visiting friends in Bergzabern, Germany, that summer, she discovered the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She found herself unable to put down the book, and after spending a whole night reading it, she was certain that she was ready for conversion. As an intellectual and philosopher who had walked and taught in the highest circles of academia, Edith had a critical, and even caustic, bent. After her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922, her previous behaviour now reflects a spiritual maturity.  Her colleagues and students describe her as gentle, patient, modest, loving, humble, happy, lovable, serene, balanced, charitable and holy.

World Events
The First World War spanned four years and involved many nation states
Rise of Nazism – suppression of religion, persecution of Jews and other religious/ethnic groups

1891   Born in Breslau, Germany youngest of seven siblings
1893     Edith’s father, Siegfried, died when Edith was two years old.
1897       Kindergarten and schooling. She was an exceptionally bright student. Decides she no longer        believes in God – I consciously stopped praying.
1906     Spent time with her married sister Else caring for her niece and nephew, gave up the practice     of her Jewish faith.
1907   For Edith, a serious search for truth had begun/
1911-13 University of Breslau studies philosophy of Edmund Husserl. Favoured women’s suffrage.           Severe depression related to meaning of life.      
 1913-15 University of Gottingen: Philosophy (Phenomenology), German Studies and History,                      volunteer at a hospital for soldiers of World War I suffering contagious diseases
 1916      Received a summa cum laude for her doctoral examinations. First Assistant to Edmund                 Husserl, the father of Phenomenology.
 1917       Published her dissertation: The Problem of Empathy. Death of Adolf Reinbach, visits his wife Anna and is moved by Anna’
 1921         Reads St. Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography which she read overnight and is supposed to                 have said: “This is Truth.”
1922         Baptized and first communion on January 1. Confirmed February 2.
1923-31    Taught at girls’ high school and at Dominican teachers’ training Institute.
1923-31     Academia interests- translations, lectures, writing books, articles, many of which on                      women’s issues. Tried again for a position at the university; she was discriminated                  against because she was Jewish.
 1932-33     Lecturer at German Institute for Pedagogy, Münster. Requests private audience with                   Pope Pius X1 to discuss anti-Semitism’ request refused but receives a blessing.
1933            Adolph Hitler outlawed teaching by Jews so Edith had to resign her position.    Composed            letter to Pope Pius XI concerning the plight of Jews and Christians in Germany.  Visits                           Cologne Carmel and decides to enter; goes home for last visit and tells her mother.                      Begins writing her autobiography

1933       Edith enters Carmelite monastery in Cologne on the eve of the feast of Saint Teresa. As a              Carmelite she was called Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
1936   Death of her mother
1938       Escapes under cover of darkness to a Carmelite monastery in Echt, the Netherlands. There          Edith composed her study of Saint John of the Cross, begins writing The Science of the Cross.
1942        Along with her blood sister Rosa, Edith was arrested by the Nazis. . When the SS came for her, she said calmly to her sister: 'Come, Rosa, we are going for our people.' Edith remained true to her roots and her faith, a strong-minded person rounded by the love of Jesus and his cross, in which she found the source of all good.
 1942        August 9, Edith and Rosa were gassed at Birkenau, Auschwitz.

Their path to holiness and to the Carmelite way of life
During his Wednesday general audience 2/10/2013, Pope Francis urged thousands of pilgrims to recognize that although everyone is a sinner, it is possible to be holy because of God's grace.  “Do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit.”  “Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things,” he said, but in leaving it to God, stressing that “the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, is to have confidence in his active service to others.” Pope Francis finished by quoting 19th century French novelist and convert Leon Bloy in saying that “there is only one sadness in life; that of not being saints.”

The Church is holy because it proceeds from God who is holy,” urged the Pope, “It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his Love makes the Church holy.” The Holy Father then stressed again that the Church is one composed of sinners, warning of the temptation which some believe that the Church is only for those who are “pure,” and that all others are to remain “removed,” outside of the Church.
The struggle to discover one’s vocation is a central and often perplexing concern - what is it that God desires of me and how can I become aware of this desire.  These Carmelite personalities with their own particular temperaments recognised that holiness, as spoken of in the New Testament is expressed as love of God and love of neighbour as oneself. 

Once upon a time a Trappist nun was asked about the community she lived with and she responded: “I would not have chosen to live with these women, but God has chosen them to live with me”. In the eight hundred years of our Carmelite existence, God has chosen many holy and sometimes not-so-holy people to live together “in allegiance to Jesus Christ.”  No-one much has heard of the very interesting Louise de La Vallière, who was a mistress of King Louis XIV, a victim of court intrigue, and later a Carmelite nun under the name Louise of Mercy. She wrote a treatise on the mercy of God. There is little in English but she gets a mention in books on the love life of Louis XIV, of which there are several in the library, and maybe a biography or two. 

The Carmelite Way
Carmelite Spirituality is described as an affective spirituality. In Carmel there are only two things to do: to pray and to love.  Love is not just a word, but something that embraces sufferings and forgets self.

·         Does everything to awaken love in the soul
·         A spirituality that uses love as a way to attain union with God
·         Makes love its end

"Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love."
Therese of Lisieux
“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.” Teresa of Avila
“In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.”  John of the Cross

·         Deep love of the Order – there is an attraction to the Carmelite way of life.
·         Love for Mary –
·         Deep appreciation of the centrality of the Cross as an expression of love

Carmelite Life Teresa of Avila
Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila in 1535 at the age of 20. The following year, Teresa received the habit and began wholeheartedly to give herself to prayer and penance.  Shortly after, Teresa became seriously ill and failed to respond to medical treatment and fell into a coma so profound that she was thought to be dead. After four days she revived.  After her cure, which she attributed to St. Joseph, Teresa entered a period of mediocrity in her spiritual life, but she did not at any time give up praying.  At the age of twenty-nine, she had an intense experience of God's love through her meditation on the suffering of the Crucified Christ.  During this stage, which lasted 18 years, she experienced a series of transitory mystical experiences. 

Carmelite Life St John of the Cross
His meeting with St Teresa when he was a young Carmelite friar led him to abandon his plan to join the Carthusian Order for a stricter way of life and wholeheartedly give himself to this new venture of St Teresa's. It was exactly what he was longing for and he, with two companions, began the first monastery of the Teresian reform for the friars at Duruelo.
As the movement grew he experienced hostility from his former brother friars who objected to this reform seeing it as a criticism of their own more lax way of life. He was imprisoned in a dungeon in Toledo but eventually - and dramatically - managed to escape. From his prison experience flowed some of his most exquisite poetry, the fruit of all the hours of silent prayer he spent in that unlikely place of darkness and cruelty.

 John continued to work tirelessly for the expansion of the reform. His great desire was to help others to know and love God through his preaching, work of spiritual direction and writing. He died at the age of 49 in 1591. His feast day is kept on 14th December. John of the Cross has been described as one of the greatest Spanish poets of all time. His commentaries on his poems are classics of mystical theology and are still read today by those seekers after God who look for clear direction and a sure path.

Carmelite Life Therese of Lisieux
When Thérèse was nine, her sister Pauline, who had acted as a "second mother" to Thérèse, entered the Carmelite order of nuns. Thérèse too felt called to join the Carmelites, but was told she was too young. At 14, she said, "the divine call was becoming so insistent that had it been necessary for me to go through flames to follow Our Lord, I would have cast myself into the flames". At 15, after her sister Marie entered the same Carmelite convent, with her father's prayerful support Thérèse renewed her attempts to join the order, but the priest-superior of the monastery would not allow this, again on account of her youth. Her father then took Thérèse on a pilgrimage to Rome. During a general audience with Pope Leo XIII, she threw herself at his feet and asked him to allow her to enter the Carmelite order. The Pope simply said "Well, my child, do what the superiors decide."

Shortly thereafter, the Bishop of Bayeux authorized the Carmelite prioress to receive Therese; and in April 1888, aged 15 and three months, she became a nun. Upon her father's death in 1894, her sister Céline, who had been caring for him, entered the same monastery; her cousin, Marie Guérin, entered in 1895. These four sisters and their cousin, although young, became a powerful force of influence in the order. They formed a united, visible presence in the community. 

Early days in Carmel were peaceful but later on she experienced much spiritual anguish (dryness in prayer, scruples, and temptations of faith) and physical suffering, yet her interior suffering was never reflected outwardly.  Her autobiography ‘The Story of a Soul’ was written at the request of others and revealed her strong desire that the world should know of this truth no matter what their condition: saint or sinner.     

Thérèse's final years were marked by a steady decline that she bore resolutely and without complaint. The convent was a cold, damp environment where the food was often difficult to digest for Thérèse. She eventually contracted tuberculosis. On the morning of Good Friday, 1896, she began bleeding at the mouth due to a pulmonary hæmoptysis; her tuberculosis had taken a decided turn for the worse. In July 1897 she was moved to the monastery infirmary. She died on September 30, 1897, at age 24. 

Carmelite Life Elizabeth of the Trinity
Although she wanted to be a Carmelite, she accepted her mother's wishes to wait until she was twenty-one before entering.  At her first visit to Carmel the prioress explained to her the significance of her name in Hebrew. Elizabeth means “a house of God”. This made a deep impact on the young girl, who understood the profundity of these words. From then on, she was determined to be in her life God’s dwelling place, by controlling her temperament and forgetting about herself.

Elizabeth entered the Dijon Carmel and was given the name of Elizabeth of the Trinity. Mother Germaine was her prioress, her Mistress of Novices. Elizabeth lived a life that was completely ordinary, a life of faith, without revelations or ecstasies. She attracted the attention of the whole community by her faithfulness and commitment and submerged herself in reading and deepening her understanding of Scripture (mainly Saint Paul) and Saint John of the Cross.
In Lent 1904, Elizabeth became ill and, after a painful and long sickness, she died on 9th November 1906.  Her life and writings which consist of: her Diaries, her Letters, her Poems some Prayers among which is her famous Prayer to the Trinity. 

Carmelite Life  Edith Stein
In Carmel she gave herself to the humble daily tasks, she who had walked in the highest circles of academia, and the above qualities were evident to her sisters in Carmel. She remained in Cologne for five years, participating in the life of the community with great joy while continuing her scholarly work.  The nuns in Cologne feared for Steins safety and decided to send her secretly to the Carmel in Echt, the Netherlands. Her sister Rosa later joined her there as a Third Order Carmelite, serving as the convent portress. When Holland fell to the Nazis, Edith and Rosa Stein were in danger again, and plans were made to move them to Switzerland. Before these could be finalized, the Dutch bishops issued an encyclical attacking the anti-Semitic atrocities of the Nazi regime. The Gestapo retaliated immediately by rounding up all Roman Catholic Jews to be sent to the death camps. Edith and Rosa Stein were arrested on August 2, 1942. When Rosa seemed disoriented as they were led away from the convent, Edith gently encouraged her, Come, Rosa. We go for our people. The sisters were deported to Auschwitz and executed just a week later. Edith Stein was fifty years old. 

Reports from those who were close to Sister Teresa Benedicta in those final days show her to have been a woman of remarkable interior strength, giving courage to her fellow travellers and helping to feed and bathe the little ones when even their mothers had given up hope and were neglecting them. 

What is their relevance for us today?
Is there any value in looking to model individuals as we strive to improve ourselves? Do saints and heroes serve to inspire us or make us feel inadequate? Do we need saints?
Saints show the way God loves, and how that love transforms. That's why they're important.
For me, the real saints are people spurred on by a belief in what's right, rather than in magical hocus-pocus.
Belief in the healing power of saints is one thing that crosses religious boundaries in this part of the world.
We seem to see God better in certain places than in others. It can be the same with people: saints help us draw near to the divine.
Each saint had their own unique personality, but there’s one thing they all had in common. They were all passionate people, and nothing could extinguish the crazy love they had for God. Some of them gave up social popularity, family, careers and even their own lives instead of doing anything that would offend God.
Saints discovered what gave their life intense meaning, and they committed to this through hell or high water. Committing to your passion is a challenge with so much vying for your attention, but saints kept a laser-like focus. And if they could do it, you can, too.
Yet, despite these differences, they shared common traits in their path to holiness:
Steadfastness and motivation in their desire for God and a deep acknowledgement of the centrality of the Cross as an expression of God’s love for them.  Really weird stuff when you stop and see that the spirituality of the Cross became their path to Holiness.  Or to put it in the words of Paul Claudel (1868–1955), French poet ‘ Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it.  He came to fill it with his presence’.

The personalities of each of these saints would have developed very differently, had they not consistently chosen to love. But it is only in surrender to God that transformation will come. The invitation is to be fully the person he has created us to be. As St Irenaeus says: 'The glory of God is the person fully alive'; and again: 'The Christian is called to be fully human and fully divine'.

SOURCES › Saints of the Day › Saints   Oct 15, 2012 - Teresa of Avila1 Eugene McCaffrey OC

St. Therese's Life Story | Society of the Little Flower  US saint
Anne Hunt Lecture Paper Carmelite Centre 2018

Benjamin Gibbs, Nelson, N.Z. May 2012 Edith Stein’s search for the true faith

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, volume 1, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, with revisions and introductions by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD. Revised edition. ICS Publications

Guardian newspaper UK  July 2009
Mount Carmel vol. 60/3
Mount  Carmel vol. 66/1

Parish Newsletter – St Teresa of Avila Protero Hill San Francisco

Various Carmelite publications including Carmelite Studies, The Sword, Carmel in the World held in the Carmelite Library.

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