Ask a Carmelite — What is meant by “prayer life”?

Dear Sister,

I’ve heard people use the term prayer life or prayer journey. What does that mean?

Dear Friend,

Usually when this type of question comes to mind, it is because the Holy Spirit is inspiring it!

The answer lies in an understanding of the essence of what it means to be a human being.

Each human person is made up of two essential parts, body and soul. The body we can see; the soul we can’t see. The body is material; the soul is spiritual. God dwells in the soul through grace. We call this the “Indwelling Presence,” or the “Divine Indwelling.” From time to time, each person becomes aware of the soul through an interior nudging of the Holy Spirit.

In the innermost sanctuary of our souls, the divine encounter takes place at a profoundly deep level of our being. Because of the intensely intimate nature of a prayer that is this deep, this personal, this spiritual, it is hard to understand or discuss. It is too holy. Our profoundly intimate encounter with God through prayer in our deepest center is the theme of Carmelite spirituality and the topic of the writings of the Carmelite mystics. Putting words to these experiences and explaining them, usually by way of an analogy, is Carmel’s gift to the world.

St. John of the Cross, Carmelite mystic and Doctor of the Church, wrote four major works.

  • The Ascent of Mt. Carmel
  • The Dark Night of the Soul
  • The Spiritual Canticle
  • The Living Flame of Love

His writings explain the prayer journey, usually by way of analogy – after all, there are no human words to describe the divine. He wrote about the detachments and purifications needed to begin and continue the ascent up the mountain of prayer, the dark night of the soul, and the joy and fulfillment expressed in the spiritual canticle and the living flame of God’s love. In contemporary terms, these four works by St. John of the Cross talk about “letting go and letting God.” They describe the growing relationship between a human being and God, all occurring within the soul. “Know you not that you are God’s temple and that His Spirit dwells within you.”

Life can never be the same, once we discover that in the deepest center of our soul, we can live that intimate relationship with God for which we were created. Yes, we will continue our daily routine, but it will become a life lived from our deepest center, filled to the brim, good measure and flowing over – and because God is infinite, we can always go deeper.

Until next time,

Sister Laus Gloriae, O.C.D.


Send your questions for Sister to asksister@integratedcatholiclife.org.

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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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