The situation that much of the world is going through is obviously disconcerting. The decision to use social distancing, isolation and other containment measures to slow down the spread of coronavirus disease can be deeply unsettling: how can we live in a confined space within our own homes? Not just for 24 hours but for weeks, a month, maybe longer? Our Discalced Carmelite friars in Paris offer suggestions to help us welcome God’s grace in this moment, united with the Carmelite family.
The real challenge of the cloister
Here, the spiritual tradition of Carmel comes to our rescue! Through the means of monastic enclosure, it could help us to experience this crisis not only as a problem but also as an opportunity, as an amazing grace that we can receive.
In the 16th century, St. Teresa of Avila founded her first monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns living in a strict enclosure. Why? So as to create a free space protected from outside intrusions in order to lead a life centered on the presence of God.
This is what Carmel is all about: experiencing the intensity of God’s presence within a limited space. #Isolation #HolyWeekTweet
Here we are: condemned during this period of confinement to live the life of Carmelite nuns in spite of ourselves… We may as well do it with a bit of intelligence!
Living in a limited space
Of course, this isn’t easy and you have to learn how to do it, especially when you haven’t chosen it, unlike the nuns. It takes time to get used to this limited space. Moreover, we don’t have equal opportunities in our stay-at-home, quarantined, or isolated, lockdown living situations.
However, St. Teresa can help us in her writings by showing us the importance of recollection: to choose to turn toward the interior of ourselves; to discover there the presence of God hidden in our hearts; to experience that where we are, we can live with God. God is even found in the middle of the pots and pans, as Our Holy Mother testifies!
The challenge is to accept the need to master our interiority. This will be done differently depending on whether we live alone or in a restless house, but for each one, a pathway is possible!
So let’s try to turn the constraints of confinement into an opportunity for growth in contemplation. We will grow through this ordeal.
Let’s try to turn the constraints of confinement into an opportunity for growth in contemplation. We will grow through this ordeal. #Isolation #HolyWeekTweet
Expand your space within
Here are a number of ideas to help you through this period of confinement:
- Experience Holy Week and Easter following the rhythm of the online Carmelite retreats, such as the current online retreat with St. John of the Cross
- Deepen your mental prayer (silent prayer), through videos, podcasts, etc.
- Discover the Carmelite Saints
- Read the writings of the Carmelite Doctors of the Church
St. Teresa of Avila
St. John of the Cross
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
- Understand the life of Carmelite nuns from inside a monastery
Before God for All
In 1934, the newly-clothed Carmelite, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein, 1891-1942) wrote to an old friend: “Whoever enters Carmel is not lost to his own, but is theirs fully for the first time; it is our vocation to stand before God for all” (Letter 174).
It is our vocation to stand before God for all. #EdithSteinTweet
In these harsh times when the baptized may be deprived of public access to the Eucharist, please believe that in Carmel, we friars, sisters, and laity who also are members of Carmel, are living out our contemplative mission of intercession for the world with particular intensity. Each day before the Lord, we present your intentions and ask the Lord for the strength to get through this time of trial together. In a special way, we entrust the sick, the lonely, and the caregivers to the Lord.
When Europe was beginning to be torn apart by the Wars of Religion, St. Teresa of Avila wrote: “The world is all in flames… this is not the time to be discussing with God matters that have little importance” (Way of Perfection 1.5).
This is not the time to be discussing with God matters that have little importance. #SaintTeresaofAvilaTweet
We’re bringing her plea up to date. May this time of confinement give us the grace to come closer to God and to love our neighbor better. We’re in communion with you!