Pesky Reptiles and Other Creatures, Oh My!

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Dear Sister Mary Colombiere,

In the Interior Castle, St. Teresa talks about “pesky reptiles” and other creatures. What exactly does she mean when she is saying these things?

Dear Friend,

interior-castleThose “pesky reptiles”! When you come across a snake unexpectedly, what is your immediate reaction? Well, unless you are a herpetologist it is probably fear, dread or surprise. Let me share with you the reaction of a group of Sisters with one such encounter several years ago.

We had attended Mass at an abbey and were looking for a place to have our lunch on the grounds. We began walking down the path of the Stations of the Cross, looking for some benches. At that particular time of the year the grasses and wild flowers had grown to waist level on both sides of the path. Thus the path had become very narrow, so much so that we had to walk single file. I was in the lead and looking up at some birds flying overhead and not paying attention to the path I was on. The Sister behind me in a sweet gentle voice said, “Oh, look at that snake.” Thinking it was well ahead on the path, I replied, “Where?”

She in turn answered, “Right there.” I looked down and about a foot in front of me was the largest diamondback rattler I had ever seen. Its head was well out on the path but most of its body was concealed in the grasses. I froze! Everyone stopped and I said, “That is a rattlesnake; back up slowly!” Everyone began taking steps backwards. When we were out of danger, I turned and the last Sister in line was nowhere to be seen. She is normally a very slow mover but we found her later by the van, a good distance away. We were very happy that she did not have the van keys or she might have left us behind! We doubled over laughing, not only because of her but because of the gentle sweet message we had received about the danger in our path.

Knowing our human nature Teresa uses an image that is repulsive for most of us: snakes and poisonous creatures – not because they are bad in themselves – but because they can become a danger to us if we do not understand what we are dealing with and do not take the necessary precautions. Teresa tells us that these creatures live outside the castle in their normal habitats, but they can manage to squeeze into the castle when we enter, just as creatures which live in our yards manage to find their way into our homes.

The creatures to which St. Teresa refers here are “worldly things” – whatever can be an occasion of sin or a danger for us. In the first mansion we are less aware of the danger before us since we are just beginning a serious life of prayer and not as spiritually attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This room is also cold and dim and our spiritual eyes do not recognize the perils around us. Progress is slow but if we stay with it, allowing God to do His work in us, we gradually enter the second Mansion. But a number of these “pesky reptiles” manage to come in with us.

Both the first and the second mansions are “rooms of humility”. If Adam and Eve could so easily be convinced by the reasoning of Satan then our wounded nature can undoubtedly be misled. Although the second mansion is not as dark and cold as the first, the hard work required here, the discouragement and impatience with ourselves, our self-condemnation can cause us to look back and try to return to the previous room. We are still too close to the “world” and its allurements and comfort levels can entice us back. If Satan can induce us to return to the First Mansion then it will not be too long before he convinces us to leave the castle altogether.

These two rooms of humility are also the rooms of self-knowledge. Unless we know ourselves well we are not in a position to recognize the menaces that can endanger us and draw us off the right path. The difficulty in recognizing what becomes for us an occasion of sin is the proficiency with which we rationalize our choices and behavior.

The second mansion requires great determination and determination is the resolve to move. But to move we must take a step in some direction. A holy card I have shows a newly hatched fluffy chick standing and looking forward. The verse beneath it states, “Trust is at the beginning of everything: it precedes every step and at every step lights up the way.”

Will we trust God sufficiently to keep our gaze looking ahead, to step forward courageously, and to tune out all voices which are not in conformity with His?

Until next time,

Sister Mary Colombiere, 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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3 Comments

  1. I’m so glad I came across this exchange. A dear friend of mine, a sister in Christ, named Michele Morris recently entered the Carmelite Sisters by the Sea in Carmel, California, (on Aug. 6, 2013) and reading something written by a Carmelite nun about pesky animals and St. Teresa of Avila made me think of her. The play the former actress/director wrote and performed based on the life of St. Teresa of Avila might be of interest to you. You can read about it here: http://printsofgrace.blogspot.com/2012/08/teresita-original-play-about-st-teresa.html It is my hope that it will be published and circulated so as to encourage other people discerning religious vocations. Thank you for sharing your faith and spirituality.

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