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)

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