At the doorway of the cloister chapel where our Carmelite sisters pray the divine office are the pictures of the men who are candidates for priesthood in our diocese.
For years these women have been praying that we would experience an increase in the number of vocations to priesthood. Now they add to that intention prayers for those who are responding to the call – even as they continue their prayer for priests active in the vineyard.
I visited the cloister chapel Oct. 12 as part of an official or canonical visit to the community. In the Carmelite tradition each monastery carries on its life of prayer in the tradition of the Carmelite order and with close ties to the leadership of the order, but they do so under the pastoral care of the bishop in whose diocese their monastery is located.
There were several purposes to the visit. Among those were: to express our common thanks to the sisters for their presence, witness and prayer in our local church; to ask how we might be of help to them in living the life to which they are called; to see if the members of the community had any concerns about the observance of their rule; and to review their financial situation with them.
The day was built around conversations and dialogue. At the beginning and at the end of the day I met first with the prioress of the community, Mother Therese Marie of Jesus Crucified, and then with the whole community. In between times I had a conversation with each member of the community. Through it all I was free to ask my questions and express my thoughts; and the sisters could express any questions, concerns or joys that were on their minds.
The whole experience was a grace for me. It afforded an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the contemplative life and to have firsthand testimony about the challenge it is in a rapidly changing world to remain true to the deepest values of the Carmelite tradition and at the same time to make adaptations that help the sisters live out those values more fruitfully in today’s circumstances.
The fruits of prayer are obvious in their lives. That was most evident to me in two ways. One was that each sister spoke from her own integrity, stating simply and directly her opinion about the topic at hand. The other was the complement of the first, viz., that each sister listened to the others with clear attentiveness and respect.
I left the experience more grateful than ever that we have the blessing of this community of contemplative women in our midst. We are blessed daily by their prayers for us all, and especially by their prayer for vocations to priesthood.
I did make one promise to the community before I left. To honor that promise I ask you please to include in your daily prayers the intention that our Carmelite sisters -- indeed, all of our religious congregations -- will enjoy an increase in vocations. We really need to return their kind favors of many, many years.
Peace to all.