September 14, 1939
Ave Crux, Spes Unica
“Hail, Cross, our only hope!”—this is what the holy church summoned us to exclaim during the time for contemplating the bitter suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. The jubilant exclamation of the Easter Alleluia silenced the serious song of the cross. But the sign of our salvation greeted us amid the time of Easter joy, since we were recalling the discovery of the One who had passed from sight. At the end of the cycle of ecclesiastical feasts, the cross greets us through the heart of the Savior. And now, as the church year draws toward an end, it is raised high before us and is to hold us spellbound until the Easter Alleluia summons us anew to forget the earth for a while and rejoice in the marriage of the Lamb.
Our holy Order has us begin our fast with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. And it leads us to the foot of the cross to renew our holy vows. The Crucified One looks down on us and asks us whether we are still willing to honor what we promised in an hour of grace. And he certainly has reason to ask.
More than ever the cross is a sign of contradiction. The followers of the Antichrist show it far more dishonor than did the Persians who stole it. They desecrate the images of the cross, and they make every effort to tear the cross out of the hearts of Christians. All too often they have succeeded even with those who, like us, once vowed to bear Christ’s cross after him.
Therefore, the Savior today looks at us, solemnly probing us, and asks each one of us: Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Antichrist has broken into the open.
If you decide for Christ,
it could cost you your life.
what you promise.
Taking and renewing vows is a dreadfully serious business. You make a promise to the Lord of heaven and earth. If you are not deadly serious about your will to fulfill it, you fall into the hands of the living God…
Ave Crux, Spes unica!
The world is in flames. The conflagration can also reach our house. But high above all flames towers the cross. They cannot consume it. It is the path from earth to heaven. It will lift one who embraces it in faith, love, and hope into the bosom of the Trinity.
The world is in flames. Are you impelled to put them out? Look at the cross. From the open heart gushes the blood of the Savior. This extinguishes the flames of hell.
Make your heart free by the faithful fulfillment of your vows; then the flood of divine love will be poured into your heart until it overflows and becomes fruitful to all the ends of the earth. Do you hear the groans of the wounded on the battlefields in the west and the east? You are not a physician and not a nurse and cannot bind up the wounds. You are enclosed in a cell and cannot get to them. Do you hear the anguish of the dying? You would like to be a priest and comfort them. Does the lament of the widows and orphans distress you? You would like to be an angel of mercy and help them.
Look at the Crucified. If you are nuptially bound to him by the faithful observance of your holy vows, your being is precious blood. Bound to him, you are omnipresent as he is. You cannot help here or there like the physician, the nurse, the priest. You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the cross. Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart. Its precious blood is poured everywhere—soothing, healing, saving.
The eyes of the Crucified look down on you—asking, probing. Will you make your covenant with the Crucified anew in all seriousness? What will you answer him? “Lord, where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Ave Crux, Spes unica!
We present excerpts from the meditation for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a fervorino that Saint Teresa Benedicta wrote for the prioress to deliver to the nuns of the Carmel of Echt, Holland on 14 September 1939, her first opportunity to renew her vows as a Discalced Carmelite in her new community.
Edith mentions that “our holy Order has us begin our fast with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” Here she makes a direct reference to the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert of Jerusalem, No. 16:
You are to fast every day, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter Day, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason, demand a dispensation from the fast; for necessity overrides every law.
For centuries, Discalced Carmelite nuns have renewed their vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity—the order in which Edith presented the vows in her meditation—on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Although the Discalced Carmelite friars renew their vows and the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order members renew their Promise at Easter or during the Octave of Easter, the 1991 Constitutions of the Discalced Carmelite nuns indicate that they shall renew their profession twice each year:
“In order to give common witness to religious consecration in following Christ, every year the sisters will renew their religious profession during the Easter Vigil or the octave of Easter, and on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, using the formula given in the Ritual. The communities may repeat this renewal on other occasions in order to strengthen their commitment to this way of life.”
No matter what legislation Discalced Carmelites may observe, the essential purpose is clear: “to strengthen their commitment to this way of life.”
Stein, E 2014, The Hidden Life: Essays, Meditations, Spiritual Texts, translated from the German by Stein W, ICS Publications, Washington DC.