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SOME CARMELITE SAINTS

SAINT TERESA OF JESUS is the foundress of the Discalced Carmelite life as it is known today. Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain, on 28th March 1515 and entered the Carmel of the Incarnation there in 1536. She lived there for about 20 years until she felt that God was asking something more of her. After many tribulations and heart-searching Teresa, left the Incarnation on 24th August 1562 to found St. Joseph's, a new monastery in which she planned and hoped that the original Rule of Carmel would be kept faithfully. There was a great deal of opposition to the new Carmel and it was sometime before she was able to live there in peace. Many condemned her as a woman deceived by her experiences in prayer.

Eventually the hostility died down and Teresa was asked to found more of these houses of prayer in other cities of Spain. Over a period of twenty years she founded 15 more houses for the nuns and, in association with St John of the Cross, at least two for the friars. Teresa introduced a fresh orientation into Carmelite life combining silence and solitude with community living and giving the life of prayer a specific apostolic role in the Church and the world. Prayer was to be the great outreach to others, the one and only work of her nuns.

 

Her energy, resolution and sense of humour were unfailing, animated as they were by her immense desire to serve the Lord as lovingly as she could.

She died at Alba de Tormes on 4th October 1582.

She was sixty seven years old. When the bells of Avila tolled for her the local citizens said: "The Saint has gone to heaven." Her feast day is kept on 15th October.

 
SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS is well known for his mystical writings and poetry, was closely associated with Saint Teresa in her work of founding the reformed Carmel. Juan de Ypes was born at Fontiveros in Spain in 1542 into a poor and struggling family. The death of his father soon afterwards and the lack of family support for his mother meant that he was no stranger to destitution. In fact, one of his brothers died in childhood, probably from malnutrition. John's life was marked by suffering but he knew the security of the genuine selfless love of his mother and elder brother, Francisco. His meeting with St Teresa when he was a young Carmelite friar led him to abandon his plan to join the Carthusian Order for a stricter way of life and wholeheartedly give himself to this new venture of St Teresa's. It was exactly what he was longing for and he, with two companions, began the first monastery of the Teresian reform for the friars at Duruelo.
 

As the movement grew he experienced hostility from his former brother friars who objected to this reform seeing it as a criticism of their own more lax way of life. He was imprisoned in a dungeon in Toledo but eventually - and dramatically - managed to escape.From his prison experience flowed some of his most exquisite poetry, the fruit of all the hours of silent prayer he spent in that unlikely place of darkness and cruelty.

From the depths of this darkness he cried out to Christ his Lord:

Beloved, in you I find The mountains, wooded vales; Choice islands, distant, strange. The river's voice resounds With ever-changing flow. As whisper soft of breeze Now sings our love.

John continued to work tirelessly for the expansion of the reform. His great desire was to help others to know and love God through his preaching, work of spiritual direction and writing. He died at the age of 49 in 1591. His feastday is kept on 14th December.

John of the Cross has been described as one of the greatest Spanish poets of all time. His commentaries on his poems are classics of mystical theology and are still read today by those seekers after God who look for clear direction and a sure path.

   

SAINT THERESE OF LISIEUX (1873-1897was born Thérèse Martin in Normandy, France. She entered the Carmel of Lisieux at the age of fifteen.At that time the notion that God's anger on account of sin must be appeased by voluntary self-offering was prevalent in the Church. Instead within nine years Thérèse achieved holiness through her grasp of the central Gospel truth of God's merciful saving love for everyone without exception.

Her short autobiography was written at the request of others and revealed her strong desire that all should know this truth and respond in trust no matter what their condition, sinner or saint. Her teaching has rescued convicted criminals, alcoholics and other addicts from despair as well as pointing out the simple way of trust to countless Christians. She is the patron saint of missionaries and in 1997 was declared a Doctor (that is, an official teacher) of the Church. She is one of the most popular and best loved of all the saints. Her feast day is 1 October.

 

BLESSED ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY (1880-1906),

Elizabeth Catez, was born into a military family near Bourges, France. She entered the Carmel of Dijon in 1901 dying there five years later of Addison's disease. From her earliest years she had a deep sense of God's presence in her life and determined to give her whole life and love to him. She was a gifted pianist and had a great flair for friendship, enjoying the social life of her times to the full - including following the latest Paris fashions! Her life in Carmel was brief but there she found all she desired: 'I can't find words to express my happiness. Here there is no longer anything but God. He is All; He suffices and we live by Him alone.' (Letter 91)

Her writings consist of summaries of her private retreats, prayers and her extensive correspondence to family and friends. The indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in each baptised person was the central mystery which inspired her life and spirituality: 'It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God and God is in my soul. The day I understood that, everything became clear to me. I wish to tell this secret to those whom I love so that they also, through everything, may also cling to God...' (Letter 122). Her feast day is on 8 November.

 

SAINT EDITH STEIN (1891-1941), Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was born into a Jewish family at Breslau, then a German town, now in Poland. With a hunger for truth she studied philosophy and after gaining a Doctorate summa cum laude (a sort of First) she embarked on an academic career. A period of atheism was followed by a search ending in her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922 after reading the life of St Teresa. At the same time she maintained a lifelong love for her Jewish heritage and people.

Until Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany she exercised a very active apostolate of service to the Church: speaking, writing and teaching on matters philosophical, theological and feminist.

Her apostolic zeal took a new direction in 1933 when she entered the Carmel at Cologne taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Prayer now became her sole work for the Church and for her suffering Jewish people.

For her safety she was later transferred to the Dutch Carmel of Echt. There she, with other converts from Judaism, was arrested by the Nazis in retaliation for the Dutch bishops outspoken condemnation of anti-Semitism. As she left her Carmel for the gas chambers of Auschwitz she said: 'I am going for my people'. She died there in August 1941. Her feast day is kept on 9 August.

St Teresa, St John of the Cross and St Thérèse of Lisieux are officially recognised teachers of the ways of prayer for the whole Church.