26 October 2009

What's a girl to do?

I attended a meeting of the local lay (or third order as they used to be called) Carmelites a few weeks ago. For years, I have felt drawn to this way of life, but in looking to my parents as examples since they were both lay Carmelites, the meeting was not what I expected.

For me, Carmelite spirituality is personal, contemplative, solitary. I'm not saying the people at the meeting weren't all these things, but my parents didn't attend meetings, didn't have these social gatherings, didn't participate in any group activities. So, proceeding from what I was familiar with in my parents' examples, this was all new territory and not something I was looking for. I'm a homeschooling mom with kids I run all over town, the last thing I need right now is to add activities to my already hectic schedule and I don't need the socialization. Socialization was not what I was looking for; I was looking for a group that would help structure my prayer life without all the fluff. No offense intended.

As an aside, in the past few months I have met numerous folks who are what I consider an odd blend of things, expressive and contemplative, especially given my parents as the reference point, with my father who said his daily office along with a daily rosary, attended daily Mass, and prayed for hours and hours every afternoon. Lay Carmelites, from my experience, didn't engage so heavily in the world, things were more internal, such as my father spending a large amount of time saying prayers of petition for others -- if anyone was suffering from any ailment, they called my father. So, encountering people I would describe as "Charismatic Carmelites" is simply jarring.

One of the things I have been gradually learning (the hard way) this past year is not to judge. I'm honestly not trying to judge this strange breed of cat, but I don't get how you mix all the "prayers of quiet" and "prayers of recollection" with such outward expressions as praying in tongues or other things traditionally considered "Charismatic" in nature, like laying on of hands. I'm used to each having it's own arena, not a blending of the two seemingly diametric spiritual paths.

But, that's off on a tangent.

What was really on my mind was the Catch-22 beginners are in when they attempt to progress in the spiritual life. Paraphrasing St. Teresa, P. Marie-Eugene, OCD, in his, "I Want to See God," says:

"It is natural enough that the devil should use his great power and take advantage of the relative weakness of beginners in prayer, to stop them in their journey towards God by causing in them, as far as he is able, as much dryness and distractions as he can. That he thus intervenes -- often successfully -- in the prayer of beginners seems certain; and, although using on them much more benign procedures than on Saint Teresa, these are probably much more effective.

The action of these natural and prenatural causes enters into the plan of God who uses everything for the good of those whom He loves. Supernatural light and grace, fruits of the Passion and death of Christ, cannot penetrate deeply within a soul unless it shares in that redemptive suffering and death. Such sufferings give it light on its own self and establish it in humility..." (p. 244)

If you want to grow in the spiritual life, you have to suffer and carry part of the Cross, plus have the devil attempt to thwart you at every turn. The Pearl of Great Price scenario. You can't stay where you are, you cannot stagnate because you know better and will be lost if you drag your feet, but moving forward means you're going to be assaulted and suffer. Pere Marie-Eugene further says,

"Our inquiry will not bear on the voluntary causes of distractions and of dryness, such, for instance, as negligence in putting them out of mind during prayer or even complacence in entertaining them; notable neglect of spiritual reading and of the preparation necessary to secure for prayer its sustenance; dissipation of life and habitual lack of mortification of the senses. For these, it is easy indeed to state the remedy. Not to apply it, would be to condemn oneself to culpable failure." (p. 239)

It's almost like damned if you do, damned it you don't. Well, definitely damned if you don't, but not a whole lot of fun if you do. Akin to what St. Teresa talks about in the early mansions when she doesn't understand why souls would want to stagnate in the outermost mansions where they are prey to the vipers and beasts, but then few souls have the grit to make it much further than the third or fourth mansions because of the sufferings, trials and mortifications they will endure.

I think I liked reading the Narnia tales better.

As Archbishop John Ireland would say, "Ever press forward."


Adoro said...

Keep in mind that even Archbishop John Ireland was a huge and hostile obstacle to the Eastern Catholics here in the Twin Cities. I'm actually shocked at his outright vitriol.

We're ALL sinners, even the holiest among us.

I'm with you in the local blend of Charismatic and Carmelite, but at the same time, I don't see how anyone can enter ANY type of community without a certain socialization (apart from the Charismatic end...that's just weird as a blend.) We are called, from the beginning, to a community of Faith, a Body of Christ. So we MUST meet, whatever our spirituality. Be it the Church as a whole at Mass, or in smaller subsets as part of that whole, in our individual strivings for grace and spirituality, i.e. Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit, Marian, etc etc etc.

There are a few Carmelite groups here in the Cities, perhaps the one you found isn't to your taste (ie the blend with Charismatic). Try the other one (ie Fr. D.)You may find it more proper to your disposition.

I'm not a Carmelite, but looking in from the outside...yeah, I have the same criticism with regard to the blend.

God bless.

Adoro said...

OH, correction on what I said....in the first part, the PERCEIVED holiest among us. Bishop John Ireland did a great deal for us, but there's a reason he's not a canonized Saint. He was a sinner too, and we should be praying for him.

swissmiss said...

Archbishop Ireland's vitriol? It's merely an Irish temper, me lassie LOL!!! While I don't hold the Archbishop up on a pillar, I do like this quote of his since it seems to fit my spiritual life.

Adoro, I don't think I'm familiar with the Carmelite group you mention. Could you please send me a private e-mail with the information (or post it in a comment)...I'd really appreciate it.

I'm a little lost in the woods like you, trying to discern. I got the married with children part figured out, just trying to find the next step.

precious cup said...

My husband sent me the link to your blog. I feel like I might understand a little what you are talking about. I am a professed Franciscan and I find it hard to go to meetings. As a matter of fact I have a meeting tonight and am already feeling ill about it. I felt drawn to the Franciscan community as part of my Franciscan parish, but have a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. I have found that I am so different from my community. I feel as though I may have made a mistake or maybe the self mortification for me is attending the meeting. I pray that things will change.

swissmiss said...

Hi Precious Cup:
I am taking it very slowly in moving forward with plans to join a lay Carmelite group. I keep feeling a nudge to do something, but haven't identified what that "something" is. At this point in my life, even having a daily prayer life is challenging, so maybe I'm not called to any lay order just yet, but merely to grow in other ways.

I know how you feel about not fitting in - I knew the lay group I visited was not for me. Being a beginner, I don't know if I have any advice other than to tell you to go slowly. And, I wouldn't call your belonging to the Franciscan group (even though it makes you feel awkward) a mistake. Sometimes God takes us in a different direction as I witnessed this summer when a cloistered Carmelite nun left her order and joined an entirely different one. She had been a nun for a very long time, but after a lengthy period of discernment she felt called to a more active life. Maybe you're just having growing pains, or are being tested or possibly tempted. Although, if I were you, I'd consult with a good diocesan priest about your misgivings.

Will add you to my intentions and wish you well at your meeting!

precious cup said...

swissmiss, The meeting went very well. During ongoing formation we read a reading on forgiveness. That was so appropriate considering the trouble I have is seeded in forgiveness of a person who seems to exclude people for all sorts of events. She doesn't see how hurtful her actions are. I understand that she is a good person. I guess I carry a large back pack filled with struggles of my youth,and since my hands have been freed I forget I still am carrying them. Hopefully through prayer and community WE will both work these things out. THANKS FOR YOUR RESPONSE.

swissmiss said...

So glad your meeting went well! It sounds like you found some peace.

I am finding out that there are quite a few other Carmelite groups in the area that I never knew of. Seems like I have some work to do looking into them :)