Ask a Carmelite: Prayer or Good Works?

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Dear Sister,

Growing up, I was taught that we needed to “pray, pray, pray” in order to save our souls.  But recently, a friend told me that we need to do good works instead. Which is more important: prayer or good works?

Dear Friend,

I remember hearing it said many years ago in a Catholic apologetics seminar, that in many debate situations between Catholics and other Christians, the crux of the disagreement would very often boil down to the difference between an “either/or” approach to truth and a “both/and” approach to truth. That makes very good sense from the Catholic point of view when you remember that the English word for heresy comes into our language from a Greek word that means to “remove something” from something else. Hence the label “heresy” is used when any element is removed from the wholeness of the Faith, or when one element is isolated or exaggerated.

Your question refers to good works ‘instead of’ prayer. While it is phrased differently below, I believe this question has already been answered:

“… one of them, a lawyer, asked him ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:34-40).

I suspect that we all have ways in which we would like to edit – censor – the Gospel. Depending on your own temperament and personal makeup you will find certain aspects of Catholic spirituality and morality either more – or less – appealing. Dare I say it? Some aspects of the “love of God” or the “love of neighbor” will seem more personally meaningful to you. Our own preferences, however, do not determine the objective value of either our prayer or our works. While the text above from Matthew does indeed tell us that the love of God is of first importance, it definitely does not allow us to “remove” the love of neighbor, i.e., good works from our personal program. As in so many areas of Catholic life and belief, we must be willing to maintain and hold together things we would be more comfortable removing, or at least reducing. It all belongs, and we are not complete in Christ until it all finds its place in us.

So, while it comes from a totally different context, I think it is does apply: what God has joined, let no one separate.

Until next time,

Sister Benedicta Marie, O.C.D


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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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