Lift High the Cross

"Christ on the Cross" (detail) by Velazquez
"Christ on the Cross" (detail) by Velazquez
“Christ on the Cross” (detail) by Velazquez

September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Each year when it comes around, I remember when Sister Carol Marie lifted high the cross in faith.

It was late summer in California. The skies were a limpid blue. A balmy ocean breeze blew across the sand. Children were building sandcastles. Windsurfers cut like knives across the Pacific shoreline with windblown hair. And fifteen Carmelite Sisters began walking down the quarter mile-long pier clear to the end. They mingled in two’s or three’s singing and just enjoying the day before the first day of school. It was a glorious end to summer vacation.

I was one of them. Three different convents were situated within a fifteen mile radius and the sisters decided to join together at the beach before school was back in session. It was a kind of spontaneous thing, which sometimes ends up being the most fun of all.

To say the least, we did stand out at the beach. Amidst the plethora of beach-goers, we appeared as an interesting group indeed—with our veils dancing in the wind gracefully and the echoes of our songs reaching into the horizon. It was fun, peaceful, and, I would say, grace-filled. Anytime we get the opportunity to soak in the beauty of God’s creation, listening to the whish, whish, whish of the waves washing up on the shore and watching the sea gulls gliding gracefully across the sky, we discover another moment of grace.

As I said, there were fifteen of us, and it took about half an hour to meander our way to the end of the pier and another half hour to walk back.

You know, one can never predict the surprises that come our way in life. Well, this day unwrapped one most unexpected surprise. As we walked back to the shore, a young man, maybe in his twenties or early thirties was walking towards us. He kept getting closer and closer to us and that’s when we noticed that something was wrong. We weren’t quite sure what, but we could tell there was definitely something.

When he saw that we were Catholic Sisters, he broke out into such intense blasphemy which wrapped him in a darkness, so to speak. We were all so shocked that we didn’t know what to do. He seemed out of control and his face contorted in such anger, such hate, such a violent look he had. We were afraid.

Some of the sisters just opened the mouths in shocked disbelief. Others, like me, kept looking around to see if there was anyone who could help us. No one. Absolutely no one. The pier was about a quarter mile long and we were still far from the shore.

All of a sudden one of the Sisters removed the large crucifix she wore as a part of her Carmelite habit. It is about five or six inches in length, silver with an ebony inset. She held that cross as high as she could (she was only about 5 feet tall) and shouted, “In the name of Jesus, STOP!”

The man looked at the crucifix, yelled out in a low anguishing moan, “No…..o…….o.” Then he tried to shout, “Don’t hold that up. Put it down.” But our steadfast Sister Carol Marie began walking toward him, passing all of us up, and holding her crucifix even higher and in a louder voice yelled out, “In the name of Jesus, STOP!”

We all looked on, gaping at the scene and astonished at our Sister Carol Marie’s deep, active, practical faith.

That young man simply quieted down, turned around, and quietly slinked away. With head lowered, and steps faltering, he retraced his steps and returned to the shore.

Sister Carol Marie simply put her crucifix back, looked back at the rest of us, smiled and motioned for us to continue our walk. Which we did.

Well, that is the true story I wanted to share. It really happened. September 14th is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Each year when it comes around, I remember when Sister Carol Marie lifted high the cross in faith.

Don’t underestimate the grace of the moment, or the powerful nudging of the Holy Spirit. Of all the sisters there, only one even thought of holding high the cross of Christ in the face of such utter evil. And she did it.

Why was I surprised? Wasn’t I a believer? Wasn’t I a Carmelite Sister, a baptized Catholic almost since my birth?

Ours is a living, dynamic faith. If through the trials and vicissitudes of life we have let the light of faith grow weak, or the ardor of our faith diminish, we can as St. Paul once suggests, “fan the flame, stir up the flame, rekindle the gift, keep ablaze the gift of God . . . .” as it comes through in different translations.

A cross, a crucifix, is not an object for ornamentation. Nor is it simply a piece of jewelry. It is a sign of our faith. It encompasses the whole history of salvation and the unparalleled love of Jesus Christ.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that It is now our moment in history to lift high the cross.

Amen. Alleluia!

By Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D.
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

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By Carmelite Sisters

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