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Grace of Carmel

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I have been fascinated by the Carmelites since 2004 when I began reading books by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. I “met” my dearest friend on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Actually, that is the day I saw her on a program on EWTN and decided to write her a letter and share with her my growing desire to become Catholic.

Those are the Catholic reasons I love Carmel.

I grew up on Sunday School and Bible School stories. As the preacher’s kid, that’s how it is. Other children hear Grimm’s fairytales and become enamored with Disney characters. Our heroes were Bible characters. Elijah on Mount Carmel, well, that was one of my favorites.

So today, my two Carmel loves came together at Mass at Stella Maris Monastery, and I was surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.

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I had a brief conversation with myself – a conversation that Jesus joined in.

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I feel so drawn to these contemplative Carmelites and their cloistered way of life. What does one make of such a desire? What does one do with that when one is definitely not called to be a cloistered Carmelite nun?

I heard the answer. And I smiled and cried as the answer came, because I knew it was true. His words, not mine. Because it barely makes sense. It’s the kind of sense God makes, and we just take it in with a profound deposit of wonder & awe.

And yet, it makes complete sense.

For me, the cloister will be the pilgrimage. In these days and on these faith journeys, I spend time with others who are “cloistered” and called out of the world. We leave everything behind, to follow Christ. To seek quiet spaces in one holy place.

And another.

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One would think it is the furthest thing from the cloister. One would think it is hardly Carmelite at all. How can pilgrimage fill my desire to be like the very saints I so love and wish to emulate when those saints are hidden away from the world, and I am being called into that world?

But I didn’t even have to ask Jesus this question because I knew the truth. I feel Him here. I feel Him as deeply as if I had become a cloistered nun. And these fellow pilgrims are hidden behind the grate with me – even as we hop on flights and fill the pilgrimage buses.

It is just us.

Hidden behind the pilgrimage grille, where the Blessed Mother wraps her Mantle around us, and we are simply in her presence. She leads us, then, to the Eucharist where we discover the hidden treasures of the soul.

Today at Mass, I knew what I already know – that I am being called to say yes again and again to the Church’s special devotion to pilgrimages. But I also realized something more. It is my cloister.

My path to Carmel.

My path to all the treasures that I am meant to discover – behind the grille.

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