New Podcast Episode: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Photo Credit: The Speakroom (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Philippines)

New on The Mystical Life podcast, in honor of today’s Feast Day for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Father Robert Elias Barcellos, OCD, explains the role of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the life of the Carmelite order.

You can listen to this episode below, or subscribe on iTunes (and on Apple Podcasts) or iHeartRadio or your other favorite podcast app.

Welcome to “The Mystical Life”

Welcome and SUBSCRIBE to our new podcast called “The Mystical Life.” We’ve just launched a new way for you to take Carmelite spirituality and teaching with you on the road.

In our first podcast, Father Robert Elias Barcelos explains that true holiness and joy come from abiding and sharing in perfect Love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as exemplified by Saint John of the Cross

You can listen online here, or just search for “The Mystical Life” on the Apple Podcasts app or iTunes, and you’ll see this image:

When you subscribe to the podcast, you’ll automatically get all new episodes as we create them.

Brother John Mark Charlesworth, OCD: The Holy Trinity

The Sea of Galilee, Photo credit: Miriam Lopez
Click on the triangle to listen to Brother John Mark, OCD sing his composition of a song about The Holy Trinity

NOTE: Brother John Mark is a friar at Mount Saint Josephs Monastery in San Jose, California. One of his many hobbies is writing poetical lyrics and transposing them onto well-known Catholic tunes.

What love henceforth comes from my heart,
To Thee my God, as One yet Three,
But how can I in Thee take part?
By what Each One does lovingly.

I thank Thee Father for Thy love,
For deigning I, created be,
Sustaining too, that high above,
I someday love eternally.

For sharing now with love Thyself,
For gift of faith, for Church of Thine,
And all relations, vows, and health,
As all’s by Providence, Divine.

I thank Thee Jesus, loving so,
For Incarnation, life on Earth,
Thy granting grace, that love may grow,
For Passion having endless worth.

For Sacraments, such gifts, sublime,
And by them, grace throughout my days,
For Mary, being Mother, mine,
Enkindling love with loving gaze.

I thank Thee, Spirit, Love, Divine,
For love enflaming deep within,
That I may love with love of Thine,
As Heaven, here below, begins,

For having one so weak proclaim,
No matter what, deep love and praise,
For having love change all to gain,
As in Thy hands, I’m all my days.

O Trinity, with love of Thine,
Art reaching deep within to me
Thy very Self, Thy Love Divine,
I love unto eternity! Amen.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: ‘Do you love me?’

Click on triangle to play. SOURCE: Santa Clara OCDS Friar’s Conference, May 2019.
Father Robert Elias, OCD

NOTE: I am reposting this to include the audio. All posts on The Speakroom in June will come from previous posts. Our team needs this month to work on back-end projects like developing more social media presence through Instagram, Facebook, Podcasts, and products on Shopify.

JOHN 21: 1-19

At that time, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”

They said to him, “We also will come with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being raised from the dead.

by John August Swanson

One of the most popular books in the past is The Five Languages, a book about how people by their character, communicate love.  Most of us are better at one or two rather than all.  The languages are

  • Words of Affirmation – People who speak words of life in their ordinary life, are able to see the Lord in the other person; they can acknowledge a person’s beauty and purpose, and draw it out of them. They validate a person’s sense of being lovable; this gift is not that common
  • Touch – Giving expressions of love through embrace and touch
  • Actions – Giving through works of devotion & service; this gift is usually found in men (as in household repairs). Doing something that is helpful.
  • Gift giving – The ability to find and give gifts that expresses the essence of a person
  • Quality Time –Spending important time together.  Even though it doesn’t feel like we’re doing something productive, I’m here for you.

The gift of Quality Time is the lens through which we must understand prayer and contemplation – being with God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus asks Peter the most important question – Do you love me? The first two times he asks, Jesus says, in the Greek translation, “Do you agape me?”  He was asking Peter to go to the next level of living in His love.  Agape is that self-sacrificing, self-annihilating love.  It is a radical, divine love that we’re all capable of –but it requires stripping.  It is the white, hot love that is divine and eternal, yet it happens now.

Agape love is summarized in John 15, ‘That you lay down your life for the one you love.’  There has to be a sacrifice, a holocaust and cost to self for the other. As a result, the gift of self is amplified.

Our Lord asks this important question, ‘Do you love me?’ –  to Peter, who is being put on the spot in front of his friends by the charcoal fire. And he is being humbled by it that he may learn the lessons of humility in order for him to truly love. 

The last time Peter was at charcoal fire, he denied having known our Lord, when he had just earlier in the day, sworn that he would do anything for Him.  Peter’s disordered self-love prepared the way for his fall, though he really did love Jesus.   He really did love the Lord, but Peter was fearful. 

Peter reveals that fight between flesh and spirit in every human being, the weakness of humanity left to ourselves apart from the grace of God.  Left to ourselves, we’re no better; like Peter, our real character and virtues are seen in positions of adversities.

But Peter was transformed after his own experience of cowardice and weakness apart from Our Lord. We have to have a true sense of who we are apart from God so that pride can’t get in the way of real love –humility allows our soul to be better cultivated for a lasting fruit of Love that doesn’t come just from human motive, but from God.

In this exchange, Jesus calls Peter Simon, Son of John. Why?  Peter represents rock; Simon represents sand.  Peter is the title he had been endowed with by Christ-  ‘the boss in charge,’  ‘the head hancho.’  Jesus doesn’t call him by his title but by his humanity. He calls him by his old name, by which those who knew him as a child knew him, and reminds Peter who he is left to himself.

Jesus wants to speak to the child, the vulnerable in Peter because He wants to bring strength in his weakness.  He is bringing him back to Galilee, his first calling and first love.   As you remember, Jesus called Peter first as he was fishing.  Now, He is renewing Peter’s calling at a time when Peter was about to give up his vocation, and just wants to go back and continue fishing.

Jesus asks ‘Do you love me’ three times to make reparation for the three times Peter denied him.  In so doing, He gives Peter the chance to renew his calling and to repair his vocation to Love.  Now, Peter learns the humility and has the proper foundations to be a servant of Love.

In the Greek translation, Peter does not respond with the agape word for love, but with the word, eros, which is a friendship love.  Before, when he overestimated himself, he could say that he could give Jesus the agape love.  But now, after having been humbled, he is finally acknowledging and can admit that he can’t love Jesus in the way Jesus has loved him. 

The third time, Jesus asks the question, He says, ‘Do you eros me,’ and that is when Peter is able to say, ‘Yes, Lord.’  This shows us that Jesus accepts us as we are and not as we should be.  The Lord knew that Peter had no more to give and wasn’t ready to give an agape love, but He still appointed him to be the leader and shepherd of His Church.

Jesus accepts us as long as we are giving all that we can give, and it is His Love that allows as to grow in Love.  According to Saints John of the Cross and Teresa, we are unable to give that agape love until the 5th mansion, which is where the Holy Spirit is doing all the work.  We can’t get to agape love without the Holy Spirit.  

But before that, God has to purify us, and we have to be willing to undergo the painful, humiliating journey.

Eventually, at Pentecost, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, after he had been purified, Peter is able to love with the agape love.  After Pentecost, Peter is able to rejoice that he was counted worthy to suffer insult for the sake of Jesus’ name.  Only the agape love of the Holy Spirit was able to bring this about in Peter and can bring it about in us.

Jesus’s love is so profoundly and scandalously humble. In the Book of Revelations, we see the lamb being glorified and exalted. Why not the eagle or the lion?  The lamb is the sacrificial animal, which represents the sacrifice of Love. The Most High became the most low for our sake.  He didn’t need to do it; God doesn’t need anything. But He did it all for us.  He says, ‘I am giving my life – for those whom I love.’

The whole universe exalts in the victory of the Lamb.

From the shore of Galilee, Jesus asks the disciples to put the net on the right side of the boat. The moment Peter obeyed, he received a super abundance of grace.

Peter had to be stripped and emptied, which is represented by his ‘stripped’ clothing during this account, when he tucks his garments and swims toward Jesus after recognizing Him. Similarly, once we choose God’s will over ours, and strip ourselves, that is when we really begin to live a more abundant life, through the Lord’s provision and not what we do ourselves. 

At first the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus, which represents a spiritual journey that involves a dynamism of awareness and mystery.  They only realized who he was at the breaking of the bread and at the feeding of fish, and when He acknowledges that He will feed them with that agape love.

The humility of God is so radical. When St. Augustine had not yet discovered God in his life, when he was seeking truths in the wisdom of the day and all its eloquence, he was at first disappointed by Scripture; it was too simple and lacked the language of the sages he studied.  However, as he grew in faith, he discovered the hidden wisdom of Christ that exuded from scripture. 

That is how God always works – he chooses the humble instruments to hide His grace. Only the humble can find the hidden treasure.

In Eastern iconography, the paintings are stark, but they are a bridge to prayer. Only when a person enters into the simplicity of the image in prayer, can they experience God’s grace and beauty in the icon.  Only through prayer can that be received.

And there’s nothing more humble than the Eucharist, which is where we receive God’s agape love.  He calls all of us to be his lambs and to live a life of Love.  He trains us through a life that is nourished by sacrifice; this is the action of God’s movement in us. 

The measure by which we unite ourselves with the light of Love through The Lamb, and the transformation of love in this life, is the measure that we will we share in His blessing forever and ever.

SOURCE: Santa Clara Order of Discalced Carmelite Seculars (OCDS) Formation, Father Robert Elias Barcelos, May 2019

Father Robert Elias, OCD: at the Holy Sepulcher

A loose transcription of the Homily is below:

The Word, Jesus Christ, penetrates this great mystery of mysteries in being welcomed and privileged to enter into the Holy of Holies, the innermost dwelling place, God’s sacred heart.  God so loved the world that He revealed to us this Holy of Holies of who He most deeply is.   This is best expressed, and imparted through His Son. God the Father, the eternal, I am who am, Adonai, Eloahim, El Shadai – communicates His love, divine affection and identity in His Word made flesh.

And His Word, God’s self-understanding and knowledge of Himself, is given to us out of love, in His Son, who was born into the world. The Creator entered into His own creation to give His life through the cross. This was the impetus, the pulling of Jesus’ life; He was magnetically pulled to Jerusalem the whole thirty-three years of His life. He came into the world to die because His death would be the greatest life this world would ever see, and it would be life-giving; it would destroy death and the obstacles to being made in God’s image and likeness.

Every human being – whether they believe in God or not, whether they know Jesus or not, whether they are Christian or not – have been built in the image and likeness of God , and are built with an innate potential to know and love God. This potential – for which we are all made – for everlasting happiness through a knowledge of God and His truth is tapped into in an unprecedented way in Jesus Christ. God’s love is given to us in a universal, unrepeatable manner in Yeshua, the Messiah, the Anointed One.

In Christ’s baptism, God the Father declared to His Son, ‘This is my beloved.’ This is the one I want to give you to know Me. Because no one can come to the Father except through the Son. And there’s only one mediator, one bridge between heaven and earth, and His name is Jesus of Nazareth. There is no other name under heaven by which we shall be saved than by the name of Jesus.

This is God’s greatest self-communication out of compassion – the full revelation, the full splendor, the full beauty of His truth is revealed in Jesus and His Holy Face. We cannot look upon the face of God in all its glory and majesty apart from Yeshua.And when we meditate on the cross of Jesus – this greatest sermon of the Prophet above all prophets; who shares in the divine being and nature of the Father, Jesus the only begotten Son of the Father;  whose whole life is perfectly revealed on the cross, the capstone of His sacred humanity – we see the whole mission of Jesus.

Remember, He lived thirty years hidden and in obscurity, and only three years in public ministry. We can never for a moment dare to think that those thirty years were not important, even though they were obscure, hidden, and unknown. Though he wasn’t manifesting publicly, those hidden years are utterly important because by His very love, He was redeeming the world. 

His hidden years remind us that our hidden life – every sacrifice we make; every ‘No’ we say to sin in the secrecy of our thoughts and the allurements to the world in the desires of our hearts; every ‘No’ that we make to Satan in fighting temptations in our spiritual battles, seen to no one else but the eyes of God – are all very important for our salvation, and what it means to live by the Spirit of Jesus and not by the flesh. The hidden battles are all very, very important to work out our salvation and to allow our faith to be built up by love. 

And what is love? It isn’t about our feelings, but our choices.  ‘Even though I don’t feel Jesus, I choose Jesus.’  That’s love. ‘At whatever cost to myself, I choose You, Jesus, even when I don’t understand – be it done unto me as the Lord wills ; not my will but Thy will be done.’ That’s salvation working itself out. That’s the Holy Spirit coming to new birth in you by your being crucified with Christ.

Why do we meditate on the Passion? -to inspire love and courage to say ‘No!” to the world, the flesh, and to Satan.  And ‘Yes!” to Jesus; to inspire the determination to persevere until the end, – as a believer, a disciple, and a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. 

That is not easy. It will require spiritual warfare, a war against my flesh, against secular mentalities that are opposed to the Lord, a war against Satan’s cunning and snares, and who will try and keep me from being wholly united to Christ for the glory of God.

As Christian Catholics, we meditate on the Passion so that we can grow in the love beyond all telling – to love even though it hurts, to see our crosses, our inconveniences, our discomforts, our contradictions, our unknowing, our mysteries, our afflictions – to unite all that to Jesus in order to receive a proper redemptive perspective, a resurrected vision to everything we have to go through to get to heaven.

We meditate on the Passion to know that the victory is ours. No matter what you go through, it will grow you.  The victory belongs to us.  God will bring good out of everything and we need to be reminded of this because we are all prone to discouragement.

Your human nature is no different from mine. My human nature is no different than yours.  Our human nature is no different from any of the saints whom we honor because they help us give greater glory to God. We’re all in the same boat – we are all sinners.

But as Christian Catholics, we are all beggars and we know where the bread is. It is in the Word of God and the Word of God made flesh in the Blessed Sacrament: as true presence and not symbol; as a bringing back to life again the sacred mysteries of Jesus;  as an extension of the incarnation;  as a feasting of victory; as an entering into – now – who we shall be with God for all eternity.

We are here, in a modest chapel that is meant to represent coming out of the tomb because though Jesus is on the cross in our churches to symbolically remind us of the love and price of our salvation, and to inspire us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, we know that in heaven, Jesus is no longer on the cross.

The Holy Sepulcher: the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.
Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jerusalem, 2018)

Jesus is risen! He is resurrected! He is victorious!  And He already prepares a mansion and dwelling place for us to share in this victory – and we are all called to share in His victory of love over evil, of life over darkness.

Where does that battle start? It starts in my thinking and my attitude – I must convert my attitude and my way of thinking. Then the conversion must go to my speaking, my words. I must live in the light of God’s love, His truth, and His grace. The whole battle begins in my thoughts and is in the mind.

Our thoughts are formed by our past experiences, relationships, and emotions.  I must claim the victory of Jesus’ resurrection and the significance of that resurrection for me as His child and beloved friend. 

I must allow the significance of the resurrection to change and transform me in my identity. I’m still moody, I can still get depressed, I can still get nervous and anxious.  We all do! We’re all on the same boat. We all have the same flesh. If you hit me, I am going to bruise and bleed just like anybody else.

But we use the truths in Jesus as a weapon of strength to be transformed by the renewal of our mind, to know God’s will in what is true, good, and beautiful, and to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice of praise to His glory.  This is how we live by the Spirit.

If we don’t start with our thoughts and our words, it will be very hard to control our choices and actions.  We will be guided by our impulses.  The battle and the victory all starts in the mind, which connects to the heart.

Today, we give our hearts to Jesus, that He may bring about a resurrection now.  To be a Catholic Christian in Christ means that Jesus’ resurrection has impacted my life personally. Jesus is real to me.  He is not just a historical figure, or an image or statue in my house; He is a living being, a living savior in my heart and soul. The resurrection has given me new birth.

I am still weak, I still have faults, and I still make mistakes – but my savior is with me, and I know in whom I place my trust. And nothing is impossible for His mercy.

His mercy will accompany me.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: the divine time of Holy Week

Click on the triangle to listen to the audio.

SOURCE: Lent 2019, Conference to Santa Clara, CA OCDS, Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD

Palm Sunday, often known as Passion Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week.  It is when our Blessed Lord entered into Jerusalem in triumph. It was a foretaste, a prefiguring of His victory of the resurrection.  But He knew that the same people who were praising and celebrating Him would turn their backs on Him, totally backstab Him, and cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

We as the body of Christ who love Jesus, in reading that long gospel on Palm Sunday, and in taking the parts of the people –  it hurts us to have to say those words. 

During Holy Week, we are called to enter into one, the reality of His Divine Mercy and two – into our responsibility to enter into this grace; recognizing that because of our human woundedness, when we fail in charity and true love for others, as our expression of true love of God -–, we too are subconsciously crying out ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!”

This understanding calls us to conversion, to allow Jesus to give us heart surgery, that He may take out what is not of His Spirit and put in what is. Holy Week is calling us to enter into the holiness of God’s heart as perfectly revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s so hard for most people, who aren’t brought up in the faith, who don’t yet know Jesus as Lord and God -Man, to recognize that Jesus is more than just a teacher, an important religious figure, a spiritual hero, a holy man, a western version of the Buddha, a prophet – or any representation of Him. He is more than Muhammad; He is more than Elijah.

It takes the grace of the Holy Spirit through the enlightenment of the Father to recognize that Jesus, as Hebrews Chapter 1 says, is the perfect image of God’s divine being, the refulgence of His glory in human form.

Colossians, Chapter 1, says that the whole universe came into existence and being through God’s Beloved Son, His Eternal Word.  That revelation recognizes that everything came into being, and received its life through the Divine Word of God’s only-begotten son. In His self-communication, He came in as the second person of the Blessed Trinity and He would become incarnate, taking on the name Yeshua – Yahweh saves; Immanuel -the Divine Reality of God in our midst.

It takes the grace of God to recognize that Jesus is more than just an awesome human being.

When we enter into Holy Week, in order for it to have its full impact, we must come with this understanding as the basis of our faith. But then there’s a second part.  We must not only recognize Jesus as Lord, but recognize that He is Lord now, today. 

Jerusalem towards Mount of Olives. Photo credit The Speakroom. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019.
Jerusalem towards Mount of Olives. Photo credit The Speakroom. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019.

He is present now in the celebration of the sacred mysteries through the Divine Liturgy, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, through the Mass – Missa – the Mission of God – the communication of God. God is bringing back to life, today, here and now, the reality of who He is and what He did once and for all.

Who He is and what He did in embracing all of us on the cross and lifting all of us personally through the resurrection – is being made present, real, and alive again.  It is being given again as if we were Jesus’ contemporaries.
How is this happening? This is the Theology of the Sacraments, the Theology of Mysticism – the mystery of Christ in our midst.  We’re called to enter into this mystery of God embracing us through Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

When we celebrate Passion Sunday, when we celebrate Holy Thursday, the continuation of Jesus’ priesthood through His ministers, the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, His Divine Presence in the Eucharist; when we celebrate Good Friday, His life-giving death – that death may not be the end of the story, but the transition of our story to our total destiny; when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, especially during the Easter Vigil, when it is celebrated with reverence – all of these aspects of the Liturgy is Jesus bringing back to life again, the most sacred mystery that ever happened on this planet. 

God wants that most sacred gift of Himself to be our possession. He wants to possess us through the Holy Spirit.

The Theology of the Sacraments teaches that God’s sacred gift happens, not in a physical or literal way. Jesus isn’t suffering or being crucified again. The spiritual significance of what he did, is being given to us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit by way of signs – every thing that we use physically and materially to express the mystery.

For instance, in the sacrament of Baptism we use water; in the Eucharist, we use bread and wine, at the Easter Vigil, we use candles; we have chrism oils.  All of these are signs that point to the perfect reality that God is giving Himself to us and through these signs, God gives us the actual grace – the Holy Spirit.  He manifests Himself.

Baptism is such a simple sacrament. The ideal method is immersion, because it expresses our immersion into the life of God. But even with just the sprinkling of a few drops of water, the same reality happens.  It is totally invisible to our senses.  We don’t see the transformation, but in the essence of that person’s soul, a metamorphosis takes place.  The Word is made flesh. Through faith, we receive this grace, though our senses don’t perceive it.

Another understanding of entering Holy Week to worship God in spirit and in truth is that we receive from the Liturgy what we put in it through faith. In the measure that we have an understanding and knowledge of what is happening intellectually or intuitively, our heart’s faith is fueled to enter into the mystery that we may allow ourselves to be loved by Jesus here and now. 

The measure of our understanding allows Him to take possession of our lives, and to have His mystery be enfleshed in our lives; it allows His cross and resurrection to transform our lives in the way that the cross is already present.

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin (1846)

How is the cross present in your life? 

It is already there.  You don’t’ have to look for one. It’s in your son who doesn’t go to church, who gives you a hard time, and pushes you to witness to your faith by your actions rather than by your words – more than by your nagging him to go to Church.  It’s in your daughter who is sick with illness like cancer.  It’s in your husband who, when you get home, is just asleep on the couch; but your dog gives you more joy than your husband does! 

It’s there in countless ways when your heart, which is made for love, is disappointed.

It’s there in every way that your love is challenged.  It’s there every way you experience your own brokenness and limitation and inability to love with freedom.  The cross is everywhere.

The question is, what do we do with it?

Do we dismiss it as an inconvenience and a contradiction? As a nuisance and a curse? Or do we embrace it and accept it as a blessing in disguise? Do we accept it as the wisdom and power of God? As a promise to something better, as a potential that can teach us something and ignite passion in our hearts? 

The cross is already there.

How we embrace the cross will make the difference in how beautiful our crown will be.  You can have a little itty-bitty crown – if you want a little cross. If you want a big crown, you need a big cross.  Simple as that.  The bigger your cross, the bigger your crown.

The more you concretely participate in the sacrifice of Jesus through your choices, the more you will share in His victorious glory.  The choice is ours. May He strengthen us to have courage.  May he strengthen us to have the faith to persevere. May he strengthen us to become saints.

Father Robert Elias, OCD – Carmel & Elijah’s Spirit of Prophesy

Press the triangle to listen to this audio (40 minutes)

SOURCE: Lent 2019 Formation Conference for Carmelite Novices & Postulants by Father Robert Elias, OCD. Mount Saint Josephs Monastery, San Jose, CA

(Below is a loose transcription of the audio)

The spirit of prophesy is embedded in Carmel’s identity. It is the breath of Carmel in the Holy Spirit. Elijah is the greatest prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures and he embodies for us what the life of a prophet looks like at its greatest. It takes on different forms and we all have a different calling to a spirit of prophesy in Carmel..

As our spiritual father, and as Edith Stein says in a short article on Carmelite spirituality, the presence of Elijah as our spiritual father is not some type of legend or myth.  He isn’t simply a historical figure of our imagination. He’s a real presence and communication of Christ’s grace that is personal and relatable.

Elijahis capable of befriending and fathering us in Carmel; much like a more modern and contemporary saint like Padre Pio, who is more relatable, is acknowledged today by many as a spiritual father.  Elijah is just as much as real as a saint and father to us. But this understanding is harder for us in the Western Church to acknowledge than  those in the Eastern Church.

The spirit of prophesy has always intrigued me. My first personal introduction to the vocation of the prophet before I came to know Jesus Christ as Lord is through  the book The Prophet written by Kahlil Gibran, who was a Lebanese poet and artist, probably of Maronite Christian descent. This understanding of prophet has remained a vital part of my soul’s quest for union with God. 

What does it mean to be a prophet?

Throughout scripture from Genesis to Apocalypse, we see a spirit of prophesy. The spirit of prophesy is very much part of the Judea-Christian tradition. When we look at comparative mysticism in other religious, in the eastern mystical religions, like  Hinduism and Buddhism, their understanding does not have a prophetic tradition in the way we do in the Judeo Christian understanding, with Elijah as our model.

In the Old Testament, Moses prayed that his spirit of prophesy would be bestowed on the 72 elders, when his father-in-law said that he needed to delegate his duties and to pray that what God had given him would be given to others.  Because only a person that has a spirit of prophesy can give the spirit of prophesy.  You can’t give what you don’t have.

But what did he give them? It says in scripture that ‘The spirit came upon them and they prophesied.’

What did that mean? That question has always been a curiosity that has led me to a quest in finding this treasure.

The Wisdom literature describes a prophet as an intimate friend of God, someone who has a personal experience, and direct contact with the living, transcendent God, and who has a heart knowledge of this Divine Being. And as a result of this friendship, they are called, often reluctantly, to communicate to a people who are deaf and not listening.

The relationship first involves contemplative prayer, which is then shared.  The prophet bears the burden of divine mercy, according to Thomas Merton. You’ve experienced a cutting of your heart and now that you’ve allowed this healing, God asks that you communicate this same grace to others. 

But here’s the catch.  They may kill you as a result because they are blinded by the sin like the prodigal son. You have the responsibility now that you know God intimately, to communicate a truth, which will be an inconvenience and a controversy to the people.  That’s the burden of divine mercy.  That’s one of the vocations of the prophet of Carmel. 

One of the great wisdoms of Eastern Christian mysticism, teaches that a lay person can have a spirit of prophesy more than a priest – neumaticos – a person anointed with the Spirit to pray with power. ‘This power is not human eloquence or wisdom,’ as St. Paul says.  St. James in the fifth chapter of his letter, says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful indeed and he says, ‘remember Elijah who by his very words called fire upon heaven to consume the idolatrous offerings’

The power of prayer can only be inspired by God. St. Paul says in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and those who pray by the power of the Holy Spirit, pray by the anointing of God.  This praying with power is what Jesus calls us to.

But we first have to believe in the power of God’s word, and that faith will empower us by the Holy Spirit, having penetrated and changed our lives by the renewal of our mind with truths that are not of this world.

The prophet isn’t zealous for the law in of itself.  The prophet is zealous for the spirit of the law.  The prophet has the wisdom, insight, and spiritual vision to see the presence of God and what His will is in different situations, and desires His will.

St. John of the Cross is the best example of someone with the evangelical spirit of prophesy.  The prophet is not a legalist or a Pharisee. St. John says that there is no cookie cutter, sound byte that will fit every soul.  Every soul is unique and you have to be open to the mystery of how God is working in each person.

That doesn’t mean relativism, but that God’s spirit is incarnate in people uniquely and is given as gift in each soul in the order of their ability to understand.  The spirit of prophesy is not based on externals or obsessed with accidentals; it is not pharisaical,  but it longs for the essence, the pure spring.

The Carmelite Rule mentions the Spring of Elijah – the spring of the Holy Spirit by which we are able to enter into the gift of God as I a who Am – Love. The spirit of prophesy is that  of simplicity, humility, and purity of heart to be able t o realize with Easter eyes, the true presence of Jesus – in His essence, in the Holy Spirit.

For example, Carmel’s cry in the wilderness, it’s longing can be expressed in the two words – ‘God Alone.’ These wordsexpress a heart knowledge of God as the ground of life, as I am who Am, as the absolute Absolute.  And the one thing necessary is to love Love with all one’s life. Everything else is a distant second to that.

Carmel finds this pure love in silence – in the nada – that holy nothingness of entering into communion with God that is beyond anything that can limit His gift of Himself to us – the transcendent God.

To enter into a pure gift of God’s love is to pray with power, with the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy of Holies. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us to that place, that Holy of Holies.

An interior life with God is the essence of the spirit of prophesy.  It means Faith in the power of prayer, confidence in god’s faithfulness, and taking Him and his promises at His word.  He does not abandon his children. He does not divorce his bride.

The prophet proclaims God as divine mercy, not as laws. He’s not fixating in anything but God alone. Our religion isn’t a matter of a list of rules. The rules are indispensable, especially Jesus’ commandment to love God and to love your neighbor – but these rules are for divine communion.

 At the same time, when the prophet sees commandments desecrated in culture, the prophet is called by God to awaken people’s consciences to something that God sees as important about our humanity and our moral life.

This is why many prophets are martyrs.  One author said, ‘The purpose of life is to love with your whole being and might. And if you do it, they’ll kill you.’  Even though we are made to know and love God, those who actually communicate this love – the saints- will have to suffer for it.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate example.

A prophet is called to witness to God’s mighty love. Transformation in this divine love is the ultimate longing of the prophet and the heart of Carmel. This grace possesses two wings– silence and solitude.  That is how we are called to live the Carmelite Mystical and Prophetic charisms.

The Mystical expresses the gift of God – the Prophetic aspect expresses the responsibility – the demands this love makes so that we can become who we are in Christ.  Love is a gift and a responsibility. It’s not easy. It requires true death to the ego and sacrifice.

As members of Carmel, we are descendants and heirs of prophets.  Saint Elijah,  our father, stands as a bedrock; he is our source of inspiration as he burns with zeal for God’s glory. As Catholics we don’t question that idea as a Protestant would.

When Protestants hear that anyone other than Jesus is a source of inspiration, it’s taken as idolatry. But for Catholics, we see Elijah as Jesus in miniature. Jesus is the new Elijah – His ministry and miracles are a perfection of what God did in Elijah. The saints are an echo of Christ, an extension of Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to us.

As Carmelites, we celebrate people like Elijah because he exudes Jesus to us and embodies Him.  We praise God for friends in these places.  Elijah means ‘My Lord is God’ – his name describes his identity and essence. God is the substance, not the substitute – of his life.

Luther venerated Mary very much, but the rationale behind the protest of the Protestants was that many uneducated Catholics would make the saints the substance of their lives and not Jesus – and yes that was idolatry. To make anyone the substance of one’s life is a substitute.  We’re called to make God alone as the substance, the center of our lives, and we are not to give that holy of holies to anyone else.

The prophet is called to cast out the false god in people’s lives, and to break the chains of attachments that enslaves us to a lesser self.   And the truth is the sword by which chains are broken in Jesus’s name.  The truth unmasks the lie and imparts the faith that allows God to work the miracle of freedom in our lives.  This is the teaching of Saint John of the Cross, a contemplative way that sets us free from our attachments. And like Jesus he didn’t despise anything that God made in itself – the problem is not a person or a material thing, but how our heart relates to it.

The ultimate false god in this world is money.  Our Lord says you can’t love  both God and money, because money can mislead our hearts into a mindset that is not of God. But the error is to make the false conclusion that money is evil.  That is not holistic Christian thinking – scripture says the LOVE of money, not the money itself, which leads to evil.

I am very aware that my tongue can be used for great good or great harm in regards to using it in anger. Scripture says that ‘life and death are in the power of the tongue.’ Because I have sinned with my tongue in a moment of righteous indignation, chopping off the head of others,  the way Elijah did,  with my tongue – I am sinning. That is not pleasing to God because charity is being sinned against. The ultimate rule of life is Jesus Christ and his commandment to love your neighbor. It is better to be righteous than to be right. 

But does that mean I should cut off my tongue – of course not. The right way of relating to something the evil is not the thing itself, but how it is used.  The Prophet is called to set captives free from their slavery and a prophet can do that in prayer, but there’s usually a time when a prophet is called to speak, and their mouth is meant to be the instrument of God’s Holy Spirit of grace and of  Jesus Christ saving souls.

Zelos zelatus sum – with zeal I have been zealous for the Lord.  Elijah is the man of zeal, the prophet of fire who is a champion of the true God, and a herald of God’s mercy.  He is spiritual warrior who breathes the fire of God.  We are called to breathe the same fire of Elijah– the fire of the Holy Spirit. And we too will have to be purified in the interior deserts of life.  There is no true prophet who has not experienced deep purification and healing.  Prophets are often led into the desert so that God can work in them, and so that He can use them to help others in a way that builds and exhorts.

To conclude, we pray that the Holy Spirit lavish upon  us, Jesus’ divine love,  that the humanizing power of the gospel stir us to be zealous with passion for the Lord God of hosts who loves us fervently unto the full.  Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Lent & the Carmelite desert identity

 

By Romero Zafra

(40 minutes) – To listen to this audio, click on the triangle.

SOURCE: Lent 2019. Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD at Mount Saint Joseph’s Monastery, San Jose, California.

Living our identity

LIVING OUR IDENTITY
(Teresa Linda, 2/2019)

You, oh Lord,
Who multiply out of nothing
Are our God and King.
And we thank You and praise You,
For every gift you have given creation.

How is it, our Lord,
That in the perfection of your Fatherhood,
Through the power of the Spirit,
And with the incarnation of Your Son, the Christ,
We have come to be your adopted children?

We desire, our God and King
To live this identity – in this life
Not just in the life to come – but in this life

For You who have promised and willed,
On earth as it is in heaven,
Have made all truth come to pass.

Only, let us not get in Your way, oh Lord,
And give us the grace to move
In You, with You, and through You
In our every breathing