Wow, what a week for someone discerning the Call as a Discalced Carmelite Friar and a Priest! Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Mary is the model Carmelite – her life of fruitful prayer is the vocation that every Carmelite strives to achieve! And today we celebrate the Feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne! The heroic sacrifice of these 16 innocent sisters lives bore great fruit – The Reign of Terror ended shortly (10 days) after their martyrdom. Recognizing both the profound beauty and the intense challenge of lives spent in fertile prayer, the Holy Church chooses to direct our attention toward these powerful exemplars, witnesses to lives worth living.
The Gospel which was read at yesterday’s Holy Mass was taken from the end of Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St. John. Here we find Jesus, hanging on the Cross, giving His beloved Mother to St. John. At that moment, John not only represented himself, but all of humanity, both those members of the Church faithful who stood beneath the Cross of Christ, as well as those who ran and hid from the brutality of Our Lord’s death. Thus, at that very moment, Our Lord was giving His Mother not only to St. John, but also to all the members of His Mystical Body!
As a young person discerning the Call as a Carmelite Friar and Priest, I find great encouragement in beholding Mary as my mother! I know how great is her protection and how she shares in my desire for holiness and unity with her Son. As the Fruitful Vine, she brought forth Love Incarnate and she fostered His vocation. If she could do this for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I know that she will do no less for me, her devoted son.
Likewise, I also look to the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne as a source of courage and inspiration. These brave souls were unwavering in their zeal for and devotion to Christ and His Holy Church – so much so that it cost them their lives!
When the Reign of Terror erupted in 1793, Blessed Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, O.C.D. – the Prioress of the Community – and her 16 fellow sisters knew full well what the consequences of their fidelity to Christ and His Church might require. Yet, they not only accepted the danger, they embraced it. Together, they prayed daily that they be allowed to offer their innocent lives for the conversion France and for a stemming of the constant bloodshed spurting from the guillotine.
In June of 1794, their convent was suppressed and they were imprisoned at Cambrai – together with a community of English Benedictine nuns who had fled from England to escape the persecution of King Henry VIII.
The Carmelite sisters were soon transported to Paris, where they were condemned as traitors and “fanatics.” On this day, in the year 1794, the Carmelite Sisters of Compiegne mounted the scaffold of the guillotine. Before all present, as a community they jointly renewed their Baptismal and Religious vows. Then starting with the Novice of the community, Sister Constance and ending with the Prioress, each gave her life for her Mystical Spouse and Church. They went to their deaths singing Veni Creator Spiritus, which is the hymn that is sung at the ceremony for the profession of vows.
The sacrifice of these sisters was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Reign of Terror – a mere 10 days later!
History tells us of the noble way these sisters met death. Their calmness, their purity, their love; it all contrasted so sharply with the brutality and hate of their adversaries. Their witness left a profound impact on all who observed their martyrdom.
The word “martyr” means “witness.” In this sense, we are all called to be “martyrs,” to bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives. Like these Blessed Carmelites, we must show the world that in the face of all that comes our way – attempting to distract us from Our Lord and encouraging us to abandon our fidelity to His Church – we will cling to Him. Yes, even if it means losing our earthly lives, we owe our highest adoration to Almighty God and Eternal Life with Him is more highly prized than any temporal comfort or wealth.
Today, we are also called to behold and embrace Mary as our Mother! Today, the Queen of Heaven calls us and all of the world to herself. She wishes to safely guide us to her Son. Our Lady of Mount Carmel gives the armor of her Brown Scapular to protect us from all the attacks of the Evil One. She opens wide the doors of her heart and shows us the surest way to Heaven! Will you accept?