With candle light and music we launched our celebration of Epiphany. As Fr. John Udris led us in a reflection on what the wise men were seeking he could well have been talking about ourselves as contemplatives and what we are seeking. What was their purpose, their goal? To seek a King? To offer gifts? Ultimately what they so fervently sought, what was at the base of their trek, drawing their hearts, was to adore. Our own hearts long to adore—to prostrate ourselves for the highest human act.
The journey began with obedience—noticing indications, responding, letting self be drawn beyond our own borders. And then setting out which takes courage, commitment; it costs. They inquire and ask, research, explore, stretching their minds and hearts for a knowledge that humbles them. When they kneel or fall prostrate, they discover their own nobility. Finally, Fr. John, concludes, to adore is literally to kiss—ad oratio, mouth to mouth. To submit to love with a kiss that is returned is freeing, liberating and energizing.
And now it’s back to ordinary time and a new year. When Jesus was about to leave his apostles in the flesh he gave them this invitation: Remain in me. Remain in his centre of gravity. Jesus knew how to remain in our flesh with its limitations and frailty. Holiness is remaining in the constraints of this flesh to wait for his return and to serve him humbly. The Dominican sisters in Iraq have opted to remain there where they will reopen schools for the children and offer hope for the future.
Jesus told the first apostles when they asked where he lived: “Come and see.” Remain with me. And Pope Francis tells us that only a personal encounter with Jesus will generate a path of faith and discipleship that will give full meaning to our life and make us fruitful. Where does he dwell? He dwells within us. Where in us? Fr. Robert told us how Aquinas insisted that we are not dead until every single cell in our body dies. That means within us means within every single cell in us down to our fingertips. “You must increase; I must decrease.”
From January 15th to Ash Wednesday, February 14th we at Holy Hill will be closed to the public so that we can check on our centre of gravity and return to the level of being to which we are attracted. And from that centre that exists in the centre of every cell in our body-soul-spirit, prepare for the new season’s projects and initiatives
The name James (Jimmy) McCaffrey, OCD, comes up twice this season. His new book The Way of the Carmelites: A Prayer Journey Through Lent was chosen by The Tablet as its recommended book for Lent. And Jimmy, the editor of Mt. Carmel Magazine had the privilege of dying on Christmas day. His book begins with a description of Carmel, a biblical term derived from a Hebrew word meaning ‘vineyard’ or ‘garden’. ‘El’ designates the divine Name so it can mean ‘the garden or vineyard of the Lord.’ In the Song of Songs Carmel signifies beauty and fruitfulness. We ride on the graces of Jimmy’s words when he continues to describe Lent, a word meaning in Old English, Spring, as an image that speaks for the beauty of creation reborn each year.
‘For see, winter is past,
The rains are over and gone,
Flowers are appearing on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come…’
Not quite here at Holy Hill in County Sligo. But the daily although cold sunshine is drying up our soaked fields, and between times we notice the blooming snowdrops and crocuses, and the daffodils that are striving to come. New lambs are frolicking. And new life is brewing.
One of the Friends of Carmel asks: ‘Is this journey going anywhere, or is it just round and round?’ The one who strives to be a person of prayer, such as one with Carmelite aspirations, knows there is more to the garden than delights. The journey is ever onward and upward with a few falls backwards.
‘One dark night,
Fired with love’s urgent longings
…I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.’
‘This night guided me,’ John of the Cross continues and then he describes what happened so that in the last verse,
‘I abandoned and forgot myself,
Laying my face on my Beloved;
All things ceased; I went out from myself,
Leaving my cares
Forgotten among the lilies.’
Isn’t this where we want to go? Out of ourselves into ecstasy. Into the holy Other.
And so it was grand having our Friends of Carmel at Holy Hill meet together on Saturday where we immersed ourselves in such poetry and promise, recommitting ourselves to the long trek, at times through the dark and difficult, to a place ‘where he was awaiting me—him I knew so well—where no one else appeared.’