Carmelite: March 2004 Archives

"Deliver us from evil,
--and from slavery to the senses, which blinds us to goodness."
(from the intercessions of Morning Prayer--Wednesday 5th Week of Lent)

How providential that our subject from St. Teresa Benedicta this morning is presaged by the intercession from morning prayer.

We don't like to face the truth of Jesusí dictum, but it is important for us to do so. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it " (Matthew 16:25). In short, we can't do it ourselves. Moreover, we should not expect it to be either easy or without unpleasantness--dying isn't a particularly easy process. But dying to self is critically necessary for advancing in real life.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (and St. John of the Cross)

To take up battle against it [the animal spirit] , or to take one's cross upon oneself, means entering into the dark night actively. The saint [John of the Cross] gives several concise directions of which he himself says: "A person who sincerely wants to practice them will need no others since all the others are include in these." These directions are:

"1) Sustain always the desire to imitate Christ in all things and to bring your life into conformity with his. You must therefore study his life in order to imitate it and behave always as he would.

"2) In order to do this well, you must deny yourself every pleasure that presents itself to your senses, keep it far from you if it is not solely directed to the honor and glory of God.

"And in fact you should do this out of love for Jesus who knew no other joy and had no desire in his life other than to fulfill the will of his Father. He called this his food and nourishment [Jn 4:34]. If, for instance, some amusement offers itself to you in hearing of things that do not contribute to the service of God, then you should neither have pleasure in them nor wish to hear them. . . . Likewise, practice renunciation in regard to all your sense for as much as you are able to refuse their impressions readily. Insofar as you are unable to ward them off, it is sufficient that you take no enjoyment when these things approach you. Take care how you mortify your senses and preserve them from being touched by any inordinate desire. Then they will remain alike in darkness and in short time you will make great progress."

"The follow maxims will serve as a thoroughly effective means of mortification and harmoniously ordering the four natural passions: joy, hope, fear, and sorrow. . . . Take care that your inclination is ever directed:

not toward the easier, but toward the more difficult;
not toward the pleasant, but toward the unpleasant;
not toward the restful, but toward the troublesome;
not toward the more, but toward the less;
not toward what brings you more joy, but what brings displeasure;
not toward what prepares consolation for you, but toward what makes you disconsolate;
not toward the higher and more valuable, but toward the lowly and insignificant;
not toward what wants to be something, but toward what wants to be nothing."

. . . No further explanation is necessary to see that this active entry into the dark night of the sense is synonymous with ready willingness to take up the cross, and with persistence in carrying the cross. But one does not die from carrying the cross. And in order to pass completely through the night, a person must die to sin. One can deliver oneself up to crucifixion, but one cannot crucify oneself. Therefore that which the active night has begun must be completed by the passive night, that is, through God himself.

Always remembering that passing through either night is only possible with the generous assistance of Grace.

We don't like to think about these things. We would prefer to squeak into heaven, on a technicality if necessary. Who really wants to die to self--to give up the pleasures of the world, to not find joy in the little things that are around us? But I look at the lives of the Saints who chose to do this and fact of the matter is, their lives were filled constantly with a far greater joy than I can summon up from any created thing (except, perhaps, Samuel--but that's another matter.)

We don't want to do the work of sacrifice. We'll give money, we'll look to buy our way out of real self-giving, but it isn't sufficient. To truly serve God and to claim His greatest gifts for us we must die to self. There is no compromise. If we are to live the life God has for us we must abandon the one by which we protect ourselves from God's agency. We must shed the self-created life and assume the one that God has had for us from the beginning. It will either happen here on Earth or in the life to come. But it will happen. It seems to me that I would rather choose the joys the Saints partook of than the ones that I have daily, the ones that more and more taste of dust and ashes. The joys of eternity are available to us but we must be open to receive them and to receive them, we must love God more than we love ourselves. Loving God is the only thing that makes entry into the active dark night possible. We cannot do it by will, though we might start. We cannot do it by our own power, though we must contribute to it. We cannot do it without grace. And even with grace, if we do not allow grace to feed and fan the fires of love we cannot do it. Only love can draw one through the dark night. God's intense love for us is the magnet and our love for Him must transcend all earthly loves (even while it incorporates a great many of them). If we do not love God most of all, we cannot enter into the night, our strength and our courage will fail. And God wants us to enter this night so He can share how much, how intensely, how completely He Loves us. We cannot know this while senses are dulled by all the glittering attractions of the world. We must abandon our love of it (even as we continue to live in it) and direct all of our devotion and attention to God. In this we purify the senses, and like John of the Cross we will begin to truly love the vistas of creation, not for creation itself but for and by intense love of our creator. Our eyes begin to see what is really there, our ears to hear, our sense to actually touch. The weariness of the world washes away from them and we, like Lazarus are called out of the tomb into the real world--the world "charged with the Glory of God." That is our goal, that is ultimately our destiny. Why would we want to put it off until later? Why would we choose a lesser love over a greater?

But if we would choose this greater way, it will be hard to walk because of our fallen nature. Nevertheless, I, for one, want to open myself to God's call and to find Him here and now. I want to walk in the Garden in the evening and to be reborn into His image of me. He dreamed me into existence from the beginning of time, I want to fulfill His dream. I want to realize His dream for me.

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Hard Words for Hard Times

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Oh, you didn't think you got away from St. Teresa Benedicta so easily did you? Thanks to the resounding silence (perhaps the highest of compliments, considering the material) I have determined to post more, as she must be making an impact. In this passage she refers to the beginning of the Dark Night of the Senses and why one embarks upon it, indeed, why it is truly necessary to embark upon it.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

On the other hand, something entirely new is begun when the Dark Night starts. The entirely comfortable being-at-home in the world, the satiety of pleasures that it offers, the demand for these pleasures and the matter-of-course consent to these demands--all of this that human nature considers bright daily life--all of this is darkness in God's eyes and incompatible with the divine light. It has to be totally uprooted if room for God is to be made in the soul. Meeting this demand means engaging in battle with one's own nature all along the line, taking up one's cross and delivering oneself up to be crucified. Holy Father St. John here invokes the Lord's saying in this connection: "Whoever does not renounce all that the will possesses cannot be my disciple" [Lk. 14:33].

And it is in this last line that the true hardship of the word comes. It isn't that we can't be saved or we can't enter into heaven, but at times that seems like so small a goal compared with that of serving the Lord as Disciple. And discipleship is costly. I would recommend Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship were it not so virulently anti-Catholic. But he points out in the course of the work that many of us want a costless or cheap discipleship. Such a discipleship is inauthentic--and that makes sense. How can carrying a cross be cheap or costless? If we wish to serve Christ in this world and in the world to come, it will only be at great cost. Consider the very short parable of the man who found a pearl of great price and sold all that he owned to purchase it. That is the cost--all that we think we own, all that we think is ours, all that the senses "possess," these must be completely surrendered to God as the "cost" of serving Him. And the cost yields a valuable rebate. No matter how much we give up and give to Him, He returns countless amounts more in the freedom, peace, and serenity of serving Him.

The gradual shedding of the world's hold on us is a necessary prerequisite to focusing our attention completely upon the Crucified One. And what other meaning in life is there? If Jesus is not the complete focus then we are not seeing anyway--so what loss is our sight of this world?

(Tomorrow, perhaps, I will include the précis of what is required to enter the dark night of the senses--other than the call by grace, of course.)

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On Taking Up Our Crosses--WOW!

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from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Knowing this, Jesus' disciple not only takes up the cross that is laid upon him, but also crucifies himself: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." They have waged an unrelenting battle against their natures, that the life of sin might die in them and room be made for the life of the spirit. That last is what is important. The cross has no purpose of itself. It rises on high and points above. But it is not merely a sign--it is Christ's powerful weapon; the shepherd's staff with which the divine David moves against the hellish Goliath; with it he strikes mightily against heaven's gate and throws it wide open. Then streams of divine light flow forth and enfold all who are followers of the Crucified.

It is in passages like this that we come to understand the true meaning of the word visionary.

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The Science of the Cross

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St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross made such a splash yesterday and the enthusiastic plaudits were such that I couldn't disappoint by not bringing more. First a definition: "St Paul who already had a well-developed science of the cross, a theology of the cross derived from inner experience (p. 20) And now this passage:

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The saving power: this is the power that awakens to life those to whom divine life had died thorugh sin. This saving power had entered the Word from the cross and through this word passes over into all who receive it, who open themselves to it, without demanding miraculous signs or human wisdom's reasons. In them it becomes the life-giving and life-forming power that we have named the science of the cross.

Paul brought it to fulfillment in himself "Through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

It could prepare one to recive life, but of itself it could not give life. Christ took the yoke of the Law upon himself in that he fulfilled it perfectly and died for and through the Law. Just so did he free from the Law those who wished to receive life from him. But they can receive it only if they relinquish their own life. For those who are baptised in Christ are baptized in his death. They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life. This life will be ours in its fullness only on the day of glory. (p. 21)

There are two points in this that really spoke to me:

(1) In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

The law is the sign that points to the great redeemer, not redemption itself. I know this from all that is taught and yet to hear this revelation from one who would know--a Jewish convert to Catholicism--completely transforms an intellectual truth into a heart-truth. St. Teresa Benedicta lived this transformation and more. She learned the truth of the law, abandoned it, and then learned the fullness of the law in Jesus Christ. She died as a martyr for her people (in her own words), taking them with her in a mystical way in the reality of her own death and rising. She reified the truth of Christ's sacrifice on the cross in her own life and death. And as with all martyrs she is among the best imitators of Christ.

(2) They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life.

This may be more significant for those of us who had adult, full emersion baptisms. In the Baptist Church, once you accept Christ, you are baptised in a pool of water--not by having water sprinkled or poured on you, but by being completely emersed in the water three times--"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." This is quite a different experience from that of most Catholics (many of whom cannot remember their baptism) and even most adult converts. I've seen many who have had water poured over them, but have yet to witness a full emersion Catholic baptism. That's an aside, but important. In full emersion you are truly submerged, and brought forth again fully symbolizing the death and resurrection into which we are being baptised.

In St. Teresa Benedicta's terms we are submerged into the body of Christ which is the living Church and the body of the resurrection. We die to self to become part of what is greater than we are. In dying we are resurrected as more than self, as a member of the body of Christ.

But I like the sense of submerged for another reason. It suggests the fullness of the truth that Christ is not only completely surrounding us, but within us. When one is completely submerged, eventually the fluid one is submerged in enters the body. Submergence in Christ once again suggests the truth of becoming a new person, of losing the old, false identity and assuming one's god-given place in the body of Christ. In addition, submergence contains within it hints of subordination, of right ordering, and of proper relation between the creation and the Creator. In all, a very satisfying fleshing out of Paul's magnificent, life-giving teaching.

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Becoming God's Friends

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from Awakening Your Sould to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian Healy OCD

What more could God have done to invite us to be His fieends? Did He not send HIs only-begotten Son into the world to become man, so that we might find it easier to know and to love Him? Di dnot Jesus say on the eve of His passion:"No longer do I call you servants. . . but I have called you friends"? Was He not revealing to the Apostles and to the future members of the Church their vocation to intimacy with Him, the Son of God?

There you have it--we are called to a vocation of intimacy with Him. He has given the instructions, the example, and the grace. Now, we must take Him up on the invitation. How can we grow to love God if we do not talk to Him? Many of us already share our concerns of the day, but many of us do not share the deep-down reality of who we are. Part of the reason for that is that we are afraid of who we are in Christ. That person would be called upon to act differently than we normally do in the world. That person would have no entitlements and would have no rights before all. He would be a servant of God and a servant of the servants of God. We don't really want to be servants. Okay, maybe we want to be, but I can tell you, I'm not terribly keen on the idea. A servant gets kicked around. A servant gets ignored. A servant has no real recourse when abuse is heaped upon him.

So the role of servant doesn't really appeal to me--I suspect it doesn't appeal to many. However, the role of God's friend does appeal to me. It appeals to me so much that the role of servant may not be so bad. Here is where I must change. I must pray for the grace to serve and the grace to love. Only in serving our fellow men can we become God's friends. Jesus made it explicitly clear in the parable of the sheep and the goats. "Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, thy brethren, that you do unto me." Suddenly the idea of service isn't so bad. Perhaps I can serve. Perhaps I can learn to see Jesus in those in need. Surely with grace this can be accomplished. And perhaps I can begin to be who Jesus would want me to be. Perhaps I can begin to have an identity in Christ.

All is grace. None of this can happen if I refuse the actions of grace. None of this can happen if I remove myself from conversation with God. So I must seek to open the channels of grace, to exercise spiritual muscles and disciplines that I have heretofore left inactive. And I do this because all is grace and all is gift. I can do nothing of myself. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

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Sophia Press publishes some very interesting reprints of books from the past. Much of the time I am annoyed by their tendency to abridge, edit, or alter any such text. However, the work is often worth reading. So is the case with the book quoted below:

from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healy OCD

It is quite possible to come to a profound love of God, but it will not be something that comes to us like a flash of lightning. Ordinarily, it will grow with time. For it is a love of friendship--wishing good to another. It grows in proportion as love for self decreases. Self-love decreases only after a difficult battle, but it is a battle that each and every one of us must fight. We have no alternative, for Christ has said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul." Since God does not command the impossible we can fall out of love with ourselves and in love with God. It is never too late to start.

Fr. Kilian's book seems to be a gloss on Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection's Practice of the Presence of God with some hints about how to do it. The back cover blurb promises "simple practical ways to think of God continuously, to converse with Him intimately, and to please Him at all times." I'll let you know.

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To Be a Carmelite

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from the writings of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity as found here

So, on the mountain of Carmel, in silence, in solitude, in a prayer which is unceasing, for nothing can interrupt it, the Carmelite already lives as though in heaven: for God alone! The same God who will one day be her beatitude and will fulfill her desires in glory, is already giving Himself to her here on earth. He never leaves her, He dwells in the depths of her being, and more wonderful still, He and she are but one. And so she is hungry for silence and prayer that she may always listen to Him and penetrate more deeply into His infinite Being. She identifies herself with Him whom she loves, she finds Him everywhere. She sees Him shining through everything. She belongs to Him alone, and trusts completely in His loving and faithful providence. Is that not heaven on earth?

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I have found that there are generally two types of practical books about prayer (here I am not refering to advanced treatises like van Balthasar's theology of prayer). One is an insipid string of clichés;s about "who, what, when, where, how, and why," that fails to stimulate a spirit of prayer and most often fails to provoke anything other than yawns. The other type is a book so thoroughly practical, so dense with helpful advice and with insights that it is virtually impossible to finish because its main effect is to make you abandon the book and start praying--truly an effective work on prayer.

It is into this latter category that I classify Romano Guardini's wonderful The Art of Prayer. It is one of those books that rather than underlining, one would do better to use a black magic marker to delete the one or two sentences per chapter that you wouldn't read again, except that would deprive you of their help when you next came back to it.

This makes it most difficult to choose what to share, what stirkes one, and what might be most helpful. But I will endeavor to share a bit of what the book has given me:

from The Art of Prayer
Romano Guardini

It is a great mystery that man, whose life springs from God, should have such difficulty in communing with Him; that indeed he should experience disinclination to do so and should sieze on any pretext to evade Him. If man merely followed his natural feelings he would soon have no desire to pray. It would, however, be highly dangerous to conclude that this is his proper condition and that he had better accept it, rather than try to change it. . . . Are a sick man's feelings a reliable standrad of truth? Common sense tells us that his feelings may well be unrealiable and he should therefore, guided by superior knowledge--for instance, the judgment of an experienced doctor--establish a regime and persevere in it. In this manner and with time, his feelings may be restored to health. Only then will they be reliable. We are like the sick man; we are sick in our relationship to God and to the world. We cannot therefore make our natural feelings the true standard for our religious attitude, but must follow enlightened opinion in order to put ourselves and our feelings right. The supposed truthfulness which consists in doing what inclination demands is frequently an evasion of truth. In the practice of prayer therefore, we must also endeavor to seek what is right and to do it loyally and, if need be, against our inclinations.

Even those of us inclined to prayer spend much of our time being disinclined. It is grace and the Holy Spirit that lead us "with leashes of love" to the royal throneroom. Prayer is very, very hard to start, and extremely easy to abandon. Satan has used our own natures and allowed them to accumulate the spiritual equivalents of inertia and friction any motion is difficult to begin and requires a constant effort to maintain.

As a result those of us inclined to pray spend a great deal of time reading books about prayer, books about God, books about how to stop reading books about prayer and start doing, and using all manner of clever dodges for avoiding prayer and calling it preparing for prayer.

Or maybe not. Perhaps I'm the only person caught in such a cycle, though from speaking to others, I suspect not.

Routine is helpful. This is why, a while back, I spent some time encouraging the daily practice of the liturgy of the hours. There was a notably dampening response to that suggestion--intimating that it was too difficult, too time consuming, not necessary for sanctity or furthering prayer life. And yet I note that when I am faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours all other prayer flows more easily (not to say spontaneously), and when I break that routine, I shatter the rest of my prayer life as well.

A fixed time and a set place are a good beginning to a constant prayer life. When vocal prayer becomes habit, when its lines and contours are known and well worn, then it can begin to deepen and take root in the soul. St. Teresa of Avila advises us that a well-formed vocal prayer is already a mental prayer.

This is one of the reasons that the Rosary is so effective a mechanism for encouraging the contemplative life. The words of the prayers form a known and set rhythm and it is on this undulating tide that the meditations on the mysteries take place. The words form the backdrop and the prayer can center on the mysteries. So too with the Jesus Prayer or with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The words are less important that the meditation that goes with them. When this meditation continues for a long enough period than mere images are no longer necessary and we enter into the realm of contemplative prayer. I suspect few of us get there because we will not settle into a routine.

We've been told (incorrectly) that prayer should be spontaneous and not in fixed modes. The devotions the Church used to encourage are less welcome among some modern clerics. And while spontaneous prayer is good and a wonderful way to "practice the presence" it is a serious mistake to abandon or repudiate time-honored methods of prayer.

Good, solid prayer takes root in well-worked soil. And well worked-soil comes about only through constant application and routine. The great old devotions and prayers of the Church are exquisite ground for beginning a prayer life than can lead directly to union with God. In addition, these well traveled routes have been followed by all the great Saints upon whose intercession we can rely for help as we set out to join God.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel to union with God in prayer is not a solitary road. Along it we have the help of the ages--well-worn, comfortable prayers, and clouds of witnesses, legions of Saints who have pledged their lives and their heavens to assisting those of us too weak to stand on our own. The Ascent is always done in a community of prayer and we all can make the Ascent if we set our minds on doing so and rely upon grace and the prayer of the Communion of Saints to make it happen.

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Sorry, I'm on a Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity kick, and if you would get the book from ICS and read it, you'd see why. In the meantime, let me tell you the immediate cause of my enthusiasm:

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcraft

"Pray that I might have his passion for God and for souls," asked Elizabeth, "for a Carmelite must be an apostle." The Carmelite prays and strives for the closest possible union with God, not simply for her own holiness and salvation; she is aware that the more she is living in Christ, the more powerful she is in her prayer for others. Just as evil can pollute and corrupt, even more so goodness and holiness can transform.

Oh, how powerful over souls is the apostle who remains always at the Spring of living waters; then he can overflow without his soul ever becoming empty, since he lives in communion with the Infinite!. . .Let us be wholly His, Monsieur l'Abbé, let us be flooded with His divine essence, that He may be the Life of our life, the Soul of our soul, and we may consciously remain night and day under His divine action. (L 124)
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Y'all just must spend some time with her. See this quote:

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcroft

May Christ bring us into those depths, those abysses where one lives only by Him. Would you like to be united to your little sister in order to become wholly loving, wholly listening, wholly adoring?

To love, to love all the time, to live by love, that is, to be surrendered. (L125)

It really is only one step, but the really hard part is the preliminaries where God prepares you for the step. Our prayer is to Love God and to be Love for God here in the world. As St. Teresa of Avila can be paraphrased, "In the end it is not how much we know, it is how much we love that we shall be judged by." And by "how much," I take St. Teresa to mean both in quantitative (how often it is expressed) and qualitative (the actions by which it is expressed) mode. Some express their love in song and prayer and silence, others express it through strong refutation of error, counsel, and preaching, still others through hospitality. There is no end to the expression of love of God, and it is absolutely necessary for each of us to pursue through grace that end of loving in the particular way that God desires for us. For if we choose to love as we choose, then we do not really love at all.

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from He Is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity
Jennifer Moorcroft

Let us live with God as with a friend, let us make our faith a living faith in order to be in communion with Him through everything, for that is what makes saints. We possess our Heaven within us, since He who satisfies the hunger of the glorified in the light of vision gives Himself to us in faith and mystery, it is the Same One! It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul. The day I unsterstood that everything became clear to me.

For Elizabeth, this was not just a lovely spiritual idea, once she understood it, she lived it with unrelenting persistance, as she said herself, it was how saints were made. It was a way that was typical for her, since there was no dividing line between her spiritual life and her everyday life. In her letter to Guite [stevenote: Elizabeth's sister] Elizabeth went on to reassure her family, who were worried by the thought of the hard Lenten observance in Carmel: "Lent isn't tiring me; I don't even notice it, and then I have a good little Mother who watches over me with a quite maternal heart" (L 109).

And so we have a synthesis of Carmelite teaching. Live with God as with a friend in constant conversation, listening more than speaking; and make your faith a living faith. Perhaps this might be said to BE faith alive. That is when people look at your life they see the fire burning there, the faith that is the love of God shining forth. This should show forth not from what you say, nor even necessarily from what you do, but in how you go about it.

I think of it as the spiritual equivalent for Faith of what Audrey Hepburn was for sophistication, class, and beauty. She didn't need to preach classiness or sophistication--it was simply who she was. And reports have it that part of that may have been because of her faith. But when people look at us, as we conduct ourselves even virtually, they should see the constant striving to make real the presence of God within and among us. They should see living faith. And this only becomes possible when the most important thing in the world is a passionate, all-consuming love of God and desire for His will alone.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from March 2004.

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