21 Jan 2012

Mother Maria Crocifissa Curcio

That Carmel May Bloom

Letter of the Prior General,
Fr. Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm.
to the Carmelite Family

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Carmel,

1. In the Old Testament, Carmel is a symbol for beauty and fertility. The Prophet Elijah was always connected with Mount Carmel and his example is the inspiration behind the way of life of the hermits who set up a monastery there 800 years ago. These men wanted to follow Christ by dedicating their whole lives to prayer. Their way of life has inspired countless men and women throughout the centuries to build Carmel in the world. The Carmelite Family has given many holy people to the Church as witnesses for the Gospel. It is a great joy that the Church wishes to officially recognise that another member of our Family has responded fully to the grace of God. In view of the forthcoming beatification of Madre Maria Crocifissa Curcio, foundress of the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, I want to share with the whole Carmelite Family some of the riches to be found in this sister of ours. Her life reflects the beauty and abundant fertility of Carmel.

Early Life

2. Madre Crocifissa was born in Sicily, Italy, on the 30th January 1877, the seventh of ten children. Two died in infancy. She was given the name Rosa. Her family was comfortably off at a time when crushing poverty was the norm. God used Rosa's childhood experiences to develop within her a great love for the poor. She went to school until the age of eleven, after which she helped her mother look after the house. She was naturally inclined towards study but her father strongly believed that an elementary education was quite sufficient for girls and that educated women often caused problems in the home! Fortunately she had access to books and she proceeded to devour them in her free time. She sought to satisfy the hunger for knowledge within her but the more she read, the hungrier she was.

3. The young Rosa Curcio developed a great love for and devotion to the Eucharist. Her father had anticlerical ideas that were common at the time and he did not encourage his daughter to frequent church. When she was deprived of the sacrament, Rosa intensified her prayer.

4. Love for Carmel came into Rosa Curcio's life at a young age, at first through the writings of St. Teresa of Avila. She was greatly inspired and consoled by St. Teresa. New horizons began to open out for her. Rosa had desired to study in order to obtain good grades or a position in society but reading the life of St. Teresa directed her towards fulfilling the will of God for her. At the age of thirteen, in 1890, Rosa became a member of the Carmelite Third Order, associated with the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel near her home. In 1893, she received the habit of the Third Order, taking the name of Sr. Maria Crocifissa and in 1895 she made her profession as a lay Carmelite. Bearing the name of the Crucified is a sign of her own personal devotion to Christ as well as the spirituality typical of this period.

5. Rosa Curcio was deeply committed to the poor and with other lay Carmelites, she devoted herself to works of mercy. However she felt that something was missing and desired to live the life of a religious sister. After the death of her father, who was not entirely happy with his daughter's religious tendencies, she entered a local community of Dominican Sisters. However her true love was for Carmel and she left after a few months. In Sicily there was no Congregation of Carmelite Sisters and the idea of founding one slowly began to take shape in her mind and heart.

6. Rosa’s health was never robust and life in the Dominican convent had been hard. However at home she soon regained her strength and took up once again her life as a Carmelite tertiary. Her Carmelite vocation grew within her. She had a great devotion to St. Teresa of Avila but she felt no desire to follow her into the cloister. Instead she wanted to be a Carmelite in the world, dedicating herself to the service of others. Rosa was elected prioress of her Third Order Chapter in 1897 at the tender age of nineteen, a sign of the great esteem in which she was held by her fellow lay Carmelites. She continued in this position until 1908.

7. Rosa began to live a form of community life in her own home with other lay Carmelites. Her brother, Federico, gently complained that she was turning their home into a convent. She served her neighbours in many ways but her preferred occupation was to teach catechism to children, leading them to know and love God. The local parish priest was delighted to have these dedicated women in the community and the bishop, Mgr. Blandini, encouraged Rosa in her vocation. He often called her and her work "the little mustard seed" that he hoped would spread its branches all over Sicily. Little did he know that Rosa's way of life would inspire many women way beyond the confines of Sicily.

8. There were of course many difficulties to face. Some local people did not understand Rosa's work and perhaps some of the better off felt judged by her commitment to the poor. The criticisms and misunderstandings reached such a pitch that the bishop suggested a move for the new community. Madre Curcio and her companions took over an orphanage. She applied to the Order to receive the habit but the Prior General at that time, Fr. Pius Meyer, restricted the permission to the wearing of the scapular. In 1923 Madre Crocifissa made contact with Fr. Alberto Grammatico, the Prior Provincial of the Sicilian Province. The local bishop had been directed not to multiply the number of religious families in the diocese and so he suggested that the new community join with an already established Dominican congregation. However, Madre Crocifissa and her companions firmly believed that God was calling them to Carmel and they could not be unfaithful to this vocation. In fact they preferred the destruction of their little work rather than settle for less than they believed God was asking of them.

Madre Crocifissa and Fr. Lorenzo

9. At this point, Providence brought Madre Crocifissa and Fr. Lorenzo van den Eerenbeemt together. Despite his name, he was born in Rome, of a Dutch father and an Italian mother. He joined the Dutch Province of the Order and was sent to study in Rome. In 1922 he was nominated prior of St. Albert's in Rome despite his wish to go to the newly opened mission in Indonesia.

10. The missionaries in Indonesia told Fr. Lorenzo of the situation there and of the great need for Carmelite missionary sisters. Fr. Lorenzo sought sisters to respond to this need but to no avail. Hearing of his interest, Fr. Grammatico made contact with him, and told him of Madre Crocifissa and her community. Fr. Lorenzo wrote to Madre Crocifissa and explained to her his ideas of founding a Carmelite missionary Congregation. Madre Crocifissa responded joyfully. It seemed that finally the Lord was answering her deepest desires. She confided to Fr. Lorenzo that from her childhood she had dreamed of such a holy work that could embrace the whole world.

11. Still Madre Crocifissa had to face many difficulties and disappointments in realising her dream of founding a Congregation of Carmelite sisters dedicated to the active apostolate. In 1925 St. Thérèse of Lisieux was canonised and Madre Crocifissa entrusted the foundation to the new saint. Madre Crocifissa went to Rome for the canonisation and the day after, Fr. Lorenzo took her to visit Santa Marinella, on the coast about 30 km from Rome. She was captivated by the place and hoped that it would be possible to obtain a small property there for the community. Fr. Lorenzo wrote to Cardinal Vico, the bishop of the diocese, which included Santa Marinella, and requested permission for a foundation. He wrote describing the plan of an Institute dedicated to St. Thérèse, which would have as its scope missionary outreach at home and abroad with special regard for poor or abandoned children. Permission was granted for the foundation in Santa Marinella for one year and Fr. Lorenzo was allowed to move there also to help Madre Crocifissa with his spiritual counsel. The bishop in Sicily who had, in good faith, blocked Madre Crocifissa's plans to establish a Congregation of Carmelite Sisters, was still not completely convinced that this was according to the will of God and the mind of the Church.

12. In Santa Marinella, Madre Crocifissa was finally free to express her dream. All that had gone before acted as a purification for her so that truly the Congregation would be the work of God and not merely the idea of one woman. However, there were still many challenges to face and sufferings to undergo. In 1929, Cardinal Vico died. In 1925 he had given oral permission for the foundation of the sisters, which he had renewed annually. The new bishop, Cardinal Boggiani, did not approve of Fr. Lorenzo living outside a community of Carmelite friars and withdrew permission for him to live and work in the diocese. A compromise was worked out whereby Fr. Lorenzo could visit the sisters twice a week. Madre Crocifissa felt his absence keenly. Despite the difficulties, both were able to discern the workings of God's Providence and understand that the foundation was ultimately not their work but God's. Fr. Lorenzo petitioned for a community of friars in Santa Marinella but this was not agreed to. As a result, with great sorrow, Fr. Lorenzo felt impelled to seek exclaustration (living outside the Order for a time). Witnesses tell us that this procedure took an enormous emotional toll on Fr. Lorenzo. He left the Order externally but always remained a Carmelite in his heart. Just before his death in 1977, he had the deep joy of once more wearing the Carmelite habit that was so dear to him, when he was re-admitted to the Order. One of the great riches of the Carmelite Family is the co-operation between men and women who are both dedicated to the same ideal. We live this ideal in different ways and look at it from different perspectives. There are many examples in the history of the Church where the co-operation of a man and a woman in a spiritual venture has produced abundant fruit. The spiritual friendship that existed between Madre Crocifissa and Fr. Lorenzo ensured that the Congregation, a new flower in the garden that is Carmel, would grow strong roots. These roots had to be planted deep in their hearts first. The beginnings of something new are often marked by suffering. Both Fr. Lorenzo and Madre Crocifissa both suffered gladly that new life could be born.

The Mission

13. On 23rd October 1930, Madre Crocifissa and the other sisters were finally permitted to make their final vows as religious. It was a moment of great joy for Madre Crocifissa, who had suffered much to arrive at this point. In 1947 she saw her childhood dream of being a missionary fulfilled in the person of her sisters. At the request of a missionary bishop, she sent four sisters to Paracatu in Brazil. She would have preferred to go herself but her responsibility for the young Congregation and her fragile health made that impossible. Her health was never good and it gradually declined. On 4th July 1957, Madre Crocifissa died. After her death, her Congregation continued to expand and bring her love of the poor and especially children to more missions.

14. Everything she did was to make God loved. Madre Crocifissa was a simple woman with little education but she had a profound relationship with God. All the studies that have been done up until this point have brought out the mystical character of her inner life. It is remarkable that she is able to express herself in such precise theological concepts without ever having had the possibility of studying theology. It is to be hoped that the beatification of Madre Crocifissa will encourage other Carmelites to study her diary and letters through which can be glimpsed deep insights into God's dealings with His creation and also the role of Our Blessed Lady in the spiritual life. From her writings it seems that Our Lady helped Madre Crocifissa be conformed to Christ and led her into the intimacy of the Blessed Trinity. In the Diary, which hopefully will be published and translated into other languages, we can find a woman of deep prayer, who naturally expresses herself in the spiritual language available to her. The document is not a register of daily events but of interior and exterior happenings, generally in the form of short notes. I have no doubt in calling her a profound mystic, in the full Christian sense of that term. However, not only was she a woman of deep prayer and profound spirituality, Madre Crocifissa was also a very balanced and mature individual.

15. Like St. Thérèse to whom the entire Congregation was dedicated, Madre Crocifissa too felt the vocation to pray and sacrifice herself for priests. She desired that her sufferings be not apparent to others. She wrote in her Diary, "I suffered a great deal interiorly all the while appearing to take part in the general laughter and conversation.” (13 December 1925). She also ate the bread of those who had forgotten God or rejected Him: "During the night and the following day I suffered a great deal because of a complete forgetfulness of God and of everything that is essential to my supernatural life.”

16. Madre Crocifissa lived in profound union with God and she wanted that her sisters be faithful to what they had promised. She did not want any half measures. She often said that it was useless to live in a religious house if one does not have the intention to live as the Lord wishes.

Madre Crocifissa and Carmelite Spirituality

17. I have already mentioned Madre Crocifissa's devotion to Carmel. Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel was common in Sicily but Madre Crocifissa also had a warm relationship with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, to whom she dedicated the Congregation. Also from an early age, Madre Crocifissa had come into contact with, and been greatly inspired by St. Teresa of Avila.

18. However, it was Our Blessed Lady who was the constant presence in Madre Crocifissa's life. She said that the tender Mother of Carmel had grasped hold of her heart while very young and had given her a mission that she was determined to carry out. Madre Crocifissa looked upon Our Lady as a Mother full of tenderness and of human warmth and was attracted by the welcome that Mary gave to God's will.

19. The Diary of Madre Crocifissa is full of descriptions of her visions and locutions, many of these involving Our Blessed Lady and the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity. When reading the writings of Madre Crocifissa, one should keep in mind the culture in which she grew up in order to understand the details of her spirituality. Of special importance is the popular religiosity, which she imbibed from her earliest years. This has shaped the expressions that Madre Crocifissa used to pass on her message. In her Diary where we encounter her intimate experience, we discover a profound intimacy with God, with Mary and with her Son Jesus. It is certainly clothed in a miraculous language due to the Madre's background, but the authenticity of her experience can be gauged from her humility, her detachment, her charity and her fear of illusion.

20. Madre Crocifissa experienced the maternal love of Mary. The nourishment that she received from Our Lady was the love with which Mary loved her Son Jesus. From these experiences Madre Crocifissa received the strength to resist those, who in good faith, opposed the fulfilment of her mission that she was convinced she had received from the "tender Mother of Carmel". Madre Crocifissa passed on the experience of Mary's maternal love to the many children with whom she worked in Santa Marinella and the many poor families who received much needed assistance. It can also be seen in the maternal way in which she directed the new Congregation and the sisters who joined her. From Mary at the foot of the cross, she learned particularly a profound compassion for the "little ones". She herself said, " Feminine, maternal compassion is the most striking expression of love that the Holy Spirit wants to spread throughout the world by means of the Church."

21. Her own Carmelite vocation, she was convinced, came from Our Lady of Mount Carmel herself. The scapular was the external symbol of Madre Crocifissa's relationship with Mary and of her desire to conform her whole life to that of the Mother of God. It seems that the young Rosa Curcio received the scapular as an infant and then later when she was admitted to the Third Order at the age of thirteen. She lived as a lay Carmelite until the age of fifty-three when she was able to take vows as a Carmelite religious sister at which point she was finally permitted to wear the full religious habit, which was always of great importance to her. She understood the habit as an external sign of her belonging to Our Blessed Lady's Order.

22. Madre Crocifissa joined the Carmelite Third Order while still very young and found great support for her spiritual desires from her fellow lay Carmelites. She began to feel "the great mission that the tender Mother of Carmel had predestined for her, that is to unite with my companions and to reinvigorate Carmel in our land and in many others.” When she met Fr. Lorenzo, he encouraged her to follow her dream to found a new Carmelite Institute with a specifically missionary thrust, following the great missionary desires of Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux. The influence of these great saints on Madre Crocifissa merits further study.

23. Madre Crocifissa desired that the Congregation be thoroughly Carmelite and indeed play a part in the reflowering of Carmel for the benefit of the whole of humanity. In her letters and regulations for the Congregation, she stressed the great importance of silence and aspirative prayer throughout the day. She was well aware of these elements in the Carmelite tradition. She understood prayer as "a relationship of love with He who is Immense Love”, and therefore is a deeply felt need of the human heart. Madre Crocifissa understood that a part of her mission and that of the Congregation was to undertake an active reparation to the love of God too often forgotten or completely unknown. She proposed several devotions that were dropped in the wake of the devotional crisis after the 2nd. Vatican Council. Madre Crocifissa understood her own vocation as including a very important element of reparation and she sought to pass this on to her sisters in the new Congregation. The sisters would do well to study in particular the aspect of reparation to the Sacred Heart and to renew it with a stress on Eucharistic devotion, which then could be shared with the whole Carmelite Family.

24. Madre Crocifissa looked upon the two Teresas (Avila and Lisieux) as the light and inspiration for her new Congregation. Both were of course cloistered nuns but she wished to found an active Congregation. Madre Crocifissa understood that contemplation was at the heart of the Carmelite vocation and that it must be the source of apostolic activities, which are according to the mind and heart of God. She understood instinctively that there was no dichotomy between contemplation and action. Madre Crocifissa had a great devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and this can be traced back at least to the canonisation ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica of St. Therese, which Madre Crocifissa attended in May 1925. This event had a profound effect on her, on her personal spirituality and therefore on the spirituality of the new Congregation.

25. In this year dedicated to the Eucharist, it is important to point out that devotion to the sacrament was a very important element of Madre Crocifissa's spirituality and was the source of her spiritual strength. In her letters to the sisters she often encouraged them to go to the Eucharist for their source of strength. The love that they received from this source could then be shared with others throughout the day. She often spent entire nights in front of the Tabernacle. She believed that in the Eucharist the individual could be transformed in the infinity of God.

26. The great ideal of Madre Crocifissa was to attain sanctity and Our Lady was her greatest model of what that meant in practice. Her burning desire was that God's will be accomplished in and through her. She desired in some way to make up for people's ingratitude towards God. She stressed very often to her religious sisters that, by their profession, they were obliged to strive towards holiness of life.

Madre Crocifissa and the Carmelite Family

27. The Congregation that Madre Crocifissa founded now numbers approximately 280 sisters in 7 countries. It was affiliated to the Order a few days after the official foundation in 1925. The whole Carmelite Family rejoices with all the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus on the occasion of the beatification of the foundress, Madre Crocifissa Curcio.

28. What has Blessed Madre Crocifissa to offer to the wider Carmelite Family? I have already written about her own love and knowledge of Carmelite spirituality. She was convinced that her vocation was inspired by Our Lady of Mount Carmel so that Carmel would bloom. According to the Book of the First Monks, a very important document for the history of Carmelite spirituality from the 13th century, the twofold goal of the Carmelite life is described in the following way: “One part we acquire by our own effort and the exercise of the virtues, with the help of divine grace. This is to offer God a heart that is holy and pure from actual stain of sin. We attain this goal when we are perfect and ‘in Carith’, that is hidden in that charity of which the Wise Man says, ‘Love covers all offences’ (Prov. 10,12)…… The other goal of this life is granted to us as the free gift of God; namely, not only after death but even in this mortal life, to taste somewhat in the heart and to experience in the mind the power of the divine presence and the sweetness of heavenly glory.” (Bk.1, chap. 2).

29. It would seem clear from the writings of Madre Crocifissa that she did indeed “taste somewhat in the heart and to experience in the mind the power of the divine presence and the sweetness of heavenly glory”. It is wonderful that the Church recognises that one of our sisters has fulfilled abundantly the vocation for which she was created. Carmel has produced very many mystics, both famous and unknown, throughout the centuries of its existence. Mystical experience of course is a pure gift of God and is not something that can be grasped or earned by human effort. We can marvel at the mystical experience of Madre Crocifissa and be encouraged that no matter the external restrictions in our lives, we can still accomplish God's will.

30. From the very beginning Madre Crocifissa had a profound sense of mission. Carmel, since it is part of the Church, must be missionary. In our own countries we are all faced with a great mission received from God to proclaim the Reign of God in word and deed. Madre Crocifissa lived her mission in large part in Santa Marinella but also lived out her commitment to the missio ad gentes through her sisters. The mission to foreign countries (ad gentes) is also an essential part of our Christian and Carmelite vocation. Not all of us can go to other countries but we can have a missionary outlook in the sense that we support those who do with prayer and moral and financial aid.

31. This year (2005) the Church is celebrating the year of the Eucharist. This sacrament was a central pillar in the spirituality of Madre Crocifissa. Her beatification should help us to focus on the meaning of the Eucharist for our own lives. In the Carmelite Rule, it is stated that, " an oratory should be built as conveniently as possible among the cells, where, if it can be done without difficulty, you are to gather each morning to hear Mass.” (Rule, 14) The hermits moved from the individual cells to the chapel for prayers and the celebration of the Eucharist and then, fortified, they returned to their search for God in the solitude of the cell. There is a balance in Carmelite life between the solitude of the cell and community life. St. Paul told the Corinthians to be careful lest what they celebrate in fact not be the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11,20). An essential aspect of Carmelite life is the building up of community. Madre Crocifissa's great humanity was a striking element of her life. She urged all her sisters to strive towards holiness as a consequence of their religious profession but she was also very solicitous about their ordinary human needs. If our Eucharist is truly to be a celebration of the Lord's Supper, it must inspire us to treat one another in practice as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

32. Very few were aware of the intimate mystical life of Madre Crocifissa while she was alive. Her sisters and those she served were aware of her love, which expressed itself in a very practical care and concern for them. The authenticity of any religious experience is seen in how the person treats others day in and day out. Madre Crocifissa is a model of how to follow Jesus Christ. She is an inspiration for all who feel called to Carmel. She inspires us in our life of prayer and in our practical care for others until that day when we will hopefully hear along with her those words of Christ, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” (Mt. 25, 34).

7 Dec 2011

Excellent Sermon on the Carmelite Life

The following was a sermon preached by Fr. Noel Dermot O’Donoghue, O.D.C. on the occasion of the Final Profession of a Carmelite nun, 6th August 1958. Father O’Donoghue was professor of Ethics at Maynooth before becoming a Carmelite. At the time of this sermon he was attached to the Abbey, Loughrea, Co. Galway.

Many of the saints speak of God’s thirst for our love. St. John of the Cross tells us that, however greatly the soul desires union with God, God’s desire for this union is still greater. St. Thérèse of Lisieux does not hesitate to say that God has need of our love. “He is so parched that He awaits a drop of water from us to refresh Him” (Letter LXXXVI).

Now this Divine need or thirst is surely a most extraordinary and mysterious thing. For God is absolutely sufficient to himself; he lacks nothing; he has need of nothing; in the Trinity of Divine Persons there is no loneliness, no desire for other company. If none of us ever existed, God would still be perfectly himself, perfectly complete, perfectly happy. In the forty-ninth Psalm the Holy Spirit says to the Jews who thought they were giving something to God by their sacrifices: “I do not need your calves and goats For all the beasts of the woods are mine. I know all the fowls of the air; and with me is all the beauty of the field.” What can such a poor creature as man give to the creator of the vast universe, the millions of starry worlds, the innumerable multitude of angelic spirits, any one of whom could destroy the whole fabric of this world.

And yet there is one thing that God seems to need, one thing that he thirsts for. That one thing infinitely desired is the love of our hearts. In the forty-ninth Psalm which I have just quoted the Holy Spirit continues: “Offer to God the sacrifice of praise : and pay thy vows to the Most High.” The sacrifice of praise is a loving communication of our hearts with the heart of God.

God desires our hearts, not because of some lack in himself, but rather because of the abundance of his love and goodness. Our need calls out to his abundance, and his abundance calls out to our need. He is like a loving father who has worked all day and comes home laden with gifts for his children. All the father needs of the children is that they accept his gifts, and if they do not accept these gifts he is very sad. If the children prefer their own silly inventions to the good gifts he brings them the father’s heart is indeed hurt, and the more he loves his children the more hurt he is.

God is indeed a bringer of gifts, and we, his children, are constantly being filled with good things. We are constantly loaded down by the abundance of his goodness. There is no limit to these gifts of his; the more of them we receive the more he is prepared to give. All that he asks of us is that we open our hearts and minds to receive this abundance, that we establish a loving communication with his Heart, a communication of giving and receiving. Our giving consists in a response, a disposition to receive — nothing more.

What are these gifts which God so desires to give us? They are the virtues by which the soul is made beautiful, so beautiful that it becomes a mirror of God himself. They are such wonderful qualities as humility, gentleness, meekness, strength of soul, truthfulness, loyalty, generosity. Above all God desires to give us the gift of charity, which is his own visage and countenance.

But alas, they are few who appreciate and accept these gifts. For these gifts cannot be received as long as our hearts are set on the things of this world, as long as selfishness reigns within us. We are like children who prefer to play with their miserable toys while their father begs them to come to him to be filled with the most rare and delicate gifts. It seems a hard and bitter thing to turn from self-love and worldly desires, yet this we must do if we are to open our hearts to this sweet and wonderful charity of Christ. And the more of the gifts of God we receive the more we must die to ourselves, and the more deeply we must suffer in this death.

Now the glory of the religious vocation is that it is a full and unconditional response to God’s love. And the sorrow of the religious vocation is that this response involves death to the natural self.

To glory is the essential and final thing, and the sorrow is only a preparation for it. Let us look first at the sorrow that we may understand the glory more fully.

It is commonly thought that the woman who enters a convent is entering a haven of peace, a sanctuary where one hears only faint echoes of life’s conflicts and difficulties. The priest-poet, Father Gerald Manly Hopkins, expressed this thought very strikingly in his verses on the occasion of a nun taking the veil:

I have desired to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the haven dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

This is very beautiful and it has some truth in it, for the nun who takes the veil has had to endure many storms before arriving at the day of her final espousals of the Word made Flesh. But she will assure you that it was after she had entered the cloister that she had to endure the greatest storms, storms so great that at times it seemed all was lost. It is rare to find a religious who has not at some time felt the temptation to give up and return to the world, not because of the attraction of the world but because of the difficulties of the ascent to God. The time comes when even the strongest will cry out that they can bear no more, as did St. Teresa, as did St. John of the Cross, as did Our Lord himself when he begged that the chalice might pass from him. All that remains is the sheer will to hold on, and at time even this seems to have failed. And the more greatly God enriches the soul the more greatly must it suffer.

The young woman who enters the cloister does not leave the stormy sea for a quiet haven. Rather may her soul be compared with the boat that leaves harbour for the open sea, for unknown and perilous waters. Better still she is like the soldier who chooses to go into the thick of the battle. “You must be strong men,” St. Teresa, Mother of Carmel, used say to her nuns. It is outside the cloister, not within it, that you will find the timid ones. For within a great battle rages, not against flesh and blood, but against Principalities and Powers, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.

The religious rule is austere and has many sharp edges, and life in a community involves deep suffering, especially for those who are sensitive. But the sorrow of the contemplative life is deeper than that. The essential sorrow of the contemplative life arises from the encounter of the Divine and human, an encounter almost intolerable at times for poor human nature. St. John of the Cross compares this process to the way in which fire takes hold of a log of wood, burning out all impurities until the log is changed into a clean glowing coal. What is most special to the religious vocation is the frank recognition of the demands of the fire of Divine Love. In rediscovering this St. Thérèse of Lisieux was simply renewing the true life of Carmel. The Carmelite nun is dedicated to love, a victim of love. That is her sorrow, and that is her great glory.

The glory of the consecrated religious life, I have said, is that it is a full and unconditional response to God’s love. There is in the immeasurable thirst to possess each human soul, to adorn it with all grace and virtue, to make of it a perfect mirror of the Divine. The true religious responds fully and unconditionally to this desire. She senses this Divine thirst and she resolves to slake it by giving intercession and sacrifices. A nun is the mother of souls, the mother of sinners, especially. Nobody loves the sinner more than she does, for her love is truly a mother’s love. She more than anyone else realizes how the heart of Christ thirsts for souls; she understands this with the sure instinct of a lover. Knowing the heart of her beloved she knows that immeasurable thirst in it which expressed itself so piercingly on Calvary. She knows that this love addresses itself in the first place and all the time to her own heart, and she is ready to suffer all in order to respond to that love. How foolish are those worldly people who think that a nun, especially a contemplative nun, has made the sacrifice of all the affections of heart when in truth it is she alone who knows or can know the full glory of love. The love that the world speaks of is at the best a pale imitation or at worst a dreadful caricature of that bright and burning glory that possesses the heart of the spouse of Christ.

Love is at once giving and receiving, for it is a living dialogue and communication of heart to heart. To love God truly we must be generous in giving, making the gift of all we have and all we are. It is well to understand this, but we must also understand that love is receiving, that is in fact more a matter of receiving than giving. To respond fully to the love of God is to be ready to receive more and more of the Divine abundance. Many souls that are generous in giving are yet not apt in receiving, for this demands great humility and simplicity. It demands courage too, for God’s thirst to possess the soul makes very great demands on it. God’s love is not partial or limited like human love; it does not stop short at any point for it seeks to transform the soul entirely into the Divine image.

What a wonderful thing it is, that we, for all our poverty and weakness are called to the most intimate union of heart with God. What glory there is in this love by which we shall be one day transfigured as Jesus was on Mount Thabor when his face did shine as the sun and His garments became white as snow. For it is by love that He was transfigured, by that same love which drew him on towards Calvary. It was of this supreme act of love that he spoke conversing with Moses and Elias. For it is the glory of Calvary that shone through on Thabor.

I have said that in re-discovering love St. Thérèse of Lisieux was simply re-discovering the true vocation of the Carmelite, and indeed of all religious, the vocation envisaged by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. “In the heart of the Church, my mother, I shall be love.” These words express with inspired accuracy the place of the Carmelite nun in the Church of Christ. Every true religious will do all in her power to slake the Divine thirst, to receive of that Divine abundance that today more than ever before is poured into men’s hearts and calls out in agony for a response. It is in relation to this Divine thirst that the act of Oblation to Merciful Love must be understood. The whole Act centres around the phrase — “Let the floods of infinite tenderness pent up within you flow into my soul.” This was the vision which Thérèse saw in her early days; this was the desire that sustained her whole life — that there is in the Heart of Jesus a veritable thirst of giving, and that we can each of us slake that thirst. God has need of us because of his own abundance and goodness and mercy.

A fervent religious responds to the Divine thirst, the Divine need. And in responding thus she brings down graces on many souls. For the Divine bounty cannot show itself unless man responds and accepts it. And because of the unity of the Mystical Body the full response of the Carmelite alone in her cell draws down graces on the whole world, as the heart nourishes and sustains the whole body. For the “floods of infinite tenderness” that flow into her soul do not remain there but go forth in maternal generosity, and after the image of Mary’s mediation, to the whole world.

31 Oct 2011

The Sermons of Hermann Cohen

Extracts from the sermons and writings of Fr Augustin-Marie of the Blessed Sacrament OCD (Hermann Cohen).

Many of Hermann Cohen's sermons have been preserved and they help to give us an insight into his spirituality. Sermons of course are meant to be heard and they lose a lot of their impact when they are merely read. I will now include some extracts from his seremons,homilies and dedications.The first of these speaks of the love of Christ in accents which were perhaps more appropriate in the French style of his day:

"My God, is it possible to have lived without thinking of Jesus, without loving Jesus, without living for Jesus and in Jesus? Now that your grace has awakened me, now that my eyes have seen,my hands have touched,ears have heard, my heart has loved - yes, I love Jesus Christ.I shall take care not to hide it.I am in honour bound to proclaim it before the world.I love Jesus Christ - that's the secret of my immense peace which has gone on increasing since the first moment I began to love.I love Jesus Christ - this is what I want to proclaim to the ends of the earth.I wish that the walls of this temple would expand to include the millions who live on the earth, so that my voice could reach and penetrate the depths of their hearts,making them vibrate in unison with mine, all responding together in one great hymn of joy and triumph,echoing from earth to heaven,'we too love Jesus Christ'....

Everyone wants happiness. but Jesus Christ who is the source of happiness is not loved.We seek pleasure and greatness but Jesus Christ our greatest joy and the splendour of the father is not loved. I want to make up to your unknown love.Yes I want to punish my unfaithful and deceitful heart.Yes,heart of mine, if you have been foolish enough to prefer an empy love to the dove of charity,from now on you will find no more satisfaction on earth.I will deprive you of all consolation here below.

I will deprive you of the tenderness of a mother and of the blessing of a father.I shall tear you away from all who cherish you.I will consign you to solitude and there I willl purify you every moment of your life.You will no longer act except at the will of another. You will no longer enjoy the shared friendship and concern of others;you will become like ice or marble in regard to all that formerly pleased you.But,o sublime vengence,o generous exchange,o happy fault,all these privations will win for you in return a new love and a divine life..like the phoenix you will rise from the ashes, a pure flame will emerge within you,he will renew your youth like the wings of an eagle, and with those wings you will fly to undreamt of realms.You will rise above the clouds of faith and pierce them. You will ascend to a lofty region,to a supernatural world and there you will see what no eye has seen,you will hear what no ear has heard and you will feel what no one's hands have ever touched, what the heart has never conceived.You will learn secrets which must remain hidden from the wise and prudent.You will be enkindled with a love for the beauty of all beauty that cannot fade, the light from light,true God from true God.You will love Jesus."

This was really Hermann Cohen's apologia for becoming a monk.

Hermann's preaching emanated from one who was a 'child of the prophets'. He particularly identified with Elijah, who 'arose as a burning fire' and to whom the Carmelite Order looks for inspiration.

Here is another remarkable sermon which Hermann preached in the church of St.Sulpice in Paris in the year 1854. It was his first public appearance in Paris since his conversion and a large crowd turned up to hear him.The Archbishop presided and one of his attendants,Henri Perreyre,himself an artist and musician and a professor at the Sorbonne,has left us a record of Hermann's words.

"The fairest among the sons of men."(PS.45)
April 24th.1854.

Dear Brethren,

My first thought as I appear in this Christian pulpit is to make amends for the bad example which I unhappily gave in this city in the past.You might well ask me,'what right have you to preach to me,to exhort me to virtue and goodness,to teach me the truths of the faith, to speak to us of Jesus and Mary whom we love?You have so often dishonoured them in our sight,you who have kept bad company and behaved in an outrageous way, you whom we know to have swallowed every false theory and so often insulted us with your conduct.'Yes,my brethren, I confess that I have sinned against heaven and against you.I admit that I have deserved to be unpopular with you and that I have forfeited your good will.I come to you brethren, clothed in a robe of penance and committed to a strict Order, barefooted and wearing a tonsure.Mary obtained for me from the God of the eucharist, a cure infinitely more important to me than that of my bodily eyes, that is freedom from my blindness.It was the month of Mary and they were singing hymns.Mary,the mother of Jesus revealed the eucharist to me.I knew Jesus, I knew God.Soon I became a Christian.I asked for baptism and before long the holy water was flowing over me.At that moment all the many sins of my twenty five years were wiped out.Brethren, God pardoned me,Mary pardoned me,will you not pardon me too."

I have travelled throughout the world.I have loved the world.I have learnt one thing about the world - you don't find happiness there.And you, brethren, have you found it,can you say you are happy, do you not want anything? It seems to me I can here a sad chorus of sighs all around.I seem to hear the unanimous cry of suffering humanity:
'Happiness where are you? Tell me where you are hidden and I will search for you, hold you and possess you'.I have looked for happiness.I have searched in cities and crossed the seas to find it.I have searched for happiness among the beauties of nature;I have sought it in the elegant life of salons,in the giddy pleasures of balls and banquets.I have sought it through the accumulation of money, in the excitement of gambling,in the hazards of adventure and in trying to sastisfy my burning ambitions.I have looked for it in the renown of the artist, in the friendships of famous people and in all the pleasures of sense and spirit.Finally I looked for it in the fidelity of a friend, that incessant dream of every heart.This happiness,dear God, was there anywhere I failed to seek it? How can one explain this mystery to oneself? For human beings are made for happiness.The mystery is that most people don't know in what happiness consists.They look for it where it does't exist.Well then,listen.I have found happiness, I possess it,I enjoy it so fully that I am able to say with the great apostle,'I am overflowing with joy.' My heart brims over with happiness, and I cannot contain it within me.I wanted to leave my solitude in order to come and find you and tell you,I am overflowing with joy.Yes, I am so happy that I come to offer it to you, I come to entreat you to share with me this overflowing happiness.

But, you object, I don't believe in Jesus Christ'
I too, I did not believe, and that is precisely why I was unhappy.Faith shows us happiness in God and in Jesus Christ his son.It is a mystery which pride cannot grasp.But to find Jesus Christ one must watch and pray.Scripture says, 'happy is the man who watches at the doors day and night.'that is to say who watches at the door of his heart to find Jesus Christ.

The great St.Teresa sought in prayer the eternal light which illumined her.So, pray, ask and you will receive this intoxicating wine of immortality which flows from the winepress of prayer.Prayer imparts faith, sheds light through prayer which,united to faith,imparts peace,love,wisdom,light,freedom - all of which are contained in Jesus Christ.It is not possible for someone whoi does not love Jesus Christ to be happy.
This son of God who is God himself, in whom the father is well-pleased - and he has given him to us.So much did God love the world.In spite of him being the unspeakable happiness of the blessed, he descended from heaven out of love for mankind and became man.God made himself like us in order to make himself one with us for our salvation.It was for mankind alone that he led a life of privation and suffering and that he died in agony and finally rose again.He gave himself up for us - can you be surprised after that that there is a hell.

One stormy night I found myself lost in a range of steep mountains surrounded on all sides by frightful precipices.The thunder rolled and the wind raged uprooting ancient trees.I was thrown down with great violence.Suddenly in the side of a neighbouring mountain, a flash of lightning revealed to me a little golden door in a granite hollow. My courage rvived in the hope of finding a resting-place and a helping-hand. I dragged myself breathlessly through the brambles and through water all dishevelled, until I reached the little door on which I began to knock asking for help.As soon as I knocked the door opened and a young man, clothed in majesty and with graciousness on his lips appeared on the threshold and introduced me to his mysterious abode.Immediately the sound of the storm abated and I was restored to peace.An unseen hand removed my mudsplattered cloak and plunged me in a refreshing bath where I found strength and health.This bath, not only removed every stain of the journey, but also healed my wounds, filling my veins with new life.He renewed the joy of my youth.The perfume he emitted was so exquisite that I wished to know where it came from.

Think of my amazement to see beside me the handsome young man who had opened the door to me.He held out his hands and in each there was a deep wound from which the blood was flowing.I looked at him and looked at myself and I saw that I was bathed in this young man's blood.This blood filled me with such inner strength that I felt ready to face a thousand storms even worse than the one I have just described.And I was even more surprised when his blood, far from making me turn red, made me strikingly white instead, whiter indeed than snow..Gratitude and love began to stir in my heart.I was hungry, I was thirsty - the fatigue and struggles of my journey had drained me, but he made me sit down to a banquet, in a brightly lit festive hall - though I could see no lamps there.The young man himself was the lamp there and rays of light shone from his face.(Cfr.Apocalypse Ch.21 v 23)
I was hungry, I was thirsty.He gave me bread and said to me,'eat this'.He offered me a cup saying to me, 'drink this'.He blessed the bread, then held the cup to the wound in his side and it was at once filled with a marvellous wine.When I had eaten and drunk I understood that this was no ordinary food, but nourishment which transformed me and gave me a deep joy.I looked at the handsome young man and saw him dwelling in me and being adored by angels..Then the young man spoke to me.His words were like heavenly music , delighting me and causing me to shed tears of love and joy.And then he drew me to himself, embraced me and held me to his heart, caressing me and soothing me gently with the melody which fell from his lips.I lay my head on his breast and my happiness was so great that my spirit fainted.
(Cfr.John,Ch.13. and Song of Songs,Ch.5.)
I slept on the heart of my loving friend.It was no ordinary sleep, but one filled with an immense sense of peace which the young man induced in me after the storm.The psalmist sings:
'In peace in him I sleep and take my rest'.

I slept a long time and I had a dream of heaven during my sleep.O dream of love,I wish I were able to express it.Then he touched my eyes and I awoke at once filled with inexpressible love.Bowing down I thanked him for his welcome and he said to me, 'if you wish you can stay here every day.Each day I will bathe you in my blood.I will warm you in my heart, I will enfold you with my light and I will make you sit down to my table..If you leave me, watch out for the storm will quickly begin again.' 'Let others',I said,'fight the storm and wade through the mud on the road,but for me, since you will keep me here, I wish to live here, here I wish to die'.Yes, every day I will drink from the torrent of life which flows from your open side.But tell me your name so that I can bless you with the angels.(Cfr Gen.Ch.32.v 30)He replied,'my name is love, my name is eucharist, my name is Jesus.'
Let us then love Jesus Christ,for there is only one happiness to love Jesus Christ and to be loved by him."

Abbe Perreyve remarked that the impression made on his hearers was this:
'It is something to have listened to a saint.' When he had finished his sermon Hermann went to the great organ of St. Sulpice and played beautifully while the Archbishop gave benediction.

The next sermon is less personal and less autobiographical.It was preached in the church of St-Clothilde also in Paris.Hermann had shortly before met the Cure d'Ars and consulted him about founding a movement for thanksgiving.

"Many people in close contact with God in prayer have confided to me the complaints communicated to them by the Lord about the ingratitude of the world to the gifts he has given.Is'nt it because Adam neglected to thank God for the gift of his glorious creation and the many riches of body and mind with which he was endowed, that God withdrew his hand from him and allowed him to fall into sin?"

Hermann goes on to speak about love.

"The first degree is that of the heart.We must stamp on our heart the memory of the great mercies the Lord has shown us, a remembrance which will monitor our feelings and remove from us any temptation to ingratitude.
The second degree leads us to praise and glorify God for the good things we have received.In the royal prophet we find an abundance of canticles and songs of praise and jubilation.'Let all within me bless the Lord.'
And he goes on to invite the whole creation to join him in his song of praise - earth and sky, all living creatures, mountains, valleys - even the very elements themselves, - in a word he invites all that is in us and around us to praise and bless the Lord.The holy man Job blesses God in prosperity and in adversity and we also find that Tobit does not murmur against God when he becomes blind, but remains faithful to him, giving him thanks all the days of his life.

In the New Testament we find St.Lawrence giving thanks to God on his gridiron and St.Cyprian who, when he heard he was condemned to death said,'thanks be to God'.

The courageous virgin martyr Thecla kept saying, 'let us give thanks to God', while they were burning her sides with irons.And Mary, in her magnificat, does she not furnish us with the most perfect model of praise? The 'Te Deum' is the most sublime expression on the lips of the human race.The Holy Spirit has certainly supplied us in Scripture with plenty of sacred texts which lift the heart and cause the tongue to sing about God's gifts to us. 'Come and listen and I will tell all who fear the Lord what has has done for me'.(Ps.23)

St.Augustine has these lovely words:
'You are happy? Recognise your father who corrects.He instructs those to whom he will give an inheritance'. And yet our praise is not the highest form of thanks.It is through the divine eucharist and through it alone, that you can rightly pay your debt of gratitude to God.

This is the third, the highest degree of thanksgiving which consists in adding to the gratitude of heart and tongue that of hand and arms, giving back something more than one has received.To give back merely what one has received is to give nothing. It is in the holy eucharist that we find a surplus, something freely given, of which St.thomas speaks.That is why the holy eucharist is the only thanksgiving offering worthy of God.I can show this in the first instance from the words of the Holy Spirit on the lips of the royal prophet:
'What shall I render to the Lord for all he has given me? I will take the chalice of salvation', he joyfully replies,the chalice of the Lord which is nothing else but the eucharist.I can show it in the second place from the words of Jeus, when he instituted the testament of his love in the cenacle.When he gave his body and blood to the apostles and to us, he said,'do this in memory of me', in other words, in memory of all I have done for you.The Lord in his mercy instituted a memorial of his gifts, giving himself as food to those who fear him. The sacrament of the altar has always been called the memorial, the resume of God's gifts to us.

God knows the human heart, how soon it forgets and becomes ungrateful.Just as ingratitude has its source in forgetfulness of God, so gratitude is based on the memory of his goodness.God ordered the Israelites to keep a container filled with manna in the tabernacle, in memory of the gifts he showered on them when he fed them in the desert.Manna hasa salways been regarded aas an image of the holy eucharist.But the name of the true manna ,the lovely name 'eucharist' expresses in one word all the treasures of God's goodness,literally in Greek,'thanksiving'.But since human thanksgiving is not enough,this treasure is called,'the divine eucharist',- the divine act of thanksgiving, infinite and inexhaustible, suitable for the greatness and goodness of God.O yes, I know it, o my God,when I offer you this host of praise and love, I hear again your father's voice from heaven as Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan and you said,'this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased'.If then we offer him his well beloved son who became our heritage in the divine eucharist, we render to the eternal father a thanksgiving which is infinite,agreeable,one which is worthy of him and thus supreme liturgical praise.This is what the church sums up and professes in that lovely song in the mass called the preface, the thanksgiving song of creation...The priest first lifts his voice and says, 'lift up your hearts', and when we have replied, 'we have raised them up to the Lord',implying that we are ready to praise and thank God for his goodness,he then says 'it is good to give him thanks and praise'...and then he ends,holy,holy, holy..' In this way, brethren,we can give thanks to God our divine mediator,Jesus in the eucharist, the sacrifice of the altar, and without it we cannot give God the glory which is his due.Think of Blessed Henry Suso who felt himself to be the conductor of a choir, directing the song of all creation to the Lord.What a holy person! But it seems to me that it was not he who was conducting the concert - the true conductor was the sacred heart of Jesus in the holy eucharist.It is from him that we must take the pitch - from his divine heart which beats the measure of our gratitude, whose adoration directs and leads our voices and our hearts in the songs of praise which we owe the most high, through Christ our Lord."

Finally in his sermon as a practical step,Hermann proposed to found a movement for Thanksgiving.He went to Rome at the beginning of 1859 and asked Pope Pius 1X for permission to found such a confraternity.This was officially launched in the Carmelite church at Lyons presided over by Cardinal de Bonald.The Pope further agreed that the movement should be elevated to an archconfraternity so that Hermann could found other such groups throughout France.

12 Aug 2011

The Legend of the Scapular

HERE were troublesome times in “Merrie England." The Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ upon earth, had vainly remonstrated with the infamous monarch John, who at that time wielded the sceptre upon the English throne. Innocent III, in consequence of the scandalous conduct of the king, had deemed it proper to set aside the custom which had,up to that time prevailed, of consulting the ruling sovereign upon the appointment of a bishop to any of the vacant Sees. The Bishopric of Canterbury being vacant he placed therein one eminently fitted for the exalted position, but in so doing he incurred the wrath of the rebellious prince. John, venting his rage upon all who supported the Pontiff, or loyally tendered their ready submission to the holy prelate, sent his minions to despoil an adjacent abbey, and banish the monks from their much loved home.

Nothing remained but to place the kingdom under an Interdict, a punishment which was never resorted to save when gentler measures had been tried in vain, and mild persuasion been laughed to scorn. The nature of an interdict is, generally speaking,
well known, still it may not be amiss to devote a few moments time to say that it is a something calculated to strike terror to the strongest heart, and fill with anguish the devoted clients of our holy church. During its continuance none of the exterior rites of religion can be observed. The spacious cathedral and the simple village church must alike divest their altars of the adornments with which piety or wealth had decorated them. The symbol of man's salvation must be entirely concealed. The dear pictured faces of the saints, so loved and venerated, are lost to view. Their mild, compassionate glances and sweet smiles so consoling to the sorrowful heart are hidden away, for crucifixes and pictures, saints' relics and statutes alike are covered with thick black veils. The belfries seem to mourn for the loss of the sweet toned bells whose chimes are silent now, and none can go forth joyfully to attend the holy mass. No, for the divine sacrifice could not be celebrated until the portals of God's holy temple were closed and barred. Baptism and communion were permitted only to the dying, youths and maidens going to unite their hearts and hands in wedded love were met with pitying glances as they stood in the church yard to speak their vows away from the altar they loved so well, and mourning relatives were forced to bury their dead in soil unhallowed by our mother Church.

Yes ! faithful hearts were sad in England. But our Lord who never forgets His own
devoted children, sent into the world about this time one who was destined to command
an army by far outnumbering the mighty array of the infamous John—an army which would welcome beneath its standard the great and lowly, the monarch upon his throne, and the beggar at the gate, —decrepit age, scarce able to bear the burden of years, and innocent youth, caroling for pure joy that it had never known a grief. The mightiest intellect was glad to assume the insignia, and the poor ignorant children of the church were consoled when admitted to the band.

St. Simon of the Stock was the one called by our Lady of Mount Carmel to work such marvels, not in "Merrie England" alone, but, as time rolled on, wherever the symbol of salvation proclaimed that the faith was there. He was born in the County of Kent, and when but twelve brief years had passed over his head, at an age when childish sports occupy so large a space in the heart of the growing boy, he left his home and for twenty years dwelt in the hollow trunk of an ancient oak. From this circumstance he was called "St. Simon of the Stock."

Our Blessed Lady, for whom he had always cherished an extraordinary devotion, revealed to him that he was eventually to enter an order which as yet was not established in England. Patiently therefore in prayer and penance, beneath the spreading foliage of the oak, hidden from all in his narrow retreat, he awaited the dawning of that day He entered the Carmelite Order, and in the year 1245, so great was the sanctity of his life that he was unanimously chosen by his brethren as their Prior General. It was in the year 1251, however, that this devout client of Mary was called to be general of the army of which I have spoken of above. One day when in the chapel of the Convent at Whitefriars he knelt wholly absorbed in prayer and contemplation of his dear lady and queen's perfections, a wonderful favour was vouchsafed to him. The blessed Virgin appeared to him wearing an aspect of loveliness, far greater than it hath entered into the heart of man to conceive; celestial strains of music soft and low were heard, and the chapel was filled with a fragrance so sweet that it could only have come from heaven. She presented him with the Brown Scapulars—that dear badge with which we are all so familiar, and assured him of her never ceasing protection.

The saint made known the favour he had received, and the new devotion was welcomed
with universal acclaim. The sovereign Pontiff placed upon it the seal of his approbation, and enriched it with indulgences, an example which his successors have, up to the present day, followed with unvarying unanimity. The beneficial effects were soon made manifest, especially in England, the land of our dear saint's birth. In the year 1251 this great servant of God was called to meet his eternal reward, but not until he had seen many marvels wrought in behalf of those whom he had invested with the colours of his beloved queen.

The year 1245 which was such a bright spot in the annals of the Carmelite Order dawned upon France and beheld its saintly sovereign, Louis IX, full of holy enthusiasm, preparing for that seventh crusade which, alas, ended with disaster and defeat. In one of the loveliest spots of that sunny land, far removed from the city's busy turmoil, lived the Count Felix de la Roque, and his young wife, Blanche. Everything tended to make their lives bright and happy, and grief with careless kindness seemed to pass them by. A beautiful home, tenants who looked up to them with admiration, respect and love; an idolized child, and above all, the priceless treasure of a living faith. These were the gifts lavished by a bountiful Providence upon this happy pair. The countess was the god-child of the illustrious Queen Blanche, and the count was devoted, heart and soul, to his king. In the education of the little Felix his loving mother always took as a model her royal god-mother, and many a time she would assure the boy that, deeply as his death would grieve her and cast a gloom o'er their now happy home, she would far rather give him to God in his guileless innocence than see him live to stain and blacken his soul with sin.

The poor regarded Lady Blanche as an angel; her purse was ever open to relieve their wants, her aid was ever at their service in sickness, and the most repulsive malady did not deter her from hastening to their side. The rich admired her for her beauty and grace, but still more for the bright example she set them. They sometimes tried to imitate it, or resolved to walk in her footsteps "at some future time."

Thus the days passed happily away, but the cloud of separation was overshadowing
them, even now. Count Felix was too loyal a subject and too good a christian not to place his services and his purse at the disposal of the king. Desolate as his departure would make their home, his noble wife, far from seeking to change his resolution, urged him on rather, and frequently by her wise suggestions aided her beloved soldier of the cross. They conferred earnestly upon the course she was to pursue in his absence, especially with regard to their child. And then came the bitter hour of separation. After a most loving farewell the count, noble chevalier that he was, followed by a numerous and chivalrous retinue, set out full of high hopes and ardent resolves History tells us how the king was accompanied by his heroic wife, his three brothers, and all the bravest knights of France. How he lost the half of his army by disease and defeat, how he was taken prisoner and languished for a time under the Saracen iron rule. Then he ransomed himself and the remnant of his troops, and spent several years in promoting the welfare of the Christian colonies. The death of his mother, to whose care he had entrusted the government of his kingdom, eventually recalled him to France. It is, however, the fortunes of Count Felix in which this little brochure is most especially interested, and you will learn of his wonderful escape, wherein the efficacy of the Scapular was so unequivocally displayed. He had borne himself all through that fateful seventh crusade with a bravely and heroism which scarce can be described.

" Our Lady's Knight,'' his soldier comrades styled him, for he never went upon the battle field without specially recommending himself to Mary, wore a large silver medal next to his heart, and had a small picture of our Blessed Mother painted upon his shield. At last he fell, pierced by the lance of a Saracen chief, and was left upon the field for dead. Here the protecting care of the Queen of Heaven was first evinced, for when, later on, the cruel foe began to heap indignities on their lifeless victims, it was found that Felix still lived. The lance had glanced aside, turned from its course by the medal which lay next his heart. And now his misfortunes began.

His captors dragged him lo prison, thrust him into a dungeon, and lore from his bruised form whatever of value met their gaze. One of his most precious treasures was a rosary with golden chain and ruby beads. The rubies had always reminded the pious count of the drops of blood, which, in the Garden of Gethsemane, '' ran trickling down " from our agonized Lord, and the large ruby in the centre of the crucifix, of a drop of blood from His Sacred Heart. This they took, also a miniature of his wife, exquisitely painted and set in a frame of precious stones. The Count seemed to have inspired his captors with a special hatred, for not another prisoner was treated with such unvarying cruelty. When the king sent to enquire as to his fate, and offered to ransom him regardless of the cost,' he was invariably met with the assurance of his death.

And the weary months dragged on. The foul air of his prison cell affected his health, and the work which he was led forth to do was too much for his strength. In hunger and thirst, in much wtatching, beneath the burning rays of an Egyptian sun, this heroic soldier of the Cross toiled on. Not a murmur escaped his lips. To the jibes and jeers of his tormentors he uttered not a word; and to their assurances of freedom and a happy meeting with wife and child, if he would but mock and scoff at the christian's God, he had but one fearless answer to give. Meanwhile, the Lady Blanche: What of her? Hoping almost against hope, she clung to the belief that Felix still lived. All her works of charity, all her prayers, tended to this one end. She was very devoted to the holy souls, and after praying for them or assisting at mass for their release, she would beg them not to forget the dear prisoner she loved so well. At times when her courage, well nigh faltered, the saintly chaplain of the castle would bid her renew her prayers to the "Comfortress of the afflicted," who surely would protect her husband and watch over him in that far off land. But the world awoke to the year 1251, and the fame of the new devotion resounded throughout the church. It penetrated to France, and Lady Blanche was amongst the first to have herself enrolled in the confraternity, together with her child. She had the name of her husband inscribed therein, that he might have an additional claim on the protection of Mary. And her confidence was not misplaced. Not a day elapsed when the wanderer clasped his beloved ones to his heart.

As the legend runs, after a day upon which the ferocity of his tormentors surpassed
even itself, Count Felix fell upon his knees, and with a fervent prayer to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son, in whose honour he had become a soldier of the Cross, he resigned himself wholly into their sacred hands to live or to die. At that moment a venerable man in the garb of a monk appeared before him, and placing a scapular around his neck, opened the prison door and bade him "go in peace." He knew nothing more until he found himself in his home—his own dear home. Thanks to the interposition of our Lady of Mount Carmel and her devout client — St. Simon of the Stock.
S. X. B.
St. Mary's, Pa.

3 Jul 2011

Essential reading from Fr Marie Eugene of the Child Jesus OCD

This excerpt from I Want to see God is a must for anyone interested in Carmelite spirituality -


The gift of self attracts in return the mercy of God; humility increases the soul's capacity for grace; silence protects the efficacy of God's action in the soul.

In the First Mansion, Saint Teresa stressed the necessity of recollection if we would discover the presence of God in the soul and the treasures He has hidden there. Now, in this second phase of the soul's progress, the need for silence becomes imperative. Previously, it was sufficient to be recollected from time to time; a recollection that is as frequent and constant as the action of God, is now an absolute requirement.

We must then speak of silence. The importance and difficulties of the subject could lead us into a long discussion. One must bear in mind, however, that it would be rather illogical to discourse too much about silence. And yet, in order to give the essentials, two major sub-headings are required: Necessity of Silence, and Forms of Silence.


Any task at all that requires a serious application of our faculties, presupposes the recollection and silence that render it possible. The scientist needs silence to prepare his experiments. The philosopher recollects himself in solitude to put order into his thoughts and penetrate into them. The silence that the thinker is avid for, that his intellectual energies may not be disturbed in their reflections, is still more necessary for the spiritual person, that the whole soul may be applied to the search of its divine object. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us how we must seek solitude for prayer: "When you pray, go into your room, and closing the door, pray to your Father in secret - and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you."(1)

The contemplative prayer proper to the state to which we have come has very particular requirements of silence and solitude. In contemplation, divine wisdom not only enlightens the intellect; it acts on the whole soul. And so it demands of it a complete orientation of its being towards God, a recollection and tranquillity of what is deepest within, in order to receive the action of Love's transforming rays.

In a forceful expression which cannot but awaken profound echoes in every contemplative soul, St. John of the Cross enunciates this divine requirement. He writes: "The heavenly Father has uttered only one word; it is His Son. He says it eternally and in an eternal silence. It is in the silence of the soul that it makes itself heard."(2)

"God sees in secret," our Lord had said. St. John of the Cross adds: "God works His divine operations in silence." Silence is a law of the highest divine operations; the eternal generation of the Word, and the production in time of grace, which is a participation of the Word.

The divine law surprises us. It goes so much against our experience of the natural laws of the world. Here below, any profound transformation, any great external change produces a certain agitation and noise. The great river, for example, reaches the ocean only by the sounding onward rush of waters.

In the Holy Trinity, the generation of the Word (splendor of the Father who expresses Himself in that luminous and clear radiance of Himself, which is the Son) and the procession of the Holy Spirit (the mutual exchange of the Father and the Son in infinite torrents of Love, that constitute the Third Person) take place in the bosom of the Trinity in the silence and peace of the divine immutability in an eternal present. No movement, no change, no slightest stir, signaling to the world or to the finest sensibilities of creatures, this rhythm of the Triune Life whose power and effects are infinite.

We must await the vision face to face in order perfectly to enter into the place of the divine immutability. Nevertheless, already here below, participation in the divine life through grace brings us under the law of divine silence. "It is in silence," adds St. John of the Cross, "that the divine Word, which in us is grace, makes Himself heard and is received."

Baptism works a marvelous creation in the soul of the child. A new life is given it, a life which will permit it to perform divine acts as a son of God. We hear the words of the priest, "I baptize thee..."; we see the water flow over the forehead of the infant; but, of the creation of grace, which requires nothing less than the personal and omnipotent action of God, we have perceived nothing. God has spoken His word in the soul in silence. And it is in the same silent darkness that the further developments of grace ordinarily take place.

God speaks in silence, and silence alone seems able to express Him. For the spiritual person who has known the touch of God, silence and God seem to be identified. And so, to find God again, where would he go, if not to the most silent depths of his soul, into those regions that are so hidden that nothing can any longer disturb them.

Thirsty for God because she also had already found Him, Saint Teresa was to the same degree thirsty for silence. The foundation of the Convent of St. Joseph of Avila, the first of her Reform, sprang from that need (for silence). At the Incarnation Convent, the absence of enclosure, the large number of religious, the mitigation of the Rule, had killed the silence that Teresa and Christ needed in order to cultivate their intimacy and to be perfectly united. In order to revive the primitive ideal, St. Teresa set out to re-create the desert. She would establish it in the bosom of cities. Such was the principle aim that directed the organization of St. Joseph's of Avila, the triumph of the practical genius of the Saint and the model for other foundations.

In our 20th century, the contemplative dreams with a little melancholy of Teresa's age as we live in a fever of movement and activity. The evil is not simply in organization of modern life, in the haste that it imposes on what we do, the rapidity and facility that it affords our changing of pace. A more profound evil is in the feverish nervousness of temperaments. People no longer know how to wait and be silent. And yet, they appear to be seeking silence and solitude. Whatever changes time may bring, God remains the same and it is always in silence that He utters His Word and that the soul must receive it. The law of silence is imposed on us, as on St. Teresa. The high-strung excitability of the modern temperament makes it more urgently important, and exacts of us a more resolute effort to respect and submit to it.


Silence of the tongue

Of the tongue it has been said that there is nothing better and nothing worse. A source of incomparable good, it provokes the greatest evils. The apostle, Saint James, says this emphatically in his Epistle.(3)

Talkativeness, that tendency to exteriorize all the treasures of the soul by expressing them, is extremely harmful to the spiritual life. Its movement is in reverse direction from that of the soul, which becomes increasingly interior in order to be nearer to God. Drawn towards the external by his need to say everything, the talker cannot but be far from God and all profound activity. All his inner life passes through his lips, and flows out in words that bear along with them the fruits of his thought and soul. He thus becomes more and more spiritually impoverished. For the talkative person no longer has time, and soon no taste, to be recollected, to think, nor to live deeply. And by the agitation that he creates around him, he hinders fruitful work and recollection in others. Superficial and vain, the talker is a dangerous person.

Interior silence It is in the deep center of the soul, in its most spiritual depth, that God dwells and carries on the mysterious operations of His union with us. What matter, then, the external noise and activity, provided silence reigns in this spiritual domain of our divine Guest. Interior silence is the most important - Exterior silence has value only in the measure that it favors the inner.

18 May 2011

Some history on our holy Order by Fr Benedict Zimmerman OCD VII

Various Carmelite institutions

Several religious institutions have gathered round Carmel. In the Middle Ages we find attached to many convents and churches anchorages, that is, hermitages for recluses who at their own request were walled up by the bishop and who exercised a great influence over the populace by reason of their example, their austerities, and their exhortations. Among the more celebrated Carmelite recluses may be mentioned Thomas Scrope of Bradley, at Norwich, afterwards titular Bishop of Dromore in Ireland and Apostolic legate in Rhodes; and Blessed Jane of Toulouse (beginning of the fifteenth century) whose cultus was approved by Leo XIII.

Probably ever since the coming of the friars to Europe, founders of convents and benefactors were admitted to the order under the title of Confratres, which gave them a right to participation in the prayers and good works of a section or of the entire order, and to suffrages after their death. Neither such Confratres, nor even the text of confraternity letters, contain any mention of obligations incumbent on them. The letters were at first granted only after mature consideration, but from the end of the fifteenth century it was less difficult to obtain them; in many cases the general handed numerous blank forms to provincials and priors to be distributed by them at their own discretion. Out of this confraternity, which stood in no organic connection with the order, arose in the sixteenth century, according to all probability, the Confraternity of the Scapular.

Another confraternity was a guild established in 1280 at Bologna, and perhaps elsewhere, which held its meetings in the Carmelite church and from time to time made an offering at a certain altar, but otherwise was entirely independent of the order. As has been seen, some communities of Beguines in the Netherlands asked, in 1452, for affiliation to the order, and thus gave rise to the first convents of Carmelite nuns. At a later period Herman of St. Norbert (died 1686), preaching in 1663 at Termonde, determine five Beguines, among them Anne Puttemans (died 1674), to sell their property and found the congregation of Maricoles or Maroles, which was aggregated to the order 26 March, 1672; they occupy themselves with the education of poor girls and with the care of the sick in their own homes, and have still many convents in the Dioceses of Mechlin, Ghent, and especially Bruges. A community of thirty-seven hermits living in various hermitages in Bavaria and the Tyrol having asked for aggregation, the General Chapter of the Discalced Carmelites of 1689 granted their wish under certain conditions, among others that not more than four or five should live in each hermitage, but the decree was rescinded in 1692, for what reason is not known, and all connection between these hermits and the order was severed.

Carmelite tertiaries

Tertiaries or members of the Third or Secular Order may be divided into two classes, those living in their own homes and those living in community. The former class is first met with in the middle of the fifteenth century, when the Holy See granted permission to the Carmelites to institute a Third Order of secular persons, after the model of similar institutions attached to other mendicant orders. The oldest printed Missals and Breviaries contain the rite of admission of such persons; these were then known by the term of bizzoche, which has since acquired a somewhat unpleasant meaning. They were found to recite certain prayers (in the Teresian Reform also to practice meditation), to keep certain fasts and abstinences, refrain from worldly amusements, and to live under obedience to the superiors of the order; they might wear a distinctive habit resembling that of the friars or nuns. Tertiaries living in community observe a rule similar to, but less austere than, that of the friars; there are two communities of Tertiary brothers in Ireland, one at Clondalkin, where they have a boarding-school established previous to 1813, and another, in charge of an asylum for the blind, at Drumcondra near Dublin. There are also Tertiary fathers (natives) in the Archdiocese of Verapoly in India, established 1855, who serve a number of missions.

Tertiary sisters have a convent in Rome founded by Livia Vipereschi for the education of girls; they were approved by Clement IX in 1668. The Austrian congregation has had, since 1863, ten houses partly for educational purposes, partly for the care of servants. In India, too, there are native Tertiary sisters in Verapoly and Quilon with thirteen houses, boarding schools, and orphanages. A Tertiary convent was founded in Luxemburg in 1886. Finally, mention must be made of the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Sacred Heart lately established in Berlin, with orphanages and kindergartens in various parts of Germany, Holland, England, Bohemia, and Italy.

At the present time (1908) there are about 80 convents of Calced Carmelite friars, with about 800 members and 20 convents of nuns; 130 convents of Discalced Carmelite friars, with about 1900 members; the number of convents of nuns, including the French previous to the passing of the Association law, was 360.

5 Apr 2011

Some history on our holy Order by Fr Benedict Zimmerman OCD VI

Daily life

The life of a Carmelite is somewhat different according to the branch of the order to which he belongs, and the house in which he lives. The life in a novitiate, for instance, is different even for those who have taken their vows, from that in a college, or in a convent intended for the care of souls. It is also stricter among the Discalced Carmelites, who keep perpetual abstinence (except in the case of weakness or illness) and who rise in the night for the recitation of the Divine Office, than among the Calced Carmelites, who have adapted their rule to the needs of the times. Formerly the whole Office was sung every day, but when in the sixteenth century the exercise of mental prayer became more and more universal, particularly through the influence of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, the singing was abandoned for a recitation in monotone except on certain feasts. The Calced Carmelites still adhere to the liturgy of the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, a Gallo-Roman Rite, practically identical with that of Paris in the middle of the twelfth century. It underwent certain changes during the Middle Ages and was completely and satisfactorily revised in 1584. The Discalced Carmelites, for reasons already stated, adopted the new Roman Liturgy in 1586. In all convents a certain time is given to mental prayer, both in the morning and the afternoon. It is generally made in common, in the choir or oratory, and is intended to impress the soul with the presence of God and the everlasting truths. Other religious exercises and private devotions supplement those already mentioned. The rule of fasting, somewhat less severe among the Calced Carmelites, is preserved everywhere, although the church has in many respects mitigated her legislation in this matter. The Discalced Carmelites (Teresians) are generally barefooted; otherwise the only distinction in the habit of the two branches consists in the fashioning of the various garments. The habit of the lay brothers is like that of the choir religious, except that among the Discalced Carmelites they wear a brown mantle and no hood; but in the Spanish congregation they use the hood, and, since 1744, a white mantle. The correct colour of the habit has often been made the subject of somewhat animated discussions among the different branches of the order.

Desert convents

A peculiar institution is that of "deserts". The recollection of Mount Carmel and the purely contemplative life, as well as the wording of the rule, which prescribes that the brothers should dwell in their cells or near them, meditating day and night on the Law of the Lord, except when other necessary occupation call them away, had awakened in many a desire for an exclusively spiritual life. It has been noticed that some of the first generals resigned their offices in order to dedicate the remainder of their life to contemplation, and in the constitutions and other documents exceptions are sometimes made in favour of convents "situated in forests", far away from human habitations. Among such convents were, to mention only two, Hulne in England and Liedekerke in the Netherlands. One of the first Discalced Carmelites in Spain, Thomas of Jesus, who has already been mentioned in connection with the missions, conceived the idea of founding a "desert" where the religious should find the opportunity for devoting their whole time and energy to the cultivation of a spirit of contemplation. With the exception of four or five who were to remain there permanently, each friar was to spend but a year in the "desert", and afterwards return to the convent whence he had come, so that, the whole community being composed of strong and healthy members, no relaxation however slight should become necessary. After some hesitation the superiors took up the idea, and a suitable site having been found, the first "desert" was inaugurated 28 June, 1592, at Bolarque, on the banks of the Tagus in New Castile. The result was so encouraging that it was decided to found such a house in every province, so that there have been altogether twenty-two "deserts", many of which, however, have been swept away during periods of political agitation. They were constructed after the manner of a charterhouse, but on a smaller scale. A number of cells, each forming a little house of four rooms with a garden attached, were built in the shape of a quadrangle, one wing of which contained the chapel, sacristy, library, etc. In the older "deserts" the chapel was placed in the centre of the quadrangle. The refectory, kitchen, robbery and other dependencies were connected with the principal cloister; all the buildings were plain, imposing on account of their austerity than their ornamental character. The manner of life, too, resembles that of the Carthusians, but is far more severe. The chant of the Divine Order is more solemn than in other convents; more time is devoted to mental prayer; the fast is extremely strict, the silence all but uninterrupted; only once a fortnight the hermits after the manner of the ancient anchorites, assemble for a conference on some spiritual subject; many volumes of such conferences are still preserved and some have been printed. An hour's social intercourse follows the conference. The time not devoted to prayer and reading is spent in manual labour, the religious finding occupation in the cultivation of their gardens. Study, strictly speaking, is not allowed, lest the strain upon the mind become too severe.

Each "desert" possessed extensive grounds which were laid out as forests with numerous rivulets and ponds. At equal distances from the convent and from each other there were small hermitages consisting of a cell and chapel, whither the friars retired at certain periods of the year, as Advent and Lent, in order to live in a solitude still more profound than that of the convent. There they followed all the exercises of the community, reciting their Offices at the same time and with the same solemnity as the brothers in choir, and ringing their bell in response to the church bells. Early in the morning two neighbouring hermits served each other's Mass. On Sundays and feasts they went to the convent for Mass, chapter, and Vespers, and returned in the evening to their hermitages, with provisions for the ensuing week. While in the hermitage they fared on bread, fruit, herbs, and water, but when in the convent their meals were less frugal, although even then the fast almost equalled that of the early monks. Notwithstanding this rigorous observance the "deserts" were never used as places of punishment for those guilty of any fault, but on the contrary as a refuge for those aspiring after a higher life. No one was sent to the "desert" except upon his own urgent request and even then only if his superiors judged that the applicant had the physical strength and ardent zeal to bear and to profit by the austerity of the hermit life. Among the more celebrated "deserts" should be mentioned those of San Juan Bautista, founded in 1606 at Santa Fé, New Mexico; Bussaco (1628), near Coimbra, Portugal, now a horticultural establishment and recreation ground; Massa (1682), near Sorrento, Italy, well known to visitors to Naples on account of the marvellous view of the gulfs of Naples and Salerno to be obtained from the terrace of the convent; and Tarasteix (1859), near Lourdes, France, founded by Father Hermann Cohen.

The Calced Carmelites tried to introduce a similar institute but were less successful. André Blanchard obtained in 1641 the papal approbation for the foundation of a convent at La Graville near Bernos, in France, where the original rule of St. Albert, without the mitigations of Innocent IV should be kept, and the life led by the hermits on Mount Carmel copied; all went well until the arrival, in 1649, of a pseudo-mystic, Jean Labadie, formerly a Jesuit, who in an incredibly short time succeeded in so influencing the majority of the religious, that at length the bishop had to interfere and dissolve the community. Another "desert" was founded by the Calced Carmelites in 1741 at Neti near Syracuse in honour of the Madonna della Scala. A suggestion made in the course of the seventeenth century to the Discalced Carmelites of the Italian congregation to introduce perpetual mental prayer after the manner in which in some convents the perpetual chant of the Divine Office, or Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is practiced, namely by relays of religious, was decided against by the chapter as being altogether unsuitable.

Exterior occupations

Apart from the purely contemplative life led in the "deserts", and the specific religious exercises practiced in all convents (though in different measure), the chief occupation of the order consists now in the care of souls and missionary work. So long as the Carmelites occupied a well-defined position at the universities and took part in the academic work, a large number cultivated almost exclusively the higher studies. During the Middle Ages the subjects of Carmelite writings were almost invariable, including the explanation of a certain number of Biblical writings, lectures on the various books of Aristotle, the Sentences, and canon law, and sermons De tempore and De sanctis. In the long list of Carmelite writings preserved by Trithemius, Bale, and others, these subjects occur over and over again. Several friars are known to have cultivated the study of astronomy, as John Belini (1370) and Nicholas de Linne (1386); others concerned themselves with the occult sciences, e.g. William Sedacinensis, whose great work on alchemy enjoyed considerable vogue during the Middle Ages; Oliver Golos was expelled the order on account of his too great knowledge of astrology (1500). There were poets too, within the order, but while many were justly praised for purity and elegance of style, as Lawrence Burelli (c. 1480), only one secured lasting renown, Blessed Baptista Mantuanus. The other fine arts were also represented, painting chiefly by Philippo Lippi of Florence, whose life, unfortunately, caused him to be dismissed with dishonour. Although many friars cultivated music, no really prominent name can be mentioned. In the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries allusion is frequently made to Carmelite organists serving various churches outside the order while one obtained leave from the general to repair organs wherever his services might be required.
In the university

When the Carmelites first appeared at the universities, the two great schools of the Dominicans and Franciscans were already formed, and there remained no room for a third. Some attempts to elevate the teaching of John Baconthorpe to the rank of a theological school came to naught. The majority of lecturers and writers belonged to the Thomistic school, especially after the great controversies on grace had compelled various orders to choose sides. This tendency became so intense that the Carmelite Salmanticenses made it their duty to follow the teaching of the Angelical Doctor even in the minutest details. Controversy was inaugurated by Guy de Perpignan, general from 1318-20, author of "Summa de hæresibus"; the subject was taken up anew at the time of the Wycliffite troubles and ultimately led to the important works of Thomas Netter de Walden, the "Doctrinale" and "De Sacramentis et Sacramentalibus", which proved a gold mine for controversialists for several centuries. No epoch-making work was done at the time of the Reformation, and the order lost all its northern and the greater part of its German provinces. Although few Carmelite controversialists are to be found on the Catholic side (the best known being Evrard Billick), there were hardly any prominent members among those who lost their faith.

Mystical theology

Although Scholastic philosophy and theology, as well as moral theology, have found some of their chief exponents among the Carmelites (e.g. the Salmanticenses), other branches of science being less generously cultivated, the field on which absolutely fresh ground was opened by them is mystical theology. During the Middle Ages this subject had been treated only in so far as the ordinary course of studies required, and those of the friars who wrote on it were few and far between, nor do they seem to have exercised much influence. All this was changed with the establishment of the Teresian Reform. As has already been said, St. Teresa was led, unknown to herself, to the highest planes of the mystical life. With her marvellous gift of introspection and analysis, and her constant fear of swerving, be it ever so little, from the teaching of the Church, she subjected her own personal experiences to severe scrutiny, and ever sought the advice and direction of learned priests, chiefly of the Dominican Order. When St. John of the Cross joined the reform, he, fresh from the lecture-rooms at Salamanca and trained in the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas, was able to give her light on the phenomena of psychology and Divine grace. Both of these saints have left writings on mystical theology, Teresa recording and explaining in simple but telling words her own experiences, John taking up the matter more in the abstract sense; still some of his writings, particularly the "Ascent of Mount Carmel", might almost be considered a commentary on the life and the "Interior Castle" of St. Teresa. There is no evidence that he had derived his knowledge from study; he was unacquainted with the works of St. Bernard, Hugh of St. Victor, Gerson, and the Low German mystics, and knew nothing of the mystical school of the German Dominicans; he appears to have known St. Augustine and the other fathers only in so far as the Breviary and theological textbooks contained extracts from their writings. He was therefore in no way influenced by the views of earlier mystics, and had no difficulty in keeping aloof from the beaten track, but he evolved his system from his own and St. Teresa's personal experience as seen in the light of Scholastic theology, and with constant reference to the words of Holy Scripture. For the analogies and allegories of previous mystics he had no taste, and nothing was farther from him than the wish to penetrate the secrets of Heaven and gaze behind Divine revelation.

An order which gives such prominence to the contemplative life could not but take up the subject and study it under all aspects. The experimental part, which of course does not depend on the will of the individual, but which, nevertheless, is assisted by a certain predisposition and preparation, found at all times a home not only in the "deserts" and the convents of Carmelite nuns, but in other houses as well; the annals of the order are full of biographies of profound mystics. Considering the danger of self-deception and diabolical illusion which necessarily besets the path of the mystic, it is surprising how free the Carmelite Order has remained from such blots. Rare instances are on record of friars or nuns who left the safe ground for the crooked ways of a false mysticism. Much of this indemnity from error must be ascribed to the training directors of souls receive, which enables them to discern almost from the outset what is safe from what is dangerous. The symptoms of the influence of good and evil spirits have been explained so clearly by St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, and a prudent reserve in all that does not tend directly to the advancement of virtue has been so urgently counselled, that error can creep in only where there is a want of openness and simplicity on the part of the subject. Hence, among the great number of mystics there have been but a very few whose mysticism is open to question. Several great theologians endeavoured to reduce mystical theology to a science. Among these must be reckoned Jerome Gratian, the confessor and faithful companion of St. Teresa; Thomas of Jesus, who represented both sides of the Carmelite life, the active part as organizer of the missions of the Universal Church as well as of his order, and the contemplative part as founder of the "deserts". His great works on mystical theology were collected and printed at the bidding of Urban VIII; Philip of the Blessed Trinity (1603-71), whose "Summa theologiæ mysticæ" may be taken as the authoritative utterance of the order on this subject; Anthony of the Holy Ghost, Bishop of Angula (died 1677), author of a handbook for the use of directors of souls, entitled "Directorium mysticum"; Anthony of the Annunciation (died 1714), and, finally, Joseph of the Holy Ghost (died 1739), who wrote a large work on mystical theology in three folio volumes; all these and many more strictly adhered to the principles of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross and to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. The ascetic part was not less cultivated. For elevation of principles and lucidity of exposition it would be difficult to surpass Ven. John of Jesus-Mary. The difficult art of obeying and the more difficult one of commanding have been dealt with in a masterly manner by Modestus a S. Amabili (died 1684). The Calced Carmelites, too, have furnished excellent works on different branches of mystical theology.

Foundations of women

The Carmelite nuns established by St. Teresa spread with marvellous rapidity. Such was the veneration in which the foundress was held in Spain during her life-time that she received more requests for foundations than she could satisfy. Although very careful in the selection of superiors for new convents she had not always the most capable persons at her disposal and complained in several instances of the lack of prudence or the overruling spirit of some prioresses; she even found that some went so far as to tamper with the constitutions. Such incidents may be unavoidable during the first stage of a new order, but Teresa strove to counteract them by detailed instructions on the canonical visitation of her convents. She desired one of her favourite subjects, Ven. Anne of Jesus (Lobera, born 1545; died 4 March 1621), prioress of Granada to succeed her in the position of "foundress" of the order. Hence, when Nicolò Doria changed the manner of government of the Discalced Carmelites, Anne of Jesus submitted the Constitutions of St. Teresa (already revised by the General Chapter of 1581) to the Holy See for approbation. Certain modifications having been introduced by successive popes, Doria refused to have anything to do with the nuns. His successors, however, reinstated them, but maintained the prohibition in vigour for the friars against making foundations outside Spain and the Spanish colonies. A convent, however, had already been inaugurated at Genoa and another was in contemplation in Rome, where some ladies, struck with the writings of St. Teresa, formed a community on the Pincian Hill under the direction of the Oratorians, one of the members being a niece of Cardinal Baronius. On the arrival of the Discalced friars in the Holy City it was found that the nuns had much to learn and more to unlearn. Other convents followed in rapid succession in various parts of Italy, the beatification and canonization of St. Teresa (1614 and 1622) acting as a stimulus. Not all convents were under the government of the order, many having been from the first subject to the jurisdiction of the local bishop; since the French Revolution this arrangement has become the prevailing one. In 1662 the number of nuns under the government of the Fathers of the Italian Congregation was 840; in 1665 it had risen to 906, but these figures, the only ones available, embrace only a very small fraction of the order.

About the beginning of the seventeenth century Mme Acarie (Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, 1565-1618) was admonished in an apparition by St. Teresa to introduce her order into France. Several attempts were made to obtain some nuns trained by the holy foundress herself, but the Spanish superiors declared themselves unable to send subjects beyond the Pyrenees. M. (afterwards Cardinal) de Bérulle, acting on behalf of Mme Acarie and her friends, received a Brief from Rome empowering him to proceed with the foundation; but as it contained some clauses distasteful to him, e.g. that the new foundations should be under the government of the friars as soon as these should be established in France, and as it did not contain some others he had counted upon, he obtained through the French ambassador an order from the king commanding the general to send certain nuns to Paris. Among these were Anne of Jesus, and Ven. Anne of St. Bartholomew (1549 to 7 June, 1626), then a lay sister, who had been St. Teresa's attendant during the latter years of her life. Altogether seven sisters left Spain for Paris, where they arrived in July, 1604, being received by Princesse de Longueville and other ladies of the Court. As it soon became manifest that M. de Bérulle had his own ideas about the government of the order, which he was anxious to associate with the French Oratory founded by him, pending the establishment of an "Order of Jesus and Mary" he had in contemplation, six of the foundresses left France within a few years, while the seventh remained only under protest.

The French Carmelite nuns were placed (with few exceptions) under the government of the Oratorians, the Jesuits, and secular priests, without any official connection either with the Spanish or the Italian congregation of Discalced Carmelites, forming a congregation apart from the rest of the order. They spread very rapidly, being held in high esteem by the episcopate, the Court, and the people. Unfortunately the mother-house in Paris (Couvent de l'Incarnation, Rue d'Enfer) became for some years one of the centres of the Jansenists, but otherwise the French Carmelites have reflected glory on the Church. Among the most celebrated French Carmelite nuns may be mentioned Louise de la Miséricorde (1644-1710), who as Duchesse de la Vallière had taken an unfortunate part in the court scandals under Louis XIV, which she expiated by many years of humble penance; Ven. Térèse de Saint Augustin (Mme Louis de France, 1737-87) daughter of Louis XV, notwithstanding her exalted birth, chose for herself one of the poorest convents, Saint-Denis near Paris, where she distinguished herself by the exercise of heroic virtue. During the Revolution all the communities were dissolved; one of them, that of Compiègne, endeavoured to keep up, as far as circumstances allowed, the observances prescribed by the rule, until the sixteen nuns were all apprehended, cast into prison, dragged to Paris, tried, condemned to death, and consigned to the guillotine, 17 July, 1794; they were beatified in 1906. Another Carmelite nun, Mother Camille de l'Enfant Jésus (Mme de Soyecourt) underwent with her community long imprisonment, but being at last liberated she became instrumental in re-establishing not only her own but many other convents. When at the beginning of the twentieth century the law on religious associations was passed, there were over a hundred Carmelite convents in France with several offshoots in distant parts of the world, even Australia and Cochin China. In consequence of the French legislation many communities took refuge in other countries, but some are still in their old convents.

Quitting Paris for Brussels, Ven. Anne of Jesus became the foundress of the Belgian Carmel. At her instigation the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia called the friars from Rome, with the result that foundations increased rapidly. One of these, at Antwerp, was due to Ven. Anne of St. Bartholomew, who, while in France, had been promoted from lay sister to prioress, having learned to write by a miracle; she was instrumental in delivering Antwerp from a siege. The Belgian Carmel sent out colonies to other countries, Germany and Poland, where Mother Teresa of Jesus (Marchocka, 1603-52) became celebrated. Another convent was founded at Antwerp for English ladies (1619), who were reinforced by Dutch sisters; in 1623 it was detached from the order and placed under the bishop, and in its turn made foundations at Lierre in 1648, and Hoogstraeten in 1678, all of which became the abode of many noble English ladies during the times of penal laws. At the outbreak of the French Revolution the nuns had to flee the country. After a short stay in the neighbourhood of London the community of Antwerp divided into two sections, one proceeding to America, the other settling ultimately at Lanherne in Cornwall, whence they sent out an offshoot which finally settled at Wells in Somerset (1870); the community of Lierre found a home at Darlington, Co. Durham (1830), and that of Hoogstraeten, after much wandering, settled at last at Chichester, Co. Sussex, in 1870. Not counting the French refugees, there are at present seven convents of Carmelite nuns in England. An earlier project for a convent in London, with Mary Frances of the Holy Ghost (Princess Elénore d'Este, 1643-1722, aunt of the Queen of James II) as prioress, came to naught owing to the Orange Revolution, but it appears that about the same time a community was established at Loughrea in Ireland. At times the nuns found it difficult to comply with all the requirements of the rule; thus they were often compelled to lay aside the habit and assume secular dress. Several convents were established in Ireland in the eighteenth century, but in some cases it became necessary for the nuns to accommodate themselves so far to circumstances as to open schools for poor children. There are at present twelve convents in Ireland, mostly under episcopal jurisdiction.

The second section of the English community at Antwerp, consisting of Mother Bernardine Matthews as prioress and three sisters, arrived at New York, 2 July, 1790, accompanied by their confessor, Rev. Charles Neale, and Rev. Robert Plunkett. On the feast of St. Teresa, 15 October of the same year, the first convent, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, was inaugurated on the property of Mr. Baker Brooke, about four miles from Port Tobacco, Charles Co., Maryland. Want of support compelled the sisters to seek a more convenient site, and on 29 September, 1830, the foundation-stone was laid for a convent in Aisquith Street, Baltimore, whither the community migrated the following year, Mother Angela of St. Teresa (Mary Mudd) being then prioress. In 1872, during the priorship of Mother Ignatius (Amelia Brandy), the present (1908) convent, corner of Caroline and Briddle Streets was inaugurated. This community made a foundation at St. Louis, 2 October, 1863, first established at Calvary Farm, and since 1878 within the city. The foundation at New Orleans dates back to 1877, when Mother Teresa of Jesus (Rowan) and three nuns took a house in Ursuline Street, pending the construction of a convent in Barrack Street, which was completed on 24 November, 1878. The convent at Boston was founded 28 August, 1890, and in its turn established that of Philadelphia, 26 July, 1902, Mother Gertrude of the Sacred Heart being the first prioress. In May, 1875, some nuns from Reims arrived at Quebec and found a convenient place at Hochelaga near Montreal, where they established, the convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Another Canadian foundation attempted from Baltimore in the same year was unsuccessful, and had to be given up after a few years.

Life of the nuns

The life of a Carmelite nun is somewhat different from that of a friar, as there is an essential difference between the vocation of a priest and that of a lay person. Active work, such as nursing the sick and teaching, are out of the question in a cloistered convent. The Carmelite sister leads a contemplative life, a considerable portion of her time being devoted to Divine service, meditation and other pious exercises, the rest occupied with household work and other occupations. The life is necessarily strict, the fasting severe, and there are many opportunities for exercising virtue.
Various Carmelite institutions

Several religious institutions have gathered round Carmel. In the Middle Ages we find attached to many convents and churches anchorages, that is, hermitages for recluses who at their own request were walled up by the bishop and who exercised a great influence over the populace by reason of their example, their austerities, and their exhortations. Among the more celebrated Carmelite recluses may be mentioned Thomas Scrope of Bradley, at Norwich, afterwards titular Bishop of Dromore in Ireland and Apostolic legate in Rhodes; and Blessed Jane of Toulouse (beginning of the fifteenth century) whose cultus was approved by Leo XIII.

Probably ever since the coming of the friars to Europe, founders of convents and benefactors were admitted to the order under the title of Confratres, which gave them a right to participation in the prayers and good works of a section or of the entire order, and to suffrages after their death. Neither such Confratres, nor even the text of confraternity letters, contain any mention of obligations incumbent on them. The letters were at first granted only after mature consideration, but from the end of the fifteenth century it was less difficult to obtain them; in many cases the general handed numerous blank forms to provincials and priors to be distributed by them at their own discretion. Out of this confraternity, which stood in no organic connection with the order, arose in the sixteenth century, according to all probability, the Confraternity of the Scapular.

Another confraternity was a guild established in 1280 at Bologna, and perhaps elsewhere, which held its meetings in the Carmelite church and from time to time made an offering at a certain altar, but otherwise was entirely independent of the order. As has been seen, some communities of Beguines in the Netherlands asked, in 1452, for affiliation to the order, and thus gave rise to the first convents of Carmelite nuns. At a later period Herman of St. Norbert (died 1686), preaching in 1663 at Termonde, determine five Beguines, among them Anne Puttemans (died 1674), to sell their property and found the congregation of Maricoles or Maroles, which was aggregated to the order 26 March, 1672; they occupy themselves with the education of poor girls and with the care of the sick in their own homes, and have still many convents in the Dioceses of Mechlin, Ghent, and especially Bruges. A community of thirty-seven hermits living in various hermitages in Bavaria and the Tyrol having asked for aggregation, the General Chapter of the Discalced Carmelites of 1689 granted their wish under certain conditions, among others that not more than four or five should live in each hermitage, but the decree was rescinded in 1692, for what reason is not known, and all connection between these hermits and the order was severed.