Traverse City, Michigan

Journey to Heaven: Spirit of Carmel

St. Therese at age 15Bl. Elizabeth as a postulantSt. Teresa Margaret window in our chapelA novice at workAlone in the choirIn the late nineteenth century, a little girl would sometimes walk with her father at night, gazing upward with delight at the shining stars. The beauty of the night sky would transport her soul to Heaven. She no longer wanted to look at the dreary earth. Some years later, she entered Carmel where she lived a hidden life for nine years, dying at the age of twenty-four. In a very short time she was raised to the altars as “the greatest saint of modern times”, St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

A half century later, a teenage girl walking one night with her grandmother also looked up at the bright starry dome. She too was struck by the thought of Heaven. “Heaven! Everything meaningful is up there. Nothing on earth can compare with it.” Experiencing a deep conversion and love for the Lord, she realized that only a radical gift of self to God could satisfy her. After high school graduation in 1929, she entered a Carmelite Monastery, and twenty years later Mother Teresa Margaret founded our monastery. At the age of 101, Mother was called home to the eternal wedding banquet of Heaven, about which she had dreamed for so long.

In 1901 we can find yet a third woman admiring a starry sky one evening. She was a new postulant already within Carmel’s walls. Finding her entranced by the glorious beauty of the diamond-studded sky, her Novice Mistress, wishing to impart a lesson, said to her, “You did not come to Carmel to gaze at the stars. You must go to God in FAITH!” The newcomer, today Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, took this to heart, and composed a famous prayer in which she addressed Jesus, “O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never withdraw from your radiance.”

St. Therese of Lisieux, Mother Teresa Margaret, and St. Elizabeth would be quick to agree that the cloistered contemplative life is far from being a sort of romantic idealism or “spiritual stargazing” that allows one to simply float in ease and ecstasy to God! No, our life must be firmly grounded in a solid faith which clings tenaciously to God even when He seems far away.

A strong and steadily growing faith is of supreme importance in the cloistered life. To continue with the theme of the stars: there will be times when those bright shining lights disappear from view, that is, God’s consolations are withdrawn. He Himself may seem very far away. For God, says St. John of the Cross, is like a dark night to the soul. A living spirit of faith will sustain us in those moments, enabling us to trust that God is still at work within and around us.

The cloistered nun rarely has the satisfaction of seeing the fruit of her intercessory prayers. Once again, it is faith that will assure her that her vocation is worthwhile. The deeper her faith, the more she will be convinced that even her tiniest actions, done for the love of God, are of value for the Church and the salvation of souls.

With faith as our guide, therefore, and “determined determination” (St. Teresa) we journey to Heaven. Let us not travel alone, but strive to bring as many souls as we can with us!

“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Heaven, the one goal of all our striving.” –St. Therese

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