The Retreat

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First, thank you all for the prayers. The retreat for a variety of reasons was a grueling, penitential, and refining experience from which I derived a bounty of graces. I won't go into those details here because they aren't of universal or even of a minority audience interest. However, there are several reflections that I think may be worth sharing because they caused such a stir.

Our retreat leader was Father Patrick McMahon. Father Patrick is the O.Carm Vatican expert on the Brown Scapular and with Fr. Sam Anthony Morello (OCD) wrote the current brown scapular catechesis. For anyone who knows what this is about, it is enough to set the scene. Fr. Patrick is a very scholarly, very orthodox man--his political opinions tend toward the liberal side of things--a volatile mix easily subject to misinterpretation and misrepresentation. While I did not agree with some of his opinions, I found his teaching solid, interesting, and . . . transforming.

Let's start with something startlingly uncontroversial, that begins with a controversial proposition. It is Father Patrick's opinion (one with which I concur) that politicians who support abortion should not be denied communion. I understand that there is a variety of thinking on the matter and I respect the positions of those who differ from me on the matter. But what Father Patrick derived from this I found most interesting. Reflecting particularly on the Carmelite vocation he stated that it is not the Carmelite vocation to sniff out heresy, expose, and denounce it. He said there was a perfectly good Order for those who wished to do so and recommended all such to look into the Dominicans. Now, it is part of the vocation of all Christians in good standing to correct error in love--but what I appreciated here was the laser sharp focus on the parameters of the Carmelite vocation.

(For those who are interested, his ultimate conclusion was that all Carmelites participate in the vocation that St. Therese identified; that is, Carmelites are called to be love at the heart of the Church. This proposition led readily into certain aspects of social justice and mercy, but also into some unexpected side streams that were quite rewarding.)

I like the idea of not being a heresy hunter. Heaven knows, I'm not qualified for one thing. For another, I'm far better equipped to aid those with the reason and argumentation through my prayers than I am to leap into the fray and muddle the whole thing. I want to welcome those who do not understand or who have a different understanding of Church teaching. I want to pray for them and be their companions on the journey because I started there myself. Drawn by a deep hunger for the real presence that I understood even through my Baptist upbringing, I came into the Church with an enormous amount of fundamentalist protestant and secular liberal baggage. If it hadn't been for those who loved me into the Church I could never have completed the journey. I was completely turned off by the attitude of the apologists who thought they knew it all and who were more seemingly more rigid, unbending, and uncaring than the most rigid Calvinist I had ever encountered. This was my judgment on them and it condemned me; however, there were those who did not argue with me, but gently prayed with me and corrected some of my misapprehensions about the Church.

We need both. We need the strength of reason, of right doctrine, of correct understanding. Those people support the church in reason and in faith. They are probably instrumental in many conversions. But we also need to have those who meet us at the door, broken, dirty, confused as we are; those who show us to seats beside them and who spoon-feed and pray for us as we are gradually healed by the wisdom of the Church, by Love Himself who comes to those of us who are willing. I want to be one of that army, incapable as I am of it--that is my desire to pray and counsel and listen and be with those who really desire the truth. I leave to others the intricate explanations of the details. I know enough of the faith to be a general guide--when they wish to know about the hypostatic union and the exact moment of transubstantiation, I'll send them on to the better informed. Even if I sometimes know those kinds of things, they flee from my head at a moment's notice. In my life, I need to rely entirely upon the Holy Spirit to speak the right words and to be the right person for the people who come to me. Ultimately, they don't matter that much to me, because I don't think that serving Jesus is in those details for me. Indeed, I have been given a clear preview of the final exam--"When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; thirsty, you gave me to drink; naked, you clothed me. . ."

Any way, it served once again as a profound confirmation of my vocation.

If I have time later, I'll write a bit about another really remarkable statement that will probably stir much more controversy than this one.

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... [he] recommended all such to look into the Dominicans

I, however, must say that of the Dominicans that I've encountered I have been struck by their desire to instruct rather than stamp out. But that very point had occurred to me a couple weeks ago with regard to vocation... that we are not all supposed to be Grand Inquisitors, and in fact, probably the only person who is well suited to that particular job is the person who doesn't want it. (Our Holy Father, and former "Grand Inquisitor" didn't want it, from what I read).

Dear Brandon,

And, of course, you know that Father Patrick expressed only admiration for Dominicans. His point was simply that if we wanted to be Dominicans, we ought to go and be Dominicans. On the other hand, if Carmel is our home, we should conduct ourselves as Carmelites and that, as Tom and I show, is quite a different conduct still within the confines and embrace of the Universal Church. It is what gives life and breadth to the Catholic communion. So, if I conveyed any sense of distaste or of the derogatory, it was not intended and I hope all Dominicans will accept my apology.

In general, person prompted to join a lay religious order don't seem to carry agendas into the acting out of their vocation. They may start with them, but proper formation generally helps to make our agendas the one agenda--winning souls to Christ.

Or so I think in broad terms--but remember, I'm more often wrong than right.



It is interesting how different people attempt to balance "tough love" and "soft love" as it were.

I wonder if the letters to the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3 are in some way meant to be types of individual Christians. For example, many bloggers who are keen towards fraternal correction may be like Ephesus, "You have less love than formerly...It is in your favour, nonetheless, that you loathe as I do the way the Nicolaitians are behaving." A bit weak on charity, yet doctrinally strong.

Then in others we might see Thyatira, of whom Christ praises as having faith and service but who tolerates the woman Jezebel, who is committed to teaching false idols. Doctrinally wrong, yet faithful in other ways.


I have had a longing to become a 3rd Order Carmelite for some time now or to at least dip my toe in the pool at first. I do like apologetics and I think there is a place for it as long as it is done with charity as St. Peter instructs us. However, I find that whenever I try to engage in apologetics I have the same problem that you mentioned, my brain goes blank. I'm not gifted with being quick on my feet. Usually a good reply comes to me hours if not days later.

So what you said is interesting in that perhaps this is a further sign from God that if I do have a calling to a 3rd order then it very well just may be the Carmelites. Something to pray about for sure.

God bless,


Sounds like your retreat was thought-provoking. I'm hoping to hear more about it. Thanks for everything.

Interesting. I have always thought that if there were a specific kind of spirituality calling to me, it would be Dominican. What you have said here only confirms that. I love Carmelites, but my first child was dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena, and I truly love Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. I am so glad that the church is truly universal!



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 13, 2007 7:38 AM.

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