Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
As of October 16, I am using this powerful greeting as a member of the OCDS, the Order of Secular Discalced Carmelites. God’s patience with me in finally arriving at that moment, including seeing me through some very dubious and dangerous situations, is astounding to me. But such are the workings of His gift of free will, coupled with His “unwearied love for us” that never abandons or wanes.
When Father Jeffery L’Arche, Chaplain for Our Lady of Mercy OCDS of Schenectady, clothed me with the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I knew the redemptive power of Jesus Christ had been working in me all along and that His grace “had brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home” as the hymn goes. Amazing grace, amazing love, amazing forgiveness is manifested in my entry into this order of the great Catholic reformers of the 16th century: St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
When receiving the scapular and entering into formation, a name is chosen which is a Carmelite identity, considering the attributes and example of a particular saint.
I chose as my name: Teresa Benedicta of Gethsemane.
This is after the martyred Jewish convert, Edith Stein, whose name as a Carmelite nun and saint, is Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was a serious seeker of truth who researched relentlessly, sought out learned mentors with whom she worked and studied, and discussed and reflected until coming upon St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography. With that she declared, “This is the truth.”
I see similarities in my untiring spiritual quest which, like hers, was as much of the intellect as of the heart. I also see how the joy of her conversion (in my case, reconversion) is not always experienced as such by many who are close to us, by those who “knew us when…” and we try to help them understand.
She died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz after a number of brave Catholic bishops openly opposed the Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Dissent would not be tolerated under Hitler’s regime. Today, speaking out against our secular dictatorship has its own forms of martyrdom.
But I amended her name of Teresa Benedicta “of the Cross” to “of Gethsemane” for my devotion to Jesus in the Garden on Holy Thursday night. It was there that the ageless battle between good and evil took place, a struggle of literally cosmic proportions, between the son of perdition and Son of God, between the lie and the Truth, the deceiver and the Savior. The Victor of that battle was evident on the Third Day, the first Easter Sunday. I have learned that St. Teresa of Avila also had a great devotion to Jesus in the Garden, and encouraged her sisters to meditate upon Him there, abandoned and alone.
St. Paul reminds us, this battle “is not against human forces but against principalities and powers. . .” (Eph 6:12). Prayer, the quintessential Carmelite charism, and zeal for the Lord God of Hosts according to the prophet Elijah, the founder of Carmel, are what we are called to today, counter cultural as it may be.
Just a week after my clothing ceremony, the annual OCDS retreat was held at Christ the King Retreat House in Syracuse, where I wore the ceremonial scapular for the first time. It was two and a half days of community and private prayer, fellowship as well as silence, conferences, Holy Mass and Eucharistic Adoration, tranquil grounds where the deer visited daily, and fabulous food. I’ve learned that these retreats are not a time of fasting!
Enjoy these lovely autumn photos of the retreat with Father John Grennon, OCD, who spoke on St. Teresa of Avila’s way of prayer. Father John Quinn, OCDS from the New Hartford Community, concelebrated Masses wearing this beautiful stole depicting St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.