“Come, let us go for our people.”
The world is in the midst of a great storm. This storm is spreading a fury of confusion, division, anger, doubt and chaos. Unfortunately, this is no less the case in our Church, especially the church in the U.S. Because we live in this time our experience would tell us that this is the worst of times. That never has it been as bad as it is in our present day. That humanity has never had to endure such diabolical strife in its history. Maybe these are the worst of times, I can’t really judge. Then I think of the quote above, “come, let us go for our people.” These are the last known words of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross to her sister Rosa…on their way to the death camps.
Is our day any worse than it was for our spiritual father St. Elijah? When, as a prophet of the Lord, he was called upon to warn King Ahab and implore his repentance in an effort to save the people of Israel. In this effort, St. Elijah seemingly failed. Ahab never listened.
Our Holy mother St. Theresa of Jesus and our Holy father St. John of the Cross also did no less. In their efforts to reform Carmel – amidst the confusion, doubt, division and chaos of Luther’s reformation – they persevered in prayer amongst much suffering and persecution, even persecution from within the Church and the order. Yet here again, in their time, it may have seemed such a woefully failed effort.
Another storm arose in the late 18th century as a result of the French Revolution, a product of the so called Enlightenment period. Resultant of this was a hysterical anti-clericalism. During the Reign of Terror that ensued, 16 members of the Carmel of Compiegne, France, 11 Discalced nuns, three lay sisters and two externs (today called O.C.D.S), offered themselves as victims to God for the restoration of peace to France and the Church. They went to the guillotine on July 17, 1794 singing the Veni Creator Spiritus, after renewing their religious vows. Ten days later the Reign of Terror ended.
How could I omit the holocaust joyfully offered by St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face? Indeed, while St. Therese may have been at the forefront, I submit that her whole family, St. Therese, Sts. Zelie and Louis, and all of the Martin children (including those who died young or never made it from the womb alive) participated in this special sacrifice of merciful Love. This sacrifice was paid at a time when much healing was needed within the Church. Healing that was caused from the heresy of Jansenism.
To be a Christian means to accept the charism of suffering. Did not our Lord teach his disciples, and us, that. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt: 24-25).” The current storm we find ourselves in is nothing new. Indeed, I believe a great winnowing is taking place within the Church.
This charism of suffering, second only to our charism of prayer, is very dear to the Order of Discalced Carmelites. This second charism is what our dear sister St. Theresa Benedicta termed the “science of the cross.” Carmel is a depository of sacrifice and suffering in the abyss of the merciful love of the cross which, when needed, the Church and the world draw against during particular time of need. While there will be one, or a few, persons leading the way, all who are part of Carmel participate in paying the “widow’s mite.”
Despite the seeming unending fury rising in the world today we do not despair. Instead, in our sadness and anguish for our neighbor we are most joyful. We know that in the midst of this storm that it is a time of great love. We are certain of His merciful Love and of the ocean of graces that abound that will overcome this raging tempest.
Reflecting on St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, her sister Rosa, and all the others who have paid the price I am reminded of the immense grace our Lord has poured out on Carmel. As we know we may live in the world but we are not part of it. Indeed, in our calling to Carmel we strive to live only in our Lord Jesus Christ. For like St. Paul, “(we) consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).
In this newest time of confusion, division, doubt and chaos in the Church and the world another payment is due. I have faith that another great saint, as yet to be revealed, is currently persevering against this raging tempest and who will make a down payment against that debt. The rest of us in Carmel will also contribute what we can through prayer and fasting. No matter how little, for in our weaknesses and poverty we rejoice. We so look forward to our failures, just as our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ “failed” on the Cross. And so, let us all take up the call of our dear sister, Theresa Benedicta, and, “go for our people,” the mystical body. Let us all immerse ourselves in the merciful love that is the science of the cross.