Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: become the canvas of God

The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org
The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

note from the editor: the image above is the one that inspired Dali (previous post).  The canvas that Saint John of the Cross chose for his depiction of Christ was actually no more than 4X4 inches. This relic is housed in La Encarnación in Avila, Spain. Saint Teresa started her vocation there and eventually became a prioress in the Carmelite order.  Later she moved on to reform the order, founding the Discalced Carmelites. Her first foundation, Saint Joseph’s Monastery, is walking distance from the La Encarnación.

Many of the photos on this blog that are attributed to thespeakroom.com come from Spain and will offer you a rare glimpse of original relics and paintings. The saints would love for you to share these images with others, but if you do so, please do your part in the work of the Holy Spirit, and link back to this blog. Thank you!


We must become the canvas of God. Ultimately, that comes in understanding that God is the only One who is supremely beautiful, and we encounter that beauty by the revelation of His love; it is love that is beautiful. God is the fullness of love and therefore, He is beauty itself. It is God’s love that makes us truly beautiful. We have to acknowledge and see that; we have to receive and nurture that. Wherever there is love in the soul, God sees beauty. If there is love in your heart, God will look upon you and your beauty as His beloved.

In scripture, Our Lord often says, ‘You are sacred in my eyes and precious, and I love you… I have chosen you…Fear not, I am with you, and you are mine.’ This language of covenant expressed in scripture is nuptial language. It is spousal language. It is the same language used by the mystics, especially St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Ultimately, our faith life is a love affair with the love of loves. El amor de los amores.

Speaking to artists, Saint John Paul the II says, ‘Beauty is the key to the mystery of life and a call to transcendence.’ To seek transcendence means to pursue that which is beyond what we see with our senses. It is an invitation to savor life and dream of the future. When we see beauty, especially the beauty of creation – of mountains, landscapes, of broad, wide horizons, the sunset or sunrise, the ocean – there is something that touches deep down within our spirits that brings about this longing for something great. We long for something greater than the limitations and brokenness of this life.

The beauty of created things cannot satisfy. It stirs up a hidden nostalgia for God, which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine can express in comparable terms. ‘Late have I loved you, oh Lord. Beauty so old, and so new. Late have I loved you.’

During the Middle Ages, there was an era of study of the faith when Aristotle was being translated into Christian terms, and Christian philosophy was being refined as a catalyst for theology and an understanding of God. St. Thomas Aquinas is the beacon of that era, the Scholastic Period. For the Scholastics, the definition of beauty was ‘the splendor of truth.’ … That takes my breath away. I hope that just hearing that phrase awakens in us a longing to contemplate, a longing to let that resonate inside. Let that longing open up and rest in you.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, a great Russian Orthodox writer of the nineteenth century, said that in the world, there is only one figure of absolute beauty – Christ. That infinitely lovely figure is an infinite marvel (to be continued).

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

(SOURCE: Denver Retreat, October 2015)

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. 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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Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: ‘charismatic refueling’


Christ of Saint John of the Cross, by Salvador Dali (1951)

John 14: 1-7

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”

In our spiritual walk, we must strive to seek the face of Christ, to seek, in the words of Father General Saverio Cannistra, a ‘charismatic refueling.’ Don’t categorize ‘charismatic’ in terms of what you might know of charismatic groups in your local parish, and whether or not you like them. Charisma – the essence of this word means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The dazzling, dynamic gift of the Holy Spirit, is a creative, life-giving, and transforming gift. A charismatic refueling requires that we seek the face of Christ’s eternal youthfulness as risen Lord.

Remember that Jesus died at the age of 33. His life and mission in his sacred humanity was completed by that young age, and his public ministry lasted for only three years. It doesn’t take long for God to do what He needs to do, as we see in our Lord’s life, and the life of saints like Saint Therése. God can accomplish much in a short amount of time.

In God’s divine providence, pre-planned and destined, the fullness of Christ’s mission, the whole work of His embracing all the cosmos -all of creation, and all of humanity who would believe in Him – was consummated in His sacred humanity and completed in only three years.For three hours, the author of life, the creator of the cosmos, hung on the cross, and was crucified; for just three days He was in the earth of his own creation.

In the outburst of the resurrection, of the new creation, Jesus roamed the world for fifty days in His risen body. This expresses and captures the reality that out of every agony, God’s glory is far surpassing. His love conquers, overwhelmingly, over every suffering and trial, transforming trials into triumphs. He makes the triumphs surpassingly greater than the suffering. When sin increases, grace increases all the more.

This eternal youthfulness of Jesus as risen Lord expresses something primordial and essential about us. Jesus says, ‘unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Therefore, in order to truly grow and mature spiritually, we have to become small, little, young again. As the Psalms and Isaiah say, God’s love ‘renews our youth like the eagles.’ God renews our experience and sense of freedom, that our hearts may sore like an eagle, with the freedom of knowing what it means to be loved. Many saints and mystics have noted that in heaven, everyone is young, and that the expression of our personhood is at our prime.

In this life, even if we are well into our retirement age, our hearts can experience the eternal newness of Jesus’s life in us. That experience of what it means to be alive and to be loved in Christ can happen at any age. Our external age is accidental in comparison to our soul’s age in relationship to God. A spiritual new birth can happen in someone’s life in their eighties. Conversion, this becoming like a child, renewed, this discovering of our deepest, truest self in Christ, is an ongoing discovery, an ongoing exodus, an ongoing romance and adventure with our Lord (to be continued).

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

(SOURCE: Denver Retreat, October 2015)

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved



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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.

Father Matthew Williams, OCD: Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16


John 19 26-27

“But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag’dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

It is with great joy that we gather to praise this woman of faith, the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. We thank her for her protection over the Carmelite Order, and over all peoples, as we look to her as our example of discipleship that we are called to follow.

We know that from the very first, the original founders of Carmel had a deep, abiding love and devotion to Our Lady. History tells us that the first chapel of the Carmelites on Mount Carmel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was her who provided inspiration to the first hermits; it was she who watched over these men of faith as her own sons, guiding them to Jesus.

As we come to this mass, under the protective mantle of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the gospel account of Mary and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross, gives us two insights on how we can imitate the Virgin Mary in our own walk as disciples.

The first insight is this: As the Virgin Mary followed Jesus, her son, we are to do the same. If there is one characteristic that is clear from the gospel accounts of Mary, it is that she follows Jesus every step of the way in His journey to His passion, death and resurrection. She is there, of course, at the Annunciation, when the Holy Spirit overshadows her. She is there at the Presentation of Jesus, where Simeon prophecies of Jesus being the Savior of the world, while at the same time telling Mary about the sword of sorrow that will pierce her heart. She is there at the first miracle of Christ, the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine, and thus saves a young couple’s wedding feast. Mary follows Jesus as he journeys throughout Galilee and Judah, proclaiming the kingdom of God. Finally, the Virgin Mary is here, at the foot of the cross, where she is witnessing the death of her son.

This image of Mary, at the foot of the cross, is so important for us in today’s world. We live in a time of tremendous violence. Week after week we see examples of death coming suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically. A truck drives into a crowd, and eighty-four innocent people lose their lives. Policemen killed because of hatred. Seemingly innocent people, gunned down. Not only that, but we continue to see and feel in our world hatred, injustice, racism, intolerance, and it is overwhelming, it is distressing, we experience our seeming helplessness, and we wonder: how do I live my faith in the midst of so much violence?

How to live my faith? By doing what the Virgin Mary did: follow Jesus. St. Paul tells us to “walk by faith, and not by sight.” (2Cor. 5:7), and that is what she did. With the eyes of the world, Mary can see violence committing evil upon her son. With the eyes of the world, she can see that her son lost the battle, and Jesus will die and be forgotten. But Mary walked by faith, not by sight. By faith she knows that death, sin, evil, the forces of darkness cannot overcome the power of her Son, Jesus our Lord. In the depths of her Immaculate Heart, she knows that victory belongs her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This our invitation to imitate Our Lady of Mount Carmel, by following Jesus as she did, even unto the cross, and by faith, know that victory belongs to God. So, we, like the Virgin Mary can see and experience the violence around us in our world, but we, like Mary, continue to walk by faith, following wherever Jesus leads us, for we know that it is only in Jesus, only through the power of His resurrection, that we and the world will be saved. Evil can never have the last word; rather it is our crucified Savior, who gains victory over all evil, that has the last word. We might not see it now, but like the Virgin Mary, we walk by faith and not by sight, and by faith we know that when we follow Jesus as Mary did, the forces of sin, death, and darkness will never have final victory over us.

Our second insight is this: like the Beloved Disciple, we need to make a home for the Virgin Mary. This is what the first hermits did on Mount Carmel; they made a home for Mary, where she is welcomed and treasured. We are being invited by Jesus to do that very thing today – make a home for Mary.

The first place where we need to invite Mary is in our hearts. The problems and violence of today’s world is not so much a problem of laws (though they are important), but a heart problem. Jesus tells us: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Mt. 15. 19-20)

The heart is where true discipleship takes place; it is where we focus upon Jesus, the mystery of Jesus in us, Jesus in our hearts, and this is where the Carmelite life is lived. To have our hearts centered upon Christ, as is that Immaculate Heart of Mary, is what we strive for as Carmelites; this intention is ever before us, for as Jesus becomes the center of our hearts, we are able to share with others the great wonder that is faith in Christ.

Secondly, we become welcoming in our relations with others, for that is what the Beloved Disciple did when commanded by Jesus to make a home for Mary – he welcomed her. This welcome to Mary is extended by us to all those that we encounter in the church and in the world. The Beloved Disciple welcomes the Mother of all the faithful, and he did that at the foot of the cross. The violence of the cross did not harden the heart of either Mary, nor of the Beloved Disciple, but enlarged them – this is our vocation in today’s world, to realize that at the foot of the cross, and new family of humankind is being formed by Jesus, a family that is led by a holy mother, where her sons and daughters imitate her, with enlarged hearts, as they welcomed each other through the power and glory of Jesus from the cross.

These two invitations, imitating the Virgin Mary by following Jesus as she did, and taking Mary into our very lives, is what marks Carmelite devotion to Our Lady. We give our lives to Jesus, as did Mary. We invite Mary into our very lives, as Mary did, and have our hearts become like her Immaculate Heart. When we do this, we will truly become like those first hermits that lived on Mount Carmel, we will be like that great cloud of Carmelite witnesses, like St. Teresa of Jesus, John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, like all those great men and women of Carmel whose names we do not know, like living saints, disciples of Jesus, following the example of the Virgin Mary.

We ask Our Lady of Mount Carmel to pray for us, so that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and overshadow us, like it did her. That our hearts will be like hers, so that we can live in the presence of her son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, worshiping and praising the Holy Trinity, in the company of all saints, for all eternity.

Copyright Fr. Matthew Williams, OCD, 2016. All Rights Reserved.