The spirituality of Carmel has its roots deep in the Old Testament. In figures like Moses and Elijah, Hosea and Isaiah, we see souls climbing up the holy mountain, not content with living a kind of suburban, comfortable distance from the City of God. These mystics plunge into the Mystery of the Heavenly Jerusalem, and they toss out ropes and life-lines for us to scale the holy mountain too. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein... all invite us beyond mere legalism into the Love that fires the heavens.
Carmelite spirituality influenced the work of Pope John Paul II. It's fragrance broke into his heart and he has allowed that odor of sanctity to permeate his letters, addresses, and most especially, deep into his teaching on the Theology of the Body.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine "schools" of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love."
- Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33
A famous and very learned Catholic theologian was once asked about the most profound thought he had ever had. He said it was simply "Jesus loves me."
I think I'm just starting to see the real Jesus and to feel His love for me. According to Pope Benedict XVI (God is Love, 10), this Sacred Heart, this Bridegroom, in fact has an eros for us, for me! Sometimes the thought comes like a blast of wind through the old dusty alleyways of my own interior castle; Jesus loves me. I get the sense that He is knocking on more doors than just one. That from the moment that I first let Him in, He's been exploring other rooms; deeper levels of me than I ever knew I had. Jesus comes to love us in every one of them, and always as a gentlemen; He knocks first. I think this love then, elicits our response.
Will I let Him in? And how far? Beyond the foyer, past the pews of our Sunday "obligation?" Right into the tabernacle of His Presence among us? St. Edith Stein, a Carmelite, knew the passion of our God for her heart. She found the flames burning brightest in the Eucharist. She said: "In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts... It draws us to itself with secret power, it conceals us in itself in the Father's bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in a small tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that still, white host." This heart has become our food! And why? The Carmelite mystics knew why; because this is the very nature of love, to be poured out, to be consumed and to consume! Many of us have grown up hearing that God loves us, but have we heard that God wants to consume us? Be consumed by us? For many of us, I fear, that kind of love doesn't fit with our image of God. Perhaps those old images we have need to be smashed at the base of the holy mountain...
Giving a talk this summer, I was approached by a woman in her late 50's. "I'm really struggling with the image of God as a lover." But this is Who He Is. He is an "eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange." (CCC, 221)
God is More than a Lawgiver, or a Judge, or a Friend.... "Our God is a consuming fire..." (Hebrews 12) He wants to be the Burning Bush at the center of our interior castle. Will you let Him in? Will you give Him your heart?
Originally published on The Publican
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