ISA Holds 2016 Summer Course on Carmelite Spirituality

The Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) held the 2016 Summer Course on Carmelite Spirituality for 40 participants on May 16- 21 at the Titus Brandsma Center in Quezon City.

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On Day 1 Mo. Elena Tolentino, O. Carm. discussed “Prayer in the Carmelite Tradition” and how she uses  her background in psychology in being a Formator (1993-1999) in the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Burgos, Pangasinan, which she co-founded in 1993 and headed from 1999 to 2004.

Mo. Tolentino counsels nuns by combining theology and philosophy with her undergraduate major at the Far Eastern University and with the new field of Neuroscience.  She cited medical findings and showed short videos as well as working drawings on how the human brain and its parts – including neurons, synapses, dendrites and the basal ganglia – can fight harmful habits and form better ones.

The other resource persons presented the life and spirituality of eight Carmelite saints and mystics. On May 17 Ms. Maria Angela Ureta. aO.Carm, spoke on St. Teresa of Avila’s transcending the social conventions of sixteenth-century Spain – including being a nun privileged by her high economic rank – to lead reforms of the Carmelites despite physical pain and difficult journeys across the land.

Shots of Avila, excerpts from bio-films, testimonies from her peers, quotes from her writings, examples of her courage, level-headedness and humor – all of these devices were used by veteran media practitioner and Teresian devotee Ms. Ureta to show the interior life of a prayerful mystic who inspired renewal within the Church and became its first-ever woman Doctor.

On the morning of May 18, Sr. Raquel Sanchez, CMT, discussed St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi (b. 1566), who at 17 entered the enclosed Monastery of Saint Mary of the Angels partly because she could receive Communion daily. Included in her spirituality were abstinence, penance and meditation –  which she learned at age nine from the family chaplain who had used a recently-published book on meditating on the Passion of Christ, and which she would bring along to the convent.

St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi  is better known for her extraordinary mystical experiences than for her efforts at renewing the Church, as revealed in one of her many visions starting age 12. Through much of her life she was given to raptures and ecstasies.

To guard against the devil and to preserve her revelations, she was asked by her confessor to dictate them to sister secretaries. She filled five books this way, and still managed to be Mistress of Professed, Mistress of Novices, and Sub-Prioress. Her sixth book is called Admonitions because it came from her experiences as a formator. 

In the afternoon of Day 3 Fr. Bernard Roosendaal, O. Carm. presented a twentieth-century martyr for press freedom and a champion of education for the youth: Blessed Titus Brandsma, patron of the Philippine Province of the Carmelite Order and himself a newspaper columnist and a radio commentator.

For leading Catholic journalists and newspapers in speaking out against the Nazis in the Netherlands, Blessed Titus was jailed thrice and finally gassed in Dachau in 1942. His courage is commemorated in media awards in his country and in the Philippines named after him.

Fr. Roosendahl also led the participants in offering written and spoken prayers and petitions at the shrine of Blessed Titus within the conference venue itself.

On the morning of May 19, Rosalie Ko (Ph.D. candidate in the ISA-SAIDI  academic program), spoke about Blessed John Soreth (1394-1447), who is often depicted with a ciborium which he had filled with the Sacred Hosts thrown to the ground by a mob in the siege of Liege by Charles the Bold.

Against major events in the Middle Ages which directly affected the Carmelites newly transferred to Europe – namely, the  Black Plague, the Hundred Years War and the schism which led to the exile of the Pope to Avignon – John led reforms in religious observance as Provincial for France and as Prior General for the entire order until his death. He also formalized the entrance of Carmelite nuns.

In the afternoon Sr. Bernabela Galindez, CM discussed Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), a discalced Carmelite who lived in an age of Jansenism (over-striving for perfection and scrupulousness).

This Frenchwoman entered as Elizabeth of Jesus but was advised by her community to change her name to honor the Trinity. She prayed poetically: “… make my soul your heaven, your beloved dwelling and your resting place. May I never leave you there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant… Oh my Three, my All, my Beatitudes, Infinite Solitude, Immunity in which I love myself…”

Her legacy, said Sr. Galindez, is that the Church dwells within us to give us silence and heaven-like peace.  

On May 20 Fr. Ernesto Montuerto, OCD (Prior of the National Shrine  of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel) focused on St. John of the Cross, the Doctor of Divine Love, and on the dark night of the senses (apetitos) and on nada spirituality.  “Dark night” refers to his mystical experiences and doctrine on union with God – a journey and an attitude of negation, renunciation and self-denial.

According to the speaker, John saw union with God as a clear notion of the spiritual goal which he and St. Teresa lived and taught others. Further, spiritual life is a continuous process of growth and regression which involves integral development.

On the morning of May 21, Fr. Serenio Jaranilla. O. Carm. talked about Venerable John of St. Samson, a blind French friar who helped reform the Calced Carmelites via a return to Strict Observance, including the contemplative prayer  advocated by St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross known as Aspirative Prayer.

The speaker also held a workshop on how to pray “You and I, my love … and never another nor more!” effectively and sensibly, even amidst traffic jams.

In the afternoon Fr. Jaranilla discussed Blessed Lawrence of the Resurrection, a lay brother who gave witness to the contemplative life as he worked in the kitchen and in his shoe shop. After his Dark Nights as a wounded soldier, Lawrence discovered God “among the pots and pans” – an expression popularized centuries later by St. Therese of Lisieux, who called herself God’s Little Flower. #          

Pinky Choudhury