Teresa Linda, ocds: new forms of vulnerability

Do you support Trump? Is the Pope orthodox enough?  Which child is most vulnerable and therefore needs to be defended the most – the one in the womb, the boy left to drown in the Greek Sea, or the girl forced into prostitution? Unwittingly, these questions have divided Catholics.

Driving home from this year’s Walk for Life, I realized that because of our divisions, Catholics have given up an opportune time to reclaim the rhetoric of “Pro-Life.” As a result, the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church were re-appropriated by The Women’s March, a movement that clearly has anti-Catholic positions, but one that has captured the hearts and minds of many young people in this nation, including my daughter.

In San Francisco, the Pro-Life March and the Women’s March happened on the same day, back to back, forcing my daughter, who is a senior and a social justice leader at her Catholic school, to choose between the two marches, lest she not have time to finish her homework.  This is no surprise since our family has always been attuned to these issues, having spent formative years in West Philadelphia during the height of the crack epidemic. In addition, among the goals and criteria of my daughter’s school is that students “understand the complex social problems of their day and respond to human suffering.”

But having the two marches back to back caused a bit of disruption in our otherwise united household. My husband and I wanted to attend Walk for Life, but my daughter wanted to attend the Women’s March with students, nuns, and teachers from her school. It didn’t matter to her that one of the primary sponsors of the march was Planned Parenthood and that Pro-Life sponsors had been removed from the Women’s March; she wasn’t attending the march to support abortion, she reasoned, but she was attending because she saw this as a moment in history to stand with others against injustice and outright exclusion of the most vulnerable. With that reasoning behind her, I couldn’t say no.

On Saturday morning, while my husband and I were cooking a meal for a handful of Walk for Life participants, our daughter was gathering her belongings for the Women’s March: a pink cotton, brimmed hat, a shirt that said “I love nuns,” and her rain boots.

I have been attending Walk for Life since it’s inception several years ago; abortion-rights protesters would reel at us with anger in their faces, metal hangers clutched in their hands and screaming at the top of their lungs. Over the years those types of protests have calmed down, but this year, the day after Donald Trump’s Presidential inauguration, and the same day as the Women’s March, the abortion-rights protesters seemed to be back in full force. There were other signs of a changing world. In one major intersection, a policeman was standing while holding the most powerful automatic weapon I have ever seen. Fifty yards away from him, a dump truck had been parked on the middle of the street to prevent any terrorist from driving through the crowds.

As I walked alongside a group of Carmelite Fathers and postulants from Mount Saint Josephs Monastery, I heard several taunts from the abortion-rights activists who lined the streets. Their rage seemed to rise as the Fathers, wearing their brown habits and white capes approached each group.

“Stop judging!”
“Catholics are bigots!”
“If you’re pro-life, you should be anti-war!”
“Open your eyes, Catholics!”
“My body, my choice!”

As someone who has walked with and lived with the urban poor and the most vulnerable populations; as a mother who was once told that one of my choices was to abort my son because of his misdiagnosed brain tumor; as a woman of prayer who constantly carries the pain of the homeless and those trapped by war and poverty in my heart, I inwardly bristled at these taunts.

Later that same afternoon, my daughter would be at the Women’s March leading a crowd of young people to chants:

“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!”
“Show me what democracy looks like – this is what democracy looks like!”

Walk for Life ended calmly at the end of Market and Embarcadero, and the crush of Women’s March supporters began to appear. They filled the BART train from Oakland to the Civic Center Plaza, wall to wall, wearing their pink ‘kitty’ hats and signs with hearts that read, “Unity and Love.”

Without any obvious sign that I had just participated in Walk for Life, the women smiled at me and at one another.  Holding their oversized placards, they fell on top of each other and laughed it off each time the train suddenly stopped. Strangely, it felt like World Youth Day, when I was in Madrid with seventy young women from throughout California.

The reality that the number of Women’s March supporters far outnumbered the Walk for Life supporters became obvious when I got off at our BART stop on the Peninsula.  Serpentine lines of people heading into San Francisco curled behind the ticket dispensers throughout the station. I could barely get to the stairs that led to my car.

Exactly what did the Women’s March stand for? According to its Unity Principles , the purpose of the march was to stand in unity for:

1) Ending violence
2) Workers Rights
3) Civil Rights
4) Disability Rights
5) Immigrant Rights
6) Environmental Justice
7) Reproductive Rights
8) LGBTQIA Rights

The Church has always stood for human dignity, as opposed to rights. Replace the word, rights above with dignity (of) and you have the core of Catholic Social Justice teachings. However, because Catholics were largely silent on the dignity of all of human life, another movement was able to take the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church, and twist that language to support an agenda that supports the rights of a few, rather than the human dignity of all.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes, “it is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability.”  The Women’s March captivated the hearts and minds of millions of people precisely because it drew near to “new forms of poverty and vulnerability.” In fact, in the United States, 1 out of every 100 people participated in one of the Women’s Marches.

The Pope continues in Evangelii Gaudium, that in these “new forms of vulnerability”… “we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others. Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all.”

“Stop judging!…Catholics are bigots!”– In  union and solidarity,  “it is essential,” in the words of Pope Francis, that Catholics embrace the dignity of all life, “without frontiers.” Otherwise, the Church of Mercy will continue to be accused of being the Church of Judgment and Bigotry. We might even find ourselves one day waking up from our daze wondering why so many have left the Church to defend causes that, ironically, it has stood for since Jesus called Peter, the Rock.

Copyright Teresa Linda 2017. All Rights Reserved

‘Arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth.  Pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’

Teresa Linda, ocds: they are Christ

Editor’s note: Teresa Linda is a community college Composition and Literature professor. She has raised four children with her husband Mark, who is also her partner in all endeavors, including this site. Teresa is a Formation Instructor in the Santa Clara, CA Secular Community of Discalced Carmelites.

THEY ARE CHRIST                 (Fall 2015 Semester)

Each day, my students walk through the classroom doorway – their threshold of hope.

Girls who are mothers,
Boys who are fathers.
Or overnight, if a parent dies –
from brother to father; from daughter to mother.

Women in their teens and twenties,
Whose faces belie the pain,
Of loving men addicted to drugs,
That make them violent and forget their children.

Young people who care for dying family members,
Squeezing studies between forty-hour work weeks
And visits to the hospital.
Barely adults themselves, they are thrust forcefully into adulthood.

The virility of youth stolen,
Without warning,
By bacterial meningitis, cancer, diabetes – all kinds of disease.
A stray bullet.  Intentional gunfire. Knife wounds.

Hopes buoyed,
By an American Dream that must be delayed,
Seemingly into eternity,
For families who  have trekked thousands of miles by boat, rail, and foot

Only to become scapegoats of the failures of a society,
Bent on self-satisfaction and self-love,
In a land that  has held twisted, broken promises.

Everyday,
The eyes of these beautiful souls
Look up at me from their seats with undying faith,
And I am deeply humbled.

They… they are Christ crucified.
Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

Teresa Linda  2017. All Rights Reserved. 

 Try the Daily Disconnect as part of your Daily Meditation

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Charles Seagren, ocds: the scandal of mercy

Editor’s note: Charles Seagren is a Formation Instructor in the Santa Clara, CA Secular Community. He is also a Deacon at St. Raymond Catholic Church, Menlo Park. The following talk has been taken from one of his homilies.

Readings – Matthew 11:2-11

It’s the scandal of mercy.
Even John the Baptist is confused.
He sends his disciples to see
if Jesus is the One
or should he look for another.

And Jesus shows them
His works of mercy
but He adds,
Blessed is the one
who takes no offense at Me.

Why would He say that?
All He’s done
is heal and preach and raise the dead.
Why would we take offense at that?

If justice is to get what you deserve
mercy is to get more than that —
and that’s the scandal.
What if you work 12 hours in a vineyard
in the heat of the day
and get a just wage.
But along comes some idler
who works one hour in the cool of the day
and gets the same pay.
How does it feel?

Sometimes mercy can look like injustice.

We have no problem with mercy
for ourselves and people we love –
but for strangers or people we hate
it’s just not fair.

Blessed is the one who takes no offense.

Look at Jesus
and the woman caught in adultery,
or the Samaritan woman with her five husbands,
or Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree.

Was Jesus killed because He was just
or because He was merciful?

SOURCE: Third Sunday of Advent Homily, December 2016.

Charles Seagren,  ocds. All Rights Reserved

Maria L. Diaz, ocds: Jubilee Year of Mercy 3

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Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, tells us that “we shall cross the threshold of the Holy Door, in this year of Mercy, fully confident that the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us.” He further states, “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”

Those words resonate with me as I remember the loss of my stillborn son, as if it were just yesterday. An overwhelmingly unexpected sense of courage and love came upon me, when I was told that my baby’s heart was not beating anymore. Just a week earlier, Father Donald Kinney, our then spiritual assistant, shared that after he said Mass, he had received news that his baby niece in Columbia had passed away at the moment of Consecration. This knowledge would also prepare me for the following week, at the hospital, when I would feel nothing but emptiness at having to deliver a dead baby; while next door, there would be beautiful sounds of crying newborns. The knowledge and experience of the Risen Lord, in the face of the reality of this loss, gave me hope and faith that by the grace of Almighty God, I will one day see my son in Heaven.

Praying is the key for St. Teresa. She writes, “I recount also that one may understand that if the soul perseveres in prayer, in the midst of sin, temptation, and failures of a thousand kinds that the devil places in his path, in the end, I hold it certain that the Lord will draw it forth to the harbor of salvation as now it seems He did for me.” Teresa’s conversion was one from pride to humility because she says, “Finally I came to no longer put trust in myself but all my trust on the Lord.”

In the book of her Life, Teresa is eager to talk about her weaknesses and her sinfulness in what may seem to us as extreme terms. But she is setting up a contrast between herself and God. She portrays herself in darkness in order to show the light of God’s mercy, and shows how God’s mercy came face to face with her misery. Teresa experienced the merciful patience of God.

Looking back on her life afterwards, she sees how even at the Augustinian School, and I quote, “The Lord was thinking of all the different ways He could best draw me back to Himself.” In her struggle, Teresa saw that throughout her life, God was reaching out His hand to her and although she recognized it, she did continued to refuse His love.

Prayer, meditation, and performing works of mercy are essential to my daily life in which I am called to relate to God and remain faithful. However, the discipline of prayer is not easy. In my own experience, I can remember when my mom’s illness, and later my dad’s, required much of my help. Both were gravely ill for a period of months and I was called to take care of them. Traveling back and forth to Chicago caused my absences from several monthly meetings. Frequent trips to the hospital, daily care for my parents, and sleepless nights challenged my ability to pray and meditate daily.

Saint Teresa simplified prayer by explaining that it was nothing more than being a friend of Christ. The title of Jesus as friend is central to Teresa’s experience of Him and permeates all her writings and understanding of the Christian life. She writes, “A much greater love for and confidence in this Lord began to develop in me when I saw Him as one with whom I could converse so continually.” Teresa comes to see the real danger of abandoning prayer when she writes, “If through weakness and wickedness, people who practice prayer, should fall as I did, let them keep ever in mind the good they have lost and be suspicious and walk with the fear that if they don’t return to prayer, they will go from bad to worse.” She adds, “Whoever has not begun to practice prayer, I beg for the love of the Lord, not to go without so great a good.

-Our Holy Father writes, “Jesus’ command is directed to anyone willing to listen to his voice. In order to be capable of mercy, therefore, we must first dispose ourselves to listen to the Word of God. This means rediscovering the value of silence in order to meditate on the Word that comes to us. In this way, it will be possible to contemplate God’s Mercy and adopt it as our lifestyle.”

The daily life of prayer is where I find the Mercy of God strengthening my desire for Him and enriching my life with his love, despite my weaknesses. Today, I find it a joyful duty to participate with other members in our community prayer requests, where we can intercede for one another, the Church, and the world’s needs; and thereby, we support each other in our pursuit of a life of prayer. I also find comfort in knowing that our Blessed Mother is present when we pray for one another. She is our instrumental model and inspiration of a prayerful, meditative attitude and disposition.

During Teresa’s early years, the growth and transformation she experienced were the fruit of God’s merciful action in her life. Often, she turned her back on Him, preferring the ways of the world. How often have we been misled, in our own lives, from walking along the path of truth and, by the grace of God, discover the need for reconciliation with our Lord and with one another?

Teresa also stands as a staunch witness and teacher of the transforming power of a life of prayer as the means for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, a loving relationship with the living Jesus that leads us to an ever deeper awareness of His presence within our hearts and in one another. She encourages us that, in the power of prayer, we can continue to hold and to lift people up to God and His Mercy – for His Mercy is triumphant.

Teresa stresses that reflection on the Humanity of Christ, who is as present to us as when he walked on this earth, is the measure and source of any authentic Christian commitment, service, and relationship with Him. His humanity reflects Christian humanity and his love for all people is the foundation for all charity.” For Teresa, the Cross means “love and service.” Her spirituality, which springs from an encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus, is truly apostolic as well as contemplative.

Our Holy Father tells us, “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life.” Can we see in our own lives how much Christ suffered out of love for each one of us? Has this experience of His love for us moved our hearts so that we can also beg Him to never let us offend Him again? How can we work toward coming to know, love, and serve God in our lives and thereby commit to a personal holiness?

He calls us to experience His goodness when we dispose ourselves in the practice of prayer, making that room in our lives for Him. The Lord’s Mercy will help us to grow and adapt to Him, and reconcile us to the Father.

God speaks to St. Teresa’s soul. How does God speak to ours? What are the fruits that He has produced in each of us?

Finally, Teresa experienced a deepening life of prayer and the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. How often do we think, “Well…I’ll start praying more when I feel better. I need to take care of this first. Or…I need to do better before I try to be a good friend of the Lord.” Teresa tells us not to wait – we should go to the Lord as we are!

If you’ve been practicing prayer for a while and you say, “I’m worse than I was when I first started to pray,” don’t let that discourage you! Whatever you’re doing, it’s important to persevere in it, even if it means that you may need to pray in a different way. Teresa wants us to understand that the Eucharist is the means that Jesus chose to remain with us- sustaining, healing, and loving us on our journey through life.

Teresa challenges us to ask ourselves, ‘Are we going to allow ourselves to be possessed by the Risen Christ? Are we going to give ourselves over to his liberating and transforming presence through prayer, the Eucharist, meditation on the Word of God, relationships with one another, and service to those in need?’

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we the Church, imitate our Holy Mother, St. Teresa, in being an example and witness of how God’s Mercy comes face to face with our misery to give us growth and transformation, as the fruit of His merciful action in our lives, that we may thereby bring Mercy and Hope to the world. END

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Santa Clara OCDS Conference, 2016)

Copyright 2016, Mary L. Diaz. All Rights Reserved

‘arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth. pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’

 

 

Maria L. Diaz, ocds: Jubilee Year of Mercy 2

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‘Ecce Homo’, La Encarnación, Avila. This statue, no more than ten inches high, converted St. Teresa. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

When I entered the Secular Carmelite Order, it was a great discovery for me to find in it this charism of prayer and meditation. The solid foundation of the spirituality, the type of formation involved, and the study of the Carmelite heritage and Saints really attracted me; this was the answer to what I had been searching for. I knew this would be the way to draw closer to God. But this great discovery has also required from me an obedience and daily commitment to the Order, over the years, which has also led me to discover, not only the truth about God and love, but about myself as well. It has been in the trials and struggles of my life, that the discovery of prayer has challenged yet strengthened me with joy and peace. To be a Secular Carmelite has not only been a privilege, but a responsibility

As Teresa came to understand prayer, she began to understand who Jesus was in her life. A couple of events helped Teresa move toward a profound discovery of the humanity of Jesus Christ. The first event was the reading of St. Augustine’s Confessions. The manner in which the Lord called him to conversion resonated with Teresa. She tearfully read how Augustine spoke about waiting until “tomorrow” to change his life; she recognized this in herself.

One day while she was in prayer before an image of Christ at the pillar, she was moved by the deep recognition of how much he had suffered out of love for her. This experience of His love finally moved her heart, and she begged Him to never let her offend Him again. This marked a decisive turn in her life. She writes, “I saw that He was man, even though he was God; that he wasn’t surprised by the weaknesses of men; that he understands our miserable make-up, subject to many falls on account of the first sin which he came to repair.”

Teresa’s discovery of the humanity of Jesus Christ gave her search for God a concrete form which in turn, healed the division she experienced between her spirit that longed for God, and her humanity. As Teresa put it, “Well, come now, my daughters, don’t be sad when obedience draws you to involvement in exterior matters. Know that if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly.” She writes, “After that point, my prayer began to really take shape because it was being built on a solid foundation.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis tells us, “Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. May the message of mercy reach everyone, and may no one be indifferent to the call to experience Mercy. This is the opportune moment to change our lives! This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched!”

From Teresa, I have learned that I can meet God in the heart of my daily life because I know that Christ endured so many trials for me. Nothing surprises Him; He understands me. I can remember, many years ago, waiting upon the Lord to help me through another personal trial. Out of desperation, I surrendered myself, feeling as if I were hanging high upon the clothes-line of God with nothing to offer but my pain, and knowing so well that I could easily fall if he wasn’t there to hold me. It was there that I spoke directly to God, heart to heart, with nothing to offer him. I was a beggar, begging for mercy and for help with my great difficulty.

Indeed, I was given mercy and help through this intense prayer and difficult time, and Jesus answered me with physical results and specific unexpected actions. This was truly a miracle!

 After the conversion she experienced when she contemplated the suffering Christ, Teresa began to experience the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen Jesus within herself and in the Church in ever deeper and decisive ways. On January 25th, 1561, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Teresa had a vision of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ in his Risen Form.

Her experience of the Risen Christ healed her affectivity, renewed her hope, liberated her from fear and anxiety, and gave her a desire to proclaim the Mercy and praises of God to the whole world. This presence gave her courage and enabled her to accept and face the realities of daily life calmly and confidently. In a powerful way, her encounter with the Risen Christ profoundly shaped her particular vision of the Christian life, primarily her view of prayer.

In the depths of silent prayer, Teresa experienced the liberating power of the Risen Jesus, freeing her from fear and awakening her to a deeper faith, knowledge, and love of God. This was an outburst of the kingdom of God within her and her experience of being “absorbed” by the spirit of the Risen Lord. Today, we can look at her struggles and her journey, and be encouraged by her witness. She wanted to spread far and wide the message of freedom, love, and friendship she had found in Jesus. For Teresa, Jesus is the source of our Salvation and the cause of all healing and sanctification in every age.

Many years ago, I received healing from chronic sore throats and infections I was experiencing as a result of extreme stress. I saw many doctors over a long period of time, but none of them could help. I remember my mother-in-law saying, “Don’t you worry, I will pray and you will be fine.” She told me that in her younger years, she had suffered from the same problem and was also liberated through prayer.

At about the same time, while I was in silent prayer at Santa Clara Monastery, I heard a voice say, “Give your clothes away.” They were expensive clothes, and shopping for them had taken much of my time, money, and attention. When I look back at my life, I believe that the Lord was calling me to follow Him and wanted to free me of my own material attachments so I could make room in my heart to follow Him and live out my vocation in a more selfless way. I never once regretted the fruit that this action produced.

Most of Teresa’s experiences took place and her deepening relationship with Christ happened within the context of the Eucharist. Her love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament would break forth in ardent prayer and ecstasies. She concretized her union with God through a life of love for neighbor and service to the Church. She writes, “We have Him so near in the Blessed Sacrament, where He is already glorified and where we don’t have to gaze upon him as being so tired and worn out, bleeding, wearied by his journeys, persecuted by those for whom he did so much good, and not believed by the apostles.” Teresa tells us that, “If our health doesn’t allow us, to think always about the passion of Jesus, for who can prevent us from being with Him in his Risen State present in the Eucharist?” She concludes, “This heavenly food provides both spiritual and bodily sustenance. It is a great “medicine” even for bodily ills.”

Our Holy Father writes, “The Church lives within the communion of the saints. In the Eucharist, this communion, which is a gift from God, becomes a spiritual union binding us to the saints and blessed ones whose number is beyond counting.” He also writes, “We all need the quiet and the solitude of prayer and the strength of the Eucharist. When we become overwhelmed by the struggles of life, it is there that we can experience God’s grace and love, in spite of our sinfulness and our failures.”

Today, I understand that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. It is the bridge between heaven and earth. It gives me a sharing in our Lord’s Resurrected life and in the Church. When I receive the Eucharist, my identity as a beloved of the Lord, is solidified. The Eucharist increases my longing for prayer and desire to be in the presence of our living God. The Eucharist is where I receive God’s liberating and healing love. It is also where my capacity to love God and my neighbor is deepened (to be continued)

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Santa Clara OCDS Conference, 2016)

Copyright 2016, Mary L. Diaz. All Rights Reserved

‘arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth. pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’

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Maria L. Diaz, ocds: Jubilee Year of Mercy 1

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Santa Clara Carmelite Monastery. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

a note from the author:  I am a mother of five and have been a member of the OCDS group in Santa Clara, CA since 1991. This comes from a short talk on St. Teresa that illustrates how similar we are to her in our own struggles and temptations. I hope and pray you may find some value in it. Please pray with me: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, was so much like us with similar struggles and temptations; she is a witness in our lives today of prayer and of God’s mercy. In the light of this Year of Mercy, given to the Church by Pope Francis, in his Papal Bull, The Face of Mercy, this understanding is crucial.

As a quick reference, I have used several resources for my talk which include: audio presentations by Carmelite Fr. Gregory Ross, the book A Better Wine, by Carmelite Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, and Pope Francis’ Papal Bull on the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Teresa of Avila was born in the year 1515. She had one sister and nine brothers. Her father was an upright man who always made it a point to have good books, such as The Lives of the Saints, around the house; her mother taught them to pray and to be devoted to the Blessed Mother. Teresa was awakened at a young age, to a love for God. She writes, “The Lord was pleased to impress upon me in childhood the Way of Truth.” It was a harmonious life filled with intense religious fervor. She and one of her brothers shared this ardent desire for truth and they both enjoyed talking about heaven. When Teresa was twelve years old, her mother died. She says, “When I realized the great good that I had lost, I went to an image of the Blessed Virgin. It was a statue in a little hermitage just outside the city walls. And I begged her to be my mother.” She writes that our Lady seemed to have heard her prayer and responded.

I too was drawn into the Carmelites by our Lady. For quite a long time, I passed by the Santa Clara Carmelite Monastery during my many hours of daily jogging at the park nearby. I felt drawn to the enclosed walls each time, but I never entered. Then one day, during a very painful time of personal crisis, I felt as if a magnetic force had pulled me to walk inside, and suddenly, I felt at home in this unknown place.

I remember stopping in front of the statue of our Lady with the Christ Child and praying to her for help. After that, I felt drawn to walk over to the cloister door and to my surprise, a kind, elderly nun opened it and let me in after I introduced myself. Without any reservation, I found myself asking if I could help cook or sweep their floors since I had a whole lunch hour free from work and could easily come by to help. Then I told her about myself and my painful personal struggles. At the very end of our time together, she invited me to look into the Secular Carmelite Meetings. This was the beginning of my being awakened to really want to see God.

Although Teresa’s ardor for God was awakened when she was a young girl, her youthful, earnest search for God began to wane around the age of twelve. Around the age of fourteen, Teresa came under some bad influences from relatives. She talks about being misled from walking along the path of truth to walking along a path of lies, with vain conversations and frivolous pastimes, and she became overly concerned about her looks, clothes, and how she pleased others. She writes, “I sometimes reflect on the great damage parents do by not striving that their children might always see virtuous deeds of every kind. If I should have to give advice, I would tell parents that when their children are this age they ought to be very careful about whom their children associate with.”

I too remember struggling with my own attachments to particular relatives and friends as an adolescent. Every time certain relatives visited our home, my parents worried about the self-centered conversations and bad habits I developed from them. This experience caused me to walk along a difficult and confusing path.

However, our Lord, who is shepherd of His flock never lets us wander without leading us back if our hearts are open. By the time she was sixteen, Teresa was entrusted under the care of Augustinian Nuns where she had a prompt spiritual recovery because she was around good influences. One nun, whom Teresa became very fond of, awakened within her the desire of “Eternal things” through her devout conversations on the Word of God.

While she was in the monastery of the Augustinians, Teresa began to think about a religious vocation. But even as she seriously considered a life devoted to God, at the age of seventeen and a half, Teresa suffered  a health crisis. Because she was too weak to recover in the convent, she spent some time with her uncle, who was a very spiritual man and another good influence on her.

Her tastes and appetite for romantic notions evaporated. Teresa tells us that her mother liked to read novels of adventure and chivalric romance, and they would read them together in their pastimes, although her father didn’t like that. She says, “I began to get into the habit of reading these books and by that little fault, which I saw in my mother, I started to grow cold in my desires and to fail in everything else.” In her uncle’s home, however, Teresa admits “I became a friend of good books.”

In my own life, I remember how my mother enjoyed reading Spanish romance novels. They influenced me and my sister in our early teen years. My mom, with her many household duties, did not put as much attention to them as we did. However, St. Sebastian high school, which was the Catholic school I attended for only one year, was a saving grace, and provided me with the opportunity to be away from the public schools in the city of Chicago at a turbulent time of violent riots that rose throughout the country in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.

St. Teresa talks about having a prompt spiritual recovery; similarly, the good influence from this year of Catholic education influenced me to the love of good books like, Don Quixote, and the Poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I also heard inspiring stories of American Indians by a nun who had been a missionary. These influences were key and critical for my early desire to continue with school and pursue a college education; but more than that, I experienced a spiritual awakening. The nuns at St. Sebastian high school were a solid influence and their teachings of our Catholic faith helped to stir in me a desire to know God.

Teresa entered religious life at the age of twenty-one. Once she was there, she loved it and found great contentment in everything. She said she saw how our Lord repays everything even in this life to those who abandon everything for Him. But a period of real struggle began in her life and it would go on for almost twenty years. After a second health crisis, Teresa was introduced to a book called The Third Spiritual Alphabet by a Franciscan Friar who really wanted to foster prayer in the spiritual life, a method that St. Teresa responded to very positively. While she dedicated herself to this, she began to experience some advanced states of prayer.

At one point, she wound up in a coma for four days and appeared to be dead. They were celebrating her funeral Mass when she was awakened and revived; the first thing she asked was to see a priest. She was brought back to the monastery paralyzed, bedridden, and in great pain, and yet was strengthened in virtue. She was given the patience to bear this trial and began to pray especially to St. Joseph for a cure.

Teresa says that at this point, “I felt the deepest repentance after having offended God,” after which she began including an Examination of Conscience in her prayer. Later, Teresa describes a struggle within her. She says, “I was living an extremely burdensome life because in prayer, I understood more clearly my faults. On the one hand God was calling me, on the other hand, I was following the world.” There came a point when she actually gave up praying and later said that this was the greatest trick, the devil played on her; out of a false humility, he convinced her that she should not pray.

At the age of twenty-eight, her father became gravely ill and Teresa, went to care for him. She says, “I went to him more infirm in soul than he was in body.” That was the lowest point in her life. After that, Teresa took up prayer again with great determination even though she still couldn’t give herself completely to the Lord and detach herself from the world. Yet she understood that in prayer, she was drawing nearer to the Lord, to the one she was offending; this understanding gave her the courage to remain in His presence (to be continued).

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Santa Clara OCDS Conference, 2016)

Copyright 2016, Mary L. Diaz. All Rights Reserved

‘Arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth. Pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’


 

40 Days For Life: September 28-November 6

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Virgin with Child: Discalced Carmelite Convent, Segovia Spain. Photo credit:thespeakroom.org

Recently, I participated in a 24-hour Adoration and Procession for Life at a local parish as part of the 40 Days for Life 2016 Fall Campaign. One of the organizers was a secular Carmelite, and I wanted to show some kind of support.

In one sense, nothing happened. After Adoration and Mass, we walked leisurely to the Planned Parenthood nearby, prayed, and sang to the accompaniment of a single guitar. When we stopped at the corner, holding our “Pray to End Abortion” placards up in the air, people would either honk and beam a smile, or yell at us from their windows as they passed.

At first, I blended in with the crowd, and tried not to be noticed by the passersby, but as young women walked up the other set of stairs into the clinic, I was reminded of my community college students, particularly an eighteen-year old girl on the day of her final exams. She was shaking and couldn’t concentrate. I took her outside the classroom, and there she told me, “Yesterday, my grandma forced me to have an abortion. I didn’t want to do it. She made me do it.” I didn’t know what to say. We just embraced for a very long time.

I remembered another one of my students, her eyes aglow with joy as she showed me photos of her two-year old on her iPhone. Despite the tube from a tracheotomy that protruded from her throat, the little girl was laughing. “There she is,” my student said with pride. “She’s the reason I’m in this classroom!”

And then I remembered my own story. In the third month of my fourth pregnancy, I went for the usual round of ultrasounds and check-ups, but there was nothing usual about the results. The doctors had identified a growth in my son’s brain. Within one week of the ultrasound results, I was scheduled for a visit with a genetic counselor who explained to me that the baby I was carrying in my womb would be severely mentally handicapped, and that in all likelihood, he would not survive beyond the age of three. She told me that one of my options was abortion and that she could schedule an appointment the following week. My husband and I looked at each other and refused. We would keep the baby no matter what.

In the two months between my appointments, I would often place my hands on my belly and stare numbly into space. I asked for prayers from anyone who would listen, and rather than trying to imagine the unimaginable, I tried to stay resolute in our decision to keep the baby.

During the next ultrasound appointment, the doctors surprised us when they said that the brain growth had disappeared. The initial result was probably a misreading, they explained. A few months later, my fourth miracle child, a beautiful, healthy boy was born.

My son is now fourteen years old, and has a very sharp, witty mind. I don’t know what life would be like without him. In fact, I have had moments of desolation when holding his hand has felt like my only life raft.

People say that abortion is a freedom and a choice, but my experience is that its availability gives a false choice, a false freedom. I wonder how many women have been offered the kind of choice that I was offered by a professional health practitioner, said yes, and unwittingly aborted a perfectly healthy baby. I wonder what young girls would say, if they even had a glimpse of understanding of the exponential joy children give to those around them. I wonder what they would do if they had the knowledge that with each newborn, God gives special graces to raise that child. Every time each of my children were born, my husband and I thought that for sure, we would not be able to afford it, and that we would collapse in financial ruin, but we were wrong. With each child, the blessings multiplied, as we faced each challenge with our wounded faithfulness and love. I wonder if the young girl I embraced on the last day of school has found freedom from the choice she was forced to make.

With all these memories in mind, as those of us in the Procession for Life started praying the first decade of the rosary, I asked an older woman for her placard, stood boldly at the corner of the intersection, and held up my “Pray to End Abortion” sign, hoping that someone, at least someone, would have second thoughts.

by teresa linda

Lauryn Hill can say the rest….

 

Zion Lyrics

One day you’ll understand
Zion!

Unsure of what the balance held
I touched my belly overwhelmed
By what I had been chosen to perform
But then an angel came one day
Told me to kneel down and pray
For unto me a man child would be born
Woe this crazy circumstance
I knew his life deserved a chance
But everybody told me to be smart
Look at your career they said,
“Lauryn, baby, use your head.”
But instead I chose to use my heart

Now the joy of my world is in Zion
Now the joy of my world is in Zion

How beautiful if nothing more
Than to wait at Zion’s door
I’ve never been in love like this before
Now let me pray to keep you from
The perils that will surely come
See life for you my prince has just begun
And I thank you for choosing me
To come through unto life to be
A beautiful reflection of his grace
See I know that a gift so great
Is only one God could create
And I’m reminded every time I see your face

That the joy of my world is in Zion

Why the speakroom?

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Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

About a year ago from today, my husband and I were asked to be the godparents of a beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed baby boy. “We just want you to pray for him,” was all his parents asked of us. Before becoming a godparent, I had not held a baby for over ten years. Yet in the past year, each time I have carried this adorable child in my arms, I have been struck by the combined sense of newness and familiarity of the experience.

I am reminded of those years I held each of my own children in my arms, stayed up for them night after night in times of sickness, and walked through the drug-infested streets of our West Philadelphia neighborhood, ready at any moment to give my life up for theirs. None of my children remember those early, formative years of their lives. I’ll never forget them.

Every now and then, my children will facetiously say, “Mom knows everything.” I would answer back with a small laugh, “I knew all of you before you knew yourselves!” but I would finish the rest of the sentence in the silence of my thoughts. “That’s what has made motherhood so painful.” In raising four children, I have not only had the joy of celebrating their accomplishments, but I have wept often for them, most of the time without their even knowing it.

Parenthood gives a small window into the ways of our Heavenly Father. He allows us, His children, to come to Him with our own wills and to make our own choices. How it must grieve Him to watch and see many of the self-destructive choices we are making. And yet, He in his great love and tenderness for us provides us the gift of His own Son as a means of adoption, transforming our lives, and thus, transforming our world.

Saint Teresa of Avila wrote of post-Reformation Europe, “The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ once again. They would raze His Church to the ground. No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance.”

Shortly before she was gassed in an Auschwitz death-camp, Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote, “The world is in flames: the fire can spread even to our house.”

And again, even more recently, during the World Youth Day celebration in Poland, Pope Francis said, “The world is at war, but it’s not a war of religions.”  He was referring to a war for money, limited resources, and power.  Pope Francis later added in his last address to the youth that too many young people are unaware of how dark the world really is, and are therefore unprepared to face the battle.

There are more people dying for their faiths and being forced to leave their homes, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. The United States has spent eight trillion dollars (one trillion = a million millions) on a financial bailout that hasn’t helped those who were most affected by the economic collapse.  The list goes on.

How do we respond to this world on fire? Pope Francis says, “The times are becoming increasingly hard, and only in unity can we find the solution to our problems.”

The speakroom is a space where apparent divisions are erased. Historically, the speakroom is a small room in the monastery where cloistered religious can speak to those in the outside world and where the ways of God can be made known to others: secular and consecrated, young or old, from near or far. Remarkably, the grille where St. John of the Cross and Saint Teresa first spoke still bears the holy presence of these two great saints.

In this modern world of war and divisions, and where people are so isolated in many hidden ways, my hope is that ‘the speakroom’ blog becomes a living, breathing space where anyone who has an open heart, can learn, pray, and walk together through the lens of Carmelite spirituality.

In the face of death and Nazi persecution, Edith Stein’s response to a world on fire is the recognition that “above all the flames, the Cross stands on high and it cannot be burnt. The Cross is the way which leads from earth to heaven. Those who embrace it with faith, love, and hope are taken up right into the heart of the Trinity.”

One by one, we must learn to respond from a place of truth, sacrificial love, forgiveness, and fraternal friendship– the way of the cross – which involves both the crucifixion, and thankfully, the resurrection.

By the end of this year, three of my four children will have left for college. They, like my godson, will have my prayers. But I also hope, as I hope for myself and all the readers of this blog, that my children will look to thespeakroom.org as a place for guidance and strength, slowly come to know the depth and breadth of the love of God, and see with a child’s eyes of faith.

Teresa Linda, ocds

What to expect in ‘seculars speak’

Carmelite saints, like Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Therése of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (the Little Flower), Saint Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein),  and Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity were avid poets and writers. It is no surprise, then, that there are many Carmelite seculars who are themselves, drawn to the word. In this section, you will soon find testimonies and thoughts by secular Carmelites and other lay people who have a particular devotion to Carmelite spirituality.