Major Life Announcement: I Am Entering The Discalced Carmelite Friars

Discalced Carmelite Shield

Praised be Jesus Christ! It is my great pleasure to announce that on November 1, 2014, I will enter the postulancy with the Discalced Carmelite Friars and begin religious life with the intent of working towards eventual ordination to the priesthood. This is a direction towards which I have been moving and working for close to a year and a half, and I am beyond thrilled to have finally arrived at this juncture in my life. Appropriately, my first year as a Carmelite with coincide with both the 500th centenary of the birth of our foundress, St. Teresa of Avila, and with the Catholic Church’s Year for Consecrated Life.

For those interested, you will find below a brief history of the Carmelites, followed by my own vocation story. First, however, I will outline my road ahead as I undergo further discernment and formation with the Friars. The first stage is the postulancy, which will last for five months and take place at our monastery attached to St. Florian’s Catholic Church in downtown Milwaukee, WI. During this time I will be able to immerse myself in the Carmelite life, receive formal instruction on the history and spirituality of the order, and more clearly discern if this is the life God is calling me to lead. The second stage is the novitiate, which lasts for one year and will take place about thirty minutes outside Milwaukee at Holy Hill, the site of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady, Help of Christians. At the beginning of the novitiate, I will receive the Holy Habit of Carmel and my new name in religion. At the end of my novitiate year, if I persevere and I am approved by the Order, I will make my First Profession of Vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows will be temporary and will be renewed once a year until, God willing, I profess lifelong Solemn Vows. Once I am in vows, I hope to begin seminary studies for the priesthood. As things currently stand, these studies would take place in Washington, DC, where our student house is located at present. Assuming that everything proceeds as expected and according to the normal schedule, I would profess Solemn Vows in about six and a half years time and receive ordination to the priesthood in ten years. I humbly ask for your prayers that I persevere in my vocation. Please be assured that I will be praying for you as well. May God reward you.

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God willing, this will be me in six months

During my postulancy, I will not have access to the Internet or social media. If you wish to keep in touch with me by letter, please contact me on an individual basis and I will give you my new mailing address. At some point, I will regain access to things like email, Facebook, and Twitter, but I cannot at this time say whether that will take place during my novitiate or after I take vows.

History of the Carmelites

The Carmelite Order was born in the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades, among hermits who, inspired by the life and example of the Prophet Elijah, had taken to living on Mt. Carmel. In the early 1200s they were formed into a religious order and given a Rule of Life by St. Albert of Jerusalem. In the face of the Saracen re-conquest of Palestine, the Carmelites relocated to Europe and became a mendicant order of friars. It was at this time that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock, the General of the Order, and bestowed upon him and the Carmelites the Brown Scapular, which is still a defining feature of the Carmelite habit and a sacramental worn faithfully by millions of Catholics around the world.

Brown Scapular

In the mid 1500s, St. Teresa of Jesus, a Carmelite nun living in the monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain, embarked upon a reform of her order, so as to restore it to its original, contemplative charism and discipline of life. What began simply as a reform within her own monastery took fire, and soon St. Teresa was establishing new Carmels around Spain. In this task, she was greatly aided by her close friend St. John of the Cross, a young friar of the order who similarly set out to reform his Carmelite brothers. They became known as the discalced (“shoeless”), because of the poverty and simplicity in which they lived, right down to not owning shoes, but instead wearing only sandals, the footwear of the poor. However, the reformers were not universally popular, and they faced great resistance from within the Order. At one point, St. John of the Cross was kidnapped by friars from another monastery and imprisoned in a closet for nine months, until he was able to affect a daring escape out of a window by means of an improvised rope. The reformed and unreformed Carmels operated alongside one another with increasing autonomy, until the order finally split in two, the unreformed becoming known as the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance (O.Carm), and the reformers as the Discalced Carmelite Order (O.C.D.). It is the latter branch that I will be entering.

Since the time of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, the Discalced Carmelites have thrived and produced a number of illustrious saints and blesseds: the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus; the mystic, philosopher, and martyr at Auschwitz St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein); the first saint of Chile, St. Teresa of the Andes; the French mystic and near-contemporary of St. Thérèse, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity; the Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne; and others.

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St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. You may have heard of her.

The Discalced Carmelites today consist of friars, nuns, and the Secular Order. The nuns live a cloistered life, devoting their days to prayer and sacrifice for the well-being and intentions of priests and seminarians. The friars share in the contemplative vocation of their sisters, particularly in spending, as the nuns do, two hours a day in mental prayer. However, per St. Teresa’s desire, they also carry out apostolic work in the world, through the celebration of the Sacraments, by offering retreats and spiritual direction, and attending to the spiritual needs of the nuns and the members of the Secular Order, those lay men and women, as well as secular priests, who desire to be joined to the Carmelite Order and live its contemplative life and spirituality as best they are able within their own vocations.

If you desire to learn more about the Discalced Carmelites and their spirituality, I highly recommend starting with these two books: The Story of a Soul, by St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and The Impact of God: Soundings From St. John of the Cross by Fr. Ian Matthews, O.C.D.. Read in conjunction, both will give the reader an excellent foundation in the lives and thoughts of John and Thérèse.

My Vocation Story

The following is adapted largely from my Personal Statement, which formed a portion of my Application for Admission

My road to Carmel can be said to have begun in earnest in the fall of 2012. At that time, I was 25 years old, working in private security while taking some career development courses at my local community college, and was suffering from a lingering sense of unease brought about by my lack of knowledge as to where God might be calling me in life. While I had taken adult ownership of my faith about four years prior, after leaving the University of Virginia due to academic difficulties, it was only in the fall of 2011 that I truly began to live a full life of grace, specifically by going to daily Mass, receiving the Sacrament of Penance on a regular and frequent basis for the first time in my life, and disciplining myself into a routine habit of prayer centered around the Rosary and the Divine Office. One year after all this began to fall into place, I was enjoying the peace and joy that comes from God’s presence in the soul, but I still had no sense of the direction in which He intended to draw me, and this was the cause of some distress.

At that point, I considered seeking out a spiritual director, and shared what I was going through with a fellow Catholic, Billy Newton. He recommended that I do so, and he also recommended that I talk about it in greater detail with a young woman who lived in Pennsylvania, who was a mutual acquaintance of ours through our shared online Catholic social media circles. Though I never was able to locate a spiritual director in my area, I followed this latter piece of advice, and the friendship that developed out of it between myself and Channing Dale (now Sister Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart, OCD) was to redirect the entire course of my life.

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Me and Channing on her Entrance Day into the Elysburg Carmel

At the onset of our initial deeper conversations, away from the public forum of Twitter, Channing confided in me that she had been accepted into the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Elysburg, PA and would be entering the cloister in the summer of 2013. This was my first direct encounter with the Carmelites. I had previously read a brief account of the life of St. Teresa of Jesus, knew in a vague way who St. Therese was, and had heard about the “dark night of the soul”, though principally in connection with Bl. Teresa of Calcutta. But here was someone who got me thinking about who the Carmelites were and whose personal holiness, joy, and burning love of Jesus caused me to want to discover more about this order and their spirituality.

Over the course of the next few months, my casual friendship with Channing grew into a close one, and then blossomed into one of the closest, most fulfilling relationships of my life. We went from trading tweets and emails online, to talking via text, GChat, and phone on a daily basis, and even went on a number of day pilgrimages together to various sites and shrines. The closer I drew to her, and the more my fondness for her increased, the more in awe of stood of her tremendous, passionate love for Jesus. It brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion to contemplate just how much she was in love with Our Lord and how beautiful it was that He was drawing her to Himself, to live with Him and be His bride. I had not yet begun to explore Carmelite spirituality in any deeper sense, but this was the first, nascent impression of the Order that was imprinted on my soul.

In January 2013, Channing and I attended the March For Life together, and there she had the opportunity to tell me a good deal more about the Discalced Carmelites and the life that she would be leading. We spent a fantastic (albeit snowy and bitterly cold) day in DC together, before closing with the Pontifical High Requiem Mass. This was my first exposure to the Extraordinary Form, and while I was there I had a tremendous spiritual experience. During the Dies Irae, I felt my heart rip open and all the negative thoughts and fears that I had been burying over the past few months came gushing to the surface. I broke down sobbing and started apologizing to God for being so utterly worthless, such a complete and total failure, and for not being capable of following through on any kind of vocation whatsoever, whether it be to the priesthood, married life, or consecrated singlehood. It shocked me a little that I continued to harbor such negative sentiments, but there they were. Then I looked at the amazing, beautiful, holy young woman beside me whom I so admired and who was destined to be a Bride of Christ, and realized that as much as God loves her, He loves me just as much! This thought was of tremendous comfort and reassurance, and as I walked towards the sanctuary to receive Holy Communion, I knew that however God was calling me to serve Him, He would bestow on me the grace and capability to do it, and that when He called me to something more particular than holiness of life and developing a personal relationship with Him, He would do so.

After all this, my Lent that year passed with relative serenity. It was not lost on me that the times when I felt most at peace, and experienced the greatest sense of “Now this is the true purpose of my existence” were those moments I spent bowed before the Blessed Sacrament in my parish’s Adoration Chapel. There was still no inkling in my soul as to how God might eventually call me to serve and to love Him, but I knew that I thirsted to do so totally and completely, in whatever manner He desired. The image that continually returned to me was that of Christ the High Priest shaping me into a chalice, filled with grace and offered up to the Father. Additionally, I discovered the first volume of the collected works of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity at my local used bookstore, and then later came across her letters in my parish’s Perpetual Adoration Chapel. I instantly fell in love with her voice and her way of speaking about God, and felt a powerful, tangible connection, along with an uncanny sense that if I had known her in this life, we would have quickly become fast friends. Later that summer I was to ready Story Of A Soul and God, The Joy of My Life, and thus forge strong devotions as well to both St. Thérèse and St. Teresa of the Andes.

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Before that, though, I received the call for which I had been hoping, and much sooner than expected. During the homily at Holy Thursday Mass, my pastor looked out at the faithful and announced with certitude that there were men present in the church, besides those standing at the altar, who were called to the priesthood. In that moment, it was as if a gigantic spotlight, or the eyes of the Holy Spirit, had snapped on and focused on me. As impossibly daunting as the priesthood (or more specifically, the required eight years of seminary studies) had seemed to me before, I knew without a degree of doubt that this was something God was asking me to do, and by this point, I could not, and did not want to, say No to Him.

The certainty I felt on Holy Thursday was compounded over the course of the next weeks and months by an almost ridiculous number of little confirming incidences: Scripture passages that seemed tailor made to encourage me towards the priesthood, verses in the Psalms that I had prayed over and over but that now took on an entirely new meaning, a priest friend who less than a week later asked me, completely out of the blue, “So, when are you heading off to seminary?” The list goes on, and as time passed, I grew more certain and more confident that this was a vocation I was capable of answering. The crowning moment in which God laid to rest my doubts as to whether I would really be able to manage the academic rigors of seminary was several months later, hearing St. Luke’s account of the Call of Peter. Laboring through the night, with nothing to show for it, was exactly how I had felt about the last six years of my life, and here was Jesus, asking me to trust Him, to put out into deep water, and to lower my nets.

Meanwhile, about a month and a half into all this initial discernment period, Channing and I paid a visit to the Elysburg Carmel, so that I could get an idea of where she would be cloistered and what her new life would be like. It was a grace-filled visit, but the most powerful part of the entire experience was the hour and a half visit we were able to make with the prioress, Mother Stella-Marie of Jesus, and the Novice Mistress, Sister Therese of Merciful Love. I walked away deeply impressed by the joy and holiness that radiated off of these two women, especially Sister Therese. It was just a normal Saturday of the year, but one would have thought by her demeanor that it was her wedding day! That was nothing naïve or superficial about the happiness that suffused the entire place; quite simply, it was the joy of Christ which penetrates down to the very marrow and comes from living, as it were, halfway between Heaven and Earth. I was home for barely a half hour before I was wistfully longing for another opportunity to visit the place to which I still refer in my head as “Heaven’s front porch”. The entire experience made explicit in my mind something that I had previously only intuited: these Carmelites lived in a special closeness to God. There was something in their life and spirituality that demanded closer consideration.

After this, I plunged into reading Thérèse, Teresa of the Andes, and Elizabeth of the Trinity. As I stated above, I quickly fell in love with all three of these beautiful flowers of Carmel. Moreover, I was tantalized by the snippets of St. John of the Cross that I came across in the writing of both Thérèse and Elizabeth. I found myself definitively bitten by the Carmelite bug.

Therefore it only made sense that when I finally started to send out inquiries to various vocations directors that summer, I should reach out as well to the closest group of Discalced Carmelite Friars, the Washington Province of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At this point, I knew next to nothing about what the friars were actually like, and I didn’t have my heart set on them by any means.

However, my interest and excitement was definitely piqued by the vocation director Fr. Michael Berry’s response. His was by far the most enthusiastic and encouraging that I received, and our subsequent communications re-enforced that, to the degree that, though I had previously ruled out any vocations-related travel farther than a day’s drive, I decided to follow his advice and book a plane ticket to Wisconsin.

By the time I headed to the airport this past December, I was bubbling with excitement, but I was determined to go in with an open mind and heart and not to let this building anticipation color my judgment. The previous month I had made an eight-day vocations visit with the Benedictine community at St. Vincent Archabbey and had come away impressed. While I had not come away with a definite feeling of having found my place, and that further discernment was needed, not all my eggs were in one basket. I had options. It was simply a question of persevering and trusting that in God, no matter where that might lead.

Visiting Holy Hill took things to an entirely different level. It is difficult to put into words the connection that I felt there without trivializing it or missing the mark in some way. When pressed afterwards, the closest analogy I could make was to those occasions when one is socializing with a potential romantic interest, and the two of you just click. By the end of my first day in Hubertus, I had some trouble keeping my jaw off the floor, as it seemed that Christ had individually tailored a community just to fit all of my particular preferences: a gorgeous Marian shrine, a monastery steeped in the spirit and images of my favorite saints, a perfect balance between contemplative prayer and sacramental ministry, and a vibrant lay community, which meant that I would have the opportunity to minister directly to the people for whom I longed to lay down my life. If I had asked beforehand in prayer that God lead me to such a place, I would have felt rather impertinent, and yet here it was, established and humming along under the care of tight-knit band of holy, kind, reverent, and hilarious men of God.

While at Holy Hill I also had the opportunity to become directly exposed to St. John of the Cross, which was in itself another revelation. Through reading a biography of Holy Father, I came away with the strong sense of, “Yes, every single thing that he is saying about God and Divine Love makes perfect, intuitive sense, and I want to mold my spirituality after his.” This was confirmed after I returned home and plunged into his Collected Works, especially his poetry, which just pierces me to the core.

Once back at home, I learned that according to what was then the timetable for admissions to the Province, the soonest I might be able to enter would be September of 2015. The prospect of waiting well over a year was disheartened, but I resolved to take this in stride, and began to pray for patience (especially to St. Thérèse, since she had to wait a year longer than she desired before entering the Lisieux Carmel) and to plan my next visit to Holy Hill.

Unexpectedly, and by the grace of God, my patience was not tested for too long! In June, I was informed that the newly elected leadership of the province had decided to alter the admissions timeline to accommodate several potential applicants who otherwise would have forced to wait. I received a formal invitation to apply for admission, and so over the next two months I quickly assembled all the requisite pieces of the application. On September 17, my prayers of the past two years were answered when I received the phone call telling me that, by a unanimous vote of the Admissions Council, I had been accepted into the postulancy.

At this time, I am filled with such a serene sense of joy and peace, and I am overawed by God’s generosity to me. Out of all the souls, capable, hard-working, intelligent, diligent, holy men whom He could have chosen to carry out His work, of being His close friend and living as “love at the heart of the Church”, he has deigned to look upon me, to call lost, directionless, distractible, quick-tempered, lustful, sinful, ill-qualifed me to what has to be the most beautiful order and most beautiful way of life in His entire Church, and to ask me to even possibly be a priest, to offer His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity at the altar, to absolve sins, to welcome souls into the new life of grace through Baptism, to ease the passage of souls entering into the new life of eternity, and to serve as a shepherd and director of some of the holiest souls I have ever had the good-fortune to meet. It is an incomparable honor, a totally unmerited gift, and an infinite joy.

My God, my Jesus, I love You! I desire nothing so much as to give myself entirely to You and to be entirely conformed to You so that You might fill me with Your Infinite Love, which is the sole thing I can hope to offer back to you in fitting thanksgiving for Your Goodness and Majesty. I prostrate myself before my Eucharistic Lord and lay down everything I possess before Him Who laid down everything for me upon the wood of the Cross. Amen!

On Suicide and Matt Walsh

In the wake of actor Robin Williams’ tragic suicide, internet bête noire Matt Walsh (predictably enough) published a controversial post on the topic. You can click through and read the whole thing: in a nutshell, he asserts that suicide is always, and in every case, a conscious choice on behalf of the deceased, and that depression is as much a spiritual matter as it is a medical one. Normally I would allow such a post to pass by uncommented upon, but it engendered such mixed reactions among my social media circles, that I thought it worthwhile to share my own thoughts on the matter and illustrate where Walsh’s hubris and lack of knowledge led him astray.

On the first point, Walsh’s primary sin here is one of hubris. He mentions his own experience in passing and, while I have no knowledge of his medical history, from the way he talks about depression, it seems that he makes the all-too-common mistake of conflating “being depressed” or going through depressive/melancholic episodes in life with the medical condition of clinical depression. The former is an emotional state, in most cases transitory and dependent upon the events in one’s life, while the latter is genuine mental illness, often chronic, and with almost no bearing on what is happening in the life of the sufferer.

One of the tragic realities of mental health is that those who suffer from illnesses or conditions quite often find it next to impossible to explain to healthy individuals what their struggles are like, in part because afflictions of the mind often bear a superficial resemblance to those undergone by everyone else. The flip side of this coin is that many people erroneously assume that they possess an accurate understanding of living with a mental health condition is like, based on a faulty assumption that it is similar or identical their own experiences, when really the resemblance is only superficial.

I have Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, and there have been multiple times when I have been exasperated at how this dynamic plays out. For example, I might mention in conversation that I really struggle with procrastination, and receive a reply that goes something like, “Oh yeah, that’s a problem for me too. But you know, all you really need to do is just buckle down and get stuff done.” How do I even begin to explain to the person that, no, you don’t know what it is like? Where other people will experience of feeling of reticence to start a major project, born of temptations towards weariness or simply fatigue, I experience a paralyzing burst of anxiety and trepidation that makes me feel as if my mind and body alike are locked in chains, and the longer I am unable to move and the closer a deadline approaches, the tighter the chains become.

The same principle applies for clinical depression. Being of a melancholic temperament myself, I’ve gone through depressive periods in my life at various dark times and struggled with suicidal thoughts, but I have never suffered from depression. My experience is a categorically different one from those who deal with depression, because the root causes are fundamentally different. It would be arrogant for me to assume that I understood the mental state, anguish, and toxic despair of one in the depths of depression, and that I could accurately assess their ability to make competent moral judgments relating to themselves and their own self-worth.

Sadly, this assumption is exactly what Matt Walsh did in his post. And while he is correct in that the victims of suicide still technically possess the choice to live or die, if said victims perceive that they no longer possess this choice, it is effectively the same as if they have been stripped of it in reality.

On Walsh’s second point, that depression is as much a spiritual matter as a medical one, his piece contains a core of truth but badly misses the mark. First, his assessment of the vital role that the spiritual life plays in these struggles holds much truer when applied to emotion-based, melancholic episodes. This, combined with how blithely he brushes aside the genuine medical realities of clinical depression, serve as further indication that he conflates “being depressed” with depression. Were they one in the same, his argument would carry water. Unfortunately, they are not.

Second, while it would be germane to ascertain whether there is a spiritual component to an individual patient’s struggle if one were recommending a course of treatment, it is hardly relevant to the point he is examining. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that a condition of spiritual death (brought about perhaps by a life of dissolution or promiscuity) causes a particular individual to fall into serious clinical depression, and they commit suicide. What is at question is not how they got to that point, but whether or not their judgment by that point was so seriously impaired by their illness as to diminish or even destroy their capacity to make rational decisions.

The plain fact of the matter is, when a person takes their own life, we have no way of knowing under what mental pressures they labored, and how their illness distorted their capacity to make rational, moral judgments and see the world as it exists outside of the fog of their illness. Depression is a genuine mental health condition; this is a fact that no serious person or institution disputes. Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, acknowledges the light that modern medicine has cast on this area, and therefore points to the mystery in which these tragedies are ultimately shrouded.

“Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraphs 2282-2283)

As Psalm 19 says, we ourselves can not be completely certain that we are totally free of sin, and therefore we must ask God to pardon us from the offenses that are hidden to us. Given this truth of Sacred Scripture, it is the height of arrogance and ignorance to presume to gaze into the mind of another soul, or a whole class of peoples, and pretend to enjoy accurate knowledge of their thoughts, motivations, interior struggles, and moral culpability. This power belongs only to the Almighty.

An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory by Lodovico Carracci, c. 1610

Gospel Reflection: The Leaven of Christ

Gospel Reading for February 18, 2014:

Mark 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

What does Jesus mean by “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod”? Certainly the disciples did not understand Him. They took leaven literally and assumed Jesus was to refer to the actual leaven, or yeast, that goes into baking bread. Our Lord’s meaning is something else entirely (hence His stern rebuke of His disciples who, despite being the closest companions of the Son of God, still default to a materialistic way of thinking).

Leaven, as stated above, is yeast, the ingredient which makes bread rise. It goes at the heart of the dough and is integral to the success of the whole bread baking enterprise, which in 1st century Palestine was a critical and labor-intensive daily activity. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the ingredients, leaven is alive. It possesses a life of its own (as least until the baking is finished), and this life serves to transform the final product into which it is placed.

In the context that Jesus intends to communicate to His disciples, and to us, “leaven” refers to whatever it is that rests at the center of our souls and thereby animates and drives our lives and our actions. For the Pharisees, this “leaven” in their souls was observance of the Mosaic Law. Their entire lives and conceptions of themselves depended on it and all its minutia. For Herod, a pagan Gentile, his leaven was hedonism and indulgence of the appetites. Both of these foci, Christ is warning us, are roads to perdition.

As Christians, Jesus Christ, and nothing and no one else, must be the life and leaven of our souls! We are meant to live with Him dwelling within us, in our very heart of hearts, animating our souls by the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The more He lives in us, the more we rise to become like Him Who is the Bread of Life.

Anything other than this is an obstacle to salvation. The hedonism of our present age has obvious soul-destroying effects, but we also need to be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees. Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, has devoted a good deal of time talking about this subject.

As human beings with personalities and preferences, we are bound to be drawn to various forms of worship, spirituality, and forms of prayer, and apostolates inside the Church, and well we should be! As St. Therese so eloquently put it, some of us are called to be roses, others lilies, some daisies, and still more to be tiny wildflowers. However, if we idolize these preferences by allowing them to supplant Jesus and the life of Christ at the center of our souls, they become a hinderance, rather than the particular means of our salvation.

Liturgy is one prominent and contentious example of how this can occur. If one is a devotee (as I am) of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and this devotion becomes such a “proof” in your mind of your own piety that you neglect to care for the needs of Our Lord in the distressing disguise of the poor, then the Mass of the Ages has become, for you anyway, the leaven of the Pharisees. By the same token, one can adhere to a very progressive liturgical style and congratulate oneself on creating a very welcoming, inclusive environment. However, if in doing this, you cause the Body of Christ to be made subject to routine abuse through the improper reception of Holy Communion, or if you water down the essential truths of the Faith in order not to cause offense, thus leading others into error and sin, then you too have taken a leaven that is not Christ into your heart.

Lord Jesus, You are the Bread of Life. Through the reception of Your Word and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, take up Your dwelling in our hearts and drive from our souls all that would hinder us from dwelling with You for all Eternity in Heaven. Amen.

Coronation of the Virgin, by Fra Angelico, 1434-1435. Musée du Louvre, Paris

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 36) – Sr. Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart

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The big event of this past week was my trip to the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Elysburg, PA for the Reception of the Holy Habit by my best friend, who is now called Sr. Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart!
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This now occupies a permanent place in my wallet

I arrived at Carmel about 45 minutes early, which gave me time to socialize a little with the Dale family and to pray Lauds quietly in the chapel while the sisters chanted the Divine Office from behind the cloister grilles. Then at 8 AM the clothing ceremony began. All the sisters processed into their side of the chapel, and Sr. Channing came and took her place kneeling at the communion window before the priest. How can I describe what I felt when I heard her voice for the first time in months? It was like a fire of devotion being stoked high in my heart! There followed about a 40 minute ceremony consisting of prayers (mostly in Latin) and a blessing of the various parts of the habit, veil, cincture, and mantle, with which she was vested, as well as the bestowal of her new name as a religious. At the end, a crown of roses was placed on her head and she (according to the guide, as all this took place behind the curtained grille) prostrated herself in the middle of the floor while her sisters sang Veni Creator Spiritus. After about a five minute pause, the Holy Mass, offered in the Extraordinary Form, began.

Afterwards there were refreshments in the public part of the monastery and Sr. Mary Magdalene was present along the Mother Prioress and another sister in the speak room to greet well-wishers. I had thought that I would only have a moment or two to visit, but happily she was allowed to stay and visit for at least a half hour (naturally, her family was granted much more time, and in private). We were able to catch up, I was able to tell her about my visit with the Discalced Carmelite Friars in Wisconsin, and mostly I was just able to bask in the effulgence of my dear sister’s happiness and joy. She looked utterly radiant in the Holy Habit of Carmel, and my heart was caught up with thanksgiving to Jesus who has blessed and favored her so abundantly. Glory be to God!
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Even the Infant of Prague was decked out in Carmelite fashion!

With the reception of the Holy Habit, Sr. Mary Magdalene of the Divine Heart is a novice and an official nun. In a year’s time, God willing, she will make her First Profession of Vows, and I pray fervently that I will be able to be present on that day as well.

— 2 —

One last note on that subject: last year (2013) Sr. Mary Magdalene used Jen Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator to receive a patron saint for that year, and she received St. Brigid of Ireland. The day in 2014 on which she received the habit and became a nun just happened to fall on…the feast of St. Brigid of Ireland.

— 3 —

Last Sunday was the World Day of Consecrated Life, and I thought that this image from the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R. Facebook page was a perfect summation of the beauty of the consecrated vocation.

Pray for the grace of good vocations.

— 4 —

Apparently the United Nations has seen fit to dictate to the Holy See on what Catholics ought to and ought not to believe regarding abortion, contraception, and gender ideology (never mind the fact that they totally ignored the extraordinary progress the Catholic Church has made in implementing world-class standards and practices for protecting children against sexual predation).

Billy Newton has a typically excellent piece over on at Blog of the Courtier touching on this and asking, “Is the media honeymoon nearly over for Pope Francis?” I’m not sure that this will be the tipping point, but it will come eventually. There is no doubt about that.

— 5 —

Winter Olympics! I don’t know about you, but I love the Winter games even more than the Summer ones. I am especially looking forward to the ice hockey, figure skating, and snowboarding events. Go Team USA!

— 6 —

Tomorrow* is the Memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, who is not only an excellent example of how even the worst circumstances can serve to draw us to Christ, but also of the virtue of Christian mercy and forgiveness. Once asked what she would do if she were to meet those who abducted and enslaved her as a young child, she said that she would kiss their hands, because were it not for that, she would never have known Jesus.

If you have not seen the film Bakhita, I recommend it. A tad melodramatic at times, but well-worth viewing and reflecting upon.

And hey, go follow Sr. Lisa Marie Doty on Twitter (@Sr_Lisa)! She’s awesome and, like St. Josephine Bakhita, is a Canossian sister!

*Original post said today, which is actually the memorial of Pope Bl. Pius IX. Mea culpa…

— 7 —

The Sum of Perfection by St. John of the Cross

Forgetfulness of created things,
remembrance of the Creator,
attention turned towards inward things,
and loving the Beloved.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 35) – Vocations and Comic Books


Reminder to please pray for Sister Channing Dale tomorrow, as she will be receiving the Holy Habit and moving up to the novitiate in Carmel. I will be sure to carry all the needs and intentions of my readers with me when I go to the Mass in Elysburg. That trip will entail leaving at 3:30 AM, which I realized today is appropriately Carmelite. After all, The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross begin thus:

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
–ah, the sheer grace!–
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

— 1 —

This Sunday is the Feast of The Presentation of the Lord, otherwise known as Candlemas, because it is on this day that the candles to be used in the church throughout the entire year are blessed. Be sure to bring in some votive candles with you and have the priest bless them; every Catholic home should have blessed candles on hand for use during an Anointing of the Sick.

— 2 —

One side effect of Catholic new and social media is that I’ve encountered or gotten to know several married couples who met and wed after one or both spouses went through some form of discernment to the priesthood or religious life. I don’t quite know why, but whenever I read about that it always makes me kind of uneasy. I guess it is because I recognize that there is still a possibility (however small) that God intends for my life to end of that way, and that is a hugely daunting prospect. I’m just picturing what I’d likely have to do and it seems…impossible. I mean, really, quit work, go back to college full-time, at some place where I’d have no friends, no support structure, a decade older than almost everyone else there, trying to do the thing I’ve repeatedly failed to do on my own? Ridiculous!

I should be grateful for the clarity this insight provides (in knowing which path is certainly not for me) but it still causes me stress for some reason. Like I said, can’t tell you why, but at least this serves as a warning to any nice Catholic girls who might get foolish notions: keep on walking.

— 3 —

I did not watch the State of the Union address, because I had zero interest in hearing what the President had to say, especially stretched out over the duration of an entire hour. Instead, I opted for hockey (Sabres vs. Capitals), which was a vastly superior choice. And that is saying something, because my Buffalo Sabres a) lost in overtime, and b) are one of the worst teams in the league this year.

— 4 —

OMGOSH LOOK!

That’s right, it’s a new Serenity graphic novel, this one taking place approximately nine months after the events of the feature film. No spoilers, but the first issue is really good. We’ll have to see if Leaves On The Wind measures up to Better Days, my favorite of the three previous Serenity GNs.

And speaking of the Dark Horse-House of Whedon alliance…I saw today that Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaccs, the creative team behind Angel & Faith, are going to be moving over to center stage and running the upcoming “season” of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. At first I was somewhat distraught, since I absolutely loved what they did with A&F, and I’m not crazy about a new team taking over on of my favorite series. However, on further reflection, I’ve become more sanguine (no pun intended). This is most definitely a promotion for Gage and Isaacs, which means that the Powers That Be like what they did with A&F, and hopefully the new team will bring a similar level of talent to the table.

At very least, the comic book Buffy will now bear an actual physical resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar (the fact that she didn’t in previous seasons was a HUGE pet peeve of mine).

— 5 —

Finally picked up two new albums that I’d wanted for a while but on which I had been holding off: Silver Sky by The Infamous Stringdusters (my favorite bluegrass band) and The Ragpicker’s Dream by Mark Knopfler, who is kind of a British blues rocker (not entirely sure how to classify him; I just know that I love his music). Both are great albums that work exceptionally well as a whole package, as well as containing some fantastic standalone songs.

Of course, the album for which I’m really excited for is Lent At Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, coming out on February 11! These cloistered nuns sound absolutely angelic, and they are probably the artists I listen to the most on a day-to-day basis. I encourage you to buy directly from them, since they benefit the most that way.

— 6 —

One funny thing that I noticed in reviewing my Twitter habits is that the way I use Twitter varies in a rather consistent manner depending on the time of day. In the mornings, my tweets are almost always links and RTs of various articles or blogs, in the evenings I tend to put out more “original” content, the majority of which is about Catholic stuff, and then at night I’m largely just wasting time or chatting with people. Since I am looking to par down my social media usage, this is a useful insight. Going forward, I should probably restrict my Twitter time to the evenings, since it is then that it feels at least semi-beneficial and interesting.

— 7 —

Winter needs to end soon. Not because the low temperatures are getting to me (though it has been bitter cold this year), but because of all the bloody road salt! Seriously, that stuff is so freaking gross and I’m sick of it caking my car.

Have a great weekend!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 34) – Baby It’s Cold Outside

— 1 —

It is frigid here in Virginia! After a week or so of milder weather, we are back down into brutally cold temperatures. It didn’t help that on Wednesday night we lost power at my house, but happily it was restored by late Thursday morning.

Update #1: Congratulations to the Diocese of Harrisburg (where the Elysburg Carmel is located) on receiving a new ordinary: Bishop Ronald William Gainer, currently of the Diocese of Lexington (Kentucky). Among other things, it looks like at one point in his priestly ministry he served as chaplain to a community of O.Carms.

Update #2: Today is the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, the great Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church who defended the Faith against the Protestant Revolution and won thousands of souls back for Holy Mother Church. He is the patron of spiritual directors, and articulated and promoted the “universal call to holiness” some three and a half centuries before the Second Vatican Council. His idea that everyone, regardless of one’s state in life, has a particular vocation that is geared towards bringing them into a state of holiness, was quite far ahead of its time. In St. Francis de Sales’s day, the general understanding was that if one desired to live a holy life, it was necessary for one to become a priest or enter a religious order. We know today, as St. Francis did then, that this is not the case.

Today’s Office of Readings has a selection from his seminal work, Introduction to the Devout Life, that wonderfully addresses one of the key concerns that many of us feel today as we attempt to answer this universal call to holiness.

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.
I say that devotion must be practised in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.
Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbour. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganised and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.
The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.
Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its colour, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.
It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.
Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

If You Are Hurting After An Abortion

…you can find hope, healing, and forgiveness.

Click on the links below for post-abortive resources and support groups:

Silent No More Awareness Campaign

Project Rachel

Rachel’s Vineyard

National Helpline for Abortion Recovery

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Remember, you are loved, and you do not have to suffer alone.

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