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- by Sister Rosario

Anyone who knows me, knows my love for the ocean. Before I entered the convent, the ocean was a source of energy for me, and every year I longed to return home where I could be close to it, and spend long hours totally immersed in its beauty and power. Without my realizing it then, I was in touch with the beauty of God’s creation in its most perfect form. The ocean gave me renewed life, inspiration, and peace. It is no surprise, that in the convent, although no longer close to it, the ocean continues to be, in different ways, a great source of inspiration in the analogies I often can draw from my experiences. How does this relate to our Dear Mother? Well, in religious life, Mother is, in many ways, my ocean.

What Dear Mother means to me as a Novice

When I first visited the Sisters in Canada, they gave me Mother’s autobiography and they let me borrow the tape “Women of Compassion”. At that stage of my discernment I knew I wanted to give myself totally to Jesus, and prove my love for him by serving his people, but I knew very little about religious life, and much less about Carmel. I also had no idea of what type congregation I would fit in, both from a spiritual and a practical perspective. As I started reading the book, each page was a revelation about the profundity of love for God, about self-donation, about fortitude, courage, perseverance, and trust in God. These virtues came to life in Mother, she personified them to me.

Before this, Carmel was a place somewhere between Heaven and Earth, because of the Fátima apparitions, and Sister Lúcia of Fátima who is a Carmelite nun; Carmel was a beautiful place, but perhaps too mystical and out of my reach. I knew nothing about the Carmelite saints, other than their names, and for me they seemed to be more abstracts than people of flesh and blood. Somehow it was difficult to think of them as real people. From my unsophisticated perspective, Mother put substance into Carmel for me. After reading the book, I felt that if I was to be in religious life, I wanted to be related to someone like Mother Maria Teresa, in fact I wanted to be her daughter. At the suggestion of my advisor I looked into other communities, but after “meeting” Mother Maria Teresa, I had no desire to search anywhere else. Through Mother, religious life took on a certain definition and shape, like when an artist starts a canvas and paints the first strokes, even though he may not know exactly what the end product is going to look like.

As a novice, Mother is for me a role model, but she is much more than that. She guides my first and unsteady steps in the religious life. She is the anchor of my ship, especially when the waves are high and threatening, but at the same time she is the sail that makes it fly into the ocean of God’s love. When I sink into useless fears, Mother’s trust in God in the most adverse circumstances, makes me float to the surface, see the light again, and continue my swim. I presume that I am not different from most other novices and young religious in my ideals about consecrated life and the kind of religious I want to be. Having Mother’s example, these ideals do not remain simply as concepts, because she achieved them all during her lifetime, and I can look to her as a guiding light that always points in the direction of our Saviour and encourages me to persevere through difficulties because somehow “all things work unto good for those who love God”. Mother’s great love for our Lord and her loving concern for his neglected children encourages my own convictions that if we truly desire to prove our love for Him we must then spend ourselves totally and completely in a life of service that leads in some form to the betterment of someone’s life, be it our own Sisters, our residents, or whomever God decides to place in our journey. Throughout my novitiate, and with God’s grace, throughout the rest of my life, Mother means to me a spiritual practical guide and teacher.

How can I imitate Her during my Novitiate?

Novitiate is a time for learning, for growth and strengthening, a time to feed the roots of selfless love for our Lord, and for our neighbour; the roots of humility, of obedience, of poverty. Today, we are fortunate enough to have the various means, people to teach, and support for us in this stage of our religious life - from our Mistress of Novices to good spiritual directors, teachers, conferences, and books. Fortunately, Mother’s writings would suffice to lead a sister into a life of holiness and virtue. Barring our own fallen nature, if we strive to understand her teachings in the context of our own lives and imitate the virtues she modeled, we will be well on our way. There is no virtue that Mother did not teach us by the way she lived her life. To name a few:

Imitating Poverty

During Novitiate, imitating Mother has not always been easy, because she was so perfect in her virtues and I am so lacking in mine; however, following her model has always proven fruitful. Practicing poverty does not come naturally for me, having become accustomed to a life of plenty in the world. Often I remember the episode in Mother’s life when she was so destitute that she could not even afford to have her shoes repaired. She had to settle for cardboard to serve as soles for her shoes (AB47). Suddenly, my petty needs and wants seem so unimportant if not ridiculous, and I can move on to what is more important.

Imitating Obedience

How hard it is to overcome one’s own will! Especially for someone who was used to having her own way in almost everything. She gave us models of obedience when describing her anguish and regret for not promptly obeying a sister’s orders (AB38) or when under obedience she accepted as her confessor a Father who was not well disposed towards her, to say the least (AB92). “I want to obey no matter what the cost” were her exact words - and these ought to be also my sentiments in all of Novitiate life, be it in the completion of tasks, horarium, or keeping silence.

Imitating Love

Mother’s whole life was driven by love of God, which she expressed in various ways, one of them being her love for His people. In the Novitiate we are not always surrounded by residents that we can love, show kindness, and compassion. But we can grow in this virtue and show the Lord our love for Him, in the way we conduct ourselves towards our Sisters and also in the way we do our work, no matter what it is, but especially the work that is not so agreeable with our nature. We imitate Mother if we do everything and anything for the love of God with joy and a peaceful spirit. She said “…I resolved to sacrifice myself with new ardor, love and trust for the work entrusted to me: to serve the poor with the self-forgetting love of the Divine Saviour” (AB75). By being faithful in all things great and small, by giving ourselves selflessly, without murmuring or counting the cost, we can indeed be our Mother’s daughters, if only we could overcome our natural tendencies and self-love.

Imitating Humility

The greatest of all virtues is humility, but the most difficult to learn and practice; yet for Dear Mother, it seemed to be her second nature. A truly humble soul is a great vessel for the Great Potter to work with; in Mother’s words “I would become a pure vessel, free from all self-will, self-conceit, and self-love, so that God could fill it with His grace” (AB107). In the Novitiate, correction is the most difficult cup to drink, but by taking it, whether just or unjust, we gradually come to the understanding that it is not the correction itself that matters, but learning to empty oneself of pride and self-love so that God can fill us with His grace. It has been a very slow lesson to learn, but in my opinion one of the most fruitful ones, but necessary to demonstrate our love for our merciful Lord and grow in holiness.

Imitating her Devotion and Eagerness to do God's Will

“In most fervent prayer I turned to my heavenly Mother, entreating her to show me the way, and to help me see the will of God” (AB137) - these were Mother’s words and what I would call a loaded sentence. In just a few words, she teaches about prayer, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and eagerness to always do the will of God. How well served a Novice would be to engrave this sentence in her heart and memory! Mother’s constant fervour is difficult to imitate, and only a heart that is unreservedly open to God can do so; however, I can follow Mother’s teaching by faithful prayer, whether or not there is sensible devotion, by staying close to the Blessed Mother and seeking her help and intercession. And most of all, by being attentive to Spirit’s guidance, even in the little things, and by doing His will always, no matter how difficult it may be. In the Novitiate, I can show Him my willingness to do His will, by promptly following the instructions of my mistress or of the sisters, especially when they are contrary to my nature. She stated “Not my will by Yours be done. That firm spirit remains in my soul, cost what it will, and never will I follow my own will, but always strive to know and fulfill God’s will, even in the smallest details” (AB46). This was her motto for just about everything that she endeavoured, and one I shall strive to imitate.

I once asked a very wise priest for his advice as to what I should be most aware of during this time of my Novitiate close to profession. While I was expecting an elaborate explanation, all he said was “just trust in God”. I don’t have to look far for a great model to follow, for trust in God was Mother’s code in all her undertakings, right from the beginning of her journey when she said “How and where my wish to become a Sister would be realized I had no idea. I left all to Divine Providence, and God guided me, as later events proved” (AB25). Trusting in God, I look forward to my profession, so that I can finally start, no matter where He leads me, and no matter what fears my weak human nature harbours; this is how in the Novitiate, I follow Mother’s trust in God’s care for us (Cf158).

About Suffering

Mother’s special charism was her love for the cross, and she could not live unless suffering was part of her existence. However, she strongly told us that her daughters were not to pray for suffering as she did. No one likes suffering, even Mother said “suffering remains suffering even though we bear it for the love of God. I felt acute distress to which was added my fear and anxiety to know the will of God” (AB147). If we could accept the little crosses of everyday life with peace and joy (easier said than done!), in the Novitiate we could then also be part of the work of salvation of souls that is such an essential element of our apostolate, by uniting with the work of redemption of our Lord, and of all the saints, including that of our Dear Mother. We may not always be successful, but at least we can put a greater effort into imitating our Mother’s love for suffering.

About Prayer

Finally, if there is one thing that we Novices can do to imitate our Mother without reserve, it is our prayer life. She took St. Paul’s advice to “pray always”, she did it well, and with great trust that the Lord would answer her prayers. Her work was prayer. She spent hours and found peace before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, she sought the intercession of the saints and of the Blessed Mother, all that she did was guided by prayer. We may not be able to pray as she did, but we can certainly be faithful in our prayer life and cultivate it such that it becomes our second nature; after all, we are learning to be Carmelites and prayer our first apostolate.

To close I should say that Mother is for me like the lighthouse that guides the ships in the right direction and brings them home. She does it by the way she fulfilled and demonstrated the great commandment to “Love God and Neighbour”.

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