In the House of Our Father

by a Discalced Carmelite Nun

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To one side of the Mount of Olives is the isolation of the Judean wilderness, where prophets such as Elijah sought God in solitude. To the other side lies Jerusalem, where the faithful have come together for generations to find God in community. Overlooking both the desert and the city is a grotto where Jesus often came to pray and to be with His disciples. Tradition says that here Jesus gave them the eschatological discourses on the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Perhaps here, tradition claims, He also taught them the prayer of unity, the Our Father.

From this vantage point a community of cloistered Carmelite nuns serves God and the faithful through prayer. Their monastery is called the Carmel du Pater Noster, or the Carmel of the Our Father. These enclosed Carmelites live a silent witness to a life of prayer for the Church and all humanity. Daughters in the house of their Father, most are elderly with a sprinkling of younger sisters. They all come from widely diverse backgrounds and cultures, including France, England, Switzerland, Belgium, Lebanon, Jordan, Italy, Canada, and the United States of America.

In prayer, the Carmelite reaches out from within the heart of the Church to participate with Christ in uniting all for the praise and glory of the Holy Trinity. Although a Carmelite’s apostolate is contemplative, by her “hidden” life of prayer and her desire for holiness, she embraces all humanity within her vocation. Her enclosure does not isolate her from people, but in a very vivid way places her in the midst of life and its activity as a “garden enclosed.” Her life demonstrates that each person needs to be “set apart” for God alone.

Cloistered Carmelites live out a faith tradition begun in the Holy Land seven centuries ago, when individuals lived in prayerful solitude on Mount Carmel, near modern Haifa. This traditional holy site is where Elijah challenged and defeated the priests of Baal in sacrifice (1 Kings 18). This prophet’s fidelity inspired an ascetic spirituality marked by solitude and prayer.

Within their cloister, the nuns lead a simple, structured life. Rising early, they attend Holy Mass and during the day chant the Divine Office, a recitation of psalms and prayers. Each sister seeks a silence which begins deep within herself. Two hours are given to meditation and some time for spiritual reading. Three hours or so in the morning and afternoon are for assigned chores. The nuns eat meals in silence, while a sister reads an appropriate selection of literature. This structure creates an atmosphere of tranquility and peace so residents can be recollected in God’s presence. In their human frailty, the nuns continually rededicate themselves to this presence.

Afternoon and evening recreations are an important part of community life each day. They create opportunities for charity and awareness of each sister’s unique personality and the total community. The nuns find the peace and joy of their solitude alone and together. Curiously, they remain acutely aware of the world outside their cloister. Although they have neither television nor radio, they do read newspapers.

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Tags: Holy Land Unity Carmelite Sisters