November 13, 2008

Our brother in Rome

On October 15, 2008, the Solemnity of our Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus, the Carmelite students at the International Carmelite College (The Teresianum) began a new academic term. Our Brother Juan Elias Medina began his second of three years of Theological studies in preparation for Ordination to the Priesthood.
On October 12, 2008, a few days before, our Bro. Juan accompanied our three brothers from the Manjummel Province (India), who are also studying at the Teresianum, to the canonization of the first Indian, Sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception. With Bro. Juan are left to right, Bro. Shon 1st year, Bro. Lincemon 3rd year, and Bro. Joemon 2nd year (Bro. Juan's classmate). We have a special bond with our brothers from the Manjummel Province because several members of the Province have served with us in California and Arizona for the last few years.

November 6, 2008

Novitiate Provincial Tour

Our three novices are presently touring the southern part of our Province with their Novice Master, Fr. Donald. They are pictured (with Fr. Thomas - member of the Redlands Community) at their first stop, El Carmelo Retreat House and will continue on to Tucson and Alhambra.

November 1, 2008

Beatification of Louis and Zelie Martin - parents of St. Therese

The following account was written by Theresa Thomas, OCDS (Berkeley Community). God reward you, Theresa, for sharing the graces!

In August, George and I were planning our vacation. He wanted to go to France, late October or early November, so we would be there during the election, and find out what the French think about our new president. I mentioned it to Father Gerald. “You’re going to France??” he asked. “In October?!” I started to explain, but he interrupted me. “Do you know that St. Therese’s parents are being beatified in Lisieux on October 19th, Mission Sunday?” How simply the Martins extended their invitation to us to attend their celebration. Of course, we accepted.

Of course? That in itself is a small miracle. George isn’t even Catholic, but on his own, he made the beatification the focal point of our vacation. St. Therese wanted to make sure he had a good time. We arrived in Paris on October 9. He was able to sleep late, indulge in great French food and wine, and visit museums to his heart’s content, for six days. He ate more andouiettes (that’s chitt’lins in this country) than I ever imagined possible. We had dinner with friends whose parents live in Paris.

I was able to pick up my own routine, developed in previous visits, beginning with morning Mass each day at St. Pierre de Chaillot (my local parish church in Paris, a block and a half from our hotel), where the pastor and congregation have always warmly welcomed me, followed by morning prayer from my French breviary and a good 45 minutes or more of quiet prayer before returning to our darkened hotel room to find George still asleep! Sometimes I accompanied him to museums, and sometimes I struck out on my own. I had a few errands to accomplish. Our separate adventures gave us grist for our dinner conversations.

We saw the Picasso exhibit at the Grand Palais together; I set off alone in search of our Carmelite Fathers’ house. At a church where I asked directions, I was directed to an orphanage established under the patronage of St. Therese, which has a large shrine in her honor with some major relics. It was not our friars’ house, but it became clear that the Martin family had taken charge of this visit in France.

Father Gerald sent me contact information for our Discalced Carmelite friars in Paris, but St. Therese went him one better: After a visit to the Catholic bookstore, she led me to the Discalced Carmelite seminary in Paris, where I found her statue seated in the courtyard with an open book in her lap. Of course, I also found my way into the chapel for a few minutes’ prayer, and a special remembrance of our own seminarians, as well as of the French seminarians and the lone young man sharing the chapel with me.

We left Paris on October 15, after a visit to the friars’ house in the 16th arrondisement to share our Holy Mother’s solemnity with them. Our next stop was Giverny, and a visit to Monet’s house and gardens, which were breathtakingly beautiful.

We arrived at our B&B about 15 kilometers outside Lisieux on Thursday evening, after a leisurely drive along picturesque back roads through the Normandy countryside. Here the Martins intensified the retreat-like atmosphere of this vacation for me: Our room was in a separate building from the main farmhouse, and there was no TV or telephone. Just outside our window a horse and donkey were pastured. It brought to mind Sr. Mary of St. Peter (1816-1848), from the Carmel in Tours, who was also devoted to the Holy Face, and whose life may have influenced St. Therese.

We passed Friday with a visit to the Carmel, arriving precisely in time for Mass (thank you, Therese), and almost equally importantly, a visit to the laundromat across the street. We also figured out our route from the B&B to the Basilica, and practiced it, to make sure we wouldn’t get lost and lose precious moments on the all-important morning of the 19th. We had been informed that the Basilica doors would open at 8:30 a.m. and that if we weren’t there by then we wouldn’t get in.

That evening just before sunset, we took a stroll along a hiking path to the charming little church of Notre Dame de Livaye, perched atop the hill overlooking the surrounding farms. The peacefulness of the surroundings gradually took hold and penetrated our souls. The church, of course, was locked up tight, as we anticipated. It did not look as if it was ever used; the drive up the hill from the main road was not even graveled. Later, our hostess explained that Mass was celebrated there only twice a year, on the feast of St. Martin (!), and that she was the keeper of the key, and the one called in case of an emergency. If she had known we were going, she would have given us the key!

The celebration began in earnest on Saturday, in Alencon. Various events were scheduled. The home of St. Therese’s birth was specially opened for the occasion, as it has been closed for repairs; there was an exposition of artifacts related to the lives of the Martin family; a conference about Louis and Zelie; and a list of various sites to see. The climax of the day was a pontifical Mass celebrated by Cardinal Martins (with many other concelebrants), followed by a reception with aperitifs (in the street) and fireworks. A little timidly, I wore my ceremonial scapular at the Mass. It led to a nice exchange with the woman seated behind me, who explained that she also wore the scapular, and who gave me a lovely holy card that she distributes as an apostolate. We were seated near the back of the church, on the center aisle. As the many priests processed in, one noted my scapular particularly. His face lit up in a big smile, and he reached out toward me and said, quite audibly and excitedly, his eyes twinkling, “Vous etes carmelite, comme moi?” I straightened my shoulders, looked him in the eye, nodded and replied quietly, and seriously, “Oui, comme vous.” Then it was my turn to grin. But I have been wondering ever since, just what kind of Carmelite he really is. A good one, I hope!

The next morning, it was still dark as we made our way to the farmhouse for a delicious breakfast with homemade breads, cake, jams and yoghurt in addition to the butter and cheese, cold cuts and ever-present fresh apples, not to mention the coffee and tea. I wanted to start even earlier than we did, but we had been assured by the tourist information office that the parking lot would not open before 8:00 a.m., so I held my anxiety in check. As we made the short drive to Lisieux, I noticed that there were clouds in the east, as dawn was breaking, and the sky there was quite red, normally a reliable indication that it will rain later. The sky overhead was clear, and I smiled happily as I thought to myself, “No, it will not rain today. God is just showing off his goodness and creativity, and the beauty of his creation. It is beautiful, Lord. It will not rain today. You would not let it rain today.” And indeed, the sky was clear the whole day. It was, however, quite cold at first.

Notwithstanding our earlier practice, we were too excited, and repeatedly took a wrong turn, losing precious moments. We arrived shortly after 8:00, and were directed to a parking space right next to the entrance to the Basilica grounds. Other cars, before and after us, were directed to places further away. I was beginning to think Zelie and Louis had taken a special interest in this couple who came all the way from California to attend their beatification celebration, as I had hoped they would. As we made our way in, we were handed a packet of information that was to include a booklet containing the ceremony printed in French and in English, and a copy of the homily as well. We were also handed a plastic bag containing free samples of France Catholique, a French weekly.

We made our way to the front doors of the Basilica, but with a sinking feeling, as I noticed that people were already taking seats outside in the great plaza in front of the grand entrance. There was a solid line of discalced Carmelite friars wearing white mantles in front of every door, and some other people who looked very official. One friar explained to me in English that the Basilica had been full for over an hour, and suggested that I try the crypt, and after that the seating outdoors. We did not bother to try to get into the crypt, but found great seats about six rows back outside. Our seats were on the aisle next to a section that was reserved for people with minor roles in the ceremony – a section that remained empty until well after the beginning of the Mass – so we were ideally situated to see the entrance procession, and to get some great photos. Again, I was aware of having been specially cared for. There was a huge screen to see everything that happened inside the Basilica. I was better off outside than I would have been inside the Basilica, and I knew it. All the same, the chairs had been set up the day before, and the dew had condensed on them during the night. I realized that plastic bag holding the free magazines was going to be extremely useful! There is a huge semi-circular arch over the main doors of the Basilica. A picture of Louis on the left, and Zelie on the right, had been enlarged, and shaped to fit the space. His eyes gazed into the distance, clearly looking inward to God; her soft, loving eyes seemed to look straight into the depths of my heart, where I am sure she read and answered every prayer I brought with me to France.

Did I mention that it was cold?! St. Therese used to discipline herself not to react to the cold. For me, to do so that morning would have been impossible. I was shivering violently and uncontrollably after a short time, notwithstanding the down jacket, long pants and wool socks I was wearing. And I was not alone. All of us did our best to distract ourselves from the cold by taking an interest in the people sitting near us, and in the celebrities who were arriving one by one, and being escorted past us into the (presumably warmer) Basilica. Right in front of us were three friendly young women from Mexico, who spoke perfect English, and whom we encountered again the next day at the Carmel. They had some pretty fancy photography equipment, and were having a great time with it! A few rows behind us was another man from the U.S. There was an amazing sense of joyous unity among all of us watching this great event from outside the Basilica. We were family, celebrating this joyous occasion together.

The ceremony began with a long entrance procession, well documented in my photos, with all ten thousand of us joining in the Laudate Dominum. There was one familiar, and beloved face: the serene countenance of our Superior General, Father Luis Arostegui, O.C.D..

The procession was followed with a welcome from the rector of the Basilica, and by a brief message from His Excellency, Pierre Pican, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux. Bishop Pican spoke about how this ordinary family, enlightened by faith and lively participation in the life of the Church, confronted all the trials of life and produced five religious vocations by their humble response to God’s call. Bishop Jean-Claude Boulanger, of the Diocese of Sees, spoke next. His remarks, touching on a few of the details of their lives, made the point that one could say that Therese’s spirituality was rooted in that of her parents, who modeled the simple desire to accept completely the will of God, to live through confident abandonment to Divine Providence.

The Mass was mostly in French, with some sung Latin, and readings and intercessions in other languages. Happily for us, one of the readings was in English! The Penitential Rite was followed by the Rite of Beatification, which began with the request of the two bishops of Bayeux and Lisieux, and Sees, and of the Postulator General of the Discalced Carmelites, to inscribe among the number of the Blessed the Venerable Servants of God Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin, spouses and parents. The Vice-Postulator then presented the biographical profile of the Venerable Servants of God. You can find an English translation of it (and of the Cardinal’s homily) at, a superb website about all things Therese-ian. Jose Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, then read the Decree of Beatification, and relics were carried in solemn procession by selected families, accompanied, of course, by jubilant song. Outside, there were cheers and waving of the banners included in our information packets, especially when the relics passed by on the esplanade. This was the point at which something was done just for those of us who were outside the Basilica: fireworks were set off, multi-colored streamers of smoke that echoed the rainbow of colors of our waving banners, clearly visible against the clear blue Norman sky.

The Mass resumed in the usual way, with the Gloria from the Mass of the Angels and the Credo being blended with another solemn chant, perhaps of a more modern composition. On the aisle, I had the freedom to kneel during the Canon of the Mass, while most of those around me had to stand. One of the most moving moments of the morning came when the camera showed all of the ciboria on the altar, and the movements of the priests as they moved purposefully, almost urgently, to distribute communion to the masses of people assembled. Can you imagine the distribution of Holy Communion to ten thousand people? It was prayerfully carried out with great simplicity and dignity. Everyone present received the Body of Christ, in a peaceful and orderly manner.

After the sending forth, the Cardinal Bishops came outside to greet the people, and Louis’ and Zelie’s relics were carried outside for veneration by the faithful. Crowd-control personnel reverently and prayerfully touched various articles to the reliquary for those who passed by in homage to these newest models of sanctity. I suddenly realized I was desperate for a restroom, and the Martins looked after even that humble need: when I found the restroom, there was no line.

When I returned to George, I discovered just what a family celebration I was attending. As the Mass of Beatification was to be followed by other events in the Basilica, after an appropriate break for lunch, the French had made themselves at home, rearranging the chairs for their picnic lunches, releasing their dogs from their carriers, and their children from the constraints of good behavior. Everyone was playing in the sun, which had finally warmed the air to a comfortable level! Following their example, we found a spot on the grass, moved a few chairs over, and opened our own picnic lunch in the best French tradition: bread and cheese and fruit with some good Norman cider, and for George, more andouiettes!

After lunch, George found a seat in the Basilica to watch the “Spectacle”, a re-enactment of the daily life of the Martin family in period costume, with narrative in French taken from Zelie’s voluminous correspondence. Ready for some solitude, I strolled up the hill to the municipal cemetery, where St. Therese and her parents were originally buried. It is one of my favorite places in Lisieux. The Carmel of Lisieux maintains a fenced plot with a statue of Therese and cross, where other nuns are buried. Just outside it, and to the right as you look out over the valley, are a couple of other very old graves, in some disrepair, from the Carmel of St. Joseph, where I always like to pause and pray. A little further back toward the entrance is a bench, where one can sit quietly and read, or pray, or just look out over the beauty of the valley.

I rejoined George in the Basilica for Solemn Evening Prayer, presided over by one of the many bishops in attendance at the Beatification. I believe it was Bishop Guy Gaucher, OCD, although I am not sure of it. Tired and happy, our lives changed forever, we made our way back to our B&B, and then out to dinner.

The next day we opted for a quiet Mass at the Carmel instead of yet another pontifical Mass at the Basilica. I bought some postcards, with the same photos of Louis and Zelie that covered the arch at the Basilica to share with my OCDS community, and spent some time with St. Therese’s relics. Then we said goodby to Lisieux, and headed for Cancale, a quiet oyster-fishing village on the Bay of Mt. St. Michel for a couple of days. From there we drove to Barbizon, for a couple of days hiking in the forest before returning home to Berkeley. We stopped at the cathedral in Chartres on the way to admire its windows, and sculptures, continuing to ponder the graces received during our “pilgrimage” to Lisieux. I am aware of having been confirmed in the way of confidence and loving, in abandonment to God’s providential care.

In fact, there was one more grace. I usually suffer from jet lag for at least two weeks. This time, I don’t think I’ve had any jet lag at all.