On most occasions, I share the same opinion of poetry as did the character of Elisabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. When Fitzwilliam Darcy said he supposed poetry to be the food of love, her blunt response was noteworthy:
Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.
I think I have always fancied the idea of poetry more than actually liking it; that is until I discovered John of the Cross. As a result of my prior entrance into Carmel, I no longer refer to John by his name or title; it is always tenderly “Our Holy Father”. This is so much a habit in my own life now that when someone else mentions the actual Holy Father (the Pope) I have to remind myself that they are probably not talking about John of the Cross! Getting back to the subject of poetry… God has always spoken to me through books during particular seasons in my life, as I am sure He does for everyone else. However, I couldn’t believe my eyes when He started using the medium of poetry. I must clarify that I still do not particularly favor poetry, but when it comes to Our Holy Father John’s verses, his indeed set my heart on fire for love of God. I feel as though I was made for such composition when I read his works. Frankly, he makes every other sonnet look weak and dull!
I blogged about this similar topic months ago when I cited an experience about working at a tea house where there were monthly poetry slams (informal competitions). Because employees were also allowed to share, I was so determined to read Our Holy Father’s work that I gathered all that I could find from his books and just randomly read from his works spontaneously. The only thing I did in preparation was pray and beg John to be a Carmelite Father and guide me in a way to reach these souls through his writings. At that time I was only familiar with his Dark Night poem, but was convinced that all his work must be good; I gathered that particular book of his along with Living Flame of Love and Spiritual Canticle. I took my seat at the front stool, adjusted my microphone and told the audience that I was going to read this brilliant work, but would not reveal the author until the end. I will never forget the look on the crowd’s faces when this saint’s words touched their ears; “now THAT is the real definition of love” I remember thinking as I read allowed. I heard a lot of poems about love that night, but none that came close to John’s description of it, of that which took place between him and that “Tremendous Lover” – his God.
I distinctly remember the responses I received from three individuals in particular who represented differing groups of people. That night’s crowd, along with the employees, contained a mixture of protestants, non-believers and even some hippies; one in particular wore his tie dye shirt, played guitar and was definitely on some kind of drug during his performance! However, afterwards, each person approached me directly and said how moved they were by John of the Cross; I could almost hear the hunger in their voices in wanting a true food (as Darcy called it) to satisfy the spiritual starvation of their souls. I remember thinking that “if everyone knew God the way John of the Cross did, we wouldn’t have ANY atheists!” In fact, I cannot think of one book or poem of his that I didn’t like or that didn’t help me during a time of uncertainty. In 2017, I had made a video post and the theme was all about Our Holy Father’s book, The Dark Night of the Soul. I had never actually read the book, but proceeded to center my whole video on the message; later my paternal grandfather questioned me with a furrowed brow by asking
Wait, you haven’t actually read the book? How can you make a video on the subject then?
I conceded that he was absolutely right. However, a few days later (after publishing my video) I was browsing in a thrift store’s book section and saw one novel in particular thrown aside, face down and not in its proper place with all the other books. More out of curiosity than interest, I reached for it and couldn’t believe my eyes – there it was: Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross. Oh Boy! I couldn’t avoid this book any longer; I think the title always intimidated me somewhat so I avoided reading it. I know I am not the only one who feels this way because when I was halfway through the book I found myself on an airplane, sipping my “airplane coffee”; the passenger next to me glanced down at what I was reading and at once said “that is a VERY intense book you are reading, young lady!” Not only was the title intense, but the illustration on the cover was equally befitting – all black except for that of a full moon and thick clouds moving past it. Aside from the meaning of this word which describes deep thoughts and strong emotions, this book prepared my soul for Carmel and was a true foreshadowing of what I was to experience there. Although the book gave me much to fear, it also gave me much to hope for on my journey to union with my Beloved. John of the Cross talked about two “nights” that a soul must go through before arriving at the “marriage banquet”.
The Dark Night of the Sense and the Dark Night of the Spirit. Can you tell me if either one of those book titles sound appealing to you? I can almost say from experience that these famous Dark Nights seem to be reserved and predestined for Carmelites. In fact, both John and Teresa intended their writings to be used only for their own nuns and friars. The day that I left the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph I had complete and profound peace that I was called to be a Carmelite, but not at THAT particular Carmel. My Mother Prioress had made me a holy card and slipped it in my things (she dated it from a year prior of actually having given it to me, but providence made her keep in until the day of my departure). While I was at the airport waiting to board my flight home, I found it. In it she had written down one of John’s verses that I had never read before; I was touched beyond belief. I felt as though John was telling me he is was still my Carmelite Father and that he himself would lead me to union with God. On that particular day I never felt closer to Our Dear Lady and Our Holy Father, John. The verse Mother wrote of his was this:
The baser, humbler soul was I, the more exhausted did I grow. ‘No hope!’ was all that I could say, but as I sank and sank so low, higher and higher did I fly.
My two years in Carmel (before discovering my true calling) were filled with vehement growth, or rather “surgery”; in many ways my experiences were traumatic, yet eye-opening at the same time. Now after months of reflection, I look back on all of it with nothing but complete gratitude. I learned two very important lessons in the cloister: humility and confidence. At first glance, one might ask how do those two personality traits go together? Confidence is usually associated with pride, but not when it comes to God. John calls it “the Dark Light” ; this is where the soul sees all her imperfections and this light shows it as God’s Divine Light – and it hurts. The soul is not really in darkness; it is that the Our Lord’s love is so bright that our own faults and defects can’t stand to be in the Presence of One that is so perfect and faultless. This light is like a consuming fire; it is devastatingly painful, but once it burns away the soul’s pride only the fire of love remains. I truly saw how I was far from a state of holiness and my prayer life was covered in vanity and pride, but this light properly humbled me; in the end I had nothing but confidence in God and finally had the humility to admit I was nothing without Him. My lesson was this: to not take myself seriously, only take God seriously. In the darkness, I leaned a great deal on Mary and through it all I saw how Our Lord wanted me to do nothing without Her. Not ever!
Miss Lizzie Bennett’s words echoed in my own soul:
How despicably I have acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! Who have gratified my vanity in useless or blamable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery. Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Till this moment I never knew myself.
Having left Carmel on November 9th in 2019, two things happened. Another poem of John’s fell in my lap and Our Lady showed me exactly how She wants me to be a Carmelite. These last eight months have been a blessing for me; I had begged Our Lord to show me His will and fortunately, I finally see with adjusted vision where I belong! When I entered Carmel, it was simply not what I expected. Although surrounded by extremely holy women, a strict and disciplined way of life filled with prayer and sacrifice, I had expected more solitude and was ultimately disappointed. The twice-a-day community recreations, speak-room visits and constant skits and plays sometimes made me feel more like I had joined a circus rather than a cloistered monastery. While it was a true joy to see how nuns can be holy and “normal” at the same time, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s “alone with the Alone” did not seem to be accomplished in my own soul while being a part of a community. Elizabeth was also a Carmelite; so what was I missing? Some amazing events presented themselves and I found that the days I was most in my element were those in retreat, days with no recreation and complete silence. On these days away from community life, I felt I was born for Carmel – the desert!
I initially thought that I was called to start a new Carmel with fewer recreations, perhaps? Once again, God took me by surprise. I just finished a nine-day novena to the Most Pure Heart of Mary and specifically asked Our Lady “do you want me to be a Carmelite Hermitess?” On just day 4 I had a long phone call with a priest (who knew nothing of my novena); one of the first things out of his mouth were “if you are not sure whether you are supposed to be a Hermitess without a community, you must read Hermitage Within and you will have your answer.” After he shared with me his experience from having come from community life to that of a hermit under Canon Law 603, I immediately sensed the realization that the response to my question was right there before me. I was also drawn in by the fact that like myself, this priest is by no means shy. Another valuable lesson that I have learned over the years: the desires of the heart have nothing to do with a loud or quiet personality. Our Holy Father John astounded me once again when I reread this verse after talking to my priestly friend:
34. the small white dove has returned to the ark with an olive branch; and now the turtledove has found its longed-for mate by the green river banks.
35. She lived in solitude, and now in solitude has built her nest; and in solitude He guides her, He alone, Who also bears in solitude the wound of love.
(Bridegroom to the bride- Spiritual Canticle)
A friend just recently said she didn’t know it was possible to have solitude said that many times in one sentence (only four times). For me personally, the answer to my novena was SOLITUDE. Sometimes, poor Our Lord has to say things four times before we see the answer staring us right in the face! I was not satisfied with community life; it has taken me these last several months (years really) of living with a community to see that my desires could never really be fulfilled there. I did not know this truth about myself, but God always did. One of the most exceedingly difficult tests I have faced on my journey is what others expect of me or think “I would be better fit for”. It’s a greater test of faith when I see how God’s plans are so different from what the world thinks would be “a better fit for a loud personality like yours”. I can almost hear God whispering to me
Which do you seek to please: human approval or My own?
Even something good and holy ends up simply not being His will for me and that has been my greatest discovery! I find myself (as I am sure many others do as well) seeking human respect and esteem when I should be seeking this from Jesus and Mary alone. As difficult as this can be for me, at the end of the day I only want to find my satisfaction in knowing Our Lord is pleased with me; ultimately achieving a deep peace in knowing I did, in fact, do His will and gained His Spousal approval! I have no desire to preach or spread the Gospels; I simply want to pray and dedicate my life to four things:
- Love of Our Lord as a Spouse.
- The United States of America to maintain her freedom/ President Trump’s conversion to the Catholic Church.
- The Holy Father (the Pope).
- Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and making daily acts of reparation for all the sins made against Her Immaculate Heart.
Our Carmelite Mother Teresa’s words never rung more true,
Since God has so few friends, these few should be trustee ones.
I have always been drawn to the prophets and saints so intensely in love with God who found Him on the mountain or in a cave, in seclusion – in SECRET! Elijah in his cave of concealment; Moses with the burning bush; having so great an influence before God that on so many occasions God didn’t destroy His people or send down punishments simply because of Moses’s faith- one man! For the first time, I finally understand the power of prayer and the influence of ONE faithful servant of the good God and His Mother. Like Saint Francisco Marto, I want to stay with “the Hidden Jesus”. I am now trying to establish myself as a Carmelite Hermitess in the United States. It is actually an ancient monastic custom for communities to have an anchorite on their property.
Where the soul is tied to the community, but prays a part from them with their own rule and horarium. My only exposure to the world will be attendance at the Mass; the rest of my day will be spent in living the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert of Jerusalem: “staying in your cell or near it and meditating day and night on the law of the Lord.” Outside of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, prayer and the Divine Office I will devote my work period to being a full time seller on Etsy and blogging. I always felt particularly drawn to this verse and now I see it as a personal and intimate invitation (“it’s secret”):
But when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father Who seeth in secret will reward thee. (Matthew 6:6)
I can’t do this alone; so many of you have all been there with me every step of the way and if you feel in your heart that you want to support me and be a part of my mission please contact me! I am a weak soul who can rely only on the power of Jesus and Mary; my only desire is to be truly alone with God and console that most Immaculate Heart of Mary. I fear that in the time in which we currently live, this world cannot be saved by preaching alone, but as Our Lord said “only prayer and sacrifice can drive this demon out”. Did not Our Lady of Fatima ask for prayer and sacrifice? I just want to listen to Our Lady and devote my life to Her message. Man is not meant to be alone, but how can one really be alone when in the constant presence of the Divine?
You shall no longer converse with men, but with angels. (Our Lord to Teresa of Jesus)
I will end with one of my very favorite verses of Our Holy Father’s:
That sweet night: a secret. Nobody saw me; I did not see a thing. No other light, no other guide than the One burning in my heart. (Dark Night of the Soul ~ St John of the Cross)