Written by: Denise Serafini on Friday, May 19, 2017
Have you ever been to a cloistered convent? We were invited to share the Relics of the Passion and our little presentation with a group of cloistered Carmelite nuns in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 18. What an experience!
For those of you that may not be familiar with cloistered religious communities, they are generally formed to maintain a life of contemplation and prayer. Their prayer life is the source of salvation for many and without their consistent efforts to storm Heaven with prayer on our behalf, countless souls would be lost. The Carmelite Order is under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and thus has a strong Marian devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There are several notable Carmelite sisters that have been raised to the altar of sainthood. Among them are St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Ávila. The distinctive garment worn by the Carmelite Order is a scapular of two strips of dark brown cloth, worn on the breast and back, and fastened at the shoulders. Although they maintain the original context for the design in their habit, the concept of the two strips of cloth making up the scapular has been transitioned to the sacramental scapulars we see today for general use.
It so happened that we had a cancellation in our original schedule, leaving us with an open day. Sister Therese found out about us from Angela, a woman from one of the parishes on our schedule. Sister Therese called Tom, President of our Apostolate, shortly after our arrival in Utah. She was so excited about the possibility for us to make a stop at her convent that she quickly scoped out our website and wanted to tie down the details as quickly as possible. Being part of a cloistered community, these holy women would not be able to attend a public event and this type of opportunity doesn’t come their way very often. What Sister Therese wasn’t aware of is the fact that Tom lives in the eastern time zone. She made a call to him at 9:00 p.m., mountain time. Regardless of the interruption to his sleep schedule, Tom relayed the message to me and I called Sister Therese to make arrangements for the added stop.
We couldn’t have been more honored and pleased to fill the gap in the agenda with a visit to the Carmelite Monastery. Although Angela may have thought she was the genesis for the idea, we have often seen St. Joseph take over to guide us to places and individuals we would never have known about. We can’t thank Angela enough for being an instrument of St. Joseph in setting a wonderful series of events in motion.
We arrived early to set up our equipment in the little chapel. Angela and another friend of the Carmelites, Michele, were waiting for us to help get everything into the chapel so that the sisters could take time with the relics before visitors arrived to join us for the program event. Once we were set up, I took a few pictures of the various statues in the chapel. The statue of St. Thérèse and Our Lady of Mount Carmel were amazingly beautiful. Unfortunately, the depth of that beauty is definitely not reflected in those photos.
We were sitting in the rear of the chapel while the sisters emerged from the cloistered section of the convent. Each of them rushed to the relics to venerate. There were 13 or 14 of them making the stops on their knees or standing with gestures of such reverence that Jean and I have ever had the privilege of witnessing. The sisters spent a good half hour touching their sacramental objects and holy cards to the relics before returning to the cloister. We were allowed to take pictures while they venerated and suggested that they each hold a relic for one last photo before returning to the cloister. They were extremely gracious and accommodating. Jean and I were awestruck, to say the least, at the light in their eyes and the smiles that seemed to illuminate their faces with joy. That is the essence of committed prayer and self sacrifice for Jesus in His works. Their beings literally reflect the Light of Christ.
They joined us for the program in an adjunct room that is behind a screen, usually used to allow them to attend Mass in partnership (although separate) with visitors to the chapel. We had prepared an added series of intercessory prayers to our program that are designed specifically for religious sisters and their special needs, so the program was a bit longer than the standard public presentation.
I could see just beyond the grate as I read the elements of the program and noticed that they were kneeling for the majority of the program presentation. They only stood for the closing prayer associated with each meditative sequence. There were several times throughout the readings that I actually felt overwhelmed and touched by their demonstration of reverence and humility.
Once the program was completed and the general public had taken their leave, I asked if the sisters might rejoin us in the chapel in a shared prayer of thanks. Sister Therese reconvened the sisters to the chapel. We gathered into a circle in thanks to Our Lord for this opportunity that brought us together and asked Jesus to reach down from the wood of His Cross to bless each of us in our continued service to Him and in our respective vocations.
Then the work started anew to pack everything up and get us on our way. The sisters decided to help us to take down the backdrops, fold all the linens, disassemble our pedestals and bring it all back to our vehicle. Amazing women!
As we worked together, Sister Therese conveyed her thanks in so many different comments. One comment really struck me. She extended her thanks to us for being true Catholics in prayer, promoting pro-life concepts and encouraging the faithful to step out in support of religious freedom. They pray consistently for these things and they never get to know if their prayer is having an effect. Our program was apparently a source of confirmation for them. We can’t thank them enough for their ongoing supplications to the heavenly realm. If not for these spiritual prayer warriors, Apostolates such as ours might not even exist.
The sisters then hugged us time and again and invited us to come visit them whenever we are in the area. Between the good byes we also also heard them say more than once, “bring more relics.”
Jean and I came away from this event uplifted, energized and almost giddy. Our encounter with these holy women left us with a feeling that through them, we had been embraced with the love of Christ that they live for and with each day in that little cloister. May God bless them abundantly that they may virtually embrace all of mankind with their prayers and sacrifice for our salvation.