(On the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 2007) In the city I grew up in, there was a monastery for women located in the inner city. Well, more accurately, it was nestled into a cemetary.
Located at the end of a long drive in an old brick building with vines creeping all over the façade, I had figured it was yet one more empty old church building that had seen better days. One more testament to more active days, with more vocations. I had assumed the grounds were kept due to its location on a cemetary where folks are regularly still interred for their period of physical repose before the Second Coming.
I was wrong.
Home to 15 nuns who engage in contemplative life, without active apostalate into the world but rather for the world in prayer, there were still quite active. And, blessedly, attracting every few years, a young member to keep their median age rather lower than a good deal of the orders out there.
Good for them. Better for us!
What is it about the monastic cloistered life and the pursuit of Christian perfection that calls some to – against all impulses instilled in our fallen nature and fallen culture – to leave the world and pursue such a vocation? My best guess would be pure Love.
The image at the start of this post is Bl. Mary of Mary of Jesus Crucified. An Eastern Catholic Carmelite of the the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Palestine of the 1800s and a stigmatist at that she achieved much sanctity even in the context of a belagured and persecuted culture among Catholic Christians in withdrawing to contemplative life. She did not less that participate in the establishment of a missionary Carmel in India. All this in an age where travel was not easy, Christians were especially persecuted in these places, and women traveling abroad were definately targets.
Now I have come to find out that here in America a Carmel has just established its 25th Jubilee in the Byzantine Catholic Church. In Sugarloaf, PA, it has not only been going strong for 25 years, it now has established a daughter Carmel back in Europe after the collapse of Communism, it is now the home of 5 Carmelites from India of the Syro Malabar Church!
So what do these sisters do? They pray. For you. For me. That is what they do.
On the side they do some baking and raise mini-horses…. Yea, I don’t get the mini-horses thing either. (Maybe they get better MPG?) But their true apostalate and goal is prayer.
Folks interested in learning more about the good Byzantine Sisters may visit their website (http://www.byzantinediscalcedcarmelites.com/) or write them at:
Holy Annunciation Monastery
Byzantine Carmelite Nuns
403 West County Road
Sugarloaf, PA 18249
If you could happen to find some extra change between your couch cushions or in the bottom of the washing machine, I am sure they could use it.
Folks interested in hearing the good sisters in prayer and seeing video of their chapel should check out: http://www.byzantinediscalcedcarmelites.com/page17.html The recording was made some several years ago (Pope John Paul II is commemorated in the opening litany) when the community was slightly smaller. I would rather love to hear recordings of them today. I am not sure if any are available.
But what can these folks teach those of us who are not called to monastic life? In a word faith. In two words, hope & faith.
Remember, no matter how over-grown the façade of the Catholic Church becomes in some areas, how abandoned it looks, how quiet it seems, worthy prayers are being offered therein, with total faith and hope.
Pray for this simple sinner.