Friday, November 07, 2008

A new dawn, the Carmelite nuns and Bl John Soreth - by Bl Titus Brandsma O.Carm

The Benedictine Abbot, Trithemius, calls the Blessed John Soreth "a mirror of monastic life, an honour and glory for the Order of Mount Carmel, a reformer such as the future will seldom see, absolutely bound to God and the furthering of his order, in contemplation and prayer."

The Dominican, Magister Rolandus Briso, praises him at his election as General, 1451, as the most worthy priest of God's church, and father Brugman, a Franciscan, although loving his own Order, exclaimed: "Father Soreth firm leader, light and prop not only for his own Order but for all mendicants. O immortal God, how I wish the Order of Friars Minors had received from Thy bounty such a governor. How our affairs would prosper, how my beloved Order would grow and flourish."
Indeed, he was God's man for our Order in this difficult age, and above all things, elected to give life to so elevated an institution as the Order of Carmelite Sisters, St Teresa says that God always grants special grace to the founders of an Order. They have to give so much that unless they themselves have richness and affluence of spiritual goods, they cannot share with those whom they have to lead and support. Was there still another intention, besides that of letting a new group of soul partake in all the gracious privileges of the Order of Mount Carmel? I will have to answer this question in the negative and history confirms my statement. No, the object was not merely to swell the numbers, but to let thousands of women share in what thousands of men enjoyed in the Order.
It cannot be denied that through contact with the world the Order had lost much of its original fervour, in spite of having at its head a man who had no peer in his age and in spite of the fact that the order numbered among its ranks several hidden saints, whose holiness time has revealed and the Church confirmed. Portugal had a Blessed Nonius, the father of the royal house of Braganza, who became a lay brother in the Carmel of Lisbon. Italy had an Angelus Augustinus Mazzinghi, the chief instrument of the Italian reforms; a Blessed Bartholomaeus Fanti and a Blessed Baptista Mantuanus, chief actors in another North-Italian reformation of the Order; the blessed Avertanus and Romaeus, pious pilgrims dying on the way from home and revered as saints in Luca; Blessed Jacobinus, a lay brother, a miraculous example of obedience. But the list grow to an inordinate length if I called to mind the names of all those of this age whose memory is blessed for the sanctity of their lives.
We may say that on the one hand the sanctity of many of its members earned for the Order new graces and favours from God; on the other hand, that the institution of the Sisters was a free and entirely voluntary gift conferred by God on the Order. Blessed John Soreth put a high value on this insitution as the Sisters through their stricter contemplative life could supply in the Order what the Fathers, because of their growing activity in the world, not precisely forgot, but put more ot less into the background, in spite of the fact that it was a salient characteristic of the Order.
Not only was the Community increased by the access of new members, so essential to its being, but the mystical God-bound life received at once a great number of new aspirants to its delights. A large number of saintly women joined the Fathers to emphasize yet more the contemplative elelment in the Carmelite vocation. Yet we should not conclude that by this displacement the fathers left contemplation and its joys to the sisters entirely - the life of the Bl John Soreth himself shows the contrary. As before, the contemplation of the Law of God remained the chief aim of the Order, but there is no room for doubt that the increasing active life often left the fathers little time to devote to contemplation and the fullness of a mystic life and that it distracted them from the high ideal.
The institution of Carmelite Sisters as a second Order in an organization that from then onwards should contain both men and women gave the assurance that the first and highest aim of the order was henceforth to be worthily striven after. The Sisters were not only called upon to supply what the Fathers in the stress and trouble of pastoral duties in the world were likely to forget, but they are called upon to do even more. Their service was to strenghten and confirm the mystical character, to make it more brilliant than ever.
Being much stricter in their seclusion from the world, they could easily occupy themselves with more intensity with God and God accordingly rewarded their intercessory efforts. They were, so to speak, the crown and glory of the Order. They proved that the most blessed thing on this earth, the contemplation of God, was again Carmel's own. They were an untiring group of women who considered it their vocation to be a Mary in the solitude of their convent, a Mary who chose the better part, which should not be taken from her.

Thus, not only was a formidable shortcoming made good, a telling want filled, but there was a positive gain to be set down because the Order now again fulfilled its calling in the greater part of its members. It is best to try to see things in a positive light and the surety of the attainment of its set purpose, be it only a restricted number of its members, must be called an inestimable gain.

So we welcome the Carmelite Sisters of Geldern and of all convents that came after, with unmitigated joy. We see with our mind's eye the interminable procession of Sisters as so many soldiers, and succesful ones, for the ideal of our Order. Together we feel stronger and safer; with them we may go through the world sharing the same ideal. Generally, the Fathers are called upon to keep the memory of this ideal green in the souls and hearts of the Sisters; conversely, the example of the Sisters will stimulate the Fathers to a more complete striving after their mutual ideal. When Holy Scripture says that brother aided by brother is strong, like a fortified town, how strong is the Order, how strong the brothers, now that they see at their side, since the founding of Geldern, this numberless host of Sisters. It is as if the vision of the prophet Eliseus displays itself before my eyes, as if I see the Order surrounded and enclosed by a numberless armed host who banish the fear from my heart that the spirit of this world will one day drag them down.

To be continued..