Brother Juan Torres, OCD: Saint Teresa of Avila 2

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A melody to God.

It is always good to return to the sources of our spirituality and vocation, to reflect, and to ask ourselves if we really know the great treasure we have in our saints. Do we really know them? Do we really love their testimony? Do we approach them regularly? How have they helped us to live more consciously, our identities as Catholic Christians, and particularly as Discalced Carmelites, as Secular Carmelites, and as Teresian Carmelites?

These are questions that we can ask ourselves in our groups and churches, but we have to also personally think about how much interest we really have in the life and teachings of our saints. These wonderful saints are Doctors of the Church, and whose spirit and charism we intend to live by. However, one popular saying says, “You cannot love what you do not know.” As members of the Carmelite Order, in particular, we can’t simply know the saints, but we must strive every day to approach them, let them be our teachers, and let them form us and teach us. They can tell us how to become true disciples of Christ to our world today, and how to be true Carmelites.

In August 2015, I saw the places where St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross once lived. The experience made me reflect often of the many ways St. Teresa uses to explain her spiritual process and relationship with God. She uses images like the castle, comparisons like the chess game, natural elements like water and fire, or the transformation of the butterfly.  I too want to use a symbol to explain this spiritual reflection.

Life is like a melody, and every day is a different note that builds our lives’ harmony. For a melody to be complete and above all to make it a masterpiece, different musical notes that give the changes and nuances are necessary. For example, of all Beethoven symphonies, the Sixth Symphony [click on the link to listen–] is one of my favorites; it is a truly beautiful piece. Every one of its movements, each musical instrument and every note plays an important role in the harmony. There are times that the melody seems sad, others when it’s calm and quiet, while others are anxious musical moments that break into glorious moments, but later return to calm.

Similarly, our lives are a melody and every day we live is a musical note; all the notes are important in building a harmonic melody, so that together, every single note is part of a masterpiece; all our experiences are necessary and we must learn to find beauty moment by moment, measure by measure.

More importantly, the melody of our life is not for us, but is a melody that we are creating to delight Someone. This melody of our life is for God; it is a song, a hymn in his honor. And this symphony of our lives will be completed at the end of our days; it is our responsibility to keep composing a beautiful melody and not a musical disaster.

The life of St. Teresa was a song that she entitled “The Mercies of the Lord.” In fact the original title that she gave to the book of her life, was of the “The Mercies of the Lord.” Mother St. Teresa ‘s life was not easy, and it was full of different experiences and situations. Sometimes, the events were joyful but others were very painful. Many of her experiences were of difficulties, while others were of spiritual peace. God was present in her life always – whether she lived in coldness or dryness, and whether she lived the graces of union with God or when the fire of love wounded her heart. She also experienced physical diseases and had to suffer slanders and misunderstandings.

Every note of Teresa’s life was a melody to God. This melody started to be written in Avila on March 28, 1515, and was finished in Alba de Tormes on the evening of October 15, 1582. Today, we have the privilege of seeing, hearing, and learning from this masterpiece. She can inspire us, give us light, and advice us in the creation of our own melody. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

Copyright Brother Juan Torres 2016, All rights reserved

Novena to Saint Teresa of Avila (written by St. Alphonsus of Liguori)
O most amiable Lord Jesus Christ! We thank Thee for the great gift of faith and of devotion to the Holy Sacrament, which Thou didst grant to Thy beloved Teresa; we pray Thee, by Thy merits and by those of Thy faithful spouse, to grant us the gift of a lively faith, and of a fervent devotion toward the most Holy Sacrament of the altar; where Thou, O infinite Majesty! hast obliged Thyself to abide with us even to the end of the world, and wherein Thou didst so lovingly give Thy whole Self to us.

Say one Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be.

V. St. Teresa, pray for us:

R. That we may become worthy of the promises of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray: Graciously hear us, O God of our salvation! that as we rejoice in the commemoration of the blessed virgin Teresa, so we may be nourished by her heavenly doctrine, and draw from thence the fervour of a tender devotion; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

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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.