Monday, July 10, 2006

O Queen, who art the beauty of Carmel, pray for us

"The Angel of Carmel" - St. Theresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (ANNA MARIA REDI)

Adapted from the Italian “Un Angelo del Carmelo” of Friar Stanislaus of St. Theresa, O.D.C.

V. “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle? or who shall rest in Thy holy hill?” Psalm xiv, I

Carmel is the Lord’s living garden. It is the holy mountain, the mountain on which it pleases God to dwell.” It is the delightful solitude in which bloom the gleaming lilies. Thither run souls panting for justice and holiness; there they find peace and joy. Carmelites delight in believing that in foresight of all this Isaias prophesied, “And judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and justice shall sit in Carmel. And the work of justice shall be peace, and the service of justice quietness, and security forever” (Isaias, xxxii, 16, 17).
Whose tongue shall fitly sing Carmel’s glories? Its origin is lost in the mists of antiquity, but it may boast of having as its founder or organizer Elias the Prophet. Almost immeasurable are its privileges … the Virgin Mary’s tender and special love, her promises to St. Simon Stock, her gift of the scapular, a pledge of eternal salvation. Unique is its dignity ... it is Mary’s own order; in it her splendor fore-shadowed in the Old Testament’s figurative language is reflected in full and forceful light by the chosen children of this Immaculate Queen who is the beauty of Carmel, and of Saron” (Isaias, xxxv., 2). High, noble, even heroic is its purpose ... zeal for the glory of God; on Carmel’s flaming crest is emblazoned Elias’ cry “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts” (Kings, iii., 19). Outstanding have been its victories, ... victories won peacefully, securely, forever, won in the arena of the cloister against the soul’s enemies by means of the double-edged sword of prayer and mortification. Endless shall be its duration ... for that we have the word of Our Lady herself in her promise to St. Peter Thomas. All-compelling is its beauty ... as Mary once told a beloved-soul, “Number the stars, if you can. Like unto them in number and brilliancy shine my Carmelites in Heaven.”

What a garden of saints is Carmel! Cyril of Constantinople, the patriarch gifted with the spirit of prophecy; Brocard, the wise teacher of the hermits on Carmel; Albert of Sicily, the miracle-worker; Simon Stock, well loved by the Queen of Heaven; Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi, Andrew Corsini, Angelo the Martyr, and countless others, confessors, martyrs, and virgins! The glorious procession comes down through the ages from the pre-Christian time of Elias and his successors, those holy hermits of Carmel, to near our own day, the time of our holy mother, Saint Theresa, who made the sacred mountain bloom anew, made it a garden of delights for the Heavenly Spouse, and peopled it with bands of noblest virgins and with legions of holy youths, all guided by the heroic John of the Cross to the topmost heights of contemplation through the safe paths of mortification, self-effacement, detachment from the world, generosity of soul.

In every age Carmel has had a certain magnetism for the great of soul. The favored children of wealthy and powerful families, frequently even the sons and daughters of kings, have abandoned this world resolutely and fled to the refuge of Carmel. A century and a half ago, the period of our story, Carmel was giving the choicest of flowers to God. While, in France, Louis XV’s daughter was leaving the splendors of a royal court for the life of humility and mortification of a Carmelite nun, under the name of Sister Theresa of St. Augustine, in Italy, Almighty God was deigning to enrich His beloved garden with Anna Maria’s vocation. As a splendid star, the French princess lighted up that garden with the luster of her brilliance, while the Italian girl, like the purest of lilies, embalmed everything that came in contact with her with the sweet perfume of her high virtue.

Anna Maria was sixteen years of age when she first heard God’s clear call to the cloister. In September, 1763, Cecilia Albergotti, one of her young friends,[1] came to the school to tell her of her intention of joining the Discalced Carmelites of Florence immediately. As Cecilia was leaving the reception room, Anna Maria felt, for a brief moment, the urge of some supernatural influence. She seemed to hear a voice saying, “I am Theresa of Jesus and I want you among my daughters.” Surprised and deeply stirred, she ran to the chapel and prostrated herself before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, and poured out her very soul in prayer. There again the spirit of the Lord invested her and she heard the voice, more clearly this time, saying, “I am Theresa of Jesus, and I now tell you that you shall be in my monastery before long.”[2]

All doubt was banished from her mind. She determined to hasten where God was calling her, there to spend her life, hidden from and forgotten by creatures, ‘solely and wholly in the service of God. The great Reformer’s invitation had been heard and heeded. Anna Maria was to become a Carmelite, one of Theresa’s most faithful daughters. In later life whenever she spoke of her vocation she could not refrain from recalling that day; she would say, “That was a great day for me, that day when Cecilia Albergotti visited me at Saint Apollonia’s!” That was a great day for her, for on that day God’s divine will was clearly and directly manifested to her.

Truly is God “wonderful in His saints.” What means He uses, what wonders He works in the elect that are preordained to be living, flaming torches of ardent holiness and burning zeal, those elect that are destined to make the earth bloom again with grace and virtue! He has “prevented them with blessings of supernatural sweetness” (Psalm xx., 4), He has destroyed in them everything that is not of Him, He has made to mount high within them the flames of divine love. There is not a grace, not a virtue with which He has not clothed and adorned them, that all may see that they are the precious fruition of His love. They respond at once to the divine appeal, they are docile to the words of Christ, they put themselves in accord with Him even in their least desires. God, Who never allows Himself to be matched in generosity, becomes to these souls a friend and father in a special sense. The Lord truly became Anna Maria’s friend and father in this special sense. He was now calling her to His beloved Carmel where, nearer Him, in more intimate communion with Him, she would commence to live here below the life led by the angels in Heaven.

The spirit which Carmel prescribes for its religious is this ... to busy oneself with endless prayer and to await the counsel of the Lord ... it is this spirit that elevates the soul of the religious almost to the outer edge of divinity where it exercises the angelic offices of adoring, loving, and praising God forever, in time and eternity..

The Carmelite lives a hidden life, striving to forget all creatures, for she knows that, to quote the words of St. John of the Cross, “the soul can arrive at union with God only by stripping itself of all love for creatures”; but she knows, too, that she has another mission to carry out in this world, and she knows that that mission is the redeeming of souls by means of prayer and sacrifice. What nobler mission can a soul exercise?

The world errs in thinking that the frequent and various alterations in the affairs of men, of families, of nations, that sudden and unforeseen changes in the lives and morals of individuals are the results of artful eloquence exquisitely employed for the precise purpose of triumphing over hearts and wills; the truth is that these transformations are, oftener than not, the fruit of prayers, of tears, and of sacrifices unknown!

It is the Carmelite’s work, then, to love God, to contemplate, and to redeem souls by prayer and sacrifice. To this work God was calling Anna Maria. For this purpose God had enkindled within her, while she was still a child, that great desire for the hidden life, that attraction towards prayer, which were to make of this virgin, even while hampered by the casing of this mortal flesh, one of the most ardent of the seraphim.

Saint Theresa’s second intimation to her had filled Anna Maria’s heart with peace and the feeling of security. She would now await the opportune moment to acquaint her parents with her great secret. Meanwhile, her thoughts were winging their longing way to that “house of angels,” as she was soon to call it, where she was to devote herself with all her energy to that life of love whose radiant, infinite horizon she was already glimpsing. The white lily was now sighing for the vales of Carmel which soon were to enclose her.

[1] This young woman became a nun in Saint Theresa’s Monastery, Florence, living a most holy life as Sister Theresa of Jesus Crucified.
[2] Canonical Process for Beatification.