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Lay Carmelite Solitude

by D. J. Fontana-Schmidt, TOC

On January 4, 2008, I made promises to God, as I celebrated my Temporary Profession as a Lay Carmelite. If it is God's will, I will receive Permanent Profession in a year and a half. Thinking back, as the day of Profession approached,

I began to realize the enormity of this event in my life. As I continue to reflect upon how I had been brought to that day, my thoughts keep going back to the place of solitude in my Carmelite spirituality. One definition of solitude is: "The quality or state of being alone or remote from society". Thinking about this, I became more aware of how solitude has always pointed the way toward my Lay Carmelite vocation. How much more significant this "solitude" has become to me, after several years of Lay Carmelite formation.


I would like to write about what I have discerned to be the place of solitude in my life previously, and now, as a Lay Carmelite. Many years ago a friend and coworker told me that I was an anachronism, "out of place and out of time". I didn't pay a great deal of attention to the comment at that time, and I pretty much let it go. However, it would not let me go, and several times throughout the years that followed, thoughts of this conversation have come back to rest quietly in my heart. As always, I did not see the full portent of this message, yet somehow, still, that comment would not let me go. As I thought back on those words spoken to me by a friend so long ago, the significance of this conversation, and the meaning that had remained veiled to me for so many years, slowly became apparent to me. I have come to the realization that, from my earliest childhood memories to this present day, I have always been called to Carmel.

Although the Carmelite Order and Third Orders in general were not known to me until a few years ago, I now see so clearly why the Lay Carmelite way of life is what I would eventually be called to follow-in Gods way and in God's time. I believe that what was seen by my friend, what was addressed by this comment, was my unintentional tendency to set myself apart from others. All my life I have felt that I was somehow on the outside looking in, thinking of myself as kind of backward, uncomfortable in social situations, reticent and introverted. I had, of course, always seen this as a drawback, and a detriment. Only now do I recognize this as "solitude;" a wonderful gift, an ongoing invitation from God to come to Carmel. Finally, I have come to realize that this sense of separation has not been an emotional drawback, as I had thought, and that this really has always been a very spiritual advantage. I realize now that it has been at these times, the times that I have felt distanced from the world, that I must have been drawn closer to Our Lord, although I was never really aware of this fact, this truth, during most of those times of uneasiness and insecurity. How often I would find myself in a room filled with people, and as I smiled and contributed to the conversation, I would inwardly feel so separate, so set apart. I felt incomplete, sad and searching, missing something that I could feel so near, yet could neither name, nor identify. While I still have many times where I feel this sense of being set apart, I now understand why this feeling has been instilled within me, and I know I can embrace this feeling, instead of being fearful of somehow being perceived as distancing myself from others.

There were times in my life when I also separated myself from God, never completely away from Him, but keeping Him at a distance, as I tried to be what everyone told me I "should" be; trying to please others, trying to be accepted in these social situations, where I felt so uncomfortable. How foolish how sad that I didn't realize all along that I was exactly where I "should" be, and the only one that I needed to please was Our Lord. It is only now that I have come to understand that the "solitude" that I have been experiencing all my life has been the solitude of the inner cell that I learned about in these past several years of formation in Carmelite Spirituality. Now I know that this sense of being set apart has always been a response to the inward stillness that is God, although so often I was unaware of the source of this incredible stirring within. Another friend once referred to me as an "active contemplative". Again, at the time, I had no idea what my friend meant, although it was this conversation that first brought me to search out and find my place, to answer this call to become a Lay Carmelite, and to live as a Lay Carmelite in this secular society. I have come to realize that our separation from the secular, our "solitude", should not physically separate us from others. Quite the contrary, it should bring us more deeply into the midst of our surroundings with a new sense of security and resolve, clothed in the "Armor of God", with Our Lady of Mount Carmel to guide and protect us. Hopefully, as we are called to do, we will live our lives truly "pure in heart, stout in conscience, in full allegiance to Jesus Christ". Hopefully too, through our words, acts, and example, we may become a positive influence on others, while continuing to grow in our Carmelite spirituality. There, we can be "active contemplative", separated from the secular, while still actively participating and meeting our responsibilities to our family, friends, jobs, and society. I have come to understand that our societal participation should be sincere and complete, while being continuously reflective of the peace that is deep within this inner cell of our hearts. Hopefully again this will serve as an example of true humility, charity, and poverty, as we are called to live as Lay Carmelites. What an extraordinary added value to our life is our ability to completely embrace our solitude, and our Lay Carmelite spirituality, while loving and serving others.

We are constantly surrounded by anti-Catholicism, negativity, and moral-relativism. We are constantly bombarded with temptations and distractions, and can be very easily caught up in the fray of day-to-day living with a sense of materiality and pride, accentuating our false-self. As all of this swells and swirls around us with noise, commotion, and dysfunction, our saving grace, our sanctuary, is our solitude. In the inner cell of our heart, we can be quiet there, in silence, in solitude in His Presence. Why wasn't I aware of this at seventeen, twenty-seven, forty-seven, or thereafter? This was again, of course, because everything is in God's way and in God's time. He gives different gifts, at different times, to each of us. God has gifted me with the words of these friends, and the words of many other friends to encourage me to search further. Most especially, God has gifted me with the love and support of my husband and children, as well as my Lay Carmelite Community. Along the way He has given me many paths to follow, and as I accept one, He gives me the next, and I know that God will continue to provide the way. Little did I know that the true message that was being conveyed to me all of this time was that I needed to go back and become again that little child, content in my solitude, accepting it without question, instead of trying to become what everyone else told me I "should" be. Now I find that I want not only to accept it, but to embrace it with the overwhelming love that has been instilled within me through recognizing, and accepting, sword and crown, mountain and desert, water and light-God's call to Carmel. Thank you, Lord, for these, "Thy Gifts".

* from: CARMEL in the World  2009, Vol. XLVIII N.3

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."