Saturday, January 28th at 2 pm ET Text: Matthew 5:1-12a Commentary by Dianne Bergant, CSA Blessed are the poor in spirit – Alice Walker ... Read More
The first fourteen years of my Religious Life included the ministries of radiologic technologist, teacher, and child care provider. While these ministries were all rewarding, I could not shake the feeling that there was something more to which I was being called. I transferred to Carmel in 1972 and thank God that through prayer, silence, solitude and community living, I have experienced the fulfillment and deepening of this special gift – a gift that only God could give.
As I reflect my years in Carmel, I can say that I came to know my vocation in Carmel through prayer, silence, solitude, and the daily living of community life. No matter what the day brings, I try my best to live that day with a deep passion for God and do the very best that I can.
While community living is not without its challenges, I/we are sustained by the Sisters we live with and the people who share our prayer.
If you feel drawn to this way of life, to be a Carmelite Sister, come and give it your best and you will know if this is your call. In other words, “Follow your Heart!” I did and it has made all the difference in the world.
Living in a Eucharistic way means coming out of oneself, out of the narrowness of one’s life and growing into the immensity of life in Christ.
– St. Edith Stein
With immense gratitude to God and a great love for God’s people and the whole of creation, I give thanks for the gift of my Carmelite vocation. The joy and grace of my profession day continues to radiate deep within – energizing me, drawing me deeper into the love and mystery of God, and gently illuminating the path ahead. While I don’t know what the vows will ask of me over a lifetime, I trust that God will continue to give me the grace to be faithful to the commitment I have made.
For me, being a Carmelite nun means being occupied with Christ – setting my eyes on Him; praising God in all I do; meditating on the law of the Lord day and night; living a life that reveals a generous and merciful God; and offering to others the peace, hope, and unconditional love of Christ. From what I have come to understand, it is transformation that lies at the heart of the contemplative life; informing and transforming my heart, my desire, and myself. This flame of love I desire both wounds and heals, it strengthens and burdens, molds and shapes. It is a continual giving over of myself in faith and love.
Through my prayer, I am drawn into both an experience of the profound pain and suffering that is part of our collective consciousness, as well as the deep and abiding love of Christ that guides us toward unimaginable horizons of unity and connectedness with God and one another. In selecting “the Cosmic Christ” for my title I wanted to express this interconnectedness; an interconnectedness that in and through the living Christ leads to profound communion, and a transformation of consciousness that carries with it the possibility of true liberation for the entire cosmos. It is my deep belief that the fruit of my relationship with Christ, the transformation of my own life, and the peaceful living out of my life in community will indeed transform our world and aid in bringing forth the reign of God.
I see the monastery as a place where the light of God breaks into a world of darkness; a place where those who have been wounded and rejected can find healing and become whole again; a place where people can be immersed in the love, the peace, and the presence of God.
I love this life! And I have chosen to give my entire life to it because I am convinced that the work of prayer and our living peacefully in community are vital to healing the many divisions that are becoming increasingly evident in the world today. The future flourishing of humanity depends on it and, in my opinion, there is no work more important than this.
I will leave you with the same question my spiritual director asked me, “Are you willing to follow Christ wherever he may lead you, or do you set limits on where you will go?”
Grow into the immensity of life in Christ and join us on this life-long exploration into the mystery of God!
Beginning at a young age, some deep knowledge of a “call” from God was part of my consciousness. This “call” was just part of my growing up and living, what I considered, a normal home and school life. By the time I was a young teenager, a good spiritual director and good spiritual reading helped shape my desire for God and the hope of a contemplative vocation. Reading The Story of a Soul by St Therese of Lisieux and some of the writings of St Elizabeth of the Trinity, helped me know I wanted to be a Carmelite. My vocation would be contemplative prayer: praying for all God’s people, our Earth, our universe. So I entered the monastery at eighteen. That was 1960.
Our community carries generations of tradition along with the wisdom and strength to change. This became obvious to me as Vatican Council II was implemented, especially the changes in liturgical life. We’ve also had a continuous gift of solid and wise leadership in the community. Living with women of genuine faith and prayer has inspired and supported my life. I feel, in many ways, I have been able to live out St Teresa’s hopes for her communities: that all will be friends, all will be cherished. Friendship has flourished with God in prayer, with knowledge of Jesus Christ through the Scriptures, my sisters in community and so many others.
Community leadership has also supported and nurtured a steady intellectual life and on-going formation for the community. Along with this we have developed ways to help people pray, help them learn about the spiritual life by sharing Carmelite texts. We have an especially strong support in our Sunday congregation, who sometimes contribute to our liturgical planning. Many people write and call for prayers in their needs and sufferings. We try to share God’s mercy and compassion.
What would I say to you who might seek for or feel called to our community today?
- Have faith that this is possible.
- Be open to God’s constant, unwavering love.
- Trust the process which can slowly transform you.
- Don’t be afraid to share your heart’s desires.
- Have courage for the purifying and ecstatic moments in prayer.
I will love you, I will be constant.
Faithful friend, faithful spouse and faithful lover,
I will sigh for you alone!
In one so dear, so tender,
My joy and my delight,
My peace I will find.
The quote I chose for my solemn profession card is from the lyrics to W.A. Mozart’s aria L’amerò, sarò costante from Il Rè Pastore. These words speak of a promise of love. It is a promise I have found and hope to explore more deeply in Carmel. Years later, that peace continues to dwell in the deepest recesses of my heart and sustains me as I continue my journey to God.
I love being a Carmelite! In the simplicity and ordinariness of our life we touch a bit of the depth of God. As I go about my life here, I can hold the world in my heart. I can carry people’s cares and burdens within me as well as their happiness and joys. Our Carmelite sister, St. Edith Stein states that the contemplative can be everywhere in prayer. I can be the nurse, the comforter, and the listener. I can hold those with AIDS and the children, unloved, unwanted. I can be in solidarity with the poor and the parents who struggle to care for their families. I can be alongside those who respond to humanitarian crises in situations I will never see. I can hold in my heart the joy of someone near or far. Joining myself to God in prayer and drawing all these within me is one of the mysteries of our life. I like to think of Carmelites as “Nuns Without Borders.”
A faithful friend, faithful spouse, and faithful lover is what I want to be for God. I want to be as constant in my life as my favorite Carmelite, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, was finding there in everyday life, as she did, the depth of my spirituality, intentionally loving her sisters and spreading that love out into the world and even the cosmos. Faithfulness and constancy is what God asks. Love is the practice by which I hope to live this out. Being a friend to God and living out my commitment to my vows is how I hope to continue to give my life for God’s people, and for all creation.
Look inside yourself and ask: Who is it that my heart is seeking? What will satisfy the deep longing I feel inside? What do I want to give my life to? Do you feel that God may be calling you to a life of prayer, silence and solitude in Carmel? If so, take a leap of faith, cast out into the deep and trust that God won’t let you fall. It may start the greatest adventure of your life. All you need to do is say yes.
A friend of mine once said, “When you fall in love, there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do for your boyfriend.” And that is true for God as well. When you somehow have had a chance to connect with God and fall in love, there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do even when it seems to go against everything you proclaimed earlier about the direction and goals of your life. And that’s what happened to me!
Like all long-term relationships, think parents or grandparents, the one with God evolves over a lifetime. And the wonderful thing about Carmelite life is that it not only sustains our growth in relationship, it fosters it because it is a life organized around supporting prayer. And it is rich enough in meaning and depth that it can sustain whatever depth of holiness you are gifted with. There is no need to go off to an ashram; you can find it all here.
This life is the fruit of the wisdom and experience of St. Teresa, our founder, who realized that a small group of women could form a community of friends that could walk with each other into ever deeper levels of prayer. I wouldn’t want to do anything else or to be anywhere else than with this group of extraordinary women who have accepted the call to holiness. You can be one of us; we can help.
For the ten-day retreat that preceded profession, I entered our hermitage taking only scripture, the works of St. John of the Cross, a piece of fabric and a basket of threads. It was during this time of solitude and silence that I crafted the art used for my prayer card. I began the rhythm of prayer and focused on reading St. John’s Living Flame of Love. While slowly pondering St. John’s words, I was captured by the passion of the desire to respond to that constant, gentle (for the most part) and loving invitation truly to dwell in God’s presence. The image of a garment came to mind – a cloak – not drab or dry but full of color and texture. This cloak is the garment of experience which is worn by the one receiving the invitation. She wears it over her shoulders, sometimes a parade of pride, sometimes a drooping encumbrance. The variety of colors, pastel and vibrant, cheerful and mournful speak of her experiences of joy and sadness, of peacefulness and rage. The textures are the warp and woof of human life, interconnected, as all of life is. All this, yes, all this, she sheds as she sees the mountain and hears the voice. She has seen this soaring mountain and heard the alluring voice before – indeed, all her life, but this time is different, this time her “yes” is real and forever. The garment has been tossed aside and she is nowhere in sight. She has followed the path leading to the foothills and has, perhaps, tarried in the field of flowers but she knows her goal and she does not look back either to regret or seek solace. She continues her journey, confident and unafraid.
As the mantle of one of our foundresses (1790) was placed on my shoulders for the prostration and Litany of Saints during my profession, I was overwhelmed with the sense that this had absolutely nothing to do with me. It wasn’t my achievement or my particular privilege. It is an invitation to each of us to walk with Christ, to listen and respond, to say “yes,” forever.
It is not easy to tell you what it is for me to be a Carmelite. It is a bit like trying to explain what a papaya is: in the end, there is nothing like tasting a little bite of it!
For me to be a Carmelite is the mission I have received, the call to which I am trying to respond. It is a call to live in the presence of God, searching for the Face that is the goal of all my hopes and desires. It is to dedicate the entire strength of my being to a quest that gives direction to my life and content to my days. It is to know the goal that is always beyond my grasp — already but not yet!
To be a Carmelite is for me the desire to identify myself with Christ, with all those he loves and for whom he gave his life. With him, I embrace all the world with its inhabitants in a heart that always yearns to love more deeply. It is to stay with him on Mount Tabor and in the garden of Gethsemane. It is to collaborate with him in the salvation of the world. All this, accomplished in a simple and hidden life with a community of sisters and friends.
I feel blessed in my call to Carmel. When I began this life, and especially at the time of my first Profession, I put my trust wholly in the Lord. And after all these years, with many seasons of light and darkness, having experienced my inadequacies so deeply, I realize at the core of my being that I know the One in whom I trust, and that trust has not been in vain!
I’ve been a Carmelite since 1982 and when I first met the nuns of Baltimore Carmel in 2012, I was immediately drawn to the way they lived our Carmelite charism. I perceived a spirit of love and respect among the nuns amid an atmosphere of deep prayer and passion for God and God’s people. Their joy was palpable!
I appreciate the way in which on-going formation is so central to our life, as well as the healthy balance we maintain between solitude and community. I love how each sister’s individuality and freedom is respected within the framework of community. It is everything I have been searching for in Carmel and more.
I originally met the Carmelites in Puebla, Mexico, 373 miles from my hometown of Jalostitlán, Jalisco. I was 20 years old when I entered the parlor for the first time and I was so overwhelmed with feelings of peace, joy, and gratitude that I was speechless! I knew that my deepest desire to follow Jesus in consecrated life, would be realized in Carmel. At the end of my visit, Sr. Josefina, the novice mistress, gave me a holy card of St. Teresa of Jesus and a small book entitled, “Thoughts of Elizabeth of the Trinity”.
As I began reading the book, I realized that its contents were echoing my inner desires. I was deeply touched by St. Elizabeth’s profound, tender, and great love for Jesus, the Triune God, the Church, and her loved ones. I understood that being a Carmelite was the way for me to be a missionary. As Carmelites, we trust that united to Jesus, our prayer and love has the capacity to reach everyone and every situation.
I am so blessed to be part of this community and I hope you will consider it for yourself.
It is hard to put into words the depth of my Carmelite vocation. I’m not someone who always dreamed of being a nun; in fact, I should say, I never really considered it. I’m of the generation of women who had the opportunity to do anything with our lives, and being a nun seemed so limiting to me.
I made my way to the Carmelite Monastery of Baltimore quite by accident, at the urging of a Jesuit friend of mine, the late Clem Petrik, who brought me to a Sunday liturgy. At the time, I was actively seeking a deeper relationship with God; I was involved in my downtown parish, attending annual retreats, and working with a spiritual director. I told the sister who greeted me at the door very clearly that I didn’t want to be a nun.
As I began to regularly attend Sunday liturgy at Carmel, I felt a strange attraction deep in my heart to this community of vibrant, intelligent, and passionate women. As a logical thinking person, this strange, silent voice seeming to come from deep inside me was confusing and I tried desperately to resist it.
I have always been on a spiritual quest, always been a seeker, always been in love with God. Though I was happy in my career as an attorney, with my lovely condo in the city, my friends and family, my life in general, I kept looking for something more, something deeper.
One day I showed up for what I thought was a normal daily liturgy at the monastery to find out it was the first vow ceremony of one of the sisters. I was struck by the line on her profession program: There you will show me what my soul has been seeking. It seemed to be blinking neon just for me and I remember saying to God very clearly, You mean This? You mean Me? Then, when touring the community’s archives, I was filled with awe at the vibrancy of this community with its incredible history and charism. I was deeply moved by the richness of this life. This time the voice said, I need to be here. Once I said it out loud to others, This is what I want, it was as if the way was paved.
Rather than being limiting, this life provides great opportunity, though in a different way. There is great space for my soul here. The thing that most nourishes my soul is tending our beautiful grounds. Whether I am raking leaves, weeding, pruning or planting, I feel closest to God when I am outdoors listening to the birds, breathing in the fresh air, and getting covered with dirt.
There is an area of our property that was overtaken by invasive vines and weeds which were killing all the young trees. One day I just started pulling out the weeds (without chemicals), on my hands and knees, a little at a time. The project took several months, but after weeding I planted grass seed and the area is now covered with beautiful green grass which I mow regularly. It was a spiritual undertaking for me, as much as anything, and it is one of the things I’ve done in my life that I am most thrilled with.
When I look back at my life before Carmel, it seems obvious that I had a vocation. I tried hard to fit God into my life. What a wonderful thing to live a life that is centered around God. I am grateful I have found this way of life. To quote our St. Thérèse of Lisieux: I find all the aspirations of my soul are fulfilled in this Order.
Sound does not exist by itself, but has a permanent, constant and unavoidable relation with silence.
-From In the Beginning Was Sound, by Daniel Barenboim, Conductor BBC Reith Lectures, 2006
I was deeply touched by this profound insight on sound and silence as it was invoked by Father Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD at his lecture at the Carmelite Forum. Looking back on my time in Carmel, I see that I have been living into the relationship of these two qualities. Periods of silence and sound have alternated, and just as can be true of sound and silence in music, each at times has taken on a positive meaning for me and at other times has shown a more negative side.
I hold many examples of this interplay of sound and silence close to my heart. I think of moments filled with beautiful music, moments of sound and experience I cherished and treasured. There were the first roses blossoming from plants I had nurtured with loving attention in our monastery garden – the first roses I had ever tended.
But far more importantly, in my relationship with God, I remember clearly different occasions when a reading proclaimed in chapel by one of our sisters came to me in a new way, and suddenly lifted off a weight of desolation from my spirit, God speaking in human words.
At other times, I longed for the silent music that John of the Cross describes in his Spiritual Canticle, as my own disquiet and the sorrows of those we hold in prayer seemed to overshadow everything that was in me. In these moments, inner silence seemed lost, and I would try in vain to gain back my equilibrium. And even when the quiet for which I longed arrived, it was at times an awkward and uncomfortable silence, interrupted only occasionally, and even then, by music not harmonious and consoling but dissonant. I felt that I could not recall the melody that I had once followed and loved so much, and wondered if I would ever hear its tune again.
These patterns of sound and silence were, and are, drawing me forward to a point that I can best describe by borrowing from Rilke, with poetic license: Now I try to love the dissonance itself as if it were my favorite tune, and I do not search for a harmony that could not be given to me now, because I would not be able to live it. Maybe I can learn to live the dissonance now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, I will gradually, without even noticing it, love my way into the harmony.
In the meantime, until I can hear that harmony, I am deeply touched that God has brought me to this place in my life. Words cannot describe how happy I was to say “yes” forever, and to live ever more fully into this truth: Sound does not exist by itself, but has a permanent, constant and unavoidable relation with silence.
Are you reading this text because you are considering religious life? If you are I pray that you will find your own images that will speak to you and will lead you closer to God.
Maybe there are images that come to your mind right now or that you have been working with for a while? I pray with you that you will follow those and that you will hear God speaking to you, in whichever form you feel most comfortable.
In fifth grade, I learned one of life’s big lessons, a lesson I still try to live by. Sister Norberta told our class that whatever we did, whether for good or evil, affected the whole body of Christ on earth. My ten-year-old self was captivated: every good or bad thought or act or word would have its effect on the whole world. Therefore, I was connected to everyone, everywhere. Today, I would say I desired to raise the consciousness of the whole world. I wanted to put good energy on the waves of the world. In my high school years, I realized that prayer and love operate in the same manner. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with one vocation. Like Saint Therese, I wanted to be mother, teacher, social worker, missionary – through prayer, I have somehow become all of these.
Carmel has afforded me a way to reach out and touch all people everywhere. My heart is constantly expanding. In prayer I ache with the agonies of the universe, thrill with every exploration and discovery, agonize maternally with the dispossessed peoples of the earth, and delight in the wonders of science and technology. Nothing is foreign to me as I make my own the prayer of St. John of the Cross:
Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God Himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less, nor pay heed to the crumbs which fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in It and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.
I pray for you, that you will discover your heart’s deepest desire and what will give meaning to your life.
As a teenager in high school growing up in Kentucky (Ohio River Valley, Hancock County), I became interested in St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, also known as the Little Flower. In reading her autobiography I was fascinated by the life she chose for herself – to become a Carmelite Nun after the example of several of her older sisters.
Well, with no example ahead of me, I decided to see where these Carmelite Sisters were located in these mighty United States. In our school library I found a book, which I believe was called Catholic Sisters in the USA. I eagerly flipped to the “C’s” to find the Carmelite communities and Baltimore was the first on the list!
That was in the 1940’s when I graduated high school and I’m still here today. This November 14th marks 70 (yes, seventy!) years since I entered Carmel and I do not regret my choice. Blessed be God!