I’m excited. I have my heart and soul open for what might be ahead.
I recently completed my year of “aspirancy” with the Secular Carmelites. That stage involved learning about Carmelite spirituality – in the tradition of St. Teresa of Avila. Each month, a small group of fellow aspirants and I would be assigned something to read, write a reflection on that, then discuss it amongst the group at a monthly meeting.
At our February meeting, I was asked to write a letter to the St. Louis leadership council about why I felt I should be accepted into the formation process – which generally takes about five years – and then present it to them. After I did that, I answered questions from the council members.
If you aren’t familiar with the Secular Carmelites, they are a “third order” group within the Roman Catholic Church. The type of spirituality they follow actually originated with the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament but received fresh life in the 16th century thanks to reforms by St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. St. Therese and Edith Stein are two other well-known Carmelites.
One source I found explains that “Secular Carmelites come from all walks of life, men and women, young and old, married and single — each one trying to respond to God’s call to meditate on the Lord’s law, day and night. We try to show God’s love in our everyday lives, wherever God leads us and with the people God gives us.”
There are Carmelite friars (who work in the world as priests), nuns (who are cloistered) and then Seculars (lay people). Prayer is the core of everything Carmelite.
“Prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends,” St. Teresa said. “It means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
I’d like to share with you the letter I presented the council. Please pray for me on this leg of the journey:
I love spending time on retreat, and I really was looking forward to my first Secular Carmelites retreat the first week of December last year. Even though I had been attending meetings for more than a year, I knew it would be an invaluable spiritual opportunity – like ascending Mount Carmel and taking in a rare view.
I wasn’t feeling well that Friday, but I made myself get to Pallottine (the retreat center) for Mass that evening and I prayed that night for the strength to attend the rest of the retreat. I could sense during that prayer time that something special could happen.
I had no idea how special. I did make it back to hear Father Jerome Earley share in several talks about St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross’ use of “memories” as part of their Carmelite spirituality. The more he talked, the more deeply I felt immersed in that spirituality – beyond anything I had felt during previous OCDS meetings or reading the works of Carmelite saints or time spent in prayer while learning the Teresian tradition.
I literally felt, for the first time in my spiritual life, that I was completely and comfortably at home.
Sure, I always have known that I was “at home” any time I attended Mass. I have made dozens of retreats in my lifetime, have participated in many Bible studies and prayer groups, have attended large Catholic conferences. I love my home parish, St. Cletus in St. Charles (Mo.). I love reading Scripture, and I have dozens of “spiritual books” on my dresser.
I always have been a “pray-er.” It was by sheer accident that I discovered the Liturgy of the Hours in 1994. I never formally learned how to actually pray the Office, but I figured it out and came to make Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer part of most of my days. I loved that – and really loved Night Prayer. I also have taken intercessory prayer very seriously. When someone asks me to pray for them, I make a solemn vow to do so – and I do that daily for them, hourly for some of them.
I’m sure people might have looked at me and said, “He’s a spiritual, faithful man.” Perhaps I was. But I always felt something was missing – and I know now it was a connection to a community and a spiritual vocation.
Fifteen years ago, I thought my religious vocation might be the permanent diaconate. After much prayer and education, I realized I wasn’t called that way.
I consider myself an introvert, but one who gets energized from the presence of other people. So I knew that God was calling me to community – a community with a greater focus and different energy than simply my parish. I accidentally discovered a group of Secular Franciscans and met with them for several months; it didn’t ring true with my heart and soul. I accidentally discovered a group of Third Order Dominicans; that didn’t strike me as my calling, either.
Then, once again by accident, I found out there was such a vocation as Secular Carmelites. I was intrigued to find there was a St. Louis group. I had a daily devotion to St. John of the Cross after reading “Dark Night of the Soul” many years ago, and I often have asked for his prayers when I encountered dry times in prayer or when I experienced writer’s block.
I think St. John ultimately led me here. The other experiences were beneficial because there is something my heart and soul can use as comparison. This time, with this community, I have no doubts.
I recognize several “callings” and vocations in my life. I am husband and father and grandfather, son and brother and friend, neighbor and co-worker. Also, because of my 13-year personal history with severe depression, I feel God has called me to help others understand the disease, help people who deal with it in some capacity and try to erase the stigma associated with all mental illnesses. In order to do that well, however, I am certain that I need a strong spiritual foundation, a dedicated prayer life, a peace and, ultimately, a detachment from the things of this world.
Carmelite spirituality offers that peace. This community provides that energy and foundation.
As I said, I feel like I am home.