Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
September 24, 2001
The Carmelite life of prayer
Local nuns carry on the same way of life as St. Thérèse
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
SPRUCE GROVE — "Prayer warriors" might be too rugged a term, but that best describes the ministry of the Carmelite nuns for the world. Their weapon is faith nurtured by prayer and contemplation.
For eight years, the Archdiocese of Edmonton has been blessed to have a share of these prayer warriors, who look upon St. Thérèse of Lisieux as a model for all Christians. The Discalced Carmelite Monastery is located about 42 km southwest of Edmonton near Spruce Grove.
Known to many in the archdiocese, but often misunderstood, the nine Carmelite nuns live in strict enclosure.
Excited that the major reliquary of the modern day saint is coming to Edmonton, their prioress, Mother Teresa, said it is important that the people of the archdiocese know that a monastery belonging to the same order as St. Thérèse exists here.
THE THERESIAN MODEL
The Carmelites strive to have a finely tuned understanding of God. Whether they are praying, working, relaxing or doing light-housekeeping chores, being wholly attentive to the presence of God is important.
"One can be washing dishes, cleaning a room or admiring the beauty of nature and be aware of the presence of God," said Mother Teresa, prioress of the monastery.
This is the genius of St. Thérèse of Lisieux's life and writings — to be aware of the presence of God while doing ordinary things.
"We are trying to do the same as what St. Thérèse did. Of course, we are not like her," Mother Teresa humbly said.
"St. Thérèse's life asks us about the quality of joy, generosity, self-giving in the way we live our vocation and it is easy for us to acknowledge that the quality of our response to God, moment by moment, is less than total."
Reflecting on elements and practical details of their own daily lives, the Carmelite nuns near Spruce Grove recognize that St. Thérèse was a giant in spiritual life.
"Her horizons were not limited by the enclosed life of Carmel but rather were immeasurably broadened," Mother Teresa said.
"The whole Church and the world were her field of mission as they are for every Carmelite," she added.
NOT JUST FOR CARMELITES
The Little Flower's message is for everyone, says Mother Teresa.
"One does not need to be a Carmelite in order to be like (St. Thérèse)," said the prioress in a low and gentle voice.
St. Thérèse teaches that God exists, sees us and loves us. God is closer to us than we can understand. Our life on earth is short. It is important to live it well.
"Her message is to give priority to God whatever our way of life in the Church, whether one is married, single, priest or religious," said the black-veiled, cream-caped prioress, who wears a brown habit designed as a scapular.
"St. Thérèse's famous Little Way is meant to accept herself as she was with all her limitations and to understand, as St. Paul says, that God's power is made perfect in our infirmity."
St. Thérèse of Lisieux tells us that to live close to God is not a luxury reserved for Carmelite nuns. It is for all the baptized.
She is a teacher of prayer for all, telling us that God can be experienced in the ordinary events of life and telling us to speak to God as our closest friend.
FROM MOUNT CARMEL TO SPRUCE GROVE
This first Carmelite monastery in Western Canada is part of an order whose beginnings are in Biblical times.
Originating with groups of hermits living in the caves of Mount Carmel and dedicated to God in lives of prayer in solitude, the order spread to Europe by the mid-13th century due to political instability in the Holy Land.
The order kept the rule of life written by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert. This is the rule which Carmelite nuns still follow today, a rule that makes prayer its central precept.
"Each one of you is to remain in her cell or near it, meditating day and night on the law of the Lord and watching in prayer," says the Carmelite rule of life.
"Couldn't prayer be done while remaining in the world?" is a typical question addressed to contemplatives.
Carmelite life is first and foremost a life of continual prayer, which St. Teresa of Avila defined as "friendship with God," or more exactly, "falling in love with Christ, frequently conversing alone with the one who we know loves us."
This call is not a call to moments of prayer or times of prayer. It is a call to a whole life of prayer in a community of varying ages, differing personalities and complementary gifts, but each seeking the same ideal union with God and his will.
The monastery provides not only the structure, but most importantly the atmosphere for this special calling.
This monastery near Spruce Grove, though it operates independently, has connections to the first permanent Canadian Carmelite monastery in Montreal.
When the number of nuns in a Carmelite monastery reaches what the community needs, founding another community in a different place becomes an option.
To help carry out its mission, every ecclesiastical province or diocese in the world needs contemplatives in its midst. Thus, the Carmelites came to the Edmonton Archdiocese in 1993.
"They say we don't like the world or something. On the contrary, we are for the world, for others, not for ourselves," said Mother Teresa of Jesus.
Contemplative nuns take themselves out of the world so that they can be of service to the world, says Mother Teresa.
"If we give ourselves to God entirely, he will answer our prayers and use us to do good for others. It's not a self-centred or self-occupied life. It's a life for others, for the Church and the world."
CENTRALITY OF PRAYER
The Carmelite day is arranged in such a way as to give priority to the witness of prayer and is centred around Mass and the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church.
Throughout the day, the Carmelite nuns return to the choir for the celebration of the successive hours of the Divine Office, sanctifying the whole day with liturgical prayer — a reminder also of our need to walk constantly towards our final fulfillment of meeting with God.
All these prayers are not for themselves. The needs, anxieties, violence and fears of the world are held in the heart of monastic prayer.
The work hours are busy with domestic chores and crafts that contribute to the livelihood of the community. All the gifts of each sister are put to good use, while a prayerful and solitary atmosphere is fostered.
Some sisters knit baby outfits and small children's sweaters and cardigans while others design and print greeting cards for all occasions, paint woodcraft and construct Christmas nativity cribs.
PUBLIC IS WELCOME
Though cloistered, the Carmelites welcome the public to come and participate in the daily conventual Mass.
The monastery chapel is open all day and the public is welcome to the Divine Office that is celebrated seven times throughout the day and to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Sundays, special feasts and first Fridays.
Some people do come on a regular basis.
"Mother Teresa and the sisters treat us like members of their family," said Wendy Northup, who lives near the monastery.
Darlene Mullen appreciates the monastic silence that aids her prayer time.
"The sisters are wonderful people. Because of their rules, they do not talk to you, but they greet me when I see them," said Bob Northup, who helps the sisters with ground maintenance.
On occasions like Christmas and Easter, the Carmel's regular visitors are able to meet the sisters face to face.
"It's always a joy to visit with them," said Wendy Northup.
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