This week I shall have the great joy of celebrating with the Carmelite monastic community near Devon, AB, the 25th anniversary of their establishment in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. This community of contemplative nuns came to Canada from Macau, and eventually settled in this Archdiocese at the invitation of the late Archbishop Joseph N. MacNeil. Their witness to us has been a great blessing, one which is urgently needed in our day. Here I highlight three important aspects of that witness.
Life in the Carmel is marked primarily by silence. External stillness is necessary for that interior quiet, which alone disposes us to listen attentively, lovingly and obediently to the Word of God. How we need and crave silence in our day! Our environment is characterized more by babble and chatter, a veritable tsunami of noise, which serves only to distract from what is essential and worthy of our attention, and which thus gives birth within our hearts to anxiety and frustration.
The Carmelite Sisters offer a beautiful sign that effectively reminds us of the need for stillness of mind and heart. Their witness teaches us that, even though we may not be called to give our lives over entirely to a life of contemplation, nevertheless we are summoned to adopt a contemplative attitude to all that we encounter in life.
What is of God? What not? What will lead us closer to Him; what leads us away?
I have had the privilege of visiting a number of Carmels. What strikes me in all of them is the joy of the Sisters.
The life to which God has called them is an arduous one. They remain in the one Carmel for their whole lives, and their regimen of work and prayer is rigorous. Yet the joy with which their individual lives are infused is evident. It is the joy that naturally arises from obedience to God’s call.
Our Western society is engaged in a pursuit of happiness that is both frantic and fruitless, because it is rooted in the error that peace and joy arise from indulging the Self’s every desire. The Carmelite nuns remind us that the opposite is true. Joy arises not from self-pursuit but from self-gift, from a life entirely given to God and to the fulfilment of his every call and command.
Finally, by their life of prayer, the nuns teach us that we are, as human beings, radically contingent, that is to say, fully reliant for existence and flourishing upon the love and mercy of God.
Prayer is the performative form of faith; because we believe in the love of God, we pray. Our prayer is directed to God not only for ourselves but also for others, and the prayers of the nuns have long been recognized as efficacious for the community. Daily do these consecrated women receive prayer requests; daily do they respond.
I haven’t seen them, but I expect their prayer lists are rather long! If you’ve asked them to pray, you can be assured that they are doing so. Personally, whenever I visit the Carmel, I bring some Archdiocesan intentions to their attention. It is a source of great comfort to know that they are holding the entire Archdiocese in their prayers, which God surely will answer.
Please join me this week in offering our own petitions to God for their needs, and in particular prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord for leading them to us. May God grant them many more years of joyful and effective witness in our midst.