LAST February 12, though already a little bit late in the evening, we took some time off to visit the Carmelite nuns gathered together at the Mater Carmeli Monastery in Sta. Ignacia (Tarlac). They represented the nine Carmelite monasteries belonging to the Federation of Stella Maris—contemplative nuns belonging to the ancient Order of Carmel.
It was a sight to behold the happy, and I should say, angelic faces of the Carmelite nuns. I feel extremely happy that there are still young women willing to sacrifice all and be a part of a contemplative congregation.
I always recall with sentimentality that during the dying days of my mother, she asked me to write a letter to her Carmelite friend in the Carmel of the Holy Family in Guiguinto (Bulacan) to ask her for prayers. We did not receive any letter-response then. But a decade letter, I would just be surprised by the Lord and by Our Lady, that a Carmelite Monastery would be built in our Diocese in Tarlac and the Foundress-Prioress turned out to be my mother’s friend to whom we wrote a decade ago.
A solace and a refuge, that is how I will describe Carmel. When the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima came over in 2003/04, we were able to visit a number of Carmelite Monasteries both belonging to the Order of Carmel (O.Carm.) and to the Order of Carmelite Discalced (OCD). We went as far as Laoag Carmel, Baguio Carmel, Burgos Carmel, Sta. Ignacia (Tarlac) Carmel, Subic Carmel, Lipa Carmel, Zamboanga Carmel. And I was personally able to visit Jaro Carmel and Guiguinto Carmel.
And both my retreats in preparation for the diaconal and presbyteral ordinations were done in the Tertiary House of Carmel in New Manila.
I have yet to see a Carmelite Monastery in which there is no one silently kneeling and praying or someone offering a votive candle.
I have come to equate Carmel to peace and tranquility, no, not a place to run away from the world and seek a momentary peace. It is a place to encounter God and Our Lady, to find strength to face and confront, and change, the world. It is not fuga mundi, to run away from the world, but to face the world with the strength of God and the joy of Our Lady. This is Carmel.
For some, perhaps, monasteries, are vestiges of the past, relics of the medieval times, artifacts of history. I just wish that somewhere, sometime in their life, they would try to sit or kneel or just be silent in monastery, and there in that silence, to encounter God and to know their true selves.
For sure, within the monastery walls, there will be struggles as well. No one is exempted from that. Yet the prayer and silence of Carmel or of any other monastery assures us we are not alone in struggling for sanctity.
It has been often said that monasteries are like the powerhouses of the Church. That the silent prayers and sacrifices of the contemplatives sustain the Church and all her apostolate. And this is very, very true.
I often envy the contemplatives, their smiles, their gentle words, their gentle gestures, betray what really is within, it is not superficial non-noisiness, it is the silence of God.
Before leaving Mater Carmeli Monastery that evening, we also paid our respects to the prioresses of the Federation two of whom, were Spanish old nuns but with gleaming smiles and shining eyes of young women. The nuns seem not to age. I guess love defies aging.
From Mater Carmeli that evening we travelled to Lipa Carmel. That’s another story and another journey. Suffice it to say, we all have to find our own Carmel—where the human and divine meet, where men and women encounter God, the God of love, the God of peace, the God of silence. May this Lenten Season lead you to Carmel. Ave Maria!