For All the Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest: Two Carmelite Feasts

The Souls of the Just are in the Hand of God…©, 2012

“By Your own Blood, Lord, You brought us back to God; from every tribe and tongue, and people and nation, You made us a kingdom for our God (Evening Antiphon, All Saints’ Day Liturgy of the Hours).

Writing this at about midnight, I seem to have one foot in yesterday and the other in tomorrow. These two days, November 14 and November 15, bear significance for Discalced Carmelites. On November 14th, they celebrate the Feast of All Carmelite Saints, and likewise, the 15this traditionally celebrated as the Feast of All Carmelite Souls.

At this midpoint in November, we are again called to focus our attention on the magnificent doctrine of the Communion of Saints. We honor those men and women of heroic virtue who have persevered in faith, and with an abiding love for Christ, have kept their baptismal garments pure. Likewise we pray for those brothers and sisters in Christ who have been called from this earthly existence, yet whose imperfect character has temporarily deprived them of the glorious Beatific Vision. We are cognizant that these beloved souls are engaged in a process of purification, and that our prayers may assist them.

Scripture tells us:

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed in the eyes of the foolish to be dead; and their passing away an affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed they be punished, yet their hope is full of immortality. Chastened a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself. As Gold in a furnace He proved them, as sacrificial offerings He took them to Himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine. … (Wisdom 3:1-7).”

As we pray for the beloved souls in Purgatory, we are reminded of the need to remain in a state of grace for that moment when we shall meet God face to face. Thus, while glorifying God for the graces He has lavished upon both the Saints Triumphant and the Suffering Souls in Purgatory, we also contemplate the fragility of our own mortal flesh, and gaze momentarily into the vastness of eternity.

My Soul is Thirsting for the Living God; When Shall I See Him Face to Face?, 2012

While our All-loving God has created us with the ultimate solitary purpose of delighting in Eternal Bliss with Him in Paradise, He has also given each of us a free will. We each have the marvelous gift to choose to spend eternity with Him in perpetual joy, or to permanently sever our bond with God, and spend Eternity far from the abyss of His merciful love. Our destiny depends upon the path we take, and the choice is truly ours.

Scripture tells us:

“I call heaven and earth today to witness against you. I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life , then, that your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding His voice, and holding fast to Him (Deuteronomy 31:19-20).”

Fortified with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, we realize that our all-loving God has provided us with the gift of companions on this journey. Not only are there companions who breathe the same air we do, and walk the face of the earth in the space and time that we share, but there are also companions who have already labored through life, and who now desire to assist us with their wisdom and prayers, as they inhabit an existence which transcends earthly space and time.

For those of us who are drawn to Carmelite sanctity, the companions are myriad. The life of each Carmelite saint reflects a unique aspect of the Carmelite spirituality; and studying their lives affords one the opportunity to apply their inimitable virtues to her own life. In my own life, I have discovered these Carmelite Companions to be an invaluable source of spiritual blessing.

The Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church …©, 2012

From the Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus, I seek to learn how to pray. St. Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite reformer, is a magnificent teacher. I turn to St. Teresa, the great Doctor of the Church, via her writings, especially her autobiography (Life of St. Teresa), The Way of Perfection, and The Interior Castle. The more time I spend with St. Teresa, the more I find my prayer life does indeed deepen. Much of St. Teresa’s writings were penned as counsel for her sisters; guides to teach them how to pray. Her approachable manner allows the reader to comprehend theologically rigorous material with refreshing clarity. St. Teresa’s wisdom and guidance on this journey are incomparable.

Though not even canonized as a Blessed, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691) remains one of the most influential Carmelite companions on my journey to the foot of the Throne of the Almighty. The letters of the wise lay-brother were collected and published into a book entitled, Practicing the Presence of God. I had the grace to stumble upon this volume in college, and it profoundly impacted the way I viewed my relationship with God. Through Brother Lawrence’s eyes, I continue to develop a more intimate relationship with Christ, and strive daily to recognize His presence in my mundane life.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face …©, 2012

St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face has taught me how to turn my miniscule deeds into gifts for God. The “Little Way” of this beloved Doctor of the Church is so relevant to my life! Like Therese, harsh penances scare me, and heroic deeds are well beyond my limited capabilities. However, like her, I long to give my best to God, and through her writings in The Story of a Soul, I find hope that my insignificant human struggles are actually valued by my Loving Creator. I love her passion, and resonate with her temper. Therese learned to channel those tempestuous qualities into a “Zeal for the Lord God of Hosts”. Following her example, I too hope to one day find my turbulent temperament has truly rested in the peace of Christ.

The young St. Teresa of the Andes is another of my favorite Carmelite companions. Through her biography, God, the Joy of My Soul, I am learning how our Lord gently calls us to love. In St. Teresa of the Andes, I see a paradox of youthful exuberance and mature spiritual depth. Reading her biography has caused me to become more cognizant of spiritual depth of others – especially the depth that is present in children and young adults. I see their innocence and joy, as they approach the omnipotence of God, and it makes me yearn to approach Him with these virtues as well. I have learned that I am better equipped to nurture the spiritual inclinations of my own children, when I view their intimacy with God in awe and wonder.

St. John of the Cross has taught me the value of suffering. Through his collected works, including the Dark Night of the Soul, I have come to realize that intimacy with God is not reflected in consolations and cozy feelings. When St. Paul tells us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12),” it is clear that we are not promised a warm fuzzy feeling as a reward for union with Christ. Through St. John of the Cross, I begin to grasp the essential role of the cross in my own life, and take ever-so-tiny steps to embrace that cross, and follow the Wisdom Who has wrought it for my salvation.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross …©, 2012

The extraordinary St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is a special companion on my journey. Philosophically, Phenomenology has never been my cup of tea. I avoided it like the plague in graduate school. However, I have learned much from this learned Carmelite philosopher. Edith Stein was born a Jew, and later became an atheist. However, her unquenchable desire for True Wisdom allowed her to reason her way to God. She possessed a magnificent mind and after earning a doctorate in Philosophy, she studied with world-renowned academic philosophers. Yet, academic success did not quell the longing of her soul. One night, Edith stumbled upon a copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography- she devoured it, finishing it that very night. Finding it to be the truth, her soul found rest. Edith Stein was baptized, and she soon entered Carmel as Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and wholly surrendered her life to God. As the Nazi regime hunted both St. Teresa and her sister Rosa (who had also become a Carmelite sister) that act of total surrender would profoundly demonstrate the glory of the One to Whom she had become espoused. In the days preceding her death in Auschwitz, St. Teresa cared for the children and other inmates with gentleness and joy. She reflected Christ’s mercy even in the shadow of the gas chambers. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross continues to teach me the value of courageous daily surrender to the Will of God.

My favorite Carmelite Saint is Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose feast we celebrated just last week on November 9. Blessed Elizabeth was born in a military camp in Avor, France. She lost her father at the tender age of 7, and lived in a comfortable middle-class environment with her mother and sister. Elizabeth was an accomplished pianist, and had been sent to study music at the conservatory in Dijon when she was a mere 8 years of age. She would practice for 5-6 hours a day, and was no stranger to diligent study. Though music and laughter were abundant in her life, she possessed philosophical and theological depth. From the time of her First Holy Communion, St. Elizabeth desired to give herself completely to God. In her teens, she became mystically aware of the indwelling presence of the Most Blessed Trinity. Her entire life would become a living prayer to the Trinity, Whom she truly understood lived within the depths of her soul. Elizabeth realized that as the Trinitarian God dwelled within her soul, the door to Heaven was in an authentic way, her very heart. I love the way she expressed this reality through her letters, and highly recommend these valuable spiritual writings which can be found published in the Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity.

St. Simon Stock Receives the Brown Scapular from Our Lady of Mount Carmel …©, 2012

The Canon of Carmelite Saints is replete with heroes, martyrs and mystics. St. Simon Stock, whose vision of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has given us the Brown Scapular as a protective garment of grace is a favorite patron to many. Among my personal favorites are the brave martyrs of Compiegne. These 16 Carmelite sisters ascended the scaffold of the guillotine in Paris on July 17, 1794 signing the Veni Creator Spiritusand professing their vows in defiance of Robespierre’s Revolutionary Government. Their pure oblation is credited with ending the Reign of Terror a mere 10 days later. The ranks of powerful celestial Carmelite companions are enormous. These intercessors have so much to teach us as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, winding our way along the path to Eternity.

Yet while the number of canonized Carmelite saints is extensive, even larger is the number of hidden Carmelite saints; those who have labored quietly, living solely for Christ, and Him Crucified. Even greater still is the number of holy Carmelite men and women, engaged in the task of Purgatorial purification, whose prayers can benefit us greatly. Through these two days, as we celebrate their merits, and glorify God their Creator, let us endeavor to emulate their virtues in the hope of one day joining them all in Paradise. As we thank God for our Carmelite Saints, let us also petition Him for the repose of the souls of those Carmelites in Purgatory. With them, let us remain Zealous with Zeal for the Lord God of Hosts.


Ad Jesum per Mariam,

M.A. J.M.J.

Serenity Amid Chaos: Practicing the Presence of God with Brother Lawrence

“He longs to be in you; He wants His breath to be your breath, His heart in your heart, His soul in your soul.” – St. John Eudes

The Wheels on the Bus. . . ©, 2011-2012.

Throughout the year I find myself yearning for sacred silence. This is never more true than during the season of Lent. The Daily Mass readings, as well as those Matins and Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours, speak to my heart, compelling me to greater union with God. I long to spend hours conversing with Christ; adoring Him in the Blessed Sacrament, while contemplating the mysteries of our redemption. However, the whirlwind of daily duty takes precedence. The reality of potty-training the littlest one while coaxing the eldest to finish his Algebra, scrubbing floors, refereeing squabbling siblings (not to mention the 3 dogs) and sorting a bazillion socks relegates that much sought after sacred silence to an unrequited desire. In His Wisdom, God placed my contemplative soul in the body of a homeschooling Mom of eight. Our busy home is the hallowed ground upon which I seek my own sanctification, as well as that of my family. Thus, while my soul craves sacred solitude, the necessity of surrender to daily duty is an ever-present reality. As the incomparable St. Therese once stated, “Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender.” I am a work in progress.

I know God must love me a lot. Not only did He bless me with a terrific husband, and eight lovely children, He continues to provide the daily challenges essential for sanctification. If Our Lord is sculpting a masterpiece from the marble of my soul, then the hammer, chisel, and sandpaper of daily life are as necessary in His vast eternal plan as the caress of His loving gaze. Like most seekers, there are days I feel that sandpaper and chisel more acutely than others.

Thus, the need to balance an active family life – in the flux of the world – with a contemplative prayer life – within the shelter of my soul – is a perpetual challenge. I find it a daily struggle to juggle the demands and desires of both aspects of my being.

Abide in Me ©, 2011-2012.

The trepidation that accompanies driving 8 kids to morning Mass at Holy Hill, amid snow and ice, via the bucket of bolts (my 96 Suburban) we affectionately termed “Mom’s Bus” is probably not what St. Paul had in mind when he penned the directive: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).” However, this admonition is one I take seriously. Without Holy Mass, daily Eucharist, and frequent Confession, the prospect of maintaining a placid, prayerful relationship with Christ, while living in the world would be an insurmountable task. Those moments of serenity are golden- the midnight rosary, a brief Adoration before Holy Mass, the joy of Holy Communion and a prolonged thanksgiving – all replenish my soul with supernatural grace. Armed with this treasure I am able to accomplish the tasks Our Lord has planned for me.

As I strive to achieve an appropriate balance between the demands of daily duty, and the desire for contemplative union with God, I seek the counsel of those who have successfully achieved this goal. Among my favorite spiritual writers is a little known French Carmelite Friar- a lay brother, who died on February 12, 1691. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection spent most of his religious life working in the kitchen of a busy Discalced Carmelite Monastery on the Rue de Vaugirard, in Paris. In this setting, he learned to balance the rigors of daily duty with an intense prayer life, and was rewarded with a profound union with God. His writings continue to guide spiritual seekers 300+ years after his death.

Live in My Love ©, 2011-2012.

Brother Lawrence developed an ability to live each moment in the Presence of God. Early in his monastic life, Brother Lawrence was assailed with spiritual darkness, and intense suffering. Like other spiritual greats (St. John of the Cross, Blessed Mother Teresa, St. Therese, St. Padre Pio to name a few), this Carmelite lay brother was acutely aware of his sins, feared damnation, and perceived himself as radically unworthy of the tremendous graces Our Lord chose to lavish upon him. This “dark night of the soul” was a tremendous trial for Brother Lawrence- but one he eventually conquered by surrendering it all to God’s Grace. This dedicated Carmelite endured intense anguish for a decade, at which time he vowed to endure this suffering for not only the remainder of his earthly life, but for all eternity if that were pleasing to Almighty God. Instantly, his spiritual chains were loosened, and he resolved to forever remain in the presence of God.

From that moment on, Brother Lawrence strove to live each and every moment cognizant of Our Lord’s intimate Presence. While this task was difficult early on, with humility and dedication, he found it possible to enjoy God’s presence in every moment of the day.

He states:

“I possess God as tranquility in the bustle of my kitchen – where sometimes several people are asking me for different things at one time – as if I were on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament (Walking With the Father, Wisdom From Brother Lawrence, Patricia Mitchell Gen. Editor, 1999, p. 10).”

With ardent desire, and faithful endeavor, Brother Lawrence found the secret of intense union with God, while fulfilling the necessities of daily life. He called this way of life “practicing the presence of God.” He passed each hour in heart-to-heart conversation with God, merely glancing in His direction when that was all duty allowed.

In his Spiritual Maxims, Brother Lawrence states:

“Next, the soul’s eyes must be kept on God, particularly when something is being done in the outside world. Since time and effort are needed to perfect this practice, one should not be discouraged by failure. Although the habit is difficult to form, it is the source of divine pleasure once it is learned (The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, Whitaker House ed. 1944).”

My Soul in Stillness Waits ©, 2011-2012. EA photographer

Brother Lawrence lived each day in humility, enjoying a continuing conversation with a loving God. Other great Saints have also written about the sublime beauty of this path to intimacy with our Creator. In both her Interior Castle and Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila details a straightforward path to sanctity, via an intimate relationship with God. The simplicity and success of this time-tested approach to spiritual union cannot be argued. Yet, as these great contemplatives note, persistence and humility are required for spiritual success.

From the Spiritual Maxims gleaned from Brother Lawrence’s letters and conversations, comes the following insight:

“You must continually try to make all of your actions, without distinction, a sort of little conversation with God – not in a rehearsed way but just as they happen, with purity and simplicity of heart pleasure (Walking With the Father, Wisdom From Brother Lawrence, Patricia Mitchell Gen. Editor, 1999, p. 127).”

Over the years I have stumbled upon many translations of Brother Lawrence’s work (Cosimo Classics and Whitaker Press are among my favorites) – in each the clear beauty of his message is conveyed. While out of humility Brother Lawrence attempted to destroy all of the letters and recollections written during his lifetime, his Abbot, Abbe de Beaufort, recognized their spiritual worth, and compiled what he could rescue into Practicing the Presence of God. Perhaps you may find Brother Lawrence’s simple wisdom as beneficial to your spiritual life as have I.

As we continue to journey through the desert with Christ, may we always walk in the Presence of God.


Ad Jesum per Mariam,