Pope Francis’ constant references to the world of religious and contemplative religious life is “an invitation to have greater humanity,” bearing witness with prayer to the fact that “our prophetic vocation is a response to needs of the people the Church and in the world,” says Sr. Marie Gemma, O.C.D., Prioress of the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Mumbai. On the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel she spoke in anticipation of 2015, when the cloistered Carmelites will be engaged in a double celebration: the Year for Consecrated life and the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, reformer of the Carmelite order.
Pope Francis has made repeated references to the contemplative religious, stating, among other things, that “cloistered religious are called to have great humanity.” What do you think of his words?
A contemplative is basically one whose heart is on fire with love for God. The fruit of this love is a constant yearning to do the will of God. Right from the Old Testament to the new this will of God is enshrined in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your Heart and soul and strength and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Therefore Pope Francis rightly says, “Cloistered nuns or contemplatives as we are also called, are called upon to have great humanity.” The only humanity we are called upon to have is that of the One after whom the whole human race is modelled–Jesus.
And so as we see our God in the Old Testament–we see our Jesus our one and only model in the New Testament calling us to be like unto Him–and as St. John who has touched Him emphatically says, “God is Love.” The more we contemplate God either in the Old or New Testament we realize our God is a lavish God. In Eph 3:20 we read He gives us more than we can ever ask or imagine. This is the great humanity we are called upon to have. When asked to change water into wine He changed six gallons each containing 20 gallons of water!
This ‘great humanity was fulfilled in the life of Mother St. Teresa of Avila, who was so deeply passionately human, lavish and generous in her response to God and lavish too in her desires to do whatever she could to reach out to those she considered being damned in her time. And this is what she desired all her nuns to be, to do.
On the Solemnity of the Ascension Pope Francis said that the Church “is an outward bound community”. Even cloistered communities, “because they are always ‘outward bound’ with prayer, with an heart open to the world, the horizons of God.” Can you speak to us about this reality in concrete terms?
The Church was founded on the mandate given by Jesus, “Go to the whole world…to proclaim the good news…” If the Church would ever forget this mandate it would lose its essential character, the raison d’etre of its very foundation. Every organization in the Church then gets stamped with this character either explicitly or implicitly.
The cloistered contemplatives too are implicitly stamped with this yearning to bring JESUS the Good News to the whole World. That is the only reason which explains how St. Therese remaining within the cloister–never stepping out from the age of 15 to 24 is today called, ‘Patroness of the Missions.” Known as the Little Flower her desires embraced the whole world–she wanted to be apostle, doctor, preacher, martyr for God and for His people to bring the Good News of Jesus to everyone. With great joy she said: I have found my vocation. “In the heart of my Mother the Church I shall be love.” St. Teresa of Avila would say, “I could die a thousand deaths to save one soul.” St. Francis de Sales puts it this way, “The one who loves God wishes to write His name on every heart. This is a graphic way of portraying how the contemplatives have their heart open to the world with the horizons of God…
Pope Francis said: “The Carmelite saints were great preachers and teachers of prayer. This is what is required once again of the Carmel order in the twenty-first century. Throughout your history, the great Carmelites were a strong reminder of the roots of contemplation, always fertile roots of prayer.” Can you share your thoughts on this with us?
The greats of Carmel were all of them extraordinary lovers transformed by the love of God proving that their prayer was nothing other than a deep intimate relationship with the One they knew loved them. Today with its new age spirituality, with the great longing of the human heart to be filled with what modern man is, not even aware of–Carmelites do have something precious to offer. What we have is not just a litany of prayers but a relationship with the One who satisfies our every thirst by creating within us the wells of eternal life with His own presence. In our prophetic vocation they have offered a response, in the Church and in the world, to the longings of the people. They have put their finger in the wound of the Church and placing God at the center they live in intimate relationship with Him, a heart to heart in the solitude and silence of their cloisters. Silence speaks louder than words but only when it is lived in intimate union with this Loving God–Jesus.
2015, the Year of the consecrated life, will be a double celebration for the Carmelite contemplatives, as you celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila. How will you mark these festivities, and celebrate this year?
This truly is an exciting time for us–twin celebrations and both of magnanimous proportions! Our remote preparations have been to study our Holy Mother in depth by re-reading her books that are like priceless diamonds always revealing a new facet of light and splendour for our reflection, assimilation and for our practical lives. This study in itself has been a fascinating enterprise as it was done individually and collectively and also shared through our common newsletter. Being the Year of Consecrated Life we have also received letters from the Holy See to help look into our life as cloistered consecrated in a new way. That is a welcome gift of this new year.
It is truly a big grace to see how both these celebrations have coincided. Could it be that Our Holy Mother who transformed her Carmel after 500 years is calling us 500 years down the line to look into a new transformation? We are not sure but are open to whatever the Spirit wishes to bring into our lives for God’s glory. With regard to the 500th anniversary–all our Carmels will celebrate a day specially dedicated to Teresa of Avila–all our activities of that day will be centered around her. So each Carmel gets three days each. This too is something we are looking forward to and still discussing as to how to do it in the best way. May the longing of Jesus “I have come to cast fire on earth and I wish it were ablaze” be a reality in each one of us Carmelites.
May we be on fire with the passion for the possible and recognize the Face of God.