Carmel: Prayer and prophesy
She was born 150 years ago and compared herself to a grain of sand. But she was more of a star put in the heavens by God to shed light on the face of God that had been distorted by Jansenism, perfectionism, and Pelagianism. These false doctrines so obliterated God's face and love and mercy that many believers succumbed to walking in fear and terror instead of joy, confidence, and love of God. Through her life of prayer, she discovered anew from the Scriptures the God of mercy and love and shared this treasure with us. Her impact has been tremendous. She has brought criminals to repentance, moved poets and artists, taught theologians, inspired saints, appeared to soldiers, given hope to countless Catholics and non-Catholics and atheists. Her influence has crossed all kinds of borders! If you think these accomplishments sound exaggerated, UNESCO is honoring her this year as one who has influenced the world in the fields of peace, education, sciences, and communication! Who is this woman with not even the equivalent of a high school education who lived in an enclosed monastery and died at 24? If you guessed St. Therese, go to the head of the class!
In our current world, religious life faces many difficulties. Women religious have made amazing contributions to society. They were unselfish pioneers who served the poor, founded hospitals, staffed schools, and ministered in all kinds of ways. We owe them deep gratitude. Some people today predict the death of religious life. But religious women are a courageous bunch! They are not unwilling to stand at the foot of the cross like Mary and wait with faith and hope for resurrection. Some are finding new ways to live religious life, finding new ministries that need help, surrendering to God to use them however God wills. As baptized Christians we all share in the prophetic role of Jesus. It is not a role that will go away. Religious life shares it in a unique way. Pope Francis called on religious to "Wake up the world and be prophets."
How does one be a prophet? Elijah the prophet is important to Carmelites. As a prophet, he called the people back to God and revealed to them the error of their ways and the consequences that ensued. He prayed to God and interceded for the people. Did St. Therese do that? She sure did! Like Elijah she came to know the living God in whose presence we stand. She did this by prayer and listening to God's word. As Elijah saw what was destroying the Israelites, Therese saw the crippling effects of Jansenism and the other 'isms' of her day and how they distorted the good news Jesus came to bring us about a loving God, not a punishing one.
Most people have no trouble acknowledging the work of apostolic religious. It is indeed astounding. But contemplative religious life is deemed useless by some. St. Therese proclaims how false a judgment this is by the effects her "hidden" life has had upon the Church and the world. "Cor orans" states that contemplative religious life is a "way of living the Passover of Christ, a joyful proclamation and prophetic anticipation of the possibility offered to the whole of humanity to live solely for God, in Christ Jesus." Can we search for anything better than this?
Since 1890, our Carmelite community has been in Boston, trying to live the prophetic legacy of Therese and our Carmelite saints. Therese continues to shine like a star, inviting us to live by love, not fear. She pleads: "Let us love, since our hearts were made for nothing else ... Don't drag yourself any longer to His feet, follow that first impulse that drags you into His arms. That is where your place is."
As her Carmelite sisters, we would like to give her a present for her 150th birthday! Remembering her ardent desire and prayer that legions would come to know, love and serve Jesus, the greatest lover of us all, we are planning events and ways to spread her message. We hope you will join us! Visit our website: Carmelitesofboston.org.