A Springtime Retreat – Carmelite Style 4/30/16
Among the many blessings coming my way this Eastertide has been the time apart from community life by way of a solitary retreat. This is a special time offered each sister should she so desire. This time of solitude is separate from our preached community retreat with retreat master and specially prepared conferences.
At the beginning of the year, the prioress posts a list of scheduled two week slots commencing with January and continuing on through early December. Choices are made according to one’s preferences for a particular time of the year, anniversary or simply as one’s assigned tasks permit.
As my own time approached, I considered among options the availability of one or the other of our hermitages on the property and also composed a hasty list of duties where my willing companions might sign up to supply in my absence. Some of these included answering the phone on a given morning, selecting and intoning the hymns for the daily liturgy. Then there were two evening meal preparations to provide and one Sunday dinner. I was asked to keep my sacristy duties and so took advantage of the sacristy workroom. Lest any sister imagines herself to be indispensable, the willing volunteers who come forth prove otherwise. Even at such times, new and undisclosed talents of others have been discovered!
Interior preparations included a mental perusal of some temptations that might erupt both bothersome and annoying. In the past these have included:
The possibility of a wild use of so much free time, (normally being rather scheduled as we are);
The opportunity to read novels and eat chocolates;
Shore up on snacks and savor gourmet jelly beans;
Cram with spiritual conferences so as to escape personal reflection by of way of listening to audio tapes or CD’s;
Use of the same for a whirlwind of musical intoxication of sorts;
Work ceaselessly to get things done building a pyramid of achievement status;
Over indulgence in one’s favorite thing, hobby or craft;
Review past wounds and doctor them up with a dose of self-pity;
Engage in an imaginary “make- over” of community members and strategize ways and means to “straighten everyone out”;
Leave private mental prayer and obligatory liturgy of the hours to the end of the day (usually recited with only one eye open).
On the eve of retreat, taking leave of my community at the end of recreation, I said farewell to each and requested their prayers. Before a favorite image of Mary in my cell, I renewed my offering to her and placed the whole retreat in her care. Taking a few necessary items to the hermitage, nothing remained but to set out into the deep, go forward and trust.
As days succeeded one another with intervals of rain and sun, the self-chosen solitude and quiet bore down serving a purposeful interior spring housecleaning. After early morning Eucharist, I decided to let the activities of the day be punctuated by the Liturgy of the Hours. Gradually, my initial long list of “to do” jobs begin to melt down, with some disappearing altogether. They had been like a weighty suitcase dragging along. Being alone with Him appeared as the one thing necessary. Meals were kept simple and nutritious. Attuned with nature in its verdant growth and beauty was a delight. Even brother toad at one of the ponds in the courtyard captured my fancy. I was never sure if he was protesting my presence or warning of an approaching storm.
As the time drew near for completion of the retreat and as a prelude to stepping back into ordinary community living I sought some means to relish and stabilize the fruitful insights gleaned. These I gathered together to place under the watchful gaze of Mary, Seat of Wisdom. With heartfelt gratitude I sing with her, “The almighty has done great things in me and holy is his name.” As one can see, the cloister provides no surety against secular values gradually seeping inside unawares. However, the shepherd’s voice is gentle and persistent; his rescue sure.
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St. Teresa’s 500th – Fruits and Reflections
Rhapsodee took a little sabbatical to relish the overflow of world-wide celebrations of St. Teresa’s 500th centenary. Not the least was our own community’s triduum, a real festival with participating friars, nuns, seculars and Carmelite Missionary Sisters from Mexico. The seemingly short winter season nonetheless, provided time to reflect and savor graces gleaned from the five year preparatory reading and study plus the highlights of the events themselves. The mercies of the Lord continue to flow offering renewal and strength as we journey together to the summit of Mt. Carmel.
When the general chapter opened in May of 2015, I found refreshment and new insights as I thoughtfully reread St. Teresa’s Life. This soon became a way of daily accompanying in spirit those of our Carmelite family actually present at the chapter in Avila. Teresa’s candor and manifest humility blazoned across the pages. With gratitude, I relished the thought of being among her daughters and the opportunity to grow in awareness of her presence as teacher and mentor. Other fruits of the 500th trickled through my mind as I observed the wide platitude of diversity present in my own community and recall her words in Chapter thirty-six of the Way exhorting us to be affable and agreeable among ourselves. This has surged my awareness to new and creative ways of expressing humility, detachment and sisterly charity.
Her apostolic heartbeat still compelling, seems to press us onward for the wellbeing of so many groping in shadows of darkness and hindered by hurdles of false values – their destiny unknown. Would that Christ might be the mirror of truth for each of us as he became for her, this woman of “undaunted desires.”
If one is yearning for some teresian reading both relaxing and informative, “The Divine Adventure” from ICS will amply satisfy. The narrative is well written and researched; the pictures stunning. It serves as a worthy companion for those of us unable to travel to Avila and traverse the roads of St. Teresa’s journeys and seventeen foundations.
As spring unfolds and I follow the Master onto Calvary, St Teresa’s strong spirit and determined “determination” spurs me on with guidance, encouragement and fidelity to the hope of encountering the Risen Christ and being personally called by name. Joyful and Blessed Easter tide!
Written by A Carmelite Sister
Reflections on the Visit of Pope Francis
Photo taken during Pope Francis' visit in Washington, DC
courtesy of Loretta Gallagher, OCDS of Boston, MA
Who would not want to reflect on and savor in the memory the recent visit of Pope Francis to America? I am reminded of the words in St. Luke’s gospel in chapter 7:16b, “A great prophet has arisen among us! And God has visited his people!” In the Old Testament are we not reminded that there are true and false prophets? The Vicar of Christ in his very person has been proclaiming the message of the gospel long before his now historic visit. How joyfully, with determination, he takes to heart St. Paul’s exhortation to become all things to all men. Pope Francis embraces the old, young, sick, and marginalized and every race, color and creed just like Jesus. The gracious composure of his person in the presence of recognized dignitaries whether at the podium of the joint House of Congress or later at the UN assembly is most impressive. Yet in route on parade he could with insistence summon a shy child of five to come forward to receive her staunch request by way of letter. As one among my community members commented: “Sounded like something that St. Therese would do as a young child in her simple bold manner.”
Among other fruits gleaned from his visit has been and continues to be the graced awareness of his intense focus during any liturgical function. At other times, he appears so cordial and jovial, but preceding and during a sacred function his countenance assumes a serious demeanor. The intensity of his recollection is profoundly stirring. It presupposes a well-trained habit of conscious self-discipline, one which I greatly aspire to with the help of God’s never failing grace. How blessed we are to be acquainted with our holy Mother’s teaching on the prayer of recollection in the Way. Hers also, was a very active life and this chapter merits special attention in our very sensate culture.
Indeed, this historic visit will no doubt be indelibly printed in the hearts and minds of many. I am looking forward to reading and viewing other impressions and anecdotes of one kind or another drawing us to enter more deeply into our prophetic calling to love and be loved by our compassionate Father. Christ, indeed has walked among us in the person of Pope Francis. Our gratitude to all the faithful and civil servants who handled arrangements for his trip.
Written by A Carmelite Sister