Tag Archives: Carmelites

Prayer Request: Entrance into Carmel

Please pray for D., a young woman I met recently who is entering this monastery of Discalced Carmelites today. And pray for the Sisters – today they’re also celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of their monastery!

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Vocation Stories: Fr. Juan, O.C.D.

Young Man Praying

(image source)

“It was as though something had taken hold of my heart, at once powerfully and lovingly, urging it to choose the priesthood in order to share with others the Good News of the love of God…”

My vocation story would not make much sense if I did not mention the transforming encounter with Christ that I experienced at age eighteen. At a moment in my life when I felt alone, unhappy, and unsatisfied with myself and with my life, I made a Cursillo retreat. There I experienced Christ as a real person who was alive, who knew me totally and loved me unconditionally. I understood that He was the answer to my deepest aspirations and desires. Only in Him could I fulfill the purpose for which God, in His love, had brought me into existence. After this experience, I resolved, with the help of the grace of God, to live according to His will, and I made a commitment to live a live of personal prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, and service.

My call to religious life and to the priesthood did not emerge until months later. As I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament one afternoon, I asked Our Lord to show me what I ought to do with my life, which road He wanted me to take. I was a first-year university student, but still did not know what career to pursue. While I was praying, I saw the pastor of the church pass by as he prepared to celebrate Mass. I thought: “This man is so fortunate! He has no occupation, job or profession other than God and His work. What better cause is there to live and work for?”

At that moment, I felt a very strong attraction to the priesthood. It was a desire that did not come from me; it was as though something had taken hold of my heart, at once powerfully and lovingly, urging it to choose the priesthood in order to share with others the Good News of the love of God in Christ Jesus. This took me completely by surprise, since I had never before felt the desire to be a priest.

I felt stunned and excited at the same time. One part of me wanted to say “yes” immediately. Another part reasoned that these desires were merely the result of the powerful spiritual experience I’d had on my Cursillo retreat. Besides, I wasn’t holy enoughto be a priest! I thought about my weaknesses, the many ways in which I was inadequate, and other reasons why my sudden desire could not possibly be from God.

Other experiences followed which confirmed that God was truly calling me to the priesthood and to religious life. No longer doubtful, I went to the other extreme, wanting to know immediately the specific religious community that God was calling me to join… But there were so many religious orders! How was I going to find the right one? And so I proceeded to wear myself out going from one place to another, from one religious community to another, trying to discern and to find the place where I was being called, but with very little success.

During this process, I began getting to know the Discalced Carmelite Friars. I fell in love with their spirituality, and my spiritual life began to be guided and formed by it. Several years passed. I finished my degree at the university and landed a job as a teacher in a Catholic school, a job which I enjoyed very much. Nonetheless, I knew that God was calling me to religious life.

One day I decided to contact the vocations director of the Discalced Carmelites, Oklahoma Province. I had already contacted him years before, and he had invited me to visit them, but at the time I did not have the necessary funds to do so. This time, I was able to accept his invitation. I visited the friars at the Basilica of the Little Flower in San Antonio, Texas. While there, God allowed me to see in simple but clear ways that this was where He was calling me. I entered as a postulant in 2001.

I have now spent eight years as a Discalced Carmelite friar and a little less than two years as a priest, and I have no regrets. Quite the opposite; I feel very grateful. It has not always been an easy journey, but Jesus has always been faithful to me, even when I have not always been faithful to Him.

As a Discalced Carmelite, God calls me to a life of intimate, loving union with Him through contemplative prayer, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every ministry I participate in must be the overflowingof this loving encounter with God. I give Him thanks for his mercy toward me, and I beg Him to give me the grace of fidelity and total self-giving, that I might follow Christ until the end, all the days of my life.

Fr. Juan, O.C.D., is a member of the Discalced Carmelite Friars, Province of St. Thérèse. He is currently studying Carmelite Spirituality in Ávila, Spain.

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Another Peek inside the Cloister

Our first “peek inside the cloister” was of the Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery in Kentucky. This time, you get a glimpse of the fascinating life of the cloistered Carmelite Monks of Wyoming.

You can learn more about the monks’ life here, and you can support their monastery by buying Mystic Monk Coffee!

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Is the “vocations crisis” over?

Finally, some good news!

For as long as my friends and I can remember, Catholics have used the term “vocations crisis” to refer to the shortage of priests and religious that has plagued the Church for the past several decades. I have often wondered whether awareness of this “crisis” was a recent phenomenon, so I did a bit of research…

It seems that the term “vocations crisis” was being used as early as 1969, right around the time the “crisis” began. I’m not sure how often it was used in the years that followed, but if my Vatican archives keyword search is any indication, it looks like the use of this term exploded around the year 2000. My own experience tells me that for the past ten years or so, it has become somewhat of a buzzword among Catholics.

I got used to talking about the “vocations crisis,” too, until one day my spiritual director told me something that rocked my world: There has never been a crisis of vocations, because God has never stopped calling. What we have mistakenly termed a “vocations crisis” is, and has always been, a crisis of response.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? God would never abandon the Church, His Beloved Bride. He has always called, and continues to call, sufficient laborers for His vineyard. Sadly, many of those He was calling in decades past could not (or would not) hear His voice.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, with each decade that’s passed since the “sexual revolution” of the sixties, our culture has become increasingly hostile to the pursuit of a celibate vocation — and I am not speaking only of the secular culture! Even among Catholics, I have seen an astonishing lack of support from “good Catholic parents” who seem to think their child must be CRAZY to consider living a celibate life… And it seems that this hostility, both inside and outside of the home, has made many young people afraid to even consider a vocation. The result? A crisis of response that has lasted some 30-40 years.

So, what’s the good news?

Young people are answering the call, and LOTS of them!

Last March, I saw this post on Vocation Boom: “Vocations are on the rise, and here are the stats to prove it.” Then I came across an article about the recent CARA Study on vocations to the religious life in the United States, and this one from the National Catholic Register.

But the proof isn’t only in faceless statistics. Last year, I said goodbye to about a dozen friends who were leaving to begin their first year of formation for priesthood or religious life. That’s when numbers like these really began hitting home for me:

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal after their final profession, 2010

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal after their final profession, 2010 (from the CFRs' Picasa album)

  • Franciscan Friars of the Renewal: 9 new postulants in 2009, 7 more in 2010, 6 brothers (above) took final vows last fall. Congratulations, Br. Dismas!
  • Sisters of Life: 8 new postulants last year, ranging in age from 22-25!
  • One young woman from our diocese entered the Missionaries of Charity Sisters in January 2010.
  • Two more entered the local Carmel in October.
  • Another joined Mother Angelica’s Poor Clares (the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration) in Hanceville, AL.
  • The major seminary in my home state welcomed 35 new seminarians last fall — a number they had every right to be happy about!

On a side note, I recently discovered that 5 of the 26 seminarians from my diocese went to the local public high school I attended… which wouldn’t be a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that we were all there at the same time. This means that my alma mater produced 5 seminarians in 5 years! Plus a Jesuit novice. And (God willing!) a consecrated virgin. Not bad at all for a public high school!

Perhaps those numbers don’t impress you. Perhaps my friends and I are the exception… but I would venture to say that this is probably not the case. Seminaries across the country are welcoming young men in droves, and more than a few religious orders are growing at an almost alarming rate.

Is the “vocations crisis” over? I think things are definitely looking up, and I can say that with confidence and joy. My friends and I are the living proof!

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A letter from a friend

I know, I know… I broke my blogging resolution to post every day after only three days! My roommate Stella graduated from LPN school on Thursday (Yay, Stella! So proud of you!) and we’ve been celebrating. This week was our last chance to see certain friends who were around for the holidays, and we’ve been enjoying their company.

This Christmas was such a blessed time for me. Being with so many people I love has brought me great joy – perhaps more joy than I’ve ever experienced before at Christmas. But at the same time, I have really been missing those people I didn’t get to see over the holidays. Quite a few of my friends are away studying for the priesthood or being formed for religious life, and others are living abroad as teachers or missionaries.

I’ve especially missed spending time with Rose, who’s a postulant with the Carmelites of the Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. She was my constant companion throughout my discernment, and so often I wish she were here to help talk me through the difficult moments…

A couple of months ago, as the holidays were approaching and I was already beginning to miss my far-away friends, the Lord sent me a completely unexpected (but much-needed!) consolation. On the day that it arrived, it seemed like things just kept going wrong at work, and I had been going around repeating to myself: “I am such a failure; I am such a failure!” Then when I picked up the mail that afternoon, there was a letter from Brother Damian, a friend who’s a novice brother in a local religious community.

Blessed Columba Marmion

Blessed Columba Marmion

Brother Damian has spent the past year in formation with the incredibly-awesome Norbertine Fathers in California, and I can tell it’s been wonderful for him. His letter was full of encouragement, just the sort of things I needed to hear, and at the end he included the following quote from Blessed Columba Marmion, which I have read and re-read more times than I can count. (As it happens, the quote is actually from a letter written by Marmion to one of his directees.) I went back to it just the other day and thought it needed to be shared.

“God expects each creature to serve and love Him according to its nature. The angels must love God angelically, that is, without heart, sentiments, affections – for they have none of those things. But He expects man to love Him humanly, that is, with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and his neighbor in the same way. We are neither spirits nor ghosts, but human beings, and we cannot go higher than perfect humanity elevated by grace.

“Your thoughts about Jesus are too narrow. He isn’t a bit like what you imagine. His Heart is as large as the ocean, a real human heart. He wept real salt tears when Lazarus died. ‘See how He loved him!’ He does not expect you to be a specter or a ghost. No, He wants you to be a thorough woman, wanting love and giving it, and when you leave those you love, He wants you to feel it deeply. Don’t be ever scrutinizing your poor little heart in fear, but look at Him. He possesses for you, His spouse, all that your poverty lacks.”

– Bl. Columba Marmion,
Union with God: Letters of Spiritual Direction

My heart soars every time I read those words! It’s okay for me to miss my friends. It’s okay if I don’t quite have it all together. It’s okay for me to be human because Christ can be perfect where I am imperfect. What a blessing it is to have friends who are always reminding me of the most important thing – do not be afraid; only look to Jesus, and see how He loves you!

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Lord, You Have Called Me…

Click on the link below to see a beautiful slideshow of the six new postulants who recently joined the Carmelites of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. Among them is my dear friend Rose!

Entrance into Postulancy

Here are the lyrics to the song (“You Have Called Me”) that the sisters are singing in the background:

Lord, I give to You my life
My heart, my soul, my strength
To lay before Your throne
This is what You’ve asked me for
To give my all to You
Take from me that which is not true

Lord, You have called me
And bid me follow You
To glorify Your name in all the earth
Teach me to love
As I’ve never loved before
I give my life to You, my God

Though I know that I shall fall
Nothing will I fear
For You are by my side
So I sing with a grateful heart
The blessings of my God
Make me Yours for all eternity

Lord, You have called me
And bid me follow You
To glorify Your name in all the earth
Teach me to love
As I’ve never loved before
I give my life to You, my God

Lord, I long to see Your face
To gaze upon Your beauty
Thy will be done
For I give my life to You

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