October 30, 2020

2020 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Carmelite nuns pray for suffering world ‘from the heart of the Church’

Members of the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute pray in May around a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child on the grounds of their monastery during a May crowning ceremony. The sisters have prayed daily to the Blessed Virgin Mary for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Members of the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute pray in May around a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child on the grounds of their monastery during a May crowning ceremony. The sisters have prayed daily to the Blessed Virgin Mary for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

By Sr. Clare Joseph Daniels, O.C.D. (Special to The Criterion)

Stay safe; unusual and troubling times; masks, social distancing, quarantine, lockdown.

These are all new catch-words introduced into our everyday vocabulary since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty in a world that was once predictable.

The world as we knew it has drastically changed since the earlier part of this year. We have all been inundated with news of COVID-19—what it is and how it spreads. We have been instructed in how to self-protect and move about safely within society, being given new mandates and restrictions.

So, what does any of this have to do with the life of cloistered, contemplative nuns? Nuns who, by vows, are socially distanced from the world anyway? How have our lives changed? Have our lives changed? And, if so, in what way can those changes begin to compare with the changes those who live in society have had to make?

These are fair questions. It is true that we are enclosed religious sisters where we are accustomed to praying, working, socializing and otherwise engaging ourselves within a restricted environment, within the home of our monastery. Our engagement with those in society is limited.

The Carmelite vocation is unique in that we live cloistered—enclosed—lives. As a small group of women, we live in community and through the profession of vows, we each responded to the call from God to give our whole lives to prayer, for his people and for our world.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have had to suspend public Mass here at the monastery, cancel our annual public novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and our Monastic Experience Weekend, and forbid visitors, including our families who visit only once a year. And so, our lives, too, have changed.

We at the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute remain available, however, for discernment with young women via e-mail, phone or Skype until it is safe to receive in-person visits. The changes introduced into our world came upon us as though overnight this year of 2020. And, unlike 20/20 vision, we cannot, at this time, see or predict what the future holds for any of us.

Certainly, since the beginning of the pandemic, the changes to our way of life and the sacrifices we have had to make cannot begin to compare with the changes and sacrifices of those who have not chosen to live enclosed lives. We are acutely conscious of this, especially as sacrifice is woven into the fabric of lives of prayer.

Our Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Avila, taught us to nurture an intimate relationship with Christ because it is this relationship that sustains and strengthens our lives of prayer. Here in Carmel, which is what we call our monastic communities, we pray from the heart of the Church. We take the needs of all people into our hearts and intercede to God in unceasing prayer, as a lamp that shines in darkness.

Our lives of prayer are grounded in the reality of our humanity, and we encounter Christ in his humanity. We recall the words from St. John’s Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14).

God threw in his lot with all of humanity by becoming flesh. As contemplatives, we also have thrown in our lot with the people of our world. It is through our close communion with Christ that we unite in a solidarity that transcends what the human mind can grasp. We pray for the concrete needs that people have—the daily bread that sustains life and well-being—as well as for the spiritual and psychological needs that people have, most especially during these very tough times.

In The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila assures us that God “never fails to help anyone who is determined to give up everything for him.” And so, like her, we confidently trust that God hears our prayers and that he will respond to them in his own time and in his own way.

We pray continuously because we know that human effort alone is not enough. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing”

(Jn. 15:5). Remaining ever vigilant, we provide a beacon of hope to all who struggle to carry their burdens.

While the future may be unpredictable, our trust that God is near and in our world is unwavering. In good or in troubling times, his Spirit is ever-present to guide, support and sustain us. When human ingenuity falls short or fails altogether, we are confident in God’s great love and mercy for all of humanity. Although we cannot see the road ahead, we believe that he will respond to our needs as a people.

In closing, I would like to recall for all of us the words of the risen Lord in St. Matthew’s Gospel. “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
 

(Discalced Carmelite Sister Clare Joseph Daniels is the vocations director of the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Terre Haute. To learn more about the community, visit heartsawake.org.)

 

See more from the 2020 Vocations Awareness Supplement

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!