She is so often portrayed as too pretty to touch, air brushed like a fluffy cloud or a pink puff of spun cotton candy. But she knew gut-wrenching grief. She cried real tears when she was widowed. Of course she did. Joseph’s death must have been a bottomless loss for her.
She walked the way of the Cross with her Son, wanting to die with Him as any mother would. But she stood at the foot of the Cross all the same, to love Him, and to go on doing whatever He told her. Maybe her toes clenched in her sandals as she stood there; toes that probably looked more like Mother Teresa’s than the dainty artistic feet that peek out from beneath her dress in so many representations. Maybe she took her sandals off because she knew that Golgotha had just become Holy Ground.
Her hands, likely bloodied from attempts to comfort her bleeding Son, were probably rough and work scarred from a lifetime of labor and loving service. These hands of Mary’s, so soon to be assumed into Heaven, had held babies, hauled water, kneaded bread, cared for the sick, worked in the fields, watered the donkey, expressed human affection, and were often raised to God in prayer.
What do you think of when you think of Mary’s Assumption? I don’t know why, but I always think of the hem of her dress; a dress which was doubtless as simple as a worn tee shirt and faded jeans would be to us today. I see its frayed, homespun cloth brighten as she is taken into the Light of Heaven. I want to see her feet. I always look for them under there.
I am sure that in the mysterious process of the glorification of her body, Mary’s calloused feet were much honored in Heaven; every scratch, each leathery sole, becoming what they always were: beautiful, heavenly bright. Maybe that’s what happens in Heaven. Things begin to look the way they look to God.
Thinking of my own mother’s dirty little feet when she came in from the garden tracking mud on the kitchen floor convinces me that Our Lady tracked dirt all the way to her Son’s throne. She brought the Earth with her, I’m sure of that.
We are a very Incarnation-al people, we Catholics. Earth is good, the body is good, because God is good, and Jesus is true God and true man; Incarnate in the flesh. In spite of the air brushed holy cards of Mary, in which her pupils seem far too small and she is painted to look like a pastel ghost, we know that the stars in Mary’s hair represent the way she looked to God: gloriously human, the humble and barefoot Spouse of the Holy Spirit who was lowly and invisible to the world, but brilliantly radiant to the Lord. Then again, our exalted Mother, as brightly shining as we see her in Revelations 12, shows us she is real and totally human. Even as Heavenly Queen, rather than sighing with celestial bliss, she wails in the pangs of birth.
That particular wailing is for us, I think. She is with us in our struggle with evil, in our determination to follow her Son, in our attempts and failures at practicing virtue, in the Church’s painful war against the powers and principalities of darkness.
There is a trail of glory that Mary left, but it looks a lot more like dirty foot prints to me as she runs to the Seat of Mercy with our burdens and pains, about her latest enmity with the Evil One, with her requests for us, her lost, suffering, fighting and dying children she wants to lead to her Son. Her Son, I like to think, must smile when he sees those clods of soil in the throne room that show she has been in. She will keep working for the Kingdom until her work of Queenly discipleship is done and there are stars in our hair too as we reign with God forever.
She was assumed into Heaven, body and soul. She is the Living Tabernacle of the New Covenant. She is Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Mother of us. She listens with a real heart, leads us to Christ with real love.
The Assumption reminds me of this: Mary is real. She’s tracking in dirt. She’s holding my hand. And she’s beautiful- the way God sees beauty. Not only that, but as Bishop Mike Sis said once in a homily, “The Assumption means God’s gonna win! God’s gonna WIN!”
In answering my Methodist friend, Paula, with an explanation of what the Assumption was, she exclaimed, “OH! Isn’t that what happens in the end to all of us?”
Can I get a “Heaven yeah?”
“Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps;
draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness. “
Once upon a time in Rome, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (in the third century), a young girl gave her life in witness to Christ under harrowing circumstances hard to imagine. She did this in spite of frightened parents, repeated and successively more cruel tortures, threats and even persuasive words and temptations from those around her. She also spent some time chained, bleeding, and broken in the Emperor’s dungeon. There Mary is said to have appeared to her and healed her, strengthening her resolve with the promise of victory and the hope of Heaven. Some of her tormenters were converted to Christ by this child’s astonishing courage, faith and perseverance through punishment after punishment.
Quite a long time later, in the year 2002, in a little chapel in San Antonio, a profoundly wounded young widow (that would be me) knelt to pray for healing for herself and her family as she faced another traumatic trial in life. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it sometimes. I had come on a day trip pilgrimage to the Lourdes grotto of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate with my sister-in-law, Jamie, to ask the intercession of Mary and for her motherly protection and wisdom for myself and my family.
On a small table at the end of my pew in the Eucharistic chapel there was a statue of an intense looking young saint that interested me. Her little pedestal said, “St. Philomena, Patroness of the Children of Mary.” Well then, she was the patroness of me.
Later at home I found a holy card of St. Philomena under our family Bible. I had no idea where it had come from. Did this girl saint have something to say to me in my painful struggle? I felt compelled to try to find out more about her.
I started to research her life and the devotion to her. Frankly some of the material about her was a little weird, even for me. She sounded like a fairy tale. But I eventually found the official web site of her shrine in Mugnano, Italy where her body is venerated. This site had a lot of solid information and beautiful art. It was Church sanctioned. The resting place of St. Philomena had even been visited by an impressive list of Popes.
St. Philomena’s body was found in 1802 in the catacomb of St. Pricilla in Rome. Her epitaph said, “Peace be with you, Philomena,” and showed the martyr’s palm, a drawing of arrows and an anchor; the instruments of the torture she had undergone for her faithfulness to Christ. Inside were the bones of a 13-15 year old girl. Present also was the phial of blood often collected by the early Christians when one of them was martyred. Miracles and signs surrounded the opening of her tomb, and even of the opening of the phial of blood that day in May, 1802, wonders which were witnessed by many.
It seemed God was saying to the world, “Get to know this young woman. She is very close to Me, and I have given her great works to do in My Name.”
It was hard to know anything more about her. The only accounts we have are private revelation that is approved but not as certain as written testimony from her contemporaries would be of course. According to this private revelation and the hints from the drawings on her tomb, she had been through and survived one martyrdom after another. She sounded like my kind of girl.
St. Philomena is the only saint ever to be canonized solely on the basis of her numerous miracles, some of them spectacular and public. She came to be called “The Wonder Worker,” and it was commonly said, “to St. Philomena, nothing is refused.” Among the countless people healed by her intercession is Ven. Pauline Jaricot who arrived at the shrine on the verge of death. She was dramatically healed amid shouts and rapping on the saint’s tomb from the crowd that was there. Philomena was St. John Vianney’s favorite saint. He talked to her every day, and had a small chapel built for the relic of her he was given. He encouraged devotion to her. Endearingly, he attributed all his miracles to her intercession.
I decided she definitely had something to teach me, and I began to cultivate a relationship with this mysterious little saint; thinking of her and speaking to her often, doing small things to honor her. I felt like she was with me and understood my darkness, fear, grief and trauma, very well. It seemed she was compassionate to me and laid a prayerful hand on me when I really felt I couldn’t take the suffering anymore. I think she helped me remember that in Christ I can do anything.
My daughter, Maire, took to St. Philomena so much after we read the book I Ask St. Philomena by Rick Medina, that she made her her patroness when she was 13. Maire’s eventual Confirmation name was Philomena. She always wore Philomena’s cord wound around her ankle or wrist as a kid. She still does. (It’s supposed to go around the waist but Maire never does anything the normal way.) Last year she had an anchor tattooed to her shoulder in her saints’ honor. “Look, Mom! It’s for St. Philomena!”
St. Philomena has been a good friend to us and accompanied our family through many crises and hardships. Her intercession even brought back two people who left the family. One of them, a young run-away, was found staying only a few miles from a church that had a bone chip of St. Philomena’s. It was like a wink from her. During family prayer of a novena to her we even heard a sudden knocking sound we couldn’t find the origin of. We wondered about it. Then we read that this happened all over the world to other friends of St. Philomena, too, and that it was a sign of her intercession. Another wink.
Other times she seems to have worked the even greater miracle of obtaining for us the grace and strength to accept whatever Christ asked of us, no matter how hard it was, no matter how many times He asked it, and to do it with love, faithfulness and trust in Him, as she did.
A tiny 2nd class relic of hers went with us to every radiation and chemotherapy treatment, scary doctor’s appointment and MRI my husband, Bob, had during his fight with the aggressive brain cancer, GBM. I anointed him with her holy oil before every procedure and prayed her chaplet during each one.
Bob made it two and a half years, which is an unusually long time for GBM, from his diagnosis to his death in 2012. As he often said, those years were the happiest of his life. He had an excellent quality of life almost to the end of it. He kept working. He kept helping people. He bloomed beautifully as a human being, started painting (very well, too), learned more about love than ever before, and inspired many people with his outrageous courage, sense of humor, undying hope and growth in charity during his struggles. He also fulfilled his heart’s desire of becoming a Catholic during that time. He died a beautiful, holy, love filled death.
St. Philomena has taught our family through her life and spiritual friendship over the years, that no matter what, it will be OK, and even if it’s not OK, it will be OK. Our lives are God’s. And we are going to Him. What else is there? As Bob said, “We love we, walk on”. And no matter what, “God is it.”
One way we honor St. Philomena in our family (besides having named Bob’s cat after her) is for all of us, and whoever wants to come along, to dress in red and/or white and go out for Italian food every year on her feast day, August11. Red and white are her colors. Red is for her martyrdom, the white for her purity. People sometimes ask what team we are from when they see us. ☺Here is St. Philomena Day in 2010.
In thanksgiving, we also try to let people know about her. No matter what your troubles are, and if you are suffering very much, St. Philomena will intercede for you in a special way and companion you on your journey. She never gave up. She will help you never give up either and follow Christ to the end. She may bring a miracle that is more than you asked for, or she might help you accept the martyrs’ crown, even with love and joy. She knows better than most that our tears become jewels on our garments in God’s Kingdom and that every one of our trials suffered with Christ helps us grow in the knowledge and love of Him.
We recommend to you her friendship in Christ, and we pray you find comfort in your sufferings and trials, that you receive more grace than you ever thought you could by the intercession and example of our good friend St. Philomena.
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. She was born into a Jewish family, but became a decided atheist in her youth. She grew into a brilliant intellectual, writer, and philosopher. Her search for truth lead her into the Catholic Church, and into religious life as a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the of the Cross. Eventually, under growing persecution, she was executed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She offered her life for her persecuted and suffering Jewish people.
These days we are anxious, worried and rightly horrified by many things. We wonder what we should do. Or maybe at times we fill our mouths (and our screens) with argument. Maybe we try to do our part, but we wonder what good we really do or of we are doing the right things? We are people of prayer, but perhaps we worry that it doesn’t seem to comfort us or anyone else. Maybe we wonder if our prayer actually changes anything.
What does the life and the death of Edith Stein have to say to us?
What tremendous inner power enabled her to continue to live deeply a life of prayer, love, and single minded searching for God and truth as the world darkened around her?
What motivated and empowered her, even on the train to the death camp, to brush the children’s hair and show them love when their own mothers had gone blank with terror?
What lead her to prayerfully and meaningfully offer her life, when she was executed, to God, for her people?
She would say that her love, spiritual intuition, and courage came from the practice of inner prayer, in contemplating the face of Christ, and the mystery of His Cross, from the magnifying grace Jesus fills His disciples with when they open their hearts to it.
She wrote beautifully about the mysterious power of drawing near to Christ. She knew the ability this gives us to be close to and to touch those who suffer anywhere and everywhere. She knew that in God, she could change hearts, and pour the love of Jesus into a world sickened by violence, indifference, madness, and fear.
When she was confronted by inhumanity and brutality, even as she suffered the same experiences the others were suffering, she was able to love and serve those around her.
By immersing herself in God’s love every day, she was prepared to be love in the most heartless of places, and to give her life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, releasing a tide of grace and mercy for all by her sacrificial prayer and offering. She turned evil on its head, echoing her beloved Lord.
We know from the Gospel that Jesus lifts us up when we pray, that He loves to give His healing power of mercy into our hands, as He did when He sent out the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and bring peace.
Edith Stein faced her death with sacrificial love and prayer, offering herself to God for others.
What if, in our own way, right now, we offered our lives, too?
What would that do?
When we unite ourselves to Christ completely, we free and open our hearts for Him to direct and guide, to fill with whatever graces He wants to see there.
In prayerful union with Him, we will be led where He wants us to be each day, and respond to each person and situation from a mysterious reserve of inner freedom, courage, and love.
In our prayer, God will take us all over the world like the wind of the Spirit; walking through doors, bringing the sweet breath of peace, calling others forth.
Then the floods of that divine love will flow into [your heart,] making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth. ~ Edith Stein
Maybe we can pray something like this:
God, I offer myself and my life to You, for those who suffer violence, for the persecuted, the unloved, the misunderstood. I offer my life and death for the relief of suffering, for peace, for the conversion of hearts to mercy and love; and that the knowledge of You will fill the earth; fill every relationship, every heart.
Wherever there is suffering, or a lack of love, where there is terror, fear, injustice, or a need for You, take me there, put me there- either in time and space, or in the super-imposition of prayer.
She remembers walking barefoot on pilgrimage up the road to San Salvador Mission as a child, praying the rosary together with her family and friends, each August, lead by her grandmother, Ouida, to commemorate a healing, a vision, and a community coming together in response to a message from Heaven to build a church.
She remembers her grandmother’s reluctance to talk much about the three apparitions she received at twelve years old from “a lady in black.” She only ever heard the story from her Italian American grandmother in broken English.
It’s a Scarmardo family story, a story of a community; and though it happened over 100 years ago, it is cherished and guarded by the family as a very special and somewhat private gift. To the local Catholic community it is the quiet, lovely legend behind a beloved little mission church out past the river, whose parent parish is St. Anthony’s in Bryan.
In 1894 getting to mass was very difficult for a small rural Texas community of Italian immigrants, as there was not a reliable bridge to cross the Brazos river and go to Bryan, where the nearest Catholic Church was. They mostly depended on a priest to come to them when he could, celebrating mass on someone’s porch.
One of these times, in the middle of mass, there was a sudden strong gust of wind and the crucifix fell onto the altar. The crash on the altar was so sudden and forceful, the people were uncomfortable and wondered what it meant.
The next day, in her family’s cotton field, in the wake of a gentle breeze, a young girl named Ouida (pronounced“Weeda”) suddenly saw a lady in black who asked why there was no church in this place. “There needs to be a church here.””
The girl told her parents about it, but they didn’t take it seriously at the time.
Then there was another appearance of the lady, possibly in a dream this time, during which she gave the girl more details about the church she wanted to be built there, even including a list of the men who were to build it.
The girl’s parents wondered but were still not taking this too seriously until there was a yet another apparition, and this time the lady asked why the church had not been built yet.
Ouida’s concerned parents decided to take her to talk to the priest in Bryan, Fr. Antonio Simone. It seems the priest soothed their worries about their child because what happened next was that the community discerned that they should and they could do as the Lady from Heaven, understood to have been Mother Mary, had asked.
Each family gave their first crops, another family donated land, and the church was built in six weeks.
It was named for the patronal feast of Cefalu, Sicily, the native village of these Italian immigrants, a feast they call San Salvador, “Holy Savior,” which is August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
First mass was said at its altar in October 1908.
Ouida had breast cancer at the age of 40 and vowed that she would make a barefoot pilgrimage to the church every year on the feast of San Salvador, the Transfiguration, if she was cured. She was cured. And the pilgrimage was made for many years, even revived by a third generation and walked for several more.
San Salvador Mission celebrated its centenary in 2008 with Bishop Gregory Aymond.
Today there are good bridges into Bryan, and not so many people still live near San Salvador Mission, which still stands in the midst of an expanse of farm land near a country road. But it is cherished nonetheless and mass is attended there still by those who love it.
The first time I went out to take pictures of it, I was surprised to find it locked. A red truck pulled up, and a kindly woman, who told me she grew up right next to the church and still lived nearby, let me in. In the course of our conversation, she let me know that she had come to check on the sanctuary light. When she is at home she gets a feeling when it is out and she goes and changes it to honor the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. When I remarked on how touching I thought that was, she said,
“When you get the grace to pay attention, it’s just an amazing life we live. “
San Salvador stands as a testament to a community that paid attention, and still does.
*Many thanks to Ouida’s granddaughter, Mary Jo (Scarmardo) Lindsay, and to her cousin, Judy (Scarmardo) Comeaux, two lovely women, for sharing their memories with me.
**Mass at San Salvador is celebrated the First Saturday of the month, at 7PM. You’ll find it at County Road 222 – 1/4 Mile off Farm Road 50 (County Road 286), Bryan, TX 77836
*** No approval for this Marian apparition was ever sought. It is a private revelation given to Ouida that was responded to by her community of faith.
We are sitting in a bar on a hot summer day. I stare at my dejected feet on the bar stool, then out the door at the hot day, the burning sidewalk, the occasional overheated human being passing by.
I don’t want to look at him, though I am relieved by his presence. I glance sideways at his calloused elbow resting on the dark, scratched wood of the bar; noticing, too, a scrape on his for arm. He always has at least one.
“Shawn, look at me. Can you look at me?”
I knew he was going to say that.
Reluctantly I look up to his face,
and am captivated
I am captivated because when one looks at Jesus, even without seeing, one knows by faith, apprehends by love, the radiant beauty of his features, the dark loveliness of his eyes, the gentle tenderness of his smile, the silent fire of his gaze, that comes from who he is.
Maybe the strangest thing about this looking at Jesus is seeing one’s own reflection. Stranger still is how different one looks reflected in the pupils of such eyes as these.
Jesus asked the Twelve: “Who do people say that I am?”
He listened to the various answers; all of them incomplete at best, though understandable.
Then he asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
I am going to stop right there. I am stopping because it is easy, seemingly, for me to answer, with all my heart, at one with Peter, “You are the Messiah, Son of the living God.” I know this to the depths of my soul. It is the guiding truth of my life: Jesus is Lord.
But today I have a question. I have this question because my heart is broken, forsaken, wounded, my life in ruins, and I have lost something in my suffering and dismay; something almost as important to my existence as who this Lord is who has captivated me and will for all eternity.
“Jesus,” I ask, “Who do you say that I am?”
What happens when you ask this question of the Lord?
What has happened for me is that he has been answering me in different ways ever since I asked; in verses from Scripture that show up at mass or in the Liturgy of the Hours, or that quietly come to mind as I pray or go about my day:
“You are sacred to me.”
You are “…beloved of God and called to holiness.”
“…a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord… a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God.”
“… light of the world…. salt of the earth.”
He has seemed to send the right song into my day at the right moment, drawing my attention to it, speaking straight to my heart.
He has sent unlooked-for love into my life and increased the strength of my soul.
He has brought me to understand that each of us are, on a certain level, and in a very real way, all the things he is, because he shares them with us and lives in us. We even share in his very being and his place in the Father’s Heart.
We reflect him. He reflects us back to ourselves.
And when we look at this Light of the World,
this Way, Gate, Shepherd, Truth, Bread from Heaven,
Life and Love itself – he who is gentle and humble of heart,
we are looking, Christian soul,
When we see ourselves in his eyes, his yoke becomes easy and his burden, even the cross, becomes light. He shows us who we are to him, and we are filled with his grace. Perhaps we can go forward after all, once we know who we are in the Lord, doing all things in him who strengthens us.
Maybe, even, we shine with glory from the inside as we make our way through the elements of this world, with our eyes fixed on him whom we radiate.
” I will give to each one… a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” ~ see Rev. 1:17b
When we talk we can do a lot of good sometimes. When we pray we don’t do anything. We stop doing. Instead we meet one another in the Heart of God. We bring ourselves, and our difficulties before Him in good will and open-ness of heart. What is there to argue about then?
It is a truth I often point out to my daughters, that God will not force solutions on us. “Remember all the times you brought broken toys for me to fix? I couldn’t fix them if you wouldn’t give them to me. God can work with your problem when you trust Him with it and let go.”
We don’t know what God will do but we do know that God responds to prayer, especially humble, open- hearted prayer, and we know it pleases Him when people set aside their differences and come together to seek His will, willing to be changed by Him.
Authentic prayer always brings out the best in people. It brings them to recognize their own littleness and broken-ness before God, Who is all love, at once perfectly just, full of mercy, and utterly mysterious- thus requiring our open-ness and willingness, for Him to reveal Himself to us. This is when we can come to know the power of His transforming love.
On the day of Pentecost in the midst of the believers gathered in prayer the gifts of the Holy Spirit undid the language barrier, the curse of Babylon. People who heard them when they prayed understand now, in the Spirit, no matter what language each one speaks.
God can hardly help Himself, I think, responding when anyone prays with trust and hope. Surely He will bless the prayers of His children who don’t want to fight anymore and don’t know what to do to stop.
How can we pray through conflict together in our lives? I think it is of special relevance in families. There is a lot of pain and love in families. There are always issues that need to be brought to the light of the Holy Spirit for forgiveness and unraveling. We don’t always know what to do. Sometimes we have talked and talked or we have tried not talking. We have tried forgetting, avoiding each other, pretending nothing happened. What if we came together in honest prayer and let God begin the healing in His own way?
What if our first reaction, when we had a conflict with someone, was to pray about it with him? Imagine how this might look on social media if people with differences stopped arguing for a minute and prayed together humbly instead?
Praying through conflict can help make difficult decisions people are in conflict about. When my first husband, Blaze, wanted to move back to his native Wisconsin, I knew it was fair since he had been in Texas with me so long. However, I could not help my grief, and he was upset that I was upset. Our talking about it was not doing any good. We were advised by someone wise to pray about it. Our prayer was to be, “If we are supposed to move to Milwaukee, give Shawn peace about going. If we are to stay in Texas, give Blaze peace about staying.” He got peace about staying and we stayed. It was the right thing.
Once my dad had read about something and wanted to try it. He wanted to sit down on the couch with me and have us look into each other’s eyes for nine silent minutes. So we turned off the stereo and we sat on the couch and we looked at each other right in the eyes in silence. After the first awkward, anxious moments of wanting to laugh or run away or cry were over, my heart felt such peace and quiet and love.
“What did you think?” my dad asked when the long beep of the kitchen timer let us know our nine minutes were up.
“I think I saw you the way God sees you!”
My dad just smiled.
Let’s go together and look into the eyes of Our Father without words or agendas of our own. Maybe we will finally see each other, and maybe even see God.
“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)
We are holding hands as we walk together along a rocky path on a hot July evening. We are talking about this and that. She asks me questions, listens thoughtfully as I talk about my life. She has a lot going on too, these days, and she unburdens her heart to me about her work, about her children. I squeeze her hand and we pray together as tears gather in her eyes. I know she works hard for her children, and prays constantly for their needs, for their good, for their souls. I am glad she will talk to me about things that concern her, that she finds my company a comfort at times. We lapse into comfortable silence.
She gathers up the brown skirt of her habit a little as we reach an incline, and I smile that she is barefoot like me. Of course she is.
People say we resemble one another, especially around the eyes. All of Carmel shares the family resemblance to Mary, our sister, as we share everything else with her.
Some might say that ours is a curious Marian devotion, this Carmelite love of Mary not only as mother and queen, but as sister.
Carmelite Marian devotion is primarily about the imitation of Mary. We see ourselves as “the other Mary,” and we view our Carmelite life of prayer and simplicity of heart as a reflection of the interior life she lived and still lives.
More than reflecting on Mary, we tend to simply see through her eyes, to love Jesus with her heart, to share in her hidden work in the world; in the silent drawing of her Immaculate Heart of all peoples toward her Son.
Siblings share confidences, and understand each other in a special way. They tell each other everything. In intimacy and cooperation with Mary, we receive a double portion of Christ’s spirit, because she magnifies the Lord, and together with her, we treasure His words and His life continually in our hearts, in union with her.
A sister can share our lives, walk beside us, trust in us, and we in her.
Mary doesn’t have to knock; she practically lives at our house. When she comes over, she might even fold some of our laundry with us.
We are always welcome at Mary’s house, too. We are allowed to pick the roses in her garden. She doesn’t mind.
Living with her as a sister keeps us in touch with the precious, pure humanity of Mary. It keeps her close by our side, walking with us in a familiar, loving way.
We are less likely to only look up to her, but more likely to unconsciously reflect her- maybe around the eyes, yes, certainly in our ways, surely in the joyful depth of our inner lives in Christ.
As we walk, I notice more and more that there are many others around us. I recognize that it is the craggy path of the ascent of Mt. Carmel we travel with our many brothers and sisters, following Jesus with Mary, our sister, in our midst. She is smiling, enjoying the company, glad we are following her Son all together.
On the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16,) the family of Carmel invites you to love Mary like a sister.
If you’ll be her brother
She’ll kiss you like a sister
She’ll even be your mother for now…
I will be her brother
Kiss her like a sister
Come and be my mother forever.
~ Sixpence None the Richer from their song, “Sister Mother”
I thought I would give you a glimpse of the answer to that question by sharing the letter I wrote to the Council of my O.C.D.S. Community shortly before my “Definitive Promise” in Carmel after my years of formation and at least three years after my “First Promise” to the Order. In this letter I was to answer a series of questions about how I was living out the life of an OCDS, and how I saw it having changed me, and what my spiritual life was like. I made my final promise March 13, 2011. A lot has happened since then. I feel I am not as good at this stuff now, though I know I have grown immensely. In any case, this should give you an idea how an OCDS might live his or her daily life as a Carmelite in the world.
During my years of Carmelite formation, and through my time since I made my final promise as a Discalced Carmelite Secular, my spiritual life has changed immeasurably. I feel I could say, as Alice did to the caterpillar, “I really don’t know, Sir! I’ve changed so many times since this morning, you see.”
I sometimes wonder if I have a spiritual life anymore – it is so different to me than it was. But then I ask myself: “Is there any other kind of life that I have?” No.
I have wondered further whether I really love God or not- because my love is so different now. But then I ask myself: “Is there any other kind of love?” No, there isn’t.
I used to identify more with Psalm 63. I felt big feelings and had great longings and dramatic experiences in prayer. Then I think I had a few early stays in Purgatory over the years, and nowadays I feel closer to Psalm 131.
“LORD, [I hope] my heart is not proud; nor my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.
Israel, hope in the LORD, now and forever. “
I have been with my Carmelite Community a long time. They have all been patient with me and my drama and my often childish (bratty) personality such as it is. (I have been known to throw skittles during meetings.)
I don’t know what I would do without their love, support, wisdom, forgiveness, and tolerance- not to mention their amazing example to me of what it looks like to radiate the love of Jesus. That love is clear in all of their faces.
All of them have challenged and loved me and shown me new things, so often relieving my heart and clearing my mind of one silliness or another. I feel very satisfied and happy with them. I would never want to leave them or go very long without seeing them. They are a family to me. I love them. I feel I need them all and that somehow they need me.
Our monthly meetings are days beginning with communal silent prayer, then formation classes, a lively lunch, afternoon study and discussion, business and such, and then Evening Prayer, ending with singing the Salve Regina. Sometimes it is hard for me to break out of my every day life and go to Austin to be with them for these. But I know I am always overjoyed to see my Carmelite brothers and sisters, and for some reason they are unfailingly glad to see me too. My husband, Bob, once asked, after seeing the beautiful way they each greeted me, “Are they always like that?” I laughed and said, “Yes. They are always like that!
Part of our daily life as Carmelites includes spiritual reading. I try to always have a spiritual book that I am working on reading, especially whatever we are reading together as a Community, or the writings of the Carmelite Saints, or others who enrich my spiritual life.
Each of us must try to make daily mass every day we can. As I was a daily mass go-er before I even became Catholic twenty – six years ago that was not hard for me to adjust to. That is just part of my life. I feel like that is where I get my strength and my daily bread. I like daily mass better, really, since it is more quiet, simple and intimate. I usually go to St. Mary’s for daily mass. I like to sit in the balcony, and the 5:30 mass is perfect before I go home to cook dinner.
Secular Carmelites also pray Morning, Evening and Night Prayer from The Liturgy of the Hours. My breviary is always in my backpack along with my journal and Bible. As my kids grew up I prayed Morning Prayer with them before school, and Night Prayer with them before bed. Evening Prayer I have always prayed alone which is good since evening is the busiest time of a mother’s day. I needed the re-centering before everyone came home and everything started.
After a while I noticed that the Psalms of the Divine Office and its’ readings became the language of our hearts. They come often into my personal prayers and thoughts and even conversation among us as a family. We laugh about that- about being “programmed.” I can see why it is such a good practice to pray the Psalms day after day. They often come to mind in situations that are appropriate or keep me out of trouble when I am tempted.
Interior prayer is an important part of living as a Carmelite. I try to spend at least half an hour of Meditation/ Mental Prayer daily in silence and solitude. After years of practice, it is just part of my day now. I used to do this in the afternoon as my sanity time before picking up the kids from school. Now, dusk is my favorite time for this. I have a room at home that I use as an oratory. I usually sit there as the light from its windows gently phases from honey to blue, to gray, to black. I don’t often use any particular prayer method like I used to do. I don’t know how to describe what I do, but I am quiet and still and I promise I’m not sleeping.
I am drawn into meditation or recollection or just some kind of quiet centering often during my day for no particular reason. I’m glad because I think that helps me stay sane. Sometimes I use Lectio Divina or go slowly over a memorized passage, pray St. Teresa’s Prayer of Recollection, or just see what God wants or… nothing in particular as I mentioned above.
Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. ~ Our Holy Mother Foundress, St. Teresa of Avila
Prayer has just become a way of being these days. What I strive for is a constant awareness of God’s indwelling. Simple. Quiet. Absolute. Carmelite Brother Lawrence called this striving The Practice of the Presence of God. Our Father, St. John of the Cross, co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites, wrote about “naked faith,” and the“…secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God.” To me, God is in the dark quiet center of my soul: love solid and real, that I have constant access to. That is where I have learned to seek Him on the simple, well trodden paths of Carmel.
A spontaneous meditation I am always doing is pondering in my heart what God is saying in my everyday life all the time in every situation and everything I see or hear. Maybe it sounds weird but, as people often wonder what our dreams mean and what God may be telling them in dreams; I think: “If this situation was a dream what would it mean? What would God be saying in this event?” God’s Word is written all over life, in everything and everyone and all the time. I often think “this is God.”
A natural ministry of a Secular Carmelite is to share Carmelite spirituality in the world. I am more likely to do this in informal ways. Mostly I just try to be it, to listen with the Heart of Mary when others are in pain, to rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, to reflect Jesus and the joy of loving Him, to make all I do be to His worship and for the good of the Church.
I end up being a spiritual companion often and sometimes even something like a midwife for a soul opening up to God. I usually don’t find out I am doing that at the time. I find out later. Sometimes I am conscious of it and it is a great joy “to form Christ in others.” When they are ready for Him they seem to show up in my life. This is good because God knows I’m a bit lazy.
My prayer life leads me grow in helpfulness. I try not to miss a chance to perform an act of service with love, even though it is more natural for me to be oblivious. Most of all, I try, as St. Therese the Little Flower talked about, “to be love in the heart of the Church.”
St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) said that our prayer lives are for the purpose of, “Good works, my daughters, good works.”
I try to serve as an Extraordinary Minster of Holy Communion whenever I can. It is an active ministry that feels like prayer to me. I usually have an Adoration hour at St. Mary’s as well.
I try to go to Confession regularly and to make frequent visits to what St. Teresa called,
“the room of self knowledge” in my soul.This is difficult and I am good at not doing it. But
over all, I do.
I try to live a simple life so that I have more time just to be, to pray, to read, and so I can be available to God and the people in my life. With kids, even ones that are out of the house now, this simplicity can be difficult to achieve. But this is what I’m trying to do.
Part of the tradition of our Order is to emulate the life of the Prophet Elijah, who lived on Mt. Carmel. Elijah was a man who listened deeply to the inner voice of God in stillness. But he also could be very pointed, to say the least, about faithfulness to the love of God, and about justice and right. Sometimes being a daughter of Elijah means confronting injustice and speaking up. I do this gently, if I possibly can, sometimes boldly and pointedly when I think God wants me to. This is hard for me, but I am getting better at it.
“With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord, God of hosts.” ~ the Prophet Elijah (this is the Carmelite motto)
Mary is Mother, Sister, and Queen of Carmel. When I think of what I want to tell you about Mary in my life, a phrase from Paul about letting “ the Word of God be on your lips and in your heart” comes to mind. That is the way Mary is to me: on my lips and in my heart. She is a living part of me. I would not want to live without Mary. I would never have come to Christ if it were not for her and she immeasurably intensifies my experience and knowledge of Him.
We are to try to do something each day to honor Mary and the most formal way I do this is with a daily rosary (often prayed as I walk my dog, Flower), and by keeping roses at her statue at home.
I try to imitate her in everything and to ponder God’s word in my heart as she did.
And, of course, I wear her scapular. Plus it is tattooed on my back along with her Heart and the Heart of Jesus.
For more about Discalced Carmelite Seculars check out:
When I answer the door, a wild- looking old hippie guy standing on my porch asks me for some water and a sandwich. I don’t actually have much food in the house right now, as it’s a few days until Pay Day. I’m trying to think what to give him, remembering I am down to the last scrapes of peanut butter, when, seeming to read my mind, he says that I won’t run out of either bread or peanut butter until the next time I get paid. “Just make me a sandwich,” he says in response to my incredulous stare.
In my kitchen, I open a cabinet and find my jar of peanut butter unexpectedly full. I also find a loaf of bread. So I make him a sandwich.
“Should I know you?” I finally ask. “Yes. I’m the prophet Elijah.”
I ask him, “Aren’t you supposed to appear in the end times?” * He looks at me sharply with an expression of terrible ferocity, sadness, tenderness, radiance, and when our eyes meet, I feel exposed to the vastness of space, and I know even that vastness to be flying by, nothing at all. I know myself to be dust, less than dust. Both the prophet and I are dust in the wind together.
I find myself on a mountainside next to him. I don’t look at his face, but I watch his feet in their dusty sandals as I follow him up. The path is rough, steep, and though well worn, it is still difficult. We climb on and on in silence. This must be Mt. Carmel. Suddenly I take a thoughtless step, sliding and falling backwards down the narrow path, and then over an edge I didn’t notice before.
He catches my wrist, and as soon as his hand closes tightly to catch me and stop my fall, I see what fills the pit I almost fell into- the charred remains of little children, so many, too many to count. The full horror of this scene chokes me. As I hang over this terrible place in Elijah’s grip, I hear the Scripture, “it is not against flesh and blood that we are at war, but with the powers and principalities of darkness,” and the words of Jesus, “Satan is a murderer and he was a murderer from the beginning. “
Suddenly I am back on the mountain path with Elijah, trying to recover my calm. I look at him, his face covered with angry tears, and I remember the priests of Baal he was up against, and I feel I understand the extreme zealous intensity of Elijah. It wasn’t only the worship of an idol, offensive as that was, it was all that this led to, and ultimately, it was the Evil One beneath it all, and who is still our real enemy.
The little children sacrificed to Baal* don’t suffer anymore. It is God who feels it forever, God who is horrifically wronged, the order of the world distorted by every scream, because He is Love and Truth itself, and we are made in His image, to love and to be loved. There is only one way evil can have any effect on God; through the harm or the betrayal of those He loves.
Unfaithfulness to Him inevitably leads the human heart to ruin and darkness and worse. “All who worship them will become like them.”
That pit. I shudder. That place was strangely familiar. I know it signifies much. I will be sorting out its’ implications for a long time.
Elijah seems tired as we continue our climb. “Thank you,” I breathe, feeling that he can hear me, and that he knows I am thanking him, too, for his life of powerful witness to God, of jealous love for Him.
“Zelo zelatus sum,” I think to myself, as we duck into Elijah’s cave. “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts;” Elijah’s words, and the motto of all Carmelites.* This is why we live, this is why we pray: “As the Lord lives, in whose presence I stand,” that He come through us into this world, that we might arise and burn like a torch in the spirit and power of Elijah against the spiritual forces of darkness, the idols and injustices of our time, with “a double portion of [his] spirit.”
We sit watching the ravens bringing us food from afar. I want to explore the cave, but the prophet’s eyes are closed, and I know we are supposed to pray now, as the sun sets. Just before I close my eyes, I see in the distance, over the sea, a small rain cloud coming up over the water. I understand what this means. “He shall descend like rain on the meadows.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.
I am aware of the profound, incomprehensible tenderness of God in the “still small voice” withinElijah and myself. We cover our faces, and we say His name, the Name of God.
“The fire from the Lord consumed the sacrifice… and the people fell on their faces saying, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”Notes:
Elijah’s life is in 1Kings chapters 17- 21, and 2Kings 1- 2:18