Saturday, December 19, 2009

This Is My Story, This Is My Song

Brother, recently you asked me, "What is your story?" I thought for a moment, and I provided you a sort of resume that highlights the salient points of a wide and varied background, which is totally God's gift. All of these experiences contribute to my efforts to persevere in my Carmelite vocation today.

• I am a clergy convert. In 1976, I was ordained a transitional Deacon in the United Methodist Church, while I was still in seminary at Emory University. The Methodists amend their Discipline, i.e. their canon law, every four years; and, they also place great emphasis on polity, i.e. their unique form of government. In fact, every Methodist seminarian must spend an entire semester studying nothing but Methodist polity and the Discipline. I guess you could say that’s where I first learned to read the law. Part of Methodist polity are the Conferences, similar to deaneries and dioceses. My Conference encompassed the southern half of Indiana, and my first two pastoral assignments in South Indiana were in different Districts. In those successive cities, I had other responsibilities in the local community (such as a live radio show) and I also had major responsibilities on behalf of the Conference. For example, I was named to the Board of Trustees of Methodist Hospital, the largest hospital in the state of Indiana. I was appointed Secretary of the South Indiana Annual Conference; it’s kind of an honorary job, but during the proceedings of the conference, it was my responsibility to record everything that happened during each session. Without aid of a computer. Sitting at the Bishop’s right hand, with fear and trembling.

• For over 25 years, I worked in local churches as a music director; and, I served several years on Archdiocesan liturgy or music commissions. I learned how to read Church documents and how to write Church policy. I learned how to read and give a layman’s interpretation of canon law. I learned how to read and cite General Instructions, Vatican II Constitutions, Bishops Conference Guidelines by “chapter and verse.” I learned how to write position papers, and I had plenty of writing deadlines to meet to publish columns for professional journals and church bulletins. I have given retreats, days of recollection, Cursillo talks, post-Communion reflections, taped daily tv devotions; and, I've probably missed an some other relevant Church experience.

• I used to work in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. First, I worked on a VISTA grant for three years organizing youth service programs and informing youth of their juvenile rights under Indiana’s newly-published Juvenile Code. I had to learn how to read the entire Juvenile Code, as well as to speak intelligently with the Juvenile Judge, the Juvenile Division Prosecutor, the Juvenile Probation Officers, Corrections Officers, CASA’s, GAL’s, Public Defender’s and other elected public officials... in five different counties! My Daytimer was stuffed; my young brain was efficient and organized enough to manage over 30 projects at the same time in pre-computer days, and my body was up to the stress of the work. Again, there was plenty of writing that was required, because I had to prepare most of my training materials and always was called upon to write a column for some professional bulletin. And, did I mention that there were monthly reports to file with the grant officer?

A few years later, I was project manager of a US Dept of Justice-OJJDP grant working with the State Public Defender; I carried a signed, sealed order from the Indiana Supreme Court in a secure brief case that authorized me to inspect and monitor any city or county correctional facility in the State of Indiana at any time, unannounced, day or night. The intent and purpose of these jail inspections was to determine if juveniles were being housed with adult offenders without the proper sight and sound barriers required by State and Federal law. Once again, I had to read, explain, and write about the law and file grant reports. We were so successful, I worked myself out of a job in time to make a flight to Haifa Israel to enter the Carmelite nuns' novitiate in July 1991!

• I have served as a Community President. In Louisville, Kentucky a small community that had not yet been canonically established came to me and asked me to serve as their first President, and to help get them organized. I accepted, but it gave me great grief because there were many Members in irregular statuses according to the legislation of the Order. Although they asked me to help get them organized, I don’t think that they fully "counted the cost," as Scripture says. After two years, I resigned and left the Community, explaining to them that I could no longer in good conscience lead a Community that refused to make the necessary changes to follow the legislation of the Order. There were two OCDS Communities in Louisville, so I simply transferred to the larger, canonically established community. After I moved from Louisville to Terre Haute, I was told by a sister in OCDS that the smaller community finally chose to follow the legislation of the Order.

• After I moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, I transferred to the OCDS Community in that city. Eventually, I was selected to serve as Formation Director to replace the ailing Director who could no longer continue in the post as she battled cancer. It was a growing community with formation sessions for definitive professed; temporary professed; novices; and, aspirants/newcomers. That community continues to grow, and they are blessed to meet at the monastery of the OCD nuns. For many years one of the nuns has served as Spiritual Assistant, and for a brief period a Discalced friar from India was in residence while he completed an advanced degree in educational media. He also was able to assist with formation sessions and community conferences, making himself for confession and spiritual direction as time permitted; his studies were the primary purpose for his presence in Terre Haute.

So Brother, here’s a kind of curriculum vitae for you to ponder. Like the old hymn says, "This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior, all the day long."

Story of a Resume

There's a long-standing tradition among Carmelites that some individual members of the community may be ordered by their superior to write their autobiography. Under the evangelical counsel of obedience, the member undertakes to complete this daunting task. Some of our greatest works of spiritual literature have been handed down to us from these local superiors who shared them with higher Church authorities, because they recognized an aura of holiness not only in the member, but also in the member's writings.

Thus, the autobiographies of St Teresa of Jesus of Avila and of St Therese of the Child Jesus of Lisieux were written under obedience. Later, they were extremely useful in formulating the cause for their beatification and canonization as Saints of the Catholic Church. Then in 1975, the Church turned once again to St Teresa's autobiography and collected works; therein the Church authorities declared that they found emanent doctrine in her writings, and therefore declared her to be a Doctor of the Church. Again in 1997, the Holy Father declared St Therese of the Child Jesus to be a Doctor of the Church.

So, these Carmelite teachers and theologians who called themselves "wretched" and "little" have been lifted up for all of the faithful not only to emulate, but also to study, to write of and to publish, to teach about and to practice their emanent doctrine and profound spirituality.

Furthermore - and to a much lesser degree - Carmelites ask charitable favors of one another all the time. "Would you write a poem for me?" "Would you draw a holy card for me?" "Would you read and record this passage from St Therese for me?" Often these requests for favors seem to occur around the time of some member's feast day or a holiday.

One recurring suggestion that has been presented to me by other Carmelites is, "you should write your autobiography." Usually that suggestion is preceded by the Carmelite hearing some portion of my curriculum vitae, i.e. my resume. I always smile and refuse the suggestion, because the Carmelite and sanjuanist way is to prefer to remain hidden and unknown.

In the past, no Carmelite had actually requested to read my resume. However, that just changed. A brother in Carmel has been discussing publicly the topic of our December 2009 - January 2010 poll. He developed a detailed list of questions for reflection and discussion, inviting responses that might propose new policies and procedures for the OCDS appeals process. Based on my experience, it was fairly simple for me to respond and to offer one model for such a process.

His reaction was rather straightforward and evangelical: Where do you get all this? Is this out on the internet? What is your story? And, can you tell me more about how you come upon such resources? It's true, his questions could be summed up thus: "could I please see your resume?"

Now, I don't have a Carmelite resume. I don't think that anyone of us does. An official Carmelite curriculum vitae is essentially an outline of events and dates (i.e. admission to formation, clothing, profession, etc), and offices held with dates of service, if applicable. That's it. But, I understood what the brother wanted to know when he asked, "what is your story?"

So, I decided to share some of that story here, just like I shared it with that brother by e-mail. A resume always should be custom crafted to fit the demands of the job, so I included the life experiences that contributed to my ability to respond to the brother's questions concerning our survey topic on the OCDS appeals process. Maybe my resume posted here will give someone a spark of creativity to consider writing a spiritual resume, too.

(resume follows)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Celebrating a Miracle

The Jewish holiday of Hannukah celebrates a miracle of God. Like the Jews remember the miracle of the Red Sea at Passover, so also they celebrate the miracle of the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem by Judas Maccabees and his army during the holiday of Hanukkah. With this miracle, the Lord kept the temple lamp burning for eight days, when tradition holds that there was only enough ritually pure olive oil to burn for one day. The story of the original eight-day celebration is found in Maccabees 4:36-59.

36 Then Judas, and his brethren said: Behold our enemies are discomfited: let us go up now to cleanse the holy places and to repair them. 37 And all the army assembled together, and they went up into mount Sion. 38 And they saw the sanctuary desolate, and the altar profaned, and the gates burnt, and shrubs growing up in the courts as in a forest, or on the mountains, and the chambers joining to the temple thrown down. 39 And they rent their garments, and made great lamentation, and put ashes on their heads: 40 And they fell face down to the ground on their faces, and they sounded with the trumpets of alarm, and they cried towards heaven. 41 Then Judas appointed men to fight against them that were in the castle, till they had cleansed the holy places. 42 And he chose priests without blemish, whose will was set upon the law of God: 43 And they cleansed the holy places, and took away the stones that had been defiled into an unclean place. 44 And he considered about the altar of holocausts that had been profaned, what he should do with it. 45 And a good counsel came into their minds, to pull it down: lest it should be a reproach to them, because the Gentiles had defiled it; so they threw it down. 46 And they laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, till there should come a prophet, and give answer concerning them. 47 Then they took whole stones according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former: 48 And they built up the holy places, and the things that were within the temple: and they sanctified the temple, and the courts. 49 And they made new holy vessels, and brought in the candlestick, and the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. 50 And they put incense upon the altar, and lighted up the lamps that were upon the candlestick, and they gave light in the temple. 51 And they set the loaves upon the table, and hung up the veils, and finished all the works that they had begun to make. 52 And they arose before the morning on the five and twentieth day of the ninth month (which is the month of Casleu) in the hundred and forty-eighth year. 53 And they offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of holocausts which they had made. 54 According to the time, and according to the day wherein the heathens had defiled it, in the same was it dedicated anew with canticles, and harps, and lutes, and cymbals. 55 And all the people fell upon their faces, and adored, and blessed up to heaven, him that had prospered them. 56 And they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and they offered holocausts with joy, and sacrifices of salvation, and of praise. 57 And they adorned the front of the temple with crowns of gold, and escutcheons, and they renewed the gates, and the chambers, and hanged doors upon them. 58 And there was exceeding great joy among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was turned away. 59 And Judas, and his brethren, and all the church of Israel decreed, that the day of the dedication of the altar should be kept in its season from year to year for eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Casleu, with joy and gladness.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Capitulum OCD 2009

The Discalced Carmelite friars are concluding their triennial General Chapter in Fatima, Portugal. In this Chapter, more than ever before, internet communications have taken a significant place in diffusing the message of the events transpiring in Fatima.

Today, for example, a brief video message from the new Father General, Saverio CannistrĂ , has been translated into the major languages spoken by the friars of the Teresian Carmel. Our Holy Mother St Teresa's call to continual renewal, "let us begin again," certainly has been a hallmark of this 2009 Chapter.

The following excerpt from today's message gives a sense of the renewed vigor infused by the Holy Spirit in the life of Carmel today:

"How to be followers and witnesses of this history in different cultures and situations in the contemporary world?" asked the Superior General of Teresian Carmel, P. Saverio CannistrĂ  in a brief message to the Order a few hours before adjourning the General Chapter.

In a video message, the General of the Discalced Carmelites stated that "only in dialogue with Teresa can we, men and women Carmelites of the third millennium, discern the right path to that renewal that we ourselves, our churches and our world need.” In this sense "the General Chapter has invited the Order to seek the answer to this fundamental issue with the purpose of returning to the origins of our history, through reading and meditation both personally and in community of the writings of St. Teresa, in preparation for the fifth centenary of her birth, which will be celebrated at the end of the term in 2015, " said Father Saverio.

He concluded his message by saying, “I ask you to join us in giving thanks to God that He give us the grace to continue this journey in search of His face and His love, and ask Him not to forget the strong support of His arm and the delicate touch of His Spirit.”

Let all Discalced Carmelites - especially the Secular Order - support the friars in their mission and surround them with prayer.