As Easter is almost upon us, I did a bit of reflecting to see how Lent had been going thus far.
At the start of Lent, I had asked for guidance from the Holy Spirit as to what I should focus on. In years past it involved giving things up. As a kid it was often sweets. As an adult, I would give up TV, dessert and last year was really tough, tea! No tea for 40 whole days. It was so difficult. But I did it. And I felt such a huge sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. This year I am in a different place in my spiritual journey. Pondering in front of the Blessed Sacrament, it became clear what I was being asked to do. I was being asked to refrain from criticizing, or pointing out how people were doing things wrong. It is such an Achilles heel and something I have struggled with my whole life. It’s a bit of a family trait on the Dutch side – everything’s black and white and our way is always best. Didn’t you know that? Of course, you didn’t; and I’ll tell you where you went wrong! Of course, it’s for your own good.
While praying the Divine Office one day I came across the quote below and printed it and posted it up on my fridge as a daily reminder:
“Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth; Keep watch at the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3)
It’s been a tough slog. I’ve fallen more times than I care to count. It has been a real struggle and as I look back on this Lenten journey, I ask myself if I’ve accomplished anything at all this Lent. And that’s where it hit me, and I think perhaps the point that God wanted me to understand. Lent has nothing at all to do with my own sense of accomplishment. It has everything to do with where God wants to lead me; out of my comfort zone, showing me my frailties and weaknesses and above all, making me realize that I can accomplish nothing without His grace. I am very slowly learning what Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection states:
“A soul is all the more dependent on grace as it aspires to higher perfection, and the help and assistance of God are all the more necessary to us every moment because without Him the soul can do nothing. The world, the flesh, and the devil all combine to make such a strong and continual war against the soul that without the very present help of God and our humble and necessary dependence upon Him, they would carry it away in spite of itself. To our nature this seems harsh, but grace takes pleasure in being dependent upon God and finds its rest in Him.” (p. 94 The Practice of the Presence of God)
I still fall on a daily basis, but the difference now is I’m trying not to beat myself up about it anymore. I just pick myself up, brush myself off, ask for God’s forgiveness (and the family member who I irritated or hurt or made angry) and am learning slowly but surely to ask for God’s help to do better the next day. It doesn’t come easy for Ms. Independent. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Maybe one day, with God’s grace, I’ll be able to change my name to Ms. Dependent.
“If I noticed errors, I asked His forgiveness for them, and without becoming discouraged, I resolved to change and began anew to remain with God as if I had never strayed.” (p. 12 The Practice of the Presence of God)
I love to contemplate the third sorrowful mystery, the Crowning with Thorns. It sounds morbid doesn’t it? I see so much love and dignity in this mystery. Here the King of the Universe, who could be crowned with comets, stars, the milky way, the entire universe, allows His Sacred Head to be pierced most cruelly by vicious thorns. There is so much irony. The crown of thorns has more majesty, more honour, more dignity, more everything good and virtuous than the most jewelled crown on earth.
I contemplate His bruised and battered face, so disfigured, unrecognizable. In that disfigurement I see the depths of His love for all of us. Lord, how is it possible that You love us so much?
Our beautiful Church will also be bruised, bloodied and disfigured. I will love her all the more because of it, as she follows Our Lord’s bloody footsteps in her own passion.
I look at the crown of thorns and I am in awe. I swear my fealty to the King crowned with thorns, in pain, bloodied, beaten and bruised. This is love to the limit, to the extreme. What a King we have! Lord, Jesus, King of the Universe, I live my life in allegiance to you.
The first commandment, I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange gods before me seems fairly straight forward. We know to worship only the One True God and not other deities, pagan gods, etc. We also remember Jesus’ words that “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Mt 6:24) and realize we are not to place worldly riches or money ahead of God. Back in the day, I thought I was doing okay with this; I thought I had a healthy perspective about money and I knew to worship only God. I was sorely mistaken and God made me aware of it through listening to a talk by Elizabeth Scalia a few years ago and then reading her book “Strange Gods, Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life”. I had created idols everywhere! As do most of us without even realizing it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc.” (2113) Elizabeth Scalia illustrates how this plays out in our everyday lives. For example, did you know that even your plans can be an idol? She provides a tragic example of this when one of her friends discovered she was pregnant 6 months before her wedding date. Instead of embracing this new life, she chose the idol of her plans instead, choosing abortion; in her friend’s mind a baby would have upended her plans for the perfect wedding, honeymoon and some time with her new husband in their own apartment. “Plans that we hold too dearly to do not give God room to operate in our lives….When making plans, include within them a willingness to bend into the curve of the Holy Spirit, rather than resisting. Things have a way of working out when God is given straight access to our lives and our hearts.”
In his paper “Becoming Carmelite” Fr. John Welch, O.Carm. says that Carmelite spirituality is a “continual process of discerning the true God” and that the “perennial Carmelite challenge is: which god do we serve?” This is a life-long process and battle. “The word for idol-making in the Carmelite tradition is attachment.”
The Rule of the Third Order Carmel sets out the following:
“Jesus’ message – to love God with all one’s being and one’s neighbor as one’s self – demands from the Tertiary a constant affirmation of the primacy of God, the categorical refusal to serve two masters and the pre-eminence of love for others which fights against all forms of egoism and self-centredness.” (from paragraph 12)
“The spirit of the evangelical counsels, common to all Christians, becomes for the Tertiaries a plan for life which touches the areas of power, of sensuality and of material goods. The vows are an ever greater demand not to serve false idols, but to attain that freedom of loving God and neighbor which is above all forms of egoism. Holiness lies in the fulfillment of this double command to love.” (from paragraph 13)
St. John of the Cross had a lot to say about detachment. For instance, “the soul that is naked of desires and whims, God will clothe with his purity, pleasure and will” and “those who love something together with God undoubtedly make little of God, for they weigh in the balance with God an object far distant from God….” and “If a person is to enter into this divine union, all that lives in the soul must die, both small and great, so that the soul must be without desire for all this and detached from it. This St. Paul teaches us clearly in his epistle to the Corinthians” (Referring to 1 Cor 7:29-31: ‘I tell you brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.” “Paul says this to us in order to teach us how completely our soul must be detached from all things if it is to journey to God.”
St. John of the Cross not only wrote or spoke about detachment but he lived it. He was such good friends with St. Teresa of Avila and had kept a packet of letters from her. He made the really difficult decision to burn those letters. Why? He knew that “there could be danger, not in their case of any obvious sin, but of slight, imperceptible clingings that could result from retaining a packet of letters.”
Pandemic: Opportunity to Detach
This time of pandemic has been a tremendous opportunity to reflect on and realize what false gods, or idols, we have been putting ahead of and in place of God. What had we become attached to prior to the pandemic that has perhaps been taken away from us now? Or have we, during the pandemic, developed new attachments? Have we made idols of our health, anxiety, jobs, calendars, busyness, people in our lives, our routines, our income, our families, politics, our leaders, devotions, etc.? Things to ponder and ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit so we can route them out.
In her Spiritual Diary, the lay Carmelite Elizabeth Kindelmann recounts the following:
Jesus: You are too immersed in earthly things, My little one…I did not say that to discourage you. I want to encourage you so that you do not seek relief by looking to the earth in your battles. Look only at Me. I want that, while snuggling yourself right against Me and surrendering to Me in your arduous struggles, you never stop looking only upwards”
Kindelmann, Elizabeth. The Flame of the Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: The Spiritual Diary. 1st Edition, 2014, p. 141
We can’t journey to God if we have our feet planted firmly on earth and our souls immersed in earthly things. But we can’t detach from our idols on our own either. “It’s only when God comes into a life and kindles a deep love in that life are we able to let go of these lesser loves…and then the idols they couldn’t rip themselves away from before start to melt away.” With Lent coming upon us quickly, perhaps we can use this Lent to become more detached and so better focus on God, always looking upwards. By making the effort to be attentive to God in our lives, and so loving Him more and more, then too, our idols will start to melt away.
 Scalia, Elizabeth. Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life. Ave Maria Press, 2013. p. 101
 Editors at Paraclete Press. Holy Thirst: Essentials of Carmelite Spirituality. Paraclete Press, 2019. p. 48
The Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a relatively recent devotion that began in Hungary at the request of the Virgin Mary to a lay Carmelite, Elizabeth Kindelmann. I first read about Elizabeth Kindelmann a few years ago, and her story piqued my interest so I ordered her spiritual diary online. Here was a mother in her late 40s who, in the midst of her busy life as a working single mother raising six children, began having mystical experiences starting in the 1960s until her death in 1985 at the age of 72. In my spiritual reading to that point, I had a hard time truly relating to some of the saints as most of them were religious and didn’t have the worries of a family and work responsibilities. Elizabeth was extremely relatable.
When I first read her diary, I was also in my late 40s, with three children and managing a small business. Elizabeth even seemed to have a similar temperament to me. Early on in the locutions she received, Jesus said to her “The Eternal Father knows how He created you. He knows that you are intense, forceful and irritable, and you must be transformed according to My Heart. In the future, use your intensity only against evil.” (p.18) “I see how much it costs you to concentrate, My little one. Off key notes irritate you. The words through which you address yourselves to Me are heedless and insincere. I wait with patience and love that your words and your voice become clear and vibrant. Be more patient with yourself and others.” (p. 71) “Your bad temper will go on, but out of this evil nature, I will accomplish a masterpiece if you agree to submit to my Divine Hand.” (p. 170) Elizabeth was a regular, ordinary woman with faults like the rest of us. What a comforting and hopeful message!
Throughout the diary, Jesus and Mary refer to Elizabeth often as “my little Carmelite” and remind her many times to remain humble, hidden, little and continue to make small sacrifices for the salvation of souls. Jesus: “Be a burning sacrifice among your family. You must especially make the small, insignificant sacrifices…Do not be upset that you can only do small things. Just continue to be the little one. Dissolve yourself in Me like a drop of water in wine.” (p. 19) Mary: “It is precisely because of your littleness, incapacity and humility, that my Flame of Love will move ahead gently and without disturbance. Therefore, be careful and remain hidden in humility.” (p. 81)
While reading the diary, it didn’t occur to me at first to wonder what a lay Carmelite was. I was fascinated by the way Jesus and Mary spoke to Elizabeth, what they asked of her and her response. She gave herself totally to them, and agreed to make herself a little victim soul to help blind Satan in order to save souls. The whole diary is immersed in Carmelite spirituality. Mary: “My Flame of Love will go forth from Carmel. They are the ones who honor me the most, or rather, they are the ones most called to honor me.” (p. 29)
However, it wasn’t until towards the end of the diary that I read the following from an entry in Spring 1981:
“The Blessed Virgin asked that we urge the competent authorities for the restoration of the Third Order of Carmel throughout the world. This must happen quickly and everywhere. Humanity needs lay people who have a spirit of prayer….While the Blessed Virgin was speaking about the Carmel, Jesus interrupted: ‘Because the Flame of Love of the heart of My Mother is Noah’s Ark.’” (p. 293-294)
I read those words in December 2018 and felt an immediate and intense desire to learn about the Third Order of Carmel. In January 2019 I researched online to find out more about Carmel and reached out to one of the coordinators in Ontario who put me in touch with the St. John of the Cross Lay Carmelite Community. I attended my first community meeting in February 2019 and the rest is history. I was received into the community on October 1, 2020, on the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, the little, hidden and humble Carmelite who became a Doctor of the Church. I know Mary has led me on this journey and continues to lead me where she wants me to go. As I look forward to continuing on the journey of ascending Mount Carmel, I am so thankful to Elizabeth Kindelmann for her beautiful spiritual diary that offered a window into the riches, wisdom and charism of Carmel.
For more information on the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
“Go to Joseph”. In Canada, today (Jan 7th) is the feast day of St. Andre Bessette, the uneducated, humble, devout porter, Brother Andre, who had a reputation for the gift of healing. His advice to everyone who came to him was to “go to Joseph”. Pope Francis is also asking all of us to go to Joseph in this Year of St. Joseph. As the spouse of Our Blessed Mother, foster father to Jesus, Pillar of Families, Terror of Demons and Protector of the Holy Church, St. Joseph Most Courageous is a sure model for us to navigate this troubled world in which we live. His life was not immune to trouble and the Holy Family lived during a time of great persecution during the Roman occupation.
St. Joseph holds a special place in Carmel as well. In their letter to the Carmelite family on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, Fr. Míceál O’Neill, O.Carm. and Fr. Saverio Cannistra, O.C.D., explain the Carmelite history of devotion to St. Joseph and how the 15th century “proper of the liturgy in honour of St. Joseph in the Carmelite tradition is thought by historians and liturgists to be the first monument of the Latin Church to the dignity of St. Joseph.” (p. 4-5) They go on to explain:
Carmelite Preachers insisted that just as Mary the Virgin conceived the Incarnate Word in her womb through the work of the Holy Spirit, so Joseph, through the work of the same Holy Spirit, conceived the Word through contemplation, and became the father of Jesus on this earth.
And that St. Joseph is celebrated as “the image and reflection of the Carmelite mystical life in God.”
Plenary Indulgence during Year of St. Joseph
Did you know that you have an opportunity every Wednesday until December 8, 2021 to gain a plenary indulgence? The Church is granting plenary indulgences to the faithful under the usual conditions during this special year. A plenary indulgence remits all temporal punishment due to sin. The usual conditions are accompanying any one of the 15 actions below with sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the intentions of the Holy Father, with a spirit detached from all sin (including venial). Of course, many of us do not have the opportunity to receive the Eucharist these days, but you can make an Act of Spiritual Communion instead. God knows both your intentions and your restrictions. (List below taken from https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/fifteen-ways-to-gain-an-indulgence-in-the-year-of-st-joseph-81304):
1) Participate in a spiritual retreat for at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.
2) Pray for St. Joseph’s intercession for the unemployed that they might find dignifying work.
3) Recite the Litany of St. Joseph for persecuted Christians. Byzantine Catholics have the option of an Akathist to St. Joseph.
4) Entrust one’s daily work and activity to the protection of St. Joseph the Worker.
5) Follow St. Joseph’s example in performing a corporal work of mercy. These include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the imprisoned, visiting the sick, and burying the dead.
6) Perform one of the spiritual works of mercy, such as comforting the sorrowful, counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries, and praying for the living and the dead.
7) Pray the rosary together with one’s family in order that “all Christian families may be stimulated to recreate the same atmosphere of intimate communion, love and prayer that was in the Holy Family.”
8) Engaged couples can also receive an indulgence from praying the rosary together.
9) Meditate for at least 30 minutes on the Lord’s Prayer, because St. Joseph “invites us to rediscover our filial relationship with the Father, to renew fidelity to prayer, to listen and correspond with profound discernment to God’s will.”
10) Pray an approved prayer to St. Joseph on St. Joseph Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas in the Byzantine Catholic tradition.
11) Celebrate the feast of St. Joseph on March 19 with an act of piety in honor of St. Joseph.
12) Pray an approved prayer to St. Joseph on the 19th of any month.
13) Honor Joseph with an act of piety or approved prayer on a Wednesday, the day traditionally dedicated to St. Joseph.
14) Pray to St. Joseph on the Feast of the Holy Family on Dec. 27.
15) Celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1 with an act of piety or prayer.
The Diocese of Charlotte has put together a wonderful website specifically dedicated to this Year of St. Joseph. https://yearofstjoseph.org/ It is packed with ideas on how to celebrate this special year, including recorded talks on St. Joseph, virtual retreats, colouring pages, pilgrimage ideas (you can look up all the St. Joseph churches that are nearby to do your own local pilgrimage), devotions, prayers, etc.
And why not make this year the year you consecrate yourself to this wonderful saint? I can’t recommend Fr. Donald Calloway’s Consecration to St. Joseph highly enough.
I’ve written previously about Carmelite Saints and St. Joseph, especially St. Teresa of Avila’s devotion to him. Carmelites “veneration of Saint Joseph is not only a devotion or pious practice but rather a life plan, that is an integral part of the charismatic heritage of Carmel. Together with Mary, Joseph is the gospel icon in which we Carmelites may see and understand what it means to live ‘in allegiance to Jesus Christ.’ ” (p. 11)
May this year of St. Joseph bring you closer to the person who walked this earth with Our Lord, who knew him best along with Mary and who by naming Jesus, “became the first one to announce that in the child of Nazareth we are saved by God.” (p. 5) St. Joseph cares for all his children and will guide and protect you and enable you to progress spiritually. As St. Teresa witnessed “I have always seen those who honored him in a special manner make progress in virtue, for this heavenly protector favors in a striking manner the spiritual advancement of souls who commend themselves to him.”
Annual silent retreats have been a wonderful break from the world for me for the past 5 or 6 years now. It was an invitation from a fellow parishioner that got me to my first one at Manresa and I’ve been hooked ever since. I thought I would have a difficult time being unplugged and silent for a whole weekend, but it turns out I took to it like a duck to water. Now I feel bereft if I don’t have that recharge the batteries time with God in silence.
With the pandemic everything has been moved online, including our annual Carmelite retreat that took place in October. Fr Nicholas Blackwell, O.Carm., did a great job of providing us with a wonderful retreat online via Zoom. But in my basement office I could hear the family constantly overhead on a busy Saturday so it wasn’t quite the same quiet environment!
My mom asked if I wanted to go to the Manresa women’s retreat in November. I didn’t realize they were still running their retreats so I called and got all the information as to how they were running them and keeping all the participants safe. I was very impressed. So, I put our names down and we were placed on a waiting list as the retreat was already full. After that, I left it in God’s hands. If He wanted us there, we would be there. If not, it was not His will for us.
The day before the retreat started I received a phone call; Manresa had just received two cancellations and would my mom and I be joining them! I was thrilled. After phone calls to husband and mom and coordinating pick up times for carpooling, we confirmed our spots. We arrived at Manresa in good time for the start of the retreat the next evening. Everything ran very smoothly; the staff had put a lot of thought and care into running the retreat safely.
I remembered my Formation Director’s advice to make sure I’m always studying or learning Carmelite spirituality so I had packed Thomas Dubay’s “Fire Within” book all about St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and the Gospel on prayer. It’s a heavy read and I had already attempted it before becoming a Lay Carmelite. I figured with a year of formation under my belt maybe it would make more sense to me! The retreat theme was “Silent Music, Encountering God in Silence” and was run by Fr. Scott Lewis, SJ. I thought I would attend the first talk, and if it wasn’t hitting the right notes from a Carmelite perspective I would spend the weekend reading my book, walking the grounds and praying. I should have known better. I have found on these weekends that somehow, someway, God orchestrates everything just perfectly. It turned out Fr. Scott’s talks were mostly about contemplation and based heavily on St. John of the Cross. He had even named the retreat after one of St. John of the Cross’ writings:
My beloved is the mountains, The solitary wooded valleys, The strange islands, The roaring torrents, The whisper of the amorous gales; The tranquil night At the approaches of the dawn, The silent music, The murmuring solitude, The supper which revives, and enkindles love.
The lessons I was learning from reading “Fire Within” seemed perfectly in tune with the talks Fr. Scott gave and even what I learned during confession with Fr. Henk that Saturday evening. God always gives me a theme that I need to be aware of on these weekends and it’s usually a blind spot or something He wants me to focus on more closely. Here’s some examples of how intertwined the talks and my personal reading were:
From Fire Within: “..God will give everything just as soon as we give up everything.”
Fr. Scott: “practice of silence is the practice of letting go and losing control”; “we’re afraid of silence because we’re afraid of loss of control and you lose yourself – be willing to learn a new language.”
From Fire Within: “…people are given what we may call a being-drawn-to-God, a quiet leaving of worldly things, a desire for solitude within Him ‘a call so gentle that even they can hardly recognize it’. They are at times ‘within the castle before they have begun to think of God at all’, and He gives an understanding of divine things unattainable by human reasonings. The Lord gives an awareness ‘ which holds its attention and makes it marvel.’ It is a quiet attention that the recipient cannot attain by his own efforts.”
Fr. Scott: “attentive alertness”, “silence is attention, not just the absence of speech”
Just a few samples of how it seemed to me the whole retreat blended seamlessly from the talks, to the reading material I had brought with me, to the “epiphanies” experienced during contemplation that were reinforced by other experiences throughout the weekend. The entire weekend was a beautiful gift from God and I thank Him so much for His bounty. It was another reminder that there are no coincidences with God! He gives good things to all His children. We just need to listen in silence and He will show us what He has done for us.
With the spate of violence against Christianity recently, particularly against Catholic churches, it appears we’re in the midst of an upsurge of Christian persecution in the western world. Throughout Christian history there have been many periods of persecution. We have several amazing examples of how Carmelites have responded during times of persecution. The themes in the examples below is a wonderful roadmap for all Carmelites to follow and to ponder in our current times:
• Forgiveness: our Carmelite saints forgave their persecutors wholeheartedly • Offering: they made themselves and their suffering as an offering for others • Calm acceptance: they accepted their fate as the will of God and found peace and joy in doing the will of God • Prayer: they prayed for others even in the midst of their trials, especially praying for those persecuting them
The Martyrs of Compiegne During and after the French Revolution the Catholic Church was persecuted mercilessly. The revolutionary government passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790 which made it illegal to live a religious life. In 1792, all women’s monasteries were ordered closed. The Carmelite nuns were forced to leave the monastery and live in the community. However, they continued to follow their Carmelite community life spread out amongst four separate apartments, wearing civilian clothing. The Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, had by this point already “suggested to the community that they commit themselves to martyrdom, and offer themselves as a sacrifice for France and for the French Church.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyrs_of_Compi%C3%A8gne ) The Reign of Terror began in 1794 and the Carmelites were arrested on June 22nd, and tried and executed by guillotine on July 17th. They were transported through the streets of Paris for 2 hours, during which time they sang hymns such as Salve Regina. None of the sisters showed fear and they forgave their guards. Each sister asked permission to die from the prioress and kissed a statue of the Virgin Mary before mounting the steps and they each died while singing Psalm 117, “Laudate Dominum”. The oldest sister, 78-year-old Sr. Mary of Jesus Crucified was heard to say “I forgive you, my friends. I forgive you with all that longing of heart with which I would that God forgive me!”
Ten days after the martyrdom of the 16 Carmelites, the Reign of Terror ended. Mother Teresa of St. Augustine’s axiom “Love will always be victorious. The one who loves can do everything” came to fruition.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Born in France in 1880, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity entered Carmel in 1901 in Dijon. The French government was still very much anti-Catholic and the persecutions continued. Catholic education was outlawed and Church property was being confiscated. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s Carmelite community prepared for the worst by making plans to move to Belgium under cover in civilian clothes if need be. Elizabeth wrote to her mother asking her to send her the pattern she used to make skirts, writing “Our Reverend Mother must have told you that because of recent events we are taking a few precautionary measures in case we should have to leave our dear cloister”. Elizabeth shared the following in a letter to her aunts: “Thank (God) for having called your little Elizabeth to Carmel for the persecution; I do not know what awaits us, and this perspective of having to suffer because I am His delights my soul. I love my dear cloister so much, and sometimes I have wondered if I don’t love this dear little cell too much, where it is good to be “alone with the Alone.” Perhaps one day He will ask me to sacrifice it. I am ready to follow Him everywhere, and my soul will say with St. Paul: ‘Who will separate me from the love of Christ?’ I have within me a solitude where He dwells, and nothing can take that away from me!” (L 162)
Blessed Titus Brandsma Blessed Titus Brandsma was arrested and martyred for speaking out against the Nazi ideology in German-occupied Holland in 1942. He remained calm, peaceable and forgiving throughout his ordeal, which included being subjected to medical experimentation at Dachau before being lethally injected in July 1942. While in prison he was requested by the Gestapo to write a paper on why the Dutch people, especially the Catholic people, rejected National Socialism. Titus held no ill-will against the German people and wrote at the end of his letter “God bless the Netherlands. God bless Germany. God grant, that both nations will once again stand next to each other in total freedom, in recognition of him and for the sake of his glory, for the salvation and blossoming of such closely allied people.” He would often ask his fellow prisoners to pray for their captors. When one fellow Dutch prison complained, and asked how they could be expected to pray for the Nazis, Titus responded “You don’t have to pray for them the whole day! The good Lord will be happy with one prayer”.
St. Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) St. Edith Stein, the patron saint of Europe, was a Jewish German who converted to Catholicism as an adult. Although she wanted to become a Carmelite, she was instead persuaded to utilize her talents as an educator (she had a Doctorate in Philosophy). She was forced to leave teaching in 1933 due to German laws against Jews and was able to enter the Carmelite convent in Cologne and took the name of Sister Teresa Benedict of the Cross. In 1938, Germany intensified its persecution of the Jews and St. Edith found refuge at the Carmelite convent in Echt, Holland. However, in 1942, in retaliation against the Dutch bishops who had openly condemned the Nazi treatment of Dutch Jews, all Jewish converts to Catholicism were rounded up from convents and monasteries in Holland and deported. Edith and her sister Rosa were sent to Auschwitz where they were gassed on August 9, 1942. Her last words heard in Echt were to her sister Rosa, “Come, we are going for our people.” She had written the following three years earlier: “Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death…so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.” Even earlier, in 1930, she wrote the prophetic words “Every time I feel my powerlessness and inability to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust.“
An eyewitness account of her demeanour while in prison and transported to Auschwitz is as follows: “Among the prisoners who were brought in on 5 August, Sr. Benedicta stood out on account of her great calmness and composure. The distress in the barracks and the stir caused by the new arrivals was indescribable. Sr. Benedicta was just like an angel, going around among the women, comforting them, helping them, and calming them. Many of the mothers were near to distraction; they had not bothered about their children the whole day long, but just sat brooding in dumb despair. Sr. Benedicta took care of the little children, washed and combed them, looked after their feeding and their other needs. During the whole of her stay there, she was so busy washing and cleaning as acts of loving kindness that everyone was astonished.”
Our Carmelite saints show us the way to respond in times of persecution. Forgiveness, offering of ourselves, prayer, and calm acceptance can only come from a deep and abiding love of God and neighbour.
Since man’s life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devotedly in Christ must undergo persecution, and the devil your foe is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for prey to devour, you must use every care to clothe yourselves in God’s armour so that you may be ready to withstand the enemy’s ambush. Rule of Saint Albert, Chapter 18
I’ve been thinking a lot about Blessed Titus Brandsma lately. The Carmelite priest was martyred at Dachau on July 26, 1942 as he had been labelled an “enemy of the German mission”. How could a 60- year-old frail Dutch priest be an enemy to another country? Titus recognized early on that the National Socialist ideology was against Catholic teaching. And as early as 1935 he spoke out against the Nazi persecution of Jews. “Titus, with sadness and foreboding, observed and correctly interpreted the ominous development of Nazism. In classroom, lecture hall and the press, he warned the Dutch against Hitler’s tyranny. “The Nazi movement is a black lie,” he proclaimed. “It is pagan.” His critique and denunciation of the Nazi movement in Germany and its counterpart in Holland did not escape the notice of the Dutch National Socialist Party. He became a man marked for eventual reprisal.”  He was arrested in January 1942.
During his interrogation, the police asked him “Why have you disobeyed the regulations?”
“As a Catholic, I could have done nothing differently,” Titus replied.
“You are a saboteur. Your church is trying to sabotage the orders of the occupying powers, to prevent the national socialistic philosophy of life from reaching the Dutch population.”
Titus responded: “We must object to anything or any philosophy that is not in line with Catholic doctrine.”
Titus spoke out to open the eyes of his fellow Dutch citizens to the truth of the dangers of the National Socialist ideology. We live in an era today where we are also surrounded by ideologies that are not in keeping with Catholic teaching. Political ideologies, activist ideologies and gender ideologies abound that are not in keeping with God’s laws. However, many of us are afraid of being labelled “intolerant” in pointing out the truth of these ideologies. With the moral relativism that has invaded society in the past few decades, everyone lives out their own truth. Pope Benedict warned about this back in 2005: “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” When interviewed by Peter Seewald about this in 2010, Pope Benedict elaborated further: “In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished; this is a real threat we face. The danger is that reason – so-called Western reason – claims that it has now really recognized what is right and thus makes a claim to totality that is inimical to freedom. I believe that we must very emphatically delineate this danger. No one is forced to be a Christian. But no one should be forced to live according to the “new religion” as though it alone were definitive and obligatory for all mankind.”
By today’s moral relativist standards, I am tolerant if I allow others to do what they want to do. I often hear the phrase “you be you”, as if to say, anything you do is okay as long as it’s okay by you. I’m being intolerant if I point out that their behaviours will harm themselves or others, whether that be physically, mentally or spiritually. However, as Carmelites, we are called to be charity in the heart of the Church.
What is charity? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.” (1822). It also states “…charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: ‘Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.’” (1824) And “…charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction.” (1829) To be charity in the heart of the Church then is to keep God’s commandments, the greatest of which are to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves, in a generous way and when required, calling our brothers and sisters back to those commandments. Blessed Titus Brandsma was showing great charity to his fellow Dutch citizens by pointing out to them that the National Socialist party did not keep God’s commandments. It wasn’t what some of them wanted to hear, as was evidenced by his arrest. However, he stated “He who wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come in conflict with it.”
Tuesday’s reading in the Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer states “It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep. The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorably as in daylight.” (Romans 13:11b, 12-13a)
Let us wake from our sleep and see what is happening around us. If Blessed Titus Brandsma were alive today, what would he be trying to tell his fellow Carmelites and his fellow citizens about the ideologies of today? “The truth, if it is God’s truth, can be spoken with due respect for authority and profound love for all.” May we never be worried about rocking the boat, but be more afraid of the boat sinking because we did not witness in charity and with courage.
Blessed Titus Brandsma, pray for us. Help us be charity in the heart of the Church.
Ever since praying a novena to St. Joseph 3 years ago asking for his intercession to help sell our home in a tough market I have come to know first-hand how much St. Joseph cares for us, his spiritual children, and the efficacy of his intercession on our behalf. But I still didn’t know that much about him or how important he is to us until I started reading Fr. Donald Calloway’s “Consecration to St. Joseph”. Not only does it provide rich insights into who St. Joseph was and is, but how much our Carmelite saints loved him! Fr. Calloway’s book is sprinkled with lovely thoughts on St. Joseph from St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi and others.
Here are a few quotes from the book:
“Knowing by experience St. Joseph’s astonishing influence with God, I would wish to persuade everyone to honor him with particular devotion. I have always seen those who honored him in a special manner make progress in virtue, for this heavenly protector favors in a striking manner the spiritual advancement of souls who commend themselves to him.” St. Teresa of Avila
“I prayed to St. Joseph to watch over me. From my childhood, my devotion to him was mingled with my love for the Blessed Virgin. Each day I recited the prayer, ‘O Saint Joseph, father and protector of virgins.’ It seemed to me that I was well protected and completely sheltered from every danger.” St. Therese of Lisieux
“He [St. Joseph] always favors with especial protection those souls who are enrolled beneath the standard of Mary.” “How great a share had not the glorious St. Joseph in the chalice of Jesus’ passion, by the services which he rendered to his sacred humanity!” St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi
“Those who are devoted to prayer should, in a special manner, cherish devotion to St. Joseph. I know not how anyone can ponder on the sufferings, trials and tribulations the Queen of Angels endured whilst caring for Jesus in his childhood, without at the same time thanking St. Joseph for the services he rendered the Divine Child and his Blessed Mother.” St. Teresa of Avila
“I beg the great St. Joseph, in whom I have a very great confidence, to come to my aid.” St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
Another story Fr. Calloway relays in his book is that St. Zelie Martin knelt before a statue of St. Joseph in St. Therese of Lisieux’s bedroom, fearing she was going to die in infancy, asking him to heal St. Therese and she was healed!
St. Joseph is powerful. One of his names is Terror of Demons. Fr. Calloway refers to him as a dragon slayer! It wasn’t a dragon he slayed in my situation but it was certainly sticky and causing our family a lot of anxiety. We had just bought a smaller home in an older section of town. Even though it was smaller, because of the area, it was more expensive than our current home. As soon as the paperwork was signed and we started the process of listing our own home, the housing market took a huge nose- dive. Houses were losing value in front of our eyes and buyers were drying up. We listed our house with next to no takers, except a few low-ball offers. We had visions of holding down two mortgages and the longer it taking our home to sell, the value steadily declining, making it impossible for us to own the home we had just bought! On my mother’s advice, I started a novena to St. Joseph. I had never asked for his intercession before. We had a deadline for offers on a certain date. Two came in at that time, both of them way below the asking price. We turned them both down. That night was very difficult. However, that day was only Day 8 of the St. Joseph novena. I told my husband that the novena wasn’t finished yet and that tomorrow was the last day. He told me it didn’t matter, because the deadline was over and we’d have to start all over again and re-list. We were woken up by a phone call from our realtor at about 6:30 a.m. the following morning. One of the buyers came back and upped their offer despite the deadline passing! It was in an acceptable range for us such that we could finance the other home we had just bought. St. Joseph worked a miracle for us and I have been forever grateful to him! A couple of years ago, when my dad, who is now a 16-year survivor of Stage 4 throat cancer, found out from his doctor that they suspected a spot on his lungs and wanted to investigate further with an MRI, we were all worried. When he survived the first cancer, he was told it would most likely come back in the lungs. My mom called and I immediately started the novena to St. Joseph. Dad’s MRI results came back clear, no spot at all!
Another thing I’ve recently found out is that my parish has a relic of St. Andre Bessette in our altar. St. Andre is the saint that started the St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal back in 1904, the largest shrine in the world dedicated to St. Joseph!
As Carmelites, we love our Blessed Mother and have an immense devotion to her. She is the patron of our Order. As I’ve discovered through reading “Consecration to St. Joseph”, we should also have a strong devotion to her Most Chaste Spouse. After all, Mary loved him wholeheartedly as did Jesus, the God-child, even being obedient to him. St. Teresa of Avila called him “tender father of my soul”. I know I’ll be calling on St. Joseph’s spiritual fatherly protection more often in these difficult times; how about you?
Although we are unable to be officially received into our Lay Carmelite Community after our first year of formation due to the pandemic, there is so much to be grateful for. Just being a part of this wonderful community for one. And looking back at our first year of formation, I have learned so much. I remember when I first inquired into becoming a Lay Carmelite in February 2019 and our Director let me know that the formation period is 6 years. I was surprised that it was such a long period of time, but it didn’t present an obstacle for me as I was so sure this was what God was calling me to do.
It reminds me of the children’s story I often read to my youngest child, “Franklin Wants a Badge”. Franklin the Turtle wants to join the Trailblazers and earn badges. In a conversation with one of the older Trailblazers he notices how many badges he has, “You sure have a lot of badges”. The older animal, Jack Rabbit, explains that he’s been a Trailblazer for three years. Franklin replies “Three years! I don’t want to take that long to get my badges”. Franklin attends his first Trailblazer meeting and is not so keen at the start of it. However, after experiencing the camaraderie, games, cookies and milk, as well as earning the Trailblazer staff as the hardest working Trailblazer that meeting, he walks home with his dad and says “And do you know the very best thing about Trailblazers? It will take me three whole years to earn all my badges!”
I can relate to Franklin. I feel truly blessed to be able to have a lifetime of Carmelite formation ahead of me. This first year was just scratching the surface of a charism and tradition that goes back eight centuries. Despite our small set back for all our candidates in not being able to be received, temporarily professed or make final professions at the moment, our Formation Director has us embarking on the study of “A Story of a Soul”, St. Therese of Lisieux’s “trailblazing” autobiography. To be able to continue on this journey with my community, even virtually, is a blessing. As St. Peter said, “with the Lord one day is a like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8), all things take place in God’s time. I won’t fret about missed or postponed celebrations, but take each day as God gives them to me, to discern and to do His will, striving to remember His presence even in the mundane aspects of my day. Please God I can do the same tomorrow and each day afterwards!