Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mother Pia OCD

One of our first destinations during our training week was a Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia where we had a conference with Mother Pia, a cloistered Carmelite nun. All monasteries have an atmosphere of reverence and prayer but every time I have entered a Carmelite monastery I have experienced a particularly intense feeling of passionate love. Upon entering this Carmel and again encountering this intense feeling I was reminded of my visits to other Carmelite monasteries. The Carmelite vocation of contemplative prayer has been described in several ways by the great spiritual writers but my favorite explanation is that Carmelites are the burning heart of love within the body of the Church.

In order to focus entirely on union with God through contemplative prayer, Carmelites leave the world by entering a Carmel. The seriousness with which they take their vocation was reaffirmed during our conference with Mother Pia as she spoke to us through a small window, through which neither side can see, from behind a wall which separates Carmel from the outside world. This was the first time I had ever spoken to a Carmelite and I was very excited to be learning about contemplative prayer from one of the pros. Mother Pia had also been spiritually directed by St. Pio of Piettrelcina, a Franciscan priest who had suffered the Stigmata on his path to sainthood. It amazed me that this woman had actually been taught by a saint!

As Mother Pia started her talk she explained that prayer is a relationship beyond a conversation and that we are to aim for a communion of hearts not words with God. She said that in life and in prayer we must share our whole self with God. She spoke of prayer as a continual awareness of God’s presence. She spoke of life as living in love, with love, because of love, for love. Love is both the means and the end of the spiritual life. When she spoke of our souls being in a bridal position of yearning for God and our hearts keeping watch at night for our spouse I could tell that these words were coming from a sincere bride of Christ who had lived this yearning and watching for many years.

Mother Pia gave several valuable pieces of practical advice. Perhaps the thing she said that stuck with me the most was, “we have to make all our choices around being ready to commune with God.” Since we know that communion with God in heaven is our destiny we can prepare now and live this life now by making ready our “interior castle”. She then went on to explain these choices and preparations.
She explained that all prayer comes from God’s grace and that even the desire to pray, to commune with Him, to be aware of His presence is the result of his grace. To start we need to strip ourselves of bad habits, of all that is not of God, and of desires that are not directed toward Him. “We have to change, go for God, abandon all else, leaving what is not His will for what is good and holy.”

To direct us toward the God we desire we must learn who He is. Mother Pia emphasized the importance of spiritual reading in order to be able to discern in our prayer what is God and what is not. She specifically mentioned the writings of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Therese of Liseux, St. John of the Cross, and St. Theresa of Avila. She spoke strongly of the importance of seeking the Trinity, who we know by faith, through the incarnate God, the Crucified Christ. He is the ONLY way.

Once we have some knowledge of Him and we seek to be near Him God will help us but there will be challenges along the way. Mother Pia reminded us that love rests in the will and as long as we keep our will fixed toward loving God we should not worry about these challenges or distractions. She said that everyone suffers from distractions in prayer, that we will always have them, and that we should simply ignore them and consider them as nothing, as shadows. This is part of our human frailty. “We have to accept our miserable, lonely, broken humanity. We have to carry it like a heavy bag but don’t hate it.” “God understands, nothing surprises Him.”

She again affirmed that we must trust God in our endeavor and that the highest form of prayer, contemplative prayer, was a complete and total gift from God, lifting our soul higher toward God. She encouraged us by telling us about how God is yearning for us to be united to Him in heaven. “He hurts for my love and gives me the strength to go on.”

Finally, she that in prayer, “I go to my heart. My love is His love in me. That is contemplative prayer.”

We were very blessed to get to hear Mother Pia’s words of wisdom on prayer and the interior life and I am excited to put them into practice during the rest of the walk, ignoring blisters, hunger, insults, and distractions and striving to unite our hearts with God’s will.

Peace to you all,


Kate said...

Beautiful words from Mother Pia....
Thank you for sharing!

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Who we are?

Every summer we, the Missionaries of the Eucharist, are walking from Lewiston, Maine to Washington, DC to proclaim the beauty of the Catholic faith to everyone we meet, specifically through the Theology of the Body.

Conversion begins in our own hearts,which is why prayer is so important to our ministry. For this reason, everyday of our ten week walk begins with daily Mass. By receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we are given the grace to be the Love of Christ not only to those in our community but also to those we meet in the streets.

We walk throughout the day to be a witness of love. We are grounded in prayer-we pray with our lips, our hearts, and our bodies. In walking an average of twenty-five miles per day, we offer our fatigue as a gift of love to Christ and the people we meet. Our walking is both sacrifice and prayer.