In the spirit of Elijah

In the past week we’ve celebrated two major Carmelite feasts: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16) and the prophet Elijah (July 20). These two great saints in different ways exemplify what Carmelite spirituality is about.

Elijah demonstrates the prophetic aspect of Carmelite spirituality. The Carmelite seal bears these words of his as a motto:
With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts (1 Kings 19:10).
Consumed with zeal for holinessElijah was not afraid to confront the rulers of his day. He risked death to preach repentance to King Ahab, while Queen Jezebel launched an anti-crusade to wipe out God’s prophets. He challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mt. Carmel to see whose god would consume a sacrifice with fire from Heaven. After winning that contest (surprise!), Elijah had all the false prophets killed. He led the people to re-commit themselves to the true God.
Then he went and prayed that, seeing their repentance, God would send rain. Elijah’s prayers had kept the land in drought for three years.
So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Eli′jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again seven times.”And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:42-45)Since medieval times, Carmelites have seen the cloud as a symbol of Mary. She rises from the sea of our fallen humanity, a human being herself, yet without the stain of sin. She pours down on God’s people the pure water of His grace from Heaven. So the return of rain to the land of Israel is also a prophecy of the Woman whose cooperation with God’s grace will bring about the Incarnation.
Here are some more facts about Elijah:
His name means, “Yahweh is God.”He heard God speak to him in a gentle whisper (or “still, small voice”).He nearly despaired because he thought he was the last surviving faithful Israelite.He said, “The Lord my God lives, in whose presence I stand” (1 Kings 18:15).He raised a boy from the dead.He was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire.
Continue reading at Contemplative Homeschool.

Seeking the face of God in prayer

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he Face of Christ by Claude Mellan (Wikipedia).

Early versions of the new constitutions for the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites defined OCDS members in part as those who ”seek the face of God in prayer” in order to be of service the Church and the world. I love this imagery. Seeking the face of God is the most important aspect of Christian prayer. It separates prayer from eastern meditation techniques and self-seeking under the guise of holiness.

Pope Francis is fond of reminding us that the Christian life is an encounter with Christ. As important as morality is, it cannot take central place. Even such fundamentals as protecting human life and supporting traditional marriage cannot stand alone. Atheists can be pro-life. Muslims can support the traditional family. But only Christians truly encounter Christ.

Created, redeemed, and destined for love The Apostle John summed up the Gospel in this manner: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The Gospel begins with God’s love for us. God’s love is at the center of the Christian life.

God created us out of the abundance of His love. When we sinned, He sent God the Son to redeem us. By believing in Jesus, we can come to share in God’s eternal love in Heaven. This is what Christianity is all about.

Read the rest at Contemplative Homeschool.

Do you know these Carmelite saints and blesseds?

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Edith Stein circa 1920, and St. Raphael Kalinowski. (All photos from Wikipedia.)

November 13 is the first anniversary of Contemplative Homeschool. The 14th is the Feast of All Carmelite Saints. To celebrate, I’d like to introduce you to a few Carmelite saints and blesseds  you may not know. In the future, I hope to delve deeper into the spiritual insights of more Carmelite saints on my blog.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Elizabeth Catez was born in 1880 in France. Her father was in the army. He died when Elizabeth was seven. She, her mother, and sister moved to a home in Dijon that overlooked a Carmelite monastery.

When Elizabeth made her first Communion, the mother superior told her that Elizabeth meant “House of God.” That impressed the young girl. It became the central idea of her spirituality–the realization that the Holy Trinity lived in her soul. She made a private promise of virginity at age 14 and entered Carmel at 20. She spent only five years in the cloister before her death from a prolonged illness in 1906.

Read the rest at Contemplative Homeschool.

Free e-book: Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life

My new e-book on the Carmelite saints.

It’s finally here–my first e-book! I hope you’re as excited as I am. I wrote this e-book for you, to aid you in your spiritual life. And today I’m going to ask you to do something for me. But first, I want to tell you how you can receive a free copy of Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life.

It’s easy. All you have to do is sign up to receive my blog posts by email, using the form at the top of the sidebar on my blog. At the end of the process, you will receive an email containing a link to download the e-book.

What if you are already following my blog by email? No problem. I have set up a new account at MailChimp to handle my emails to subscribers. I have also removed the old WordPress widget for email signup from my sidebar. All new subscribers will go onto the MailChimp list. If you are on the old list, simply sign up for the new list and download the e-book. Then you can click on “unsubscribe” in the email you got today for this post to remove you from the old list. That way, you will not get two emails when I post on Friday. If you have any questions about this, leave a comment or email me directly.

Continue reading at Contemplative Homeschool.

What is detachment in the Catholic spiritual life?

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Among Carmelite saints, John of the Cross, co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites with Teresa of Avila, is not the most popular. Why not? He insisted that detachment was necessary for holiness. Many Catholics, misunderstanding his teaching, think it too hard and too dull. On first reading his Ascent of Mt. Carmel, they might be tempted to settle for luke-warmness.

On the other hand, nearly everyone loves St. Therese of Lisieux. The irony is that Therese was a true daughter of John, embracing all that he taught. If we reject John, we implicitly reject Therese as well.

Misconceptions about attachment Let’s examine some of the misconceptions about detachment.

First of all, the detachment John of the Cross speaks of is not aloofness. We should have proper affection for our family and friends.  It’s nonsensical to be cold towards your spouse due to a supposed love for God.

Detachment doesn’t mean denying the good that is in the material world. Rather, it means viewing temporal goods as temporal, gifts from God meant to lead us to Him. Unlike some religions, where the physical world is seen as evil, Christianity does not teach asceticism for its own sake. We give up our desires for things in order to make room in our hearts for God.  Detachment is a means, not an end.

Continue reading about detachment.

What is Carmelite spirituality?

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What is Carmelite spirituality? A couple of readers have asked me this question, and I assume several more have wondered and not asked. So I’m going to write this as a post (for maximum visibility and readership), then make it a permanent page soon.

Carmelite spirituality stems from the teaching and lifestyle of one of the oldest surviving religious orders in the Catholic Church. Like the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and others, the Carmelites have a particular way of living out the faith, which has been approved by the Church. St. Therese of Lisieux, one of the best-beloved saints of our age, was a Carmelite nun.

From ancient Mt. Carmel to medieval EuropeIn the 12th century, a group of Christian hermits settled on Mt. Carmel,  where the prophet Elijah had once lived in a cave. St. Albert of Jerusalem wrote a rule of life for them to follow. They built a monastery and came together for prayer, but each lived in his own cell. They dedicated their oratory to Mary, becoming known as the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel.

As always, tensions were high in the Middle East at this time. Soon the Carmelite brothers left the Holy Land for Europe. There they assumed an active life–that is, living and working in the world. Blessed John Soreth established the Carmelite nuns in 1452. The Third Order, for seculars, began two centuries later.

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