The Search to Understand Began with Seven Haunting Words

Going DeeperThe search to understand began with seven haunting words.

by Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D.

Wood carving of St. John of the Cross, Carmelite Sisters Motherhouse, Alhambra, CA; Photography © by the Carmelite Sisters

Recently an evaluation form with seven haunting words written across the page was turned in to our retreat office following a retreat at Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra, California. It read, “Go deeper, Sisters. We can take it.” These seven words reveal an intense inner yearning. Speaking of this yearning, Saint Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Every heart knows this restlessness, from the small child who tires so quickly of the new toys to the men and women who rush to the malls time and time again to buy yet more. We desire, we obtain, we tire, and then we start over again. We should be satisfied and yet we never are completely.

So we hunger for more, not knowing where to go or what to do. Because we human beings are made up of body and soul, sooner or later we are bound to realize that nothing material will completely fill the soul. Only God can. And thus, with this realization, begins the journey to God which is the destiny of every human being.

Prayer comes into each person’s life unannounced. A beautiful sunrise or sunset, the tender beauty of a newborn child, the sweetness of first love, all give rise to prayer.

In the final analysis, however, it is not a book, workshop, or retreat that brings us into a closer relationship with God. It is God Himself. Through His Holy Spirit, He persistently nudges us to give Him more time, to follow His inspiration more exactly, to allow Him to transform us.

The words “go deeper,” capture the very essence of Carmelite spirituality. People are turning to Carmelite saints such as St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross or St. Therese of the Child Jesus to shed light on their spiritual questions and to help them understand this profound spiritual hunger within them. As Mother Luisita, Foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, writes, “For greater things you were born.”

Go deeper Sisters, we can take it!

St. Teresa of Avila describes this contemplative process as moving from one dwelling place to another within the Interior Castle, which is the human soul. St. John of the Cross represents the journey as a movement through the dark nights in an ascent up Mt. Carmel. Deeper. Higher. Closer. Only God fully satisfies the human heart. And if we need to purify, empty, purge, clean it out so God can fill it with Himself, then so be it. This is Carmelite spirituality.

This means that we must make a decision, with God’s grace, to no longer fill our minds with rubbish, spend our money on unimportant trivial trinkets that in the end only rot away. We must no longer set our hearts on worldly, inconsequential entities that do not nourish, but only weaken the human spirit.

As we grow closer to God, our souls become more sensitive to the nudges and inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Our discernment is sharpened. We gradually become our best selves. The work of transformation quietly takes place and we are changed. We are transformed.

For most people, another consequence of their deepening relationship with God is the need to share with someone who understands the life of prayer. All who seriously begin this journey discover that something new is happening within them — something they do not as yet understand. So, the search for some kind of spiritual direction begins. Ideally, a spiritual director who is both learned and prayerful provides the needed advice and support. In many cases, however, especially when such a spiritual director cannot be found, books can be very helpful. Many people find help in the books of Carmelite spirituality.

It is one thing to have a spiritual experience. It is another thing to understand the experience. It is something entirely different to be able to explain it to others. This was St. Teresa of Avila’s gift — to understand, to describe, to teach about the prayer experience. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and a myriad of other Carmelite saints, including several from our own time, such as St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of the Andes, left us their writings on the subject of prayer. There are times in the prayer journey that such writings are extremely helpful.

At the same time it must be understood that prayer is not something. It is Someone. It cannot, it must not, be relegated to a mere process. Prayer is not a process. It is an ever-deepening relationship.

In the final analysis, what response can we make to the writer of those seven haunting words on our retreat evaluation form, “Go deeper, Sisters. We can take it?” The Carmelite mystics would say that “going deeper” is a way of life in which you spend quality time with the beloved of your soul. They would tell us to “Seek His Face,” and as we seek, we will come to the tremendous realization that we are, indeed, “going deeper” into that ultimate relationship for which you and I were born and which alone can completely fulfill our deepest yearnings, our union with God.

To learn more about the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, read their biography in the left-hand sidebar and visit their website (link provided at the bottom of the bio).

They publish a beautiful print magazine, Spirit of Carmel, and we encourage you to support the work of the sisters with your prayers and through donations and subscriptions to the Spirit of Carmel.

If you are able to help them, please click on the image of their magazine to visit their subscription and donation page.

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About the Author

Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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