Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Vision of Saint Helena

August 18 is the feast of St. Helena.  She is my patron saint and so I would like to pay her tribute even though she is not liturgically mentioned in the current Roman Catholic calendar. There are many versions of St. Helena's story especially her origins. I love her story, her total dedication to Christianity and her legendary reputation of finding the True Cross of Crucifixion. I was delighted to know the significance of this name in my religious life. I had no idea that St. Helena had a lot more connection with the Carmelites than I originally thought. Tradition affirms that the Empress Helena constructed a monastery in honor of Elijah on Mount Carmel. The site which it arose seems to be that of the present lighthouse, on the terrace of the Head of Carmel, as might be attested by some archaeological finds held to be from the Late Empire, after Justinian. St. Helena also established the Holy Sepulcher Rite used by the Carmelites during their stay in the Holy Land. It was also pointed out to me by a Carmelite Nun that "Helena" in Greek means "light." Therefore, my religious name means "Light of Mary" (Helena of Mary). I wrote this reflection when I was still a Novice and it expresses my sentiments to my Patron Saint.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Transfiguration

"Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. He was transfigured before their eyes. His face became as dazzling as the sun, his clothes as radiant as light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them conversing with him. Upon this, Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, how good it is for us to be here! ...He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them. Out of the cloud came a voice which said, "This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him." When they heard this the disciples fell forward on the ground, overcome with fear. Jesus came toward them and laying his hand on them, said "Get up!Do not be afraid." When they looked up they did not see anyone but Jesus...."  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Blessed Titus Brandsma- Martyr of Dachau

The Carmelite Order celebrates the memorial of Blessed Titus Brandsma, O.Carm on July 27. Blessed Titus is not very well known. I even doubt if he is known at all outside the Order of Carmel. But this man of faith, a priest and a martyr, was a man of our times. He was born in the Netherlands in 1881 and entered the Order as a young man. He was ordained a priest in 1905 and was highly educated. He assumed positions in the academic world as a professor of Philosophy and of history of mysticism. He was a professional journalist and in 1935 was appointed ecclesiastical advisor to Catholic journalists. Both, before and after the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands , he fought against the spread of Nazi ideology and for the freedom of the Catholic education and the Catholic Press. He was finally arrested and was sent to a succession of prisons and concentration camps. He showed his strength of character and his heroic virtues by the good example he showed to his fellow prisoners. True to his Carmelite vocation, he embraced the Cross of Christ and contemplated His presence in the solitude of his prison cell. His dark night experience was expressed in a poem he wrote while in his cell, "Before A Picture of Jesus In My Cell." It shows the deep trust and abandonment of a true lover of Christ.

"A new awareness of Thy love
Encompasses ny heart:
Sweet Jesus, I in Thee and thou
In me shall never part.

No grief shall fall my way but I
Shall see thy grief filled eyes:
the lonely way that thou once walked
Has made me sorrow-wise.

All trouble is a white-lit joy
That light my darkest day;
Thy love has turned to brightest light
This night-like way.

If I have Thee alone,
the hours will bless
With still, cold hands of love
My utter loneliness.

Stay with me Jesus, only stay;
I shall not fear,
If reaching out my hand,
I feel Thee near."

In 1942, after much suffering and enduring much humiliations, he was given a lethal injection and died in Dachau. Pope John Paul II beatified him November 3, 1985.
Contemplating the lives of the Saints is not just for the reason of admiring them. Their examples serve as beacons of light when darkness sets in. We are still in the Age of Martyrs. Everyday our faith and faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus are tested. Just like Blessed Titus, we are called to make a stand for the truths of the Gospel and the truths of the Church, the Bride of Christ, according to our individual vocations and in particular circumstances we find ourselves in.



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Our Holy Father Saint Elijah

The feast of Saint Elijah is celebrated July 20th in the Carmelite calendar.

Saint Elijah was a prophet of the Old Testament. His story is recorded in the First and Second Book of Kings. He is also acknowledged as the spiritual father of Carmelites because the early hermits of Mount Carmel lived together near the spring of Elijah (wadi en-Siah)in Mount Carmel to follow his way of life.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Martyrs of Compiegne ("Dialogues of the Carmelites")

Feast Day: July 17th

I saw the Opera "Dialogues of the Carmelites" on Broadway a long time back. The production is based on the play by Georges Bernanos and set into an operatic production by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). The play was based on the true story of sixteen Discalced Carmelite Nuns who were guillotined during the French Revolution. Here is a short historical account I lifted out of the Carmelite Liturgy of the Hours:

"As the French Revolution entered its worst days, sixteen Discalced Carmelites from the Monastery of the Incarnation in Compiegne offered their lives as a sacrifice to God, making reparation to him and imploring peace for the Church. On June 24, 1794, they were arrested and thrown into prison. Their happiness and resignation were so evident that those around them were also encouraged to draw strength from God's love. They were condemned to death for their fidelity to the Church and their religious life and for their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. Singing hymns, and having renewed their vows before the Superior, Teresa of St. Augustine, they were put to death in Paris on July 17, 1794."

I confess that I have known the story of the Martyrs of Compiegne for the length of time I have known Carmel.  There were many lines in the Broadway production which spoke to me directly. The protagonist in this story was a woman called Blanche. She was the daughter of the Marquis De la Force. After the death of her mother, being caught up in the panic surrounding the French Revolution, Blanche was forever sealed with an inordinate fear of death and suffering. Even a mere shadow of a servant throws her into a panic and nervous breakdown. She decided to enter the cloister with the hope of finding the peace and security of the cloister walls and to hopefully experience a respite from all her fears. The Mother Prioress strongly reminded Blanche that the cloister was not a refuge to protect them. "Our Order does not protect us, we must protect the Order!" I love this line because it brings home the idea that an Order's charism is preserved through the efforts of its members. We can remain truly Carmelites to the extent we want to be and to the extent that we work at it.

Once inside the monastery, she met a fellow Novice Sr. Constance, who was her opposite in character. Sr. Constance was an enthusiastic, cheerful young novice who welcomed sufferings and nurtured the idea of martyrdom as an offering to God. She had a premonition of dying young. Quite a clash of attitude. But this difference in characters provided me the most uplifting plot in the story as these two opposing personalities were welded together in the scaffold, singing with ONE voice, the hymn of courage. It was a beautiful and inspiring spiritual twist and ending for me. During some early scenes leading up to the climax of the execution, the Mother Prioress was exhorting her spiritual daughters to be brave in facing whatever God had in store for them. But she tempered this exhortation with the line, "Prayer is our duty, martyrdom is the fruit." In other words, for me it meant, "let us go about our business of prayer for that is what brought us to Carmel, and leave God the free hand to grant us the glory of martyrdom, if that is what pleases Him." In other words, we should not seek martyrdom as an end in itself. She reiterated a spiritual truth that aspiring to great things can sometimes be a sign of spiritual pride. The Mother Prioress tried to temper Sr. Constance's longing for martyrdom by words such as these. In this instance, the Mother Prioress stood as a true daughter of St. Teresa of Avila who in her lifetime said many times, "our true martyrdom is the martyrdom of conquering self."

The story was the triumph of grace over nature. It was the story of how Sr. Blanche, a fear-ridden woman, ended up choosing death over freedom because she was given the strength for it in the end. Courage is not the absence of fear but embracing the object feared with the end result of overcoming it. It was the story of how God accomplished great things in simple and obscure women who never sought to win the crown of martyrdom but succeeded in obtaining it.   The Reign of Terror ended a few days after the execution of the Carmelites. We know for certain that their sacrifice was well received by Almighty God and bore fruit for France and the Church.

You can buy the book "To Quell the Terror" by William Bush and distributed by Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications