It’s been a stressful day. But we are here together at Hensel Park. I played here when I was little. My daughters played here growing up. Now Arelani does, too. She considers it “her” park. I brought her even though it is the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of a Texas summer.
I am anxious and worried about many things. So it takes a special effort to make consistent eye contact with her, to respond to what she says, to play with her attentively, given the stresses of the day.
I have learned from the practice of inner prayer how to bring myself back again and again gently each time I am distracted by a wayward thought about this or that.
After a while this practice with Lani becomes easy. I realize I feel peaceful in a similar way I do when I am grounded in prayer.
Time seems to flow back into itself like the tide drawing away, leaving its treasures on the beach.
The cicadas chant in the trees around us. A hot wind lifts her curly black hair, a curtain pulled away from her face – a face unbelievably pretty- sweeter than any Disney princess. The conversation is simple (she’s three,) and tender, her black eyes wide, soft and steady. We smile at each other in a timeless moment. She reaches over and clears my tousled hair from my face. Peering at me closely,she seems lovingly amused.
She crosses a little bridge, turning to beckon to me, “Come on, Granny, this way.”
It strikes me that she is the Christ Child or maybe the little Child Mary leading the way for me; to love, to hope, to the Kingdom where the littlest are the brightest of all.
The idea we can love Jesus in others, or learn to love others by seeing Christ in them may sound impersonal at first. But Arelani never seemed more herself to me than when I saw her as having the Little One inside her. I was seeing the truth of her, her “Arelani-ness” itself. Are we not each part of the Body of Christ? When someone sees the Lord in us, is that not only the simple truth? It does not make us less personally loved, but more so when the Lord of Love who is truly within us is experienced by another person.
We slide down the slide, we swing. We sing in the pavilion that echoes, run in circles for fun, watch ants. I take a picture of her running through a field of yellow flowers; a little kid in overalls and tee shirt, wild hair flying. She’s excited and she looks back to yell, “I yuv you, Granny!”
“I love you too, Pooh,” I say as I clump along behind her.
Later she picks a few flowers for her mama. She gets lost in the lovely details of one of these, touching each petal in awe. She sits down with it. Nothing else exists to her.
Time is a gift we can open and make holy by attentiveness. This is the “sacrament of the present moment.” * This is God with us. This is the first commandment and the second also.
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)
Let’s talk about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church again.
I don’t see anything changing.
I don’t see survivors of abuse being put first. I hear innocuous (at best) statements from the hierarchy that sound as if they consulted lawyers before they composed them. I have even heard murmurs that the Church is being persecuted. I am ashamed to say I have even heard this from the pulpit.
I have heard some of the laity blaming the abuse crisis on whatever their pet issue is with the Church.
As a survivor of child rape and various types of sexual abuse from different people throughout my childhood and adolescence, and after years of therapy, I feel I have some authority on this subject though my abuse was not Church related. It is not gay people priest or lay that caused this. It is not celibacy. It is not the lack of female power in the Church. As we are finding out, nuns have also sexually abused children as well, and nuns have been raped and forced into abortion.
The origin of sexual abuse is the sickness of the offender. Not everyone in power becomes a sex offender just like everyone at a party doesn’t become dangerously drunk. There are s lot of things going into this.
I have learned that when there is sexual abuse, similar to someone with an addiction, the problem becomes a family “disease.” A certain configuration happens in the family. There are roles everyone starts playing in order not to speak truth about the problem or to cover it up to protect the whole (or the image of the whole.) Everyone begins to protect the addict or abuser. Anyone who is evidence of the problem or tries to deal with it in an honest way will be silenced in one way or another. The Church is a family. We are sick with this problem.
The Bishops have played their roles and protected the whole (or so they thought) at the expense of the victims and really, in the end, at the expense of the whole.
Some things I think we need to deal with are first figure out how to protect children, seminarians, and nuns in a way that does not just please lawyers or cover for us, but really does something.
Then we need to deal with the enablers of abuse and make sure there is no more of that through education and support perhaps. Maybe we need to bring in other people for them to be accountable to about this rather than just one another. Obviously that is too hard for the bishops to do. They have tried and massively failed again and again. I am not an expert on fixing this problem. I mostly know how not to fix it.
It seems to me we then need to look at the abusers themselves. What’s going on with these people? What makes them do that? What needs to happen to permanently stop their behavior? They need to be stopped. We have to protect others. I also believe the Church is about redemption. What needs to be done for their healing? Once they are removed from access to children and the vulnerable, and they are willing to take responsibility, face just consequences, pursue treatment they should be helped to redeem their lives somehow though they should never be around children again if they have abused a child. If they are not helped in an effective way to heal they will continue to find ways to offend as surely as an alcoholic will find ways to drink.
As a Catholic abuse survivor I feel responsible to speak up. Also people should know it is hard for me (and I can only imagine how hard it is for survivors of clergy sexual abuse) to hear about all this without being triggered into my P.T.S.D.
People say ridiculous things on social media about sexual abuse and they don’t know what they are talking about and how much their attitude hurts survivors to hear.
I have started not to want to see Bishops and Cardinals in their regalia. Seeing their black robes, red hats and big crosses, or their crosiers and miters makes me feel nauseated now even though there are three Bishops I know personally and love dearly. It’s not them personally- I feel better the ones I know are there actually. The nausea is what has happened and how I don’t see anything changing. “Put it all away,” I think.”Why not wear the simple robes of poor Friars as a sign of repentance?”
The clothes they now wear are signs of status and power that just seem so inappropriate right now. I used to like the outfits because they were historic. I don’t like them anymore.
As I have said before all this behavior of secrecy and self/institutional protection even when it comes to how they have at times treated victims of abuse like enemies is very typical also of a family or any group in which the sickness of sexual abuse has or is occurring. This is what humans do when there is sexual abuse. They protect themselves even at the expense of the abused. They protect the group. They protect the perpetrators. It happened to me and it’s happening to the survivors of clerical abuse too.
I have read about and spoken to clergy abuse survivors who met with their Bishops and came away really upset, feeling unheard and uncared for and that nothing has or will change. “Come forward,” they say, seeming to have no idea how hard that is for people like us. Most of us have had more than enough of people who don’t listen and don’t help. Sometimes I think that part of my experience has been worse than the abuse itself. It’s re-traumatizing.
The hierarchy does not seem to understand how angry the laity is, either. We want to see Jesus purifying the Temple with a whip cord and overturning some tables. Now. Now.
We don’t see that. Don’t they understand? People are losing their faith. People are leaving the Church they love.
I am deeply Catholic. I am an obedient daughter of the Church (though obviously not perfect) and I am having thoughts like, “How dare you? Why should we listen to y’all anymore? How can you tell US what to do? How can you ask us for money?”
I have to drag myself to mass sometimes. I don’t want to leave Jesus because of Judas. I believe the Church is true. So do so many of us. What are we supposed to do? This is our home, and the Eucharist is at the center of our Catholic life. I refuse to leave. I never will.
I don’t know what to do with all this. I don’t want to read this stuff in the news anymore. It literally makes me sick.
I resent how I had to stop being a Eucharistic Minister because I can’t handle the classes they make us take about sexual abuse in order to serve. This rule is well meaning I know. But….why do WE have to take those classes? YOU take them!
I don’t, as a survivor, think classes would have had any effect on my abusers or their enablers.
After years of inner struggle about those classes I made a call about it. It was hard for me to explain my problem but I got the Diocese to let me take an alternative one- on- one class with a kindly gentle person. She didn’t even hardly mention abuse to me, just the ethics guidelines. But I broke out in hives immediately afterward and felt terrible emotionally for days.
I don’t think those classes help. I worry about other survivors taking them, especially those who don’t realize yet the reality of what happened to them and aren’t ready to deal with it. Those in charge should have trained psychologists available in case someone has a breakdown.
Something like this happened to me before in a different way early in my process when I was young. I was not ready at all. I went home suicidal and feeling like cutting myself. What business do they have risking traumatizing abuse survivors anyway? It is cruel and irresponsible.
I have seen nothing from our leaders that gives me any hope of any meaningful change. I want to see them in sackcloth and ashes. I don’t see that.
My socioeconomic status is fairly low. I do not wield worldly power.
I have been praying, though. Praying and starting to avoid news about the crisis for now.
Here’s what I have prayerfully come up with, and I hope some of you will join me. Starting on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15, I am going to start wearing black to mass, every mass I attend. I will wear black next to Our Lady whose children have been crucified and continue to be crucified.
I am an obedient and loving daughter of the Church and I mean no disrespect. But I am in mourning with Our Lady. I want Judas to see and repent. I want to never forget and for no one to forget the victims. I want children and nuns protected. I want actual change. I want to see humility and repentance not the protection of power.
#Wearblacktomass in honor of Our Lady’s tears. When they see us they will see her and all her wounded children.
I remember learning the Hail Mary when I was 20. I was dating the Catholic boy who I would one day marry. I was curious about the Hail Mary, never having heard more than the first line of it in a movie.
I asked him to teach it to me. After a few tries, I still wasn’t picking it up well. He was frustrated. I asked, “How fast did you pick it up when you learned it?” He said he didn’t remember ever not knowing it. I was impressed.
As for me, I received it as something precious and exotic. Once I finally learned it, I could hardly stop praying it. I went on to learn from him how to pray the rosary. I didn’t know what to make of many of the stories to be pondered during its recitation, but I prayed it anyway, making the best of it. I interpreted the mysteries of the rosary in my own way that made sense to me, until, gently, the stories started to change me. The Gospel became for me, not just an old story I was learning about, but something that was happening still, even in my life as I lived it.
At the center of the Hail Mary is JESUS. I didn’t know what to make of Him, either. But I held Mary’s hand like a child until she led me into the great romance of my life; Jesus: Jesus in His Catholic Church, Jesus in the Word of God, Jesus as experienced personally and within, Jesus shining through human love, Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus in the mercy of the confessional, Jesus in Mary, Jesus in the lives of the Saints, Jesus, inseparable from life and being itself.
All that stuff used to freak me out. But now it’s everything to me.
The Hail Mary is half Scripture. The second half is a product of the Church’s prayer response and reflection, over time, on the first half already given to us. Elizabeth repeats Gabriel’s greeting as she recognizes Mary as Queen Mother, confirming her in her mission by her own humble words of wonder, joy, and encouragement, filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary responded with her song of the Gospel that we call the Magnificat. (See Lk. 1-39-56)
What must have passed between these earliest Church Mothers, these prophetesses, and friends, during Mary’s three month stay at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house? I imagine that three months was a lovely weaving, as in the lives and friendships of many women, of daily work, love and prayer; maybe for them it was dishes and divine secrets, cooking and singing Psalms, sewing baby clothes, drawing water, feeding the animals, tending the fire, breath-catching prophesy, washing and folding, praying and cleaning, laughing and crying.
Maybe Elizabeth gave Mary tips on morning sickness before the household recited the Sh’ma. (Dt. 6:4) Perhaps there were harmless jokes on the speechless Zechariah. What did they think when they went to the Temple on the Sabbath knowing what only they knew?
I imagine they pondered the Scriptures, pulled weeds, planted seeds.
They must have encouraged one another.
What was it like in their quiet moments?
Did they star gaze at night in humble awe, overcome once again with the mercy, greatness, and faithfulness of God, at the the ancient promise He was fulfilling in their persons? How amazing it must have felt that it was them in the midst of it, at the epicenter of this secret new beginning for humanity.
How they must have grown in faith, in love, and determination, in the presence of the Holy Spirit in their relationship, this first Christ centered friendship, this prototype of the Church.
What did they talk about as they swept the floor, watched the sunset, walked with the silent Zechariah after dinner?
Mary was most likely present at the birth of John the Baptist along with the woman neighbors who would have come to help. It seems she would have stayed for the circumcision and naming ceremony (Lk. 1: 57-80) as well. Did she stand in awe beside Elizabeth and witness the return of Zechariah’s speech with his own beautiful, prophetic song? I bet she did.
When Elizabeth watched Mary go, I wonder if she prayed that start of the Hail Mary again, to accompany the younger woman on her way, and to lift her up in prayer as she went home to face all that she had to face, and to do all that she must do?
I think of my friends, my soul sisters, who love, confirm, walk with, and encourage one another every day in our own Christ centered relationships. Through them I have often known the Holy Spirit’s presence and confirmation, love and strength. I have often thought, over the years, that there was nothing more beautiful to me than their faces at prayer, than being in the midst of their love, their work, as they transform the world around them. I would not be myself without their friendship. I would have been someone else.
I think of my friendship with Mary and how it has changed my life beyond recognition.
And I have to say a Hail Mary.
Because I love my life!
On this last day of May, of this month of Mary, this feast of the Visitation, let us say a Hail Mary together with gratitude. Pray another in thanksgiving for your friends, and another for all the intentions of Mary and St. Elizabeth as they continue their work together in Heaven for the Kingdom of God.
In honor of the month of May being Mary’s special month, here is a list and description of seven of my favorite Marian books. I would love to hear about your own favorites.
I have put these in alphabetical order by author.
1. Gifts of the Visitation by Denise Bossert
In this book we are given a glimpse into Mary’s world; the central place of the Shema in her prayer life, the eighty mile trip Mary (and the author) took across the rugged terrain between Nazareth and Ein Karem, and a greater understanding of why Mary went, and what the visit meant.
The book is organized around the nine gifts of the Visitation. The author not only outlines these, but tells us how to activate them in our own lives. As I read, a vision opened of Our Lady of the Gospel.
In the midst of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church and the profound divisions I meet with every day in the Church and in the world, re-reading this book recently helped me to remember the beauty of our Catholic faith, to have confidence in that beauty, and to remember that Jesus is unstoppable. We have a great and wonderful gift to share in our holy and joyful faith. And we should go in haste as Mary did, with the shining star of the Gospel, which is alive and still unfolding among us as we live it out!
2. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Catholic Book Publishing Company
This is a prayer book based on the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office. It has been through several reforms to help it conform more closely to it, and there are various versions of The Little Office. This one is my favorite because of the modern language and the close relationship it has with the Liturgy of the Hours I pray with every day. You can also find this version online.
The Little Office, still used by some religious orders, runs on a one week cycle rather than th four weeks of the Liturgy of the Hours. Each day has a different Marian theme, such as Immaculate Conception, Mother of the Church, etc.
Along with the usual Psalms, canticles Scripture readings and prayers, a special Marian reading is included for each hour such as a passage from a Church Father, an ancient homily, or a Church document. Though it is usually brief, it is a rich addition.
Most of all, I love the gorgeous Marian antiphons throughout.
The robe you wear is white as spotless snow. Your face is radiant like the sun.
I used to pray the Little Office with my first husband after we consecrated ourselves to Mary. It was a great introduction to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, very beautiful and easy to use. I still pray it often, especially on Marian feast days and in the months of May and October, or any time I think of it.
3. Queen of Angelsby Janice Connell
Oh what is it about this book? The writing seems a little syrupy when I read it aloud to others. However, like the tender words of one’s own mother, reading it privately is balm to my soul.
Especially during difficult times, I tend to carry it around with me in my backpack. It is the kind of book one can pick up, open randomly, read any section, and hear just what one needs at the time. My copy is very dog eared and beat up. Since I tend to give it away and get another copy for myself, it is not even that old.
It is formatted as dialogues between a soul and Mary. The soul asks a question, and Mary answers. There is an ending prayer for each section and a journal entry.
There are Scripture verses and quotes from saints, as well as practical prayer suggestions for developing your relationship with Mary.
Its simple, perhaps at times sugary language mysteriously hits the bullseye for me every time.
I don’t read it aloud to my friends but it surely speaks to my heart.
4. Bogorititza: She who gave birth to God by Servant of God, Catherine Doherty
It would be hard to exaggerate the beauty of Catherine Doherty’s writing; simple, quietly radiant. Catherine was originally from Russia. The “Doherty” is her married name.
The first pages introduce us to her childhood devotion to Mary in her Russian family, how Mary’s icon was a special place in their household, and how Mary’s presence accompanied her everywhere. “Mama Maria” was an important part of her family’s daily life.
Then we learn about Catherine’s suffering during the Russian Revolution and what Mary’s companionship taught her through that experience.
Later she escapes to America as a refugee and began a life of “living the Gospel without compromise.”
Founder of “The Madonna House Apostolate, we see in these glowing pages the meaning of Mary in Catherine’s amazing life of contemplation, service, and community life; the place of Mary’s patronage in the Apostolate, the meaning of Mary to the Church and to the world.
This is a fairly quick but wonderful read full of wisdom and of Mary’s presence in our lives which is like a candle always burning before her icon in our hearts.
5. Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Poor by Ivone Gebara and Clara Bigemer
This book, written by two Latin American theologians, is scholarly but friendly. It is a look at Mary through the lens of Latin American Liberation Theology. If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you, you may enjoy this book as I did.
Though the Church has become much more friendly to Liberation Theology under Pope Francis, I am not going to claim that this book is Orthodox. However, it is a good book, and, I think, presents ideas worth a listen. For some people it could be a very helpful book.
The authors cover Mary’s humanity and ours, Mary in Scripture, Mary in her Church dogmas, in devotion to her in Latin American countrie. We are given a view of Mary from a social justice perspective.
I first read it as a twenty-year-old attracted to the Catholic faith but struggling with what I thought was a clash of values with the Church. This book opened up the world of Catholicism for me and helped me see there might be room for me in the Church after all.
I have included it in this list because of the turning point it represents for me, and because I still think it has a place in the discussion though it may not be the sort of thing you are used to. I would probably not agree with some of it now, but I still love it and think some people could benefit from reading it.
Be ready to think.
6. Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn
This book is so accessible I read it aloud to my kids, who were a teen and a tween at the time. However, they were spiritually precocious enough to be in awe, as I was, at its depths.
Hail, Holy Queen falls into the category of Catholic Apologetics. Even if you are really into apologetics, you will learn new and fascinating things about Mary in the plan of God all through Scripture in ways that will make your jaw drop at the beauty and perfection of our faith.
We were inspired with wonder and awe of God, with the wonderful and varied ways He speaks to us through the Bible, and the unparalleled glory of our Catholic faith.
St. Teresa of Avila said that consultation of the holy and learned is indispensable in the life of prayer. Learning from Scott Hahn is not to be missed.
7. Mary, the Transparency of God by Servant of God Chiara Lubich
This is the kind of book I have to read a little, put it down, think and pray about it, and then take it up again because it is irresistable. I have read this book again and again. Each time it seems deeper to me.
I had never thought of Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement (aka: The Work of Mary) as a mystic. This book taught me more about her (and Mary’s) spiritual outlook.
Chiara begins the book by saying that she thinks it is time to take a fresh look at Mary. She draws a very grounded, very real picture of Mary’s person, her purpose, her soul, her journey, and how each of us reflects Mary’s life in our own. This book is lush, poetic, and beautiful.
There are several new perspectives of Mary in this book, beautifully described. My favorite part might be when Chiara takes a look at St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle and sees in the phases of the spiritual life the events of Mary’s life. Then she shows us what she calls “The Way of Mary.” I thought it was brilliant.
Perhaps we can crown Mary in the month of May by deepening our understanding and love for her, and by renewing our relationship with the “Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.”
About 800 years ago, a group of men dedicated to the spiritual life seeking silence, solitude, and community in order to deeply know, love, and serve God, began to gather and live near one another as hermits on Mt. Carmel in Israel. This mountain is where Elijah the prophet, his disciple Elisha and their school of prophets had lived near the spring of Carith. It is where Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal, and God responded with consuming fire, bringing the people of Israel to their senses and back to the one true God. It is where Elijah experienced the “still small voice of God.”
The hermits called themselves the Brothers of Mary of Mt. Carmel. Each hermit lived in a cave or simple dwelling. There was an oratory in the center where they gathered for daily mass. We can reflect on this arrangement as symbolic of the entire family of the Church, that we too are arranged around Jesus in the Eucharist, around the mass which is at the heart of our faith.
Eventually they sought to have their way of life written as a rule approved by the Church. Sometime between 1206 and 1214 they approached the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert of Avogadro, to do this for them. The resulting rule of life is the shortest the Church has on record, and most of it is Scripture and references to Scripture. It was approved finally by Pope Innocent IV in 1247.
The Rule of St. Albert does not contain a lot of detail but shows in a more general way the spirit of the Carmelite’s life of prayer on the mountain. Every aspect of their lives was crafted to cultivate a continual awareness of the presence of God within and around them. This prayerful awareness practiced daily came to overflow into all of their activities, inspiring their service and leading them to the heights of prayer. They sought to experience the beauty of the Lord more and more, inspiring them to greater and greater love, until they truly prayed without ceasing and were transformed in character, conduct and consciousness* by their union with the Lord.
Paragraph two of the Rule says
Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forefathers laid down how everyone, whatever his station or the kind of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ – how, pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of the Master.
For us lay people today, this can serve as a reminder. All of us whatever our station in life, or our personal religious expression within the Church, whatever ways we pray, are all called to holiness. We share a common purpose of unswerving allegiance to Our Beloved Lord.
Carmel is a excellent way. I have heard before that there is no Catholic who does not owe something to Carmel. It is a sure way trodden by saints and Doctors of the Church. Carmel’s charism is prayer, and it is a trustworthy school of prayer. I think every Catholic can benefit from Carmelite spirituality in some way.
The joy and love of contemplative life and profound intimacy with God is here for every one of us.
Hopefully something about the Rule of St. Albert will inspire your own prayer life.
These men had a very simple life free of worry about possessions, property, social obligations and engagements. Their calendars were pretty clear.
All things were held in common and distributed by the Prior according to each ones’ needs.
They didn’t have to wonder what to do. Very little planning was necessary. The rhythm of their lives was basically the same every day.
All this freed them to also have calm, quiet but rich inner lives.
Living as they did may be too much for us. But their dedicated example can encourage us to simplify our own lives and find time for silence and solitude.
So what was a day in the life of an early Carmelite hermit like?
He would be up very early like most people who live close to nature, to light lamps, care for animals, take care of chores.
He would have prayed Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours..
a collection of Psalms, canticles, Scripture readings and prayers. The Liturgy of the Hours is still prayed by clergy, religious and lay people all over the world today. A free online resource for this is Universalis if you would like to tune in to the official public prayer of the Church, weave Scripture into your day, and find a great way to sanctify time. It is also a good way to order your daily life toward prayer.
Our hermit then would have gathered with the others for mass at the chapel of Our Lady of Mt.Carmel.
Ruins of the chapel still on Mt. Carmel
He would have then followed his compatriots to breakfast, which would have been meatless, home grown or donated food.
The Rule specifies that they were to eat whatever was given to them. I think one way to translate this for our lay lives is a quote from St. Elizabeth of the Trinity “Let us lovingly eat the bread of the will of God.” In our lay Christian lives, we could take this as a profound example of reliance on God’s providence and a deep acceptance of his will in our lives as it presents itself each day.
At all meals they tried to listen attentively while someone read aloud from the Scriptures as they ate.
Our hermit would have gone on with his day of work and prayer, “keeping Scripture as an accompaniment with all [he did.] “
How did he do that? In some of the desert communities (the prototypes of Christian monasticism starting in the third century in Egypt) the Psalms were chanted while work was done. However the rule states that Carmelites were to do their work in silence. Perhaps this Scriptural accompaniment was done by pondering the Scripture in his heart and mind as he worked.
When I worked at the Eagle Newspaper in the Press Room, my job was manual labor in nature. The rolling of the press was as loud as an a jet during takeoff. During a “run” there was little conversation, only what was necessary to get the job done, speaking over a head set. I found myself doing exactly what the Rule recommends; working in silence, pondering over the Scriptures and praying as I worked.
One of the crew members and I used to give one another Scripture to memorize. I I developed the habit of keeping a verse or two in the pocket of my uniform that I was working on committing to memory. Perhaps the Carmelites prayed like that as they went about chopping wood, carrying water, working in the garden, caring for their animals , simply praying and meditating on the Scriptures through the day.
The Rule says that the hermit of Carmel was supposed to stay in his cell or nearby when he wasn’t working, “keeping watch in prayer” and “pondering the law of God day and night.” This law is generally understood to mean the Scriptures. I also think that according to Jesus the law of God is love.
O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Psalm 48:9b
How wonderful to ponder continuously the law of God which is love, and God Himself whom we know is Love.
As St. Teresa, reformer of Carmel was to say hundreds of years later, “Prayer is making time to be alone with the Friend who we know loves us.”
The Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel crafted a life of love.
On Sundays our hermit would have attended a community meeting where various issues were discussed and the brothers were to “lovingly correct one another’s faults.” us This does not sound so fun. But we do know that spiritual community and spiritual friendships are indispensable in the life of prayer. We need others to walk, pray, and talk about spiritual things with. We need people who love us enough to help us stay on track, help us to discern God’s will, and inspire us in the love of Christ. Our soul friends help us grow.
At times our hermit may have gone down the mountain to teach, preach, beg food for the community, or be of service to others in some way. When we are people of prayer, our prayer will inspire service and sharing of our faith. St. Teresa said the perfected spiritual human being will be the perfect mix of Mary and Martha: prayer and service.
Our hermit’s dinner would have been much like his breakfast; eaten in silence with his brothers as one of them read aloud from Scripture.
He would have prayed Evening Prayer, attended to any evening duties.
At about 9 O’Clock he would have prayed Night Prayer.
I expect he would have gone to bed early.
And so ended his day, well arranged around prayer, leading to an entire life of prayer and intimacy with God.
After Night Prayer the Carmelites kept a rule of silence until after Morning Prayer the next day. The rule states that “silence is the way to cultivate holiness” and urges them that even during times the hermits could speak with one another that they avoid pointless chatter.
Most of us can probably see how avoiding pointless chatter and guarding our speech would improve our spiritual lives not to mention our relationships. We can make an effort to be kindly in speech and to experiment with silence. So often people feel loved when we are more quiet and can listen to them. I am sure God feels similarly! When we are quiet we naturally turn inward where God lives.
Back to this staying in the cell thing:
Carmelite spirituality is driven by the belief expressed so well by our St.Teresa of Avila:
“God is within us and we should not leave him there alone.”
Colossians 11:27 says
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
So you could think of this cell as your heart where Jesus, as we are repeatedly told by Scripture, truly lives.
We could read “Stay in your cell” as “stay in your heart, and when you’re working stay close to your heart, keeping watch in prayer. ”
How did the hermits actually pray?
Early Chrisitian contemplative prayer was very much grounded in Scripture. The Carmelite hermits, similar to the Desert Fathers, would have spent a lot of time memorizing Scripture. The method of inner prayer they used was similar, I imagine, to Meditatio Scripturarem, a sustained going over and over a memorized passage as a way to keep continuously focussed on the Lord. That is what I think they were doing. The Hesychasm (a method of “imageless” interior prayer developed in the desert by the monks of the Eastern Church) of the Desert Fathers had not been developed yet and Lectio Divina (literally “holy reading” a way to pray with the Bible in an interactive way with God) of the Western Church had not been formalized into steps. So I am thinking they used the Scripture in a less formal way than was developed later.
In Carmelite prayer, the important thing, as St.Teresa herself said in general, is a not to think much but to love much. To me that means presence and attentiveness are the main things they would have been trying for.
Active inner prayer is about attention. The words of the Scripture, for this practice, are touch stones of focus.
If you would like to try this early Christian form of interior prayer, I have written about it here.
Carmel is a Marian order but Mary’s name is not mentioned in the rule at all except for the name the Brothers called themselves, the Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. How is Carmel Marian? Carmelites consider ourselves to be living the life of Mary, her actual spiritual life. The Carmelite strives to continually ponder God’s word in his heart as Mary did, to cherish Jesus within, to be attentive to God’s presence at all times, and to develop a listening and responsive heart. Then, as Mary did, he takes this love and experience of God to others. He prays with and for the Church as Mary is shown to have done.
The Marian devotion of Carmel is primarily imitation of her, reflecting her, mirroring her heart.
I think this is why we often call her not only our Mother and Queen, but also our sister.
Night Prayer ends each day with a prayer, chant or song to Mary.
Let’s pray one now and ask that she might impart to us her own inner life of prayer and love.
1. In what ways do you (or can you) develop the contemplative dimension of your life?
2. When is your alone time? Think about what you like to do in your alone time with yourself and God? How do you cherish and protect that time?
3. How do you pray best? What kind of prayer are you most drawn to?
4. In order to live an intentionally spiritual life the early Carmelites practiced detachment from possessions and simplicity of life. What might be the value in that? What are some ways we can simplify our lives: our physical space, our time, our days… to make room for calm, for God ?
5. How can we order our own days to find a rhythm and balance of prayer, work, community, contact with Scripture, and service to others? Do you have any ideas for your own rule of life?
* …”transformation of character conduct and consciousness” is a phrase I borrowed from Gandhi.
Note: this is an adaptation of a talk I gave at a women’s retreat recently. Minus my dumb jokes. And only because I can’t remember them.
We are sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah in the corner of a light, airy building in a shopping center in Central Texas. There is country music on the radio, and a minty, fruity smoke rising around us in the late afternoon sun.
Frank, (or as I call him,”Frankly,”) is my first late husband’s oldest brother. Our families have remained close over the years. He and his wife, Karin, are visiting from their home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (Milwaukee area.)
Today, I have set out to interview Frank about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue. I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that our own Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.
Frank agreed to talk about his journey, though his natural state is somewhat taciturn. It takes him a while to warm up sometimes… so I’ll wait.
Right now Frank is not sure what he thinks of this hookah business, a hobby that I and his son, Hans have taken up from time to time. He stares at the plastic sanitary tip of the hose we have handed him, unsure of what to do with it.
While he figures this hookah thing out, I will give you some details to confuse you about Frank. (I say confuse because some of the facts about him are not usually found together in one person.)
Introducing Francis K. Pauc, West Point graduate, Army veteran (helicopter pilot) peace activist, father of an Iraq war veteran (Hans, mentioned above.) He is also a volunteer at the local V.A. hospital, an avid defender of immigrants’ rights, friend of Dominican Sisters, assister of people in the Catholic Worker movement (which was founded by Dorothy Day), and writer of many letters to the editor on issues of import.
He has written a book, available on Amazon Kindle, and in paper back, called Father at War. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout cradle Catholic with a long and distinguished history of being active in his parish, St. Stephen’s. He has been twenty years a lector, a past RCIA teacher, and past parish council member, among other activities.
He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attender of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at the local mosque. He is a regular pray-er/visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.
Frank is the father of three adult children, long time husband to Karin, who he met and married while stationed in Germany as a young man.
He is of Slovenian heritage but is sometimes mistaken to be Turkish. Lately he has grown a long beard and looks very Orthodox Jewish. On that last long peace walk his beard became a bit dred-lock-ish.
I have known Frank since the late eighties when I started dating brother # 6 in the Pauc family of seven boys, Marc Blaze.
Frank is starting to be amused with the hookah experience. I can tell he is comfortable enough I can ask him questions now.
Fortunately, besides his big, German village wedding, his journey learning about other faiths is his favorite subject.
His habitually taciturn, crabby look becomes a warm, soft- eyed lucidity now as I begin to ask how all this started for him. When did he first learn about other religions, I ask, blowing out my delicious smoke.
Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic with someone from work, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made more friends there. They didn’t necessarily talk about faith all of the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.
After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”
“Are you Muslim?”
“No. I am a Catholic.”
Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”
Frank observes that the prohibition on images in Muslim art has created a very masculine looking art form of geometric shapes and calligraphy, which is beautiful, but, to him, missing something. He thinks it’s a conception of the feminine side of the Divine that is absent. This gave him a new appreciation of our knowledge of the the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, “Creator Blessed,” and of our Mother Mary exemplifying and reflecting this to us. He thinks our ability to be spoken to by God through images is related to conscious contact with the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary through whom the Incarnation was accomplished. The Incarnation puts us in touch with how God communicates through what we can see and touch. It’s why, he theorizes, Catholic art is so glorious. It’s because we have Mary, and we are very in touch with that creative motherly energy and imagery.
He talks about how sad it is that so many Christians have lost their mother. Their art is not as cool as ours, either, he thinks. “There’s got to be a connection here.”
He really did love the Dome of the Rock, though when he went to the Holy Land. “That was awesome.”
But we digress. We smoke in silence a while… listening to the pleasant bubbling sound of the water in the hookah’s base.
Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh Temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “You have to eat. They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”
He adds that the music is great. Like a cross between our best praise and worship, and the coolest Indian music ever. Frank likes to find someone and ask them questions like, “Do you think God loves you?” and go from there.
The Sikh Temple he liked to visit was the same one where there was a shooting in 2012 . Frank knew one of the people who was killed. He was among those who offered support. He still likes to drop by and pray.
Sometimes he meets interesting people of other religions in his work as a peace activist. He met a Buddhist monk named Senji on a long peace walk he went on to protest drone warfare. The next year, he, his wife Karin, and his son, Stefan, went to visit Senji in his monastery in Oregon. They had a great time, and found a lot in common, especially in the social justice work the monks engaged in, and their quiet, dedicated life.
The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He and Karin had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. (They have now.) So Frank and Karin went and sat with the Buddhists. Karin always took her rosary and prayed that. Frank started hanging around all the time and being part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do, of course.
He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts. When he thought something was stupid, he always said so, (he always does, regardless of the company,) and he also gave his thoughts as a Christian. They came to appreciate this. He liked sitting in silence with them.
Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank.
I remember seeing these changes in him. He became much more playful and open and calm. Less “‘onry.” I think he really did find peace. I could see it in his face and hear it in his speech. I could tell by his kinder attitude, and even the way he carried himself. He still can be found at the Milwaukee Zen Center on a Saturday morning if he’s not volunteering, or traveling somewhere.
He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.
“It’s made me a better Catholic.”
Learning to sit quietly in what was consciously a form of trusting, un-knowing prayer, for him, brought him nearer to God, and God blessed him with a sense of open-ness and peace. It seems the Lord continued to lead Frank on his unique travels through the spiritual world and to teach him that learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.
It is worth remembering that Thomas Merton, a great American Catholic admired by Pope Francis, also got to know Buddhism very well, made friends with Buddhist monks, and found ways to share silence and spiritual practice with them that enriched his own faith.
I asked him what lead him to choose to start showing up at the Orthodox synagogue, rather than Reformed. “Is it because of being Catholic and therefore more into deep, rooted, more ritualistic and mystical worship? ” He said no, that it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”
He says he became very close with the Rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the Rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at mass was a more profound experience for him after seeing the very solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.
He remembers a funny conversation he had with he Rabbi who said, “Oh, you Christians, always forgetting Satan isn’t anything close to equal with God,” when Frank was worried about something.
He still likes going to the Synagogue regularly.
Frank remarks that Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people and the Church. They are our older brother.
I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seems to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.
He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects the most those who have “their faith woven into he fabric of their every day life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.
At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews. They were quick to say they needed him around, and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually up lifted by their token Catholic.
At one time in his life, following a series of crises and being simultaneously very wounded by some in his own parish, he actually struggled about whether to remain Catholic or not. It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue, who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic Church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.
Now that he is newly retired, he can spend more time volunteering, working for peace, and walking into temples, synagogues and mosques asking about God and giving the gift of a listening heart to anyone willing to share their faith.
Frank seems to have been aptly named after the great St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach he Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”
Frank and Karin are off to their next stop on their summer adventures; a Catholic Worker farm, then a Youth Hostel, a Benedictine guest house, and then on to Mt. Bly in Oregon to visit my off the grid daughter, Maire, and her little family.
I mention, as we get up to leave the cafe, that we’ve actually been talking Nostra Aetate over our shisha. Frank says, “Yeah. That pretty much rocks.”
Hookah: a waterpipe
Mu‘assel, or shisha tobacco: the molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked in a hookah; often comes in various flavors such as rose, lemon, mint, etc.
Hookah lounge, or shisha bar: an establishment where patrons share shisha
Warm, soft, vulnerable and alive, this sleeping One in my lap. I caress the tiny forearm, touch the curled, unsure hands. I can’t stop kissing his fast-beating heart, listening to his unpracticed, uneven breath. I touch his soft, dark, baby hair, nuzzling the top of his head with my nose. His little feet, slightly cold- so tiny and perfect- have never yet touched the ground. I hold them in my hands to warm them. I kiss their satiny soles. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” my heart in wonder repeats, repeats. I press him to me, this Lord of mine, with a profound, peaceful, joyful gratitude and love, a protective love. He opens his eyes, still that deep slate gray of the newly arrived human. They hold the newborn’s sage, open gaze; mildly curious, seeming to drink in the powerful love pouring out of the utterly enchanted person looking back at them. He blinks innocently at the tears falling from my eyes into his.
Jesus in His Sacred Humanity
I am cold, my arms flailing awkwardly and out of my control. I’m confused. I don’t know what’s happening. I need comfort, warmth, nourishment. And then I am warm, pressed soothingly all around. A deep, sweet peace flows into my mouth and through my body as my unruly hands tangle in her hair; Mama, Mama. The only thing I know is this love, this union, this protection and assurance. I relax completely.
I am that I am, Being, Love, Light and Life. I surround my Son, inhabit my Son, I am within my Son, I love my Son, I am my Son.
I have remained what I have been and will be eternally, and I have become what I was not. In my love of humanity, I have finally become fully human, entering the world of time and space in the most profound and humble way. So great is my love, I have been conceived and born into this human cloud of unknowing, emptying Myself, taking the form of a slave, in order to free and divinize my beloved humanity, made of dust, that they might share my Divine Life.
Vulnerable, human, innocent and unknowing, be, oh Christian soul. I have shown you the way to Me: this little Child, this Way, this Truth, this Life, full of humility and trust, gentle, humble, simple, with the need, the open-ness of the newborn. Come to Me, forgetting everything but Love Itself, and be born again. Be little, be free, be loved. Never be afraid, it is I, the Little One, asking for your love.
Answer Me, say from the heart:
Truly, I have set my soul
In silence and in peace
As the Divine Child has rest in His mother’s arms,
A priest and I have met in a cool, bustling lobby on a hot summer day. We smile at one another. We don’t know one another really except by sight and a few short conversations. But we have a warm, positive regard for one another and I feel safe and encouraged as soon as he comes in. I am so grateful that he is here.
We are about to head up to bless the place where my brother committed suicide. I know this is not a light task to ask someone to come along and join in.
I came here twice before to make sure I could handle it. The first time I sat in stunned silence for an hour and a half without even realizing the time that had gone by. The second time I was pretty sad but I thought I was ready. I am ready.
I am impressed that this priest who barely knows me responded to my request so readily and agreed to come here for this. He seems to understand the need for healing, both emotional and spiritual for all concerned.
Our plan is also to commend my brother’s soul to God, and to pray in that place for my family’s healing.
Father walks with me toward the elevators, which we take to a high floor. We walk down a hallway, then through a stair exit, and out onto a tiny bare balcony overlooking a pool area.
“Just be however you need to be,” he says reassuringly.
This is the spot where my brother, Mark, sitting on the railing here, shot himself and fell down to the concrete below even as friends and family repeatedly called his cell phone and frantically texted him begging him not to do it while the police looked for him not knowing where to begin. I have thought of those moments over and over, tried to understand, tried to feel the way he must have felt, wondered why it had to be this way, watched my family and our friends do the same.
What is there to say in a place like this?
After a time of respectful silence, Father talks to me earnestly about how the Cross conquers everything. “I believe that,” I say.
He has such a kind face, I think to myself. It’s an easy, open, playful face, too. He is the kind of person who puts others at ease.
I get out my phone and show Father one of my favorite pictures of my brother. I briefly tell him about Mark, about my symbiotic relationship with him, and what happened to him as best I am able to understand it now.
This gentle priest takes all this in thoughtfully.
He tells me what he would like to do, how he would like to proceed now.
I show him what I have brought: a grocery bag full of rose petals, some bubbles; a small bottle for each of us.
He smiles. He says the bubbles are a great symbol for what we are doing with the commendation. He blesses them.
He puts a thin priestly stole over his shoulders and smiles at me.
We begin with the Sign of the Cross together. He prays the prayers for the blessing of a place, telling me we are also reclaiming this place for God. In our prayers we invite the angels to come and drive every trace of evil from here. We bless and bring healing to this place where there was so much pain, where there was such a tragic, senseless death.
Seriously and with purpose, he begins to fling holy water all around us; over the rail, down the stairs, all over the balcony, the walls of the building, and splashes it down to the concrete below. He blesses this place in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
I tell this dear priest how hard it is not understanding what happened, and how I agonize still about how my brother could do this. Didn’t he know we loved him? Didn’t he know that any of us who loved him would have forgiven anything, given anything, done anything for him? How could he do this to us?
Tears are running down my cheeks.
Father listens closely, nodding.
I tell him how I have come to understand that somehow, that for some reason I will never know, my brother wasn’t able to let our love and support change what he did. Maybe to him we seemed so far away, he just didn’t know his way back.
I have to cry a little bit.
“You’re being really strong right now.”
He reminds me that as Catholics we believe every soul is given a moment of choice at the time of death, an encounter with God’s merciful love and truth, so each of us has a chance to choose the embrace of mercy.
He mentions that our Lord is here on this balcony with us, and that our Holy Mother Mary is here with us, too, to pray with us.
I am moved to talk to her. I tell her I had never thought I would be OK again but now I see I can have a new life and that Jesus wants me to have life. I spontaneously renew my consecration to her offering my life to her and committing to follow her Son better than I ever have before.
I can hear Father quietly praising Jesus as I speak these words of my new hope to Mary.
I close my eyes and smile. I say, “I love you, God.”
In his gentle voice, the priest reads a reading from one of the Gospels, and we pray for my family’s healing. We pray the Our Father together. I pray for the deep inner healing of the Holy Spirit for each person in my family. We say Amen.
We talk. We pray more. I tell him about the evolution of my understanding of my brother’s death through the tenderness of God in my prayer life right through all the horror of this death, this overwhelming loss, and fear I had of finding out something that would make this even worse. I explained that I still needed to understand all the same, and how I feel God helped me in His ingenious ways.
I feel so much less alone as the priest listens quietly and with compassion to all I am saying. I don’t think even I knew how much this day would mean to me. I am grateful for his courage and kindness in coming here.
He said he would like to pray the Prayer of Commendation now, that we use for funerals. He says it is our prayer to send the soul to God, commending the person to God’s mercy and love. It serves as some release to us too, allowing us to send the person forth with love, to God.
So he prays the beautiful Prayer of Commendation.
Together we pray a Litany of the Saints.
We blow bubbles and watch them glide out shimmering, into the sun, cascading down the side of the building, drifting out over the pool. We send streams of them up into the blue and watch them float gently. We can’t help but smile.
I open the bag of rose petals and toss some out over the rail. I sprinkle some over Father. ‘Yay! Thank you so much!”
We grab more and more handfuls of petals and throw them out, everywhere, like confetti at a party. Some of the petals drop quietly onto the water below, some waft out on the breeze, some scatter themselves on the patio.
“Did you SEE that?!” he exclaims, as, amazingly, some of the petals suddenly spiral upward into the sky and away. Laughing we throw more and more of them everywhere, as if we are showering the world with roses.
He takes some holy water and blesses me with the sign of the cross on my forehead.
With trembling hands, I drape a rosary over the end post of the rail and fasten two white silk roses to it.
Something I need to say to my brother:
“You’re not that.” You are not the way you died.
You’re just… my beautiful brother.”
Smiling, Father and I take pictures of each other, of the balcony, of the draped rosary, and the scattered petals, so my daughters can see what this looked like today.
We hug, and peacefully we leave the rose petal strewn balcony.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O God. ~ And let perpetual light shine upon him.