Lessons from Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection – Lenten Reflection

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.

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.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection

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)

How did your Lent go this year?

Good Friday Reflection on the Third Sorrowful Mystery

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.

Banishing our false gods – the importance of detachment in Carmelite spirituality

Jammin’ with Mammon from https://kauaiartist.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/mammon.jpg

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.”[1]

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.”

…how completely our soul must be detached from all things if it is to journey to God.

St. John of the Cross

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”[2] 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….”[3] 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.”[4]

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.”[5]

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.”[6]  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.

[1] Scalia, Elizabeth. Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life. Ave Maria Press, 2013.  p. 101

[2] Editors at Paraclete Press. Holy Thirst: Essentials of Carmelite Spirituality. Paraclete Press, 2019. p. 48

[3] Ibid., p. 56

[4] Ibid., p. 154

[5] Dubay, Thomas. Fire Within. Ignatius Press, 1989, p. 36

[6] Welch, Fr. John, O.Carm., Becoming Carmelite, pp. 4-5

A Call to Carmel from the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

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.”[1] (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:

Flame of Love USA

Flame of Love Canada

Flame of Love Prayers

[1] All quotes are taken from the First Edition (2014) of The Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, The Spiritual Diary by Elizabeth Kindelmann

A Gift From God – Silent Retreat During Pandemic

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. 

It was another reminder that there are no coincidences with God! 

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.   

Charity in the Heart of the Church – Lesson from Blessed Titus Brandsma

“He who wants to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come in conflict with it.”

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.” [1]  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.”[2]

In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished

Pope Benedict, 2010

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.”[3] 

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. 

Charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ.

Catechism of the CAtholic 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.[4]  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. 

Corina (Formation I Candidate)

[1] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/titus-brandsma-5906

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/dictatorship-of-relativism.html

[4] A Pattern for Life, Fr. Patrick Thomas McMahon, O. Carm., p. 86

A Lesson from Franklin in Carmelite Formation

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! 

Corina (Formation I candidate)

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse – Book Review from a Carmelite Perspective

There’s not enough hours in a day to read everything I would love to read. So, when I do have the chance to read, I’ve been choosing spiritual works over novels or fiction. I have learned so much of the Catholic faith and Carmelite spirituality by doing so. However, some days, you just want to read a good fictional novel and get lost in the characters and the story. Not wanting to be frivolous and “waste time” on just any old novel, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and find a great Catholic work of fiction. An Instagram post provided the answer. One of the people I follow was reading Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. The title intrigued me, so I did a bit of research. It turns out Father Elijah is a fictional Carmelite priest! Sold. I ordered the book online and waited eagerly until it arrived.

I was not disappointed. Written by Michael D. O’Brien, a Canadian author, it is a classic page-turner full of suspense, international intrigue and espionage with the backdrop of the rise of the Antichrist. Without going into too much detail and spoiling the story, the gist of the novel is that Fr Elijah is summoned by the Pope from his monastery near Mount Carmel, where he has spent the past 20 years, to take on a unique and dangerous mission with regards to “the President” whom the Pope believes may be on the verge of becoming the Antichrist. Through all the travels, twists and turns in the plot, you learn the history of Fr Elijah, his own personal sufferings from childhood right through to adulthood, his vocation to become a Carmelite priest after having a successful legal and political career and his struggles and doubts as he faces this dangerous and, at times, life-threatening mission. He learns to navigate the politics of the Vatican, who he can trust both in the Church and in secular society and ultimately puts himself in God’s hands against all human logic.

The classic elements of Carmelite spirituality are present throughout the novel: the dark night of the soul, contemplation, and looking for external proofs of God’s existence in an increasingly dark world only to discover He was in you all along. 

There is one particular scene in the book where Fr Elijah is trying to save the soul of a dying old man with a very evil past.  The old man is trying his best to goad Fr Elijah, to make him leave him in disgust, anger and revulsion.  However, Fr Elijah prays “Oh God, grant me the grace to stay with him, grant me strength to walk down with him into the pit of his soul.  Help me, help me to resist him with love.”  This reminds me of St. Therese’s little way, where she found her vocation to be love, and if I dare say it, used love as a weapon against temptations that came her way; such as the temptation “to turn around and glare” at a sister who was fidgeting with her rosary beads.  Instead, she “put up with it patiently for the love of God first of all, and also not to hurt her feelings.” [p. 147 The Story of a Soul]

There are many more instances throughout the novel where Fr Elijah wrestles with evil, with himself and with his doubt.  In the end, he learns to trust completely and give himself over to the mission God has given him.  He finally lives the words one of his friar mentors gives him as a message from Jesus: “Know this:  I am always in your heart, and My love is released to others when you trust in Me completely.  You are My son.”  In so doing, he epitomizes Chapter 18 of the Rule of St. Albert: 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.  As Fr. Patrick Thomas McMahon explains in A Pattern for Life regarding Chapter 18 of the Rule:

Our only enemy is, was, and always has been, the Evil One.  Any earthly foe can be won over by the love of Christ.  The only problem is that we have to believe enough to trust the love of Christ to be our only protection and our only weapon.  Christ will draw all people to himself if we but let him use us in what is his battle. [p. 173, A Pattern for Life]

I’m looking forward to seeing how our brave Carmelite priest continues withstanding the enemy’s ambush in Father Elijah in Jerusalem

Corina (Formation I Candidate)

Ups and downs of the spiritual life in midst of pandemic

It has been a long almost three months, hasn’t it?  Now in our 12th week of church closures it truly does feel as though we are in the desert.  In some respects, it’s been a tremendous opportunity to immerse ourselves in that desert, going deeper into the contemplative life now that the demands on our time have lessened to a large degree.  There have been many moments of grace and consolation.  But the opposite is also true.  I certainly have had good days and bad days.  On the good days, I feel God’s presence and the joy it brings.  On the bad days, they are dark; I question, I doubt, and I feel depressed.  And then I feel bad about that; why isn’t my faith stronger?  The roller coaster ride of the past months has been quite the spiritual experience.

Being in formation as a Lay Carmelite has helped me to continue to weather this storm.  Knowing that our great saints have also experienced spiritual dryness has given me great comfort and I know that those times do pass, and we come out the other side stronger than ever in our faith.  Those are the times when God is pruning us in His garden.  It’s painful, and sometimes we don’t understand it, but when He’s finished, by His grace we now have the ability to flower again, and perhaps more brilliantly.

A few weeks back I was having a particularly dark day.  Dealing with home schooling and work and constantly lifting the spirits of my children was taking its toll.  My husband walked through the door at the end of a long day at work and said something to me unintentionally that further pushed me down into the doldrums and something in me snapped.  I had to get out of those four walls and see something else, have some space to myself away from the family.  So, even though it was almost supper, I left, got in my car and allowed myself the luxury of driving through the countryside surrounding our town.  Just seeing open fields, trees and winding roads soothed my frazzled soul.  On days like that, prayer almost feels like a chore.  It even feels insincere as I persevere through my prayers with no feeling behind them.  Knowing what prayer can be like, it feels forced and I feel ashamed.  On this particular drive, I remembered reading in Elizabeth Kindelmann’s diary Jesus’ words of what to do when you experience spiritual dryness:

Now, since the Lord Jesus deprived me of both His words and His presence, a great dryness was consuming my soul.  As I knelt speechless, I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘One Our Father or one Hail Mary prayed in the midst of spiritual dryness is much more fruitful than exuberant prayers of someone who abounds in spiritual favours.

p. 37, The Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, The Spiritual Diary

St. Therese of Lisieux also mentions this:

Whenever my soul is so dry that I am incapable of a single good thought, I always say an Our Father or a Hail Mary very slowly, and these prayers alone cheer me up and nourish my soul with divine food.

p. 141, The Story of a Soul

I didn’t even have the energy or brain power (does anyone else feel their brains going fuzzy sometimes during this pandemic?) while I was driving to say an Our Father or Hail Mary.  So I just kept saying Jesus’ name over and over again as I drove, then “Jesus, I trust in you” over and over again, and “Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” over and over again.  By the time I got home I did feel better.  I walked in the door and my family was happy to see me; it felt like a new breeze had blown through our home wiping away all the cobwebs of gloom and malaise.  It was a gift from the One who loves us.

St. Edith Stein writes in “The Science of the Cross”:

She is subjected to this way of continual ups and downs. ‘Immediately after prosperity some tempest or trial follows, so much so that the calm was seemingly given to forewarn and strengthen it against the future misery.  So, abundance and welfare follow upon that misery and torment.  It seems to the soul, then, that in her case, for the celebration of every feast, a vigil of fasting has been prescribed.

p. 143, Holy Thirst:  Essentials of Carmelite Spirituality

As we continue to live our faith throughout this time of pandemic, there will continue to be days of consolation and desolation, those continual ups and downs.  But navigating them with the help of our Carmelite saints and holy people (like Elizabeth Kindelmann, a Lay Carmelite herself) gives me great hope that I, too, will come out the other side as God wills it and in His own time.

Corina – Formation I Candidate

Reflections from Lay Carmelite Annual Retreat October 2019 – Reflection 1

Our members share their reflections on Blessed Titus Brandsma from the October 2019 annual retreat at the Carmelite monastery in Niagara Falls, Canada

“Titus was a witness and man of hope in very difficult times.”  He had great hope because he knew and recognized the presence of God in life and in others; “contemplating the little, weak and fragile signs of the presence of God in his life.”   Sometimes we hear that called as living in the Divine Will.  No matter what circumstances you are in, knowing in the core of your being that “we are in the hands of God”, can’t help but give us hope in all circumstances.  Titus was the embodiment of this attitude.

This was my first Carmelite retreat.  I’ve been on silent retreats before and have always enjoyed them.  By learning about Blessed Titus Brandsma and seeing some of his family photos I felt very much at home as my family is from the part of Holland where he was ordained and studied. I’ve even visited a concentration camp, Camp Vught, near Den Bosch (not the same one he was at), so could picture the circumstances in which he lived.  The picture of his little niece looked just like my mom when she was a small child!  Learning about his spirituality and more about the spirituality of all Carmelites from the former Prior General was a tremendous blessing.  The weekend was filled with graces.

This is what I wrote in my journal while sitting outside:  “My heart is full – you have once again surprised me with your graces. I was almost in tears during mass while singing Blessed Titus Brandsma’s poem he wrote in the concentration camp. It felt like he was there with us…I feel like learning about him and his spirituality is again God’s way of illuminating for me that this is truly my charism as well.  Praise be to God!”

Bedankt Titus Brandsma en bedankt Fr Fernando!

Corina (Formation I candidate)