OCDS Conference: Columbus, Ohio Sept., 13, 1994 Fr. William Healy
This summer, as you know, we had a congress in Louisville, Kentucky. The Order is very proud and happy to find five members of this community attending, including your president. I don't know how he found the time to do so...The highlight of the congress, as far as I was concerned (outside of the lectures) was the visit to the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemene. I shall bring out the reason for this in the congress.
Before the congress, we had a meeting among the spiritual directors of our province. The whole conference dealt with the formation period. There are only two people who actually need the assent, or the consent of the Order in their election or their nomination. One, is the spiritual director. If the spiritual director is not a Carmelite, he has to accept the position, before further steps are taken. He is presented to our provincial delegate, by letter. The provincial delegate consults the bishop or the superior if he [he proposed spiritual director] is a member of another order. The other [ person needing consent] is the master or mistress of formation. The master or mistress of formation must be voted on, as it was for the [other] officers, and then presented to the spiritual director for the approbation. We consider the master or the mistress of formation a vital part of (and we underline, "a vital part") of the entire community, because, in the formation [process], the rest of the "building" [of the individual], the temple of the Holy Spirit, rests.
So, in this formation period (we were discussing this among out spiritual directors), the first thing to know, the first person to know, is Jesus Christ. Be familiar with the New Testament, so that you read the incidents Christ performed, and put yourself into the picture. You say, "Lord, Jesus Christ, how does the scene I just presented to myself, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, affect me?" Your whole spirituality rests on the spirituality of Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of Mary.
I attended one retreat master's congress, and there were a few protestant ministers, and episcopal priests present. The congress lasted for three days. At the end they asked an episcopal priest what he thought of the whole ceremony. He said, "I was amazed at the enthusiasm that you had in dealing with the subjects for your retreats. I have listened over and over again to what the Pope has to say. I have heard the sayings of St. Paul, and I have heard [about] Vatican Council number two, but I haven't heard what Jesus Christ said.
That's why, in our [Carmelite] novitiate we have to spend fifteen minutes a day on the New Testament, fifteen minutes on the Imitation of Christ, and a half hour on the spiritual readings of the Order. I'm not saying that you have to do that, but first and foremost, get to know Jesus Christ. When I say, "know Him", it s not just an intellectual assent. He's the son of the Living God, and He saved the world by His cross. By "knowing Him", there must be a familiarity, so that you talk to Him as I am talking to you, and His thoughts become your thoughts, His words become your words, and His actions become your actions. This is what we means by knowing Jesus Christ.
The second point is, those who are starting as aspirants must know the Rule. They may actually use the Rule as a meditation book, point by point, using as an accompaniment, Welcome to Carmel, and the Commentary on the Rule... but the Rule is important, because, you are not to take it for granted, "I'll never be elected an officer." You have to know what the officers are doing, what the Order is all about, because, you are a part of our Carmelite family.
In receiving an aspirant, then, you must make sure that the aspirant has a sense of humor, which is absolutely essential (even if you are the only one who appreciates it!). It is essential, according to St. Teresa of Avila. She said, the aspirant or the novice is seeking to come as close to God in Carmel as possible, and He's the God whose presence makes Heaven Heaven by His joy, His peace, and His tranquility. Therefore, a melancholic religious (she is talking to the nuns) must either be corrected or sent home. "I cannot stand," she said, "a sorrowful saint..."
The second point is, in viewing the candidate, if you see that the candidate is trying to put on something that resembles a religious garb, like a rosary or a habit, please do not receive the candidate. I am not saying this in any derogatory way, but you see, others who come in contact with such a candidate will believe that this is the spirit of the secular order, which it is not. You are to bring the Carmelite monastery of monks and nuns into you life, in your profession as a normal Catholic, and outstanding Christian, in the truest sense of the term. That is the beauty of your vocation. It is part of the whole Order: the friars, the nuns, and yourselves, and we don't say [that] you are a third- class citizen You are a member of the Order, and you bring the spirit of Carmel in the marketplace, where the priests and the nuns cannot penetrate, in your profession, in your vocation...what a beautiful calling God has seen fit to you, and at the same time to give to the Order, so that its spirit penetrates into the world at large, through you.
The other point, do not become so concerned about meditation at the very beginning. We [monks] were taught that after three months we would begin to learn to meditate, because one often thinks that meditation means, "I gotta think, I gotta think, I gotta think!" Its like the Thinker- the statue [of a man] who's not wearing too many clothes, in Philadelphia, with his hands upon his knees- straining himself to get a thought.
You begin, please take this to heart, by saying your ordinary prayers, thoughtfully... the Our Father, for instance, as we passed it on to you. To say, just the term, "Our Father", and to take a deep breath (for the name, "spirit" means breath-the Holy Spirit), as if you were taking Him within yourself...then go on to, "Who art in Heaven", and another breath, slowly and deliberately. Its a mistake in saying the rosary so fast, as if it were a Chinese prayer wheel: "the faster I'm finished with it, the sooner the prayer is offered!" Prayer is to be said reverently.
When I go to Detroit, for instance, I stay at the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. They take care of preschoolers, and they take care of the elderly. The elderly can teach us how to pray. There's one little lady there-her whole prayer is, as she goes around the rosary, slowly and deliberately, she says, "O sacrament most holy, Oh, Sacramento divine, all praise and all thanksgiving is every moment thine," no faster than I just said it. There's another one who does nothing else but slowly and deliberately and conscientiously says the name of Jesus. She says the name of Jesus while she's awaiting Him to call her home. That's the way it works for you.
A simple prayer, but slowly and conscientiously and deliberately said, starts you off on you mental prayer, because it is a mental prayer. St. Teresa says when you are saying what we call a vocal prayer, but you are thinking of what you are saying, then who is to say that it is not a mental prayer as well as a vocal prayer.
If you want to learn how to pray then, go to Jesus Christ, who taught you and me the Our Father. Listen to Hi sprayer at the Last Supper, when you and I are included. It is not just for the apostles who are around the table. Its offered for you and for me as we seek to follow Him, in our different professions. It gives you the sense of consolation, of encouragement, knowing how close you are to you Brother, Jesus Christ.
So, you have the way of using your vocal prayer. the other way of learn ing to prayer is using your psalms and the Office, because the author of the psalms talks to God, complaining in some places about the catastrophes he is facing, the temptations he must overcome, and he mentions the joys he is experiencing. That's a familiarity God asks of you, and God asks of me. We're not to go to God then, with fear and trepidation. It a relaxation of mind and heart.
To summarize, in the course of the Mass, the priest takes bread; he blesses it; he breaks it, and says, "This is my body." At the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus, upon whose ceremony the Mass is based, took bread; He blessed it; He broke it, and He gave it to His disciples. The bread, not being pietistic, must represent you as an individual. He's not taking you...He has chosen you, otherwise you wouldn't be here tonight; you wouldn't have attended the Mass tonight. It says in the Bible, "I have Loved you with an everlasting love." It says, "I have knit you in the womb of your mother. I have called you by name; not a hair falls from you head without it being known by your heavenly Father; and I am with you always."
You must accept the truths I am trying to give you tonight. I repeat, they are not just pious thoughts. Nothing happens by chance, and God has a personal interest of you. When Jesus came out of the waters of the Jordan, He hears the voice say, "This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests." He [God] says that about each of you..."you are my beloved child, upon whom my favor rest. I claim you as my property and my possession. It means that you must suffer with my Son. It means that you are the temple of a the Holy Spirit." These things, as a Carmelite, you must take [to heart]. You must accept yourself. The greatest enemy of the spiritual life, the greatest enemy of the spiritual life, say Father Newman, is self rejection, in which you live in a constant inferiority [state], saying, "I am nothing, I am nothing, I am nothing"...and everybody knows it!
It says, first He [Christ] took the bread (you may change that to, "He selected or chose you"); then, He blesses you- and you are to think, in your mental prayers of all of the graces, all of the blessings the talents of mind and body...you're not to deny these things. You're not to believe that by acknowledging what God has done for you that someone else is deprived, because, miracle of miracles, He loves us as we are...each individual made unto His own image and unto His own likeness. That's what you and I are to be.
Accept the blessings, because, as a Carmelite, your life is Eucharistic, which means, grateful...it has to be a contented, grateful light, finding in each event the presence of God. That's why we speak of the day that you are apt to be facing [this very day] as a "present" day, because it is a present from God to you. How you are going to use it for His glory, as Elizabeth of the Trinity would put it, "for the praise of glory", for the welfare of the church and for others [is your gift to God].
So, He took the bread; He blessed it, and then He broke it. It symbolizes [that] you will experience the Cross. If there were any other way of going to Heaven, then the way of the Cross, Christ would show it. Its not that you are to look for crosses or to make up crosses...they may come from misunderstandings, [or] they may come from a defect or a physical weakness, but you are not to bring on the suffering. When it [does] come, even the loneliness, even the misunderstanding can be offered to God as a prayer. You simply say, "I don't quite understand this event, but Lord Jesus I offer it to you in Gethsemene, that in the spirit in which you drank the cup, I may do the same."
The bread will be broken, and then it is distributed, because everything you do in your silent prayer, the most secret offering, affects the world, by the Doctrine of the the mystical Body of Christ, and by the Doctrine of the Communion of Saints. You're giving yourself to others to be their enlightenment, their encouragement, and their strength. In your profession then, or wherever the Divinity has placed you, don't work merely for the salary (I say "merely," because that [the salary] is important!), but do it in the spirit. Do It because God gave you the talents of mind and body to do it. Offer it for your family, and you are a contemplative in action. Do not divide the prayer life, [as if to say], now I am praying... from what you are doing. You carry over from you prayer life into your activity the consecration of your own person. You are, therefore, a contemplative in action.
I cannot, as I said so frequently, exaggerate or over emphasize what you as an individual can do. Don't try to find out how somebody else is praying, how somebody else is doing this. You will learn the way of meditation. If it appeals to you, or rather if, with your temperament, you can use it, [then] use it... but God wants your prayers, expressed in your way, as only you can do it. So, there isn't a time, when the voice of God will not come through, if only you will give Him the opportunity. Our whole congress was dedicated to silence and solitude... [the conditions] when you dispose yourself to let God talk to you.
So, my true story continues...Frank Bianci, a free-lance writer, and his wife, Marie, give this account...
It was on a June morning. I packed my bags with my son Jimmy, and my son, Michael. I always called him, Mickey. Mickey was seventeen. Jimmy was twenty-one. I waved goodbye to them, and as I said goodbye to Mickey, I ruffled his hair, as I usually do, looking at his handsome face. Wherever he went, there was sunshine. He was a joy to everyone who came in contact with him, and I loved him as only a father could possibly love a son like Mickey. So, as I was leaving for my assignment with Newsweek(?), he said, "Take care of the camper, dad..." He was going to graduate in two weeks, and so, I promised him he could use our new camper to take a classmate to the [untranscribable]. I put my hands on his head and said, "Mickey, take care of yourself!" Off we went to Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson.
The next morning, we decided to take pictures. While Marie and I were taking the pictures, we came back to find that the camper was gone. New as it was, there was a defect in the brakes and it went over the embankment. We found ourselves in the repair shop, impatiently waiting for the thing to be fixed, when in comes the sheriff. He said, "I've been looking all over for you two..." There's a long-distance call from your family in New York. I said, "what have the two of them been up to now," Jimmy and Mickey...We went to the nearest telephone. Jimmy was on it with very nervous voice.
"Dad, Mickey's has been in an accident...He wasn't far from school, and he was turning the corner, and the car skidded and went into a truck..."
"Is he hurt?" I asked.
The numbness that came over me, unless one has actually experienced it, one will not understand.
The numbness...I was brought up a Catholic..., he [Biannci] said. I even studied for the priesthood, but I thought God was too far from me. The rest of the family retained the faith, but I did not. I turned against God even moreso,because of this. "How could it possibly happen?" At the funeral Mass, I was as close to the coffin that I could almost touch it, but the numbness, the hatred, the loneliness would not leave me. Marie, [and] the family, had faith, but I had none.
They say that time cures all our loneliness. I couldn't even remember what Mickey looked like-there was an amnesia that took possession of me. Often at night I would try to recall his face and hear his voice, but I could hear absolutely nothing or see absolutely nothing. It was just a numbness.
The others, as time went on, and we used to play monopoly would say, "Do you remember how Mickey used to sit here and scream with delight as he saw all of these hotels on Park Place?" I couldn't even picture Mickey. As time went on, my loneliness increased. I began to think that the only solution was suicide.
It was a year after the funeral. Marie had said, "We have an assignment in Kentucky." So, off we were going to Kentucky.
We stopped at a little coffee shop, and we told the waitress what we were doing-that we were free-lanced writers. She said, "If you are interested in writing, why don't you go to the Trappist monastery?" Its not far from here, and the monks live on what they produce themselves.
Now, I've heard, of course, about the monks-about their silence, their contemplative life, and their beautiful music, but I was in no mood to go to monastery.
Marie said, "Please, lets just go..." So, I decided to drive up through the forest to the monastery. I said, "I don't want to go in...but her foot was already over the threshold. She had me by the hand, so I followed...It was quite a sight. We climbed the stairs to the balcony, and then there was a silence...a silence I could almost feel. I never experienced anything like that in my life. It took possession of me, and I found myself actually shaking. I looked at Marie, and she seemed perfectly normal, as if nothing were going on.
Then, as I looked down, there were fifty monk on either side of the sanctuary. There was a tap by the superior, and absolutely noiselessly fifty monks stood up. Another top, and they began the Office. It seemed to me that it was so reverently done that they actually saw the Divinity they were addressing and singing to, as if He were actually in the midst of them. It made me think of a picture in a [base]ball game when he winds up and throws the ball knowing that the catcher is there to take it. Someone was listening to them. Even I was aware that someone was listening to them.
While I was so rapt up, along came the image of Mickey. He was smiling. He said, "Its me, Mickey...I'm okay Dad..." He disappeared. Then it seemed to me, that [there was] an interior voice coming from my own person crying out, "I know how you feel...I had a beloved Son, and I saw Him die...and I love Mickey, too." I was was spellbound. When I entered the monastery, it said, Pax intondibus [sp.?]...Peace be to those who enter, and as I looked at [the monks] I found out that it says, God does speak, if we make ourselves available to Him...
See, when we visited the Trappist monastery, as I said during the congress, we priests were permitted to go into the Hermitage, way out in the forest, where Thomas Merton lived, and I actually sat in his chair...I said, "Tom..there is a great deal of difference between you and me...," and its a wonder that the heavens didn't open and he said, "A world of difference..."
I get back to you...the whole theme of the congress was being available to God...giving Him your time...giving Him your presence, that you might hear the words the Father addressed, "This is my beloved child, upon whom my favor rests." Being beloved by God, nothing can cause you to be discouraged.
God Bless You.
This transcript is Copyright, 2001, OCDS Community, Columbus, Ohio.