I am discerning a vocation to the Discalced Carmelites. I thought it might be helpful to other discernees if I posted my experiences at the two Carmelite monasteries I’ve visited these past two years.
About my trip to Holy Name Carmel:
A man named John was waiting for me when I arrived, and helped me bring in my bag. I stayed in a comfortable, lovely room (complete with bathroom) which was in the same building as the Chapel and the room where I met with Mother Elizabeth. The cupboards and fridge were generously filled. I had 24/7 access to the Chapel without ever stepping outside. The room had a Crucifix, a large Our Lady of Guadalupe picture, and a small monstrance with a relic of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. I was so pleased to have Therese with me!!!
The entire building is designed with the Eucharist at its center - everything flows in and out from it. The curved front of the monastery subtly symbolizes the fruitfulness of their life - like a pregnant womb. The Mystery of the Transfiguration was central to the design of the Monastery. It reflects the three tents Peter offers to build - the center “Tent” being Christ, the right, Moses (i.e. Church teachings and the law), and the left, Carmel (Elijah). I went into the chapel to pray shortly after arriving. Over the tabernacle are three Transfiguration windows. The altar is square with three gates on each side to show that the heavenly Jerusalem spoken of in Revelations is here, at Mass. The altar faces the nuns, and we are to the left of the nuns facing the altar. I’m happy to say that we cannot see the nuns. Down the hill from the monastery is a retreat house for priests, and I believe the priests have the key to enter the chapel from the right side of the nuns - but I am not sure. The chapel is small and intimate.
The Liturgy of the Hours was at 2. It was chanted - sung beautifully in a mixture of Latin and English. I returned to my room and then met with Mother through the single grille at 3. She is young, joyful and warm. She lent me a breviary, instructions, several encyclicals and a collection of writings by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (very beautiful!) through the turnstile. The Encyclicals were Verbi Sponsa (which I recommend reading for anyone seriously considering contemplative life and their families), Vita Consecrata and *Redemptoris Donum. *
Mother said that on Saturday nights, as they exit after the Liturgy of the Hours, the nuns wear their mantles and light candles and process out singing Salve Regina in honor of Mary. She said usually they chant one note when they sing. This one pure note is an echo of their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I asked a lot about the Constitutions - they follow the '91 Constitutions for Discalced Carmelites. Both Constitutions have been declared a means of perfect charity as long as they are followed. I’ll write about that conversation in a reply to this post so that those with questions about the Constitutions can read it, and those who don’t, don’t have to.
There is so much love of God and Mary in this convent. This is a place where Jesus Christ is loved. It is so evident and beautiful at the Liturgy of the Hours. The nuns pause after each psalm to digest, and fairly cry out with sadness as they pray the Confiteor. They sound young, too.
I had a copy of their schedule, which I tried to follow to the best of my ability while I stayed there. I stayed for 3 days and I met with Mother at 3pm every day. At meal times, one of the sisters would call my room and I would go to "St. Joseph’s room) - a little room in between - to pick up my meal. Meals were delicious, and although I was supposed to fend for myself for breakfast (hardly a problem with the stocked fridge and cupboards), they always put a little plate with something on my supper tray “For breakfast.”
This convent is so beautiful, and it was. . . almost- perfect for me. While I was there, I asked Mary and Jesus to help me discern. At the foot of the Crucifix in my room, I asked for strength to do what God wills and what pleases God unendingly - to say yes always - and it seemed that He responded - “Yes! With love!” I kissed His feet and He seemed to gaze down lovingly at me. I know He will put me where He wants, as long as I continue to submit.
I do not think I am called to this Carmel. But if I were called to a '91 Constitution Carmel, I think this would be it. You can read more about the Monastery here - this is basically an online version of the pamphlet they send when you request information.
“All day long let us surrender ourselves to love, by doing the will of God, under His gaze, with Him, in Him, for Him alone.” - Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity