Editorial: 67/4 October 2019

October 2019 – From Mount Carmel Vol 67. No. 4

Reflecting on the current socio-political situations in various parts of our world, it would seem to suggest that many of the uncertainties that accompanied us from the beginning of the year still remain to a large extent with us. For example, in the UK and Europe, Brexit and the political drama surrounding it have continued to make the headlines. The uncertainties these events bring with them have greatly added to people’s fears and apprehensions about the future, causing much worry and suffering. This is undoubtedly a vulnerable situation to be in for many.

In this issue, many of the articles discuss this question of vulnerability in the lives of the saints and how they found meaning in the face of suffering and apparent failure. In his very insightful article, Frederick Miller discusses how St Thérèse of Lisieux saw her trial of faith as an opportunity to completely identify with Jesus in his redemptive passion – the Cross. In other words, to identify with the Crucified One as a response of love for love received. This reminds us of the testimony of Paul the apostle: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me … the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The article by Martin Coffey, “Saint Paul of the Cross and Suffering,” also picks up on this graced insight of the saints on the Passion of Christ. For Paul of the Cross, and as our faith teaches us, the Passion was the most intense expression of Jesus’ love for the Father and for us; and to come to a deep appreciation of this truth can be a source of strength and consolation in the face of suffering. Such was definitely the experience of Titus Brandsma. As Paula Moroney shows us in her brilliant article, Titus’ experience of suffering during the Nazi atrocities became for him a graced opportunity which purified his love for the Crucified and perfected his union with him.

We can be sure, as these articles amply demonstrate, that the experience of suffering which our saints underwent was very trying. It pushed them to the limits. It brought them face to face with not just their own human vulnerability but the seeming helplessness of God in their moment of need. We can be sure that they wondered in such trying moments, just as we do, ‘Where is God?’. This recalls for us Jesus’ prayer on the cross and those unforgettable words, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”” (Matt 27:46; cf. Ps 22:1). And, of course, the taunts levelled against him as he hung there helpless: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now …” (cf. Matt 27:43; Ps 22:8). And, of course, God did not deliver him. He died. Faith seemed to have failed.

How do we understand this? What puzzled the minds of the early followers of Christ about his suffering and apparent failure still puzzles us when we have to deal with human suffering and failure in its many forms – sickness, violence, inhumanity, broken relationships, unrealised aspirations, dues denied, etc. In the case of Jesus, how could the Father allow the mission of his anointed one to end in apparent failure – in suffering and death? It doesn’t make sense (cf. 1 Cor 1:23). As the disciples on the road to Emmaus expressed it, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” (Luke 24:21)

Our sufferings also make no sense except if we see them in a new light as the saints do. In the light that our vulnerability, poverty and helplessness can be a graced experience – an invitation to abandon ourselves to the one who alone gives meaning to our lives, including the present suffering. Indeed, to make Jesus’ words on the cross our own: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) And it is those hands, which first brought creation out of nothing, that will once again bring meaning out of what may seem to be meaningless.

Indeed, in the face of the mystery of suffering, what is called for is a eucharistic contemplative attitude that enables us to recognise the giftedness of each moment, to choose to affirm the good in every experience, and even in the most challenging times to notice the opportunities that are available to us and be thankful for those. Who can teach us better about this than St Thérèse of Lisieux who suffered much and yet, with penetrating insight acknowledged that indeed “All is Grace.”

As England gets a new saint in Cardinal John Henry Newman, we can be assured of his prayers for Our Lady’s Dowry that the Church in England may experience a new springtime of faith. In the light of our communion with the saints, our front cover reminds us that as people who belong to, or are associated with, the Carmelite family we are fortunate to have a host of saints who watch over us and are journeying with us. In these last months of the year, we shall be celebrating our three Carmelite doctors of the Church – Teresa, John and Thérèse. It is our prayer that their wisdom will continue to illumine our path and be a constant source of inspiration for our journey.

We remain grateful to our loyal readers and our donors. Your support means so much to us and we are deeply appreciative. May this issue of Mount Carmel be a source of blessing to you which nurtures your faith and renews your spiritual life.

In Carmel,

Alexander of Mary Queen Beauty of Carmel