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Letter of Carmelite Nuns to St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi

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Carmelite Monastery of Janua Coeli

Dearest Maddalena,

we have written a few lines for you. We speak to you as sisters to sister, crossing the boundaries of time to reach you right there where your are now, in the bosom of the Trinity. In your life on earth you longed for this encounter and you burned with the desire to set the whole Church on fire, with this same passion. You had the feeling that God was driving you to run around “waking up the world”. You know, that today Pope Francis is asking us, the consecrated to wake the world up by the way we live. So it comes naturally to us to think of you, and your concern for evangelisation, your great need to communicate to everyone the love of God, the way you called on the sisters in the monastery, to use their eyes and hands in such a way that these “new” nuns, “might not remain resting all the time in the heart, or the secret bedroom of the spouse, or in his wounded side, but, having spent time in the bedroom, every so often they would run to the window, that is, the wound in his side, and look out and find so many men and women that are in danger of being lost; and that is something that must be done with an anxious and loving desire for their salvation”. (Probations I 259)

We can imagine you, with your frail physical constitution, still almost a child, taking on the ways of God, choosing the Carmelite monastery from among the many that were there in Florence, because at that time it was the only one in which the nuns could receive Holy Communion every day. This was a grace, that you, at sixteen years of age, understood in all its significance. 

Forgive us, if to our way of seeing things, your way of understanding and seeing the monastic life seems unusual, so coloured by a negative theology, the fruits of this being only severe mortification and austere penance. You were of course a child of your time. Nonetheless this does not put a distance between us, rather it spurs us into finding in the languages of today, the expression of an asceticism that corresponds to our being Carmelites, nuns, contemplatives totally involved in the constructive dialectic of memory and prophecy of a charism that is still alive and life-giving. 

We look at you and see you as a nun, fully part of the life of the community, being very familiar with it and knowing how to appreciate its spiritual strength and its fragility. You had to deal with significant changes. Early on you were accustomed  to managing the time that you gave to your own personal prayer, and now it seems to you that time is gone, until you see that you are now part of a dimension of life that grips your whole person, day and night and that gradually makes your existence a continuous prayer. Your days play out, marked by the same rhythm of choir, work, meditation, cell, all in the kind of silence that surrounds everything, because, now as it was then, the life of a contemplative nun unfolds in ordinariness, in the “empty and apparently useless” that in silence opens up to contemplation and that little by little transforms life into prayer.

It is very consoling for us to see these aspects of your life as ones in which we can see ourselves mirrored, in the assurance that comes from the beauty of a charism that does not wear out, and of a vocation that does not lose either power or attraction with the passage of time.

We see you as one who is anxious to live fully and deeply what you are called to be. You are tried by illness, but you also enjoy gifts of mysticism, ecstasy, and rapture. For you too darkness becomes a reality. You too pass through the hour of shadow, trial and pure faith. “All I ask of you O Word, is that you give me light and that the light by which you oblige me to keep moving forward be a true light. O loving word, the time is getting near when the light will not be there and the darkness will come. Here comes the dark brightness and the bright darkness” (Revelations and Intelligences, 294).

You are submerged in temptations, scruples, interior and exterior pain, but the thing that afflicts you most is sin in its darkest effect, the sin that gets inside every human experience, and distances the person from the heart of God. This is a time of purification for you. God brings you to the experience of the pain of even the smallest thing that might be out of tune with your relationship with him. It is the time to lose yourself in order to find yourself even more, a woman in a unique relationship. Your faith is strengthened and that crucifix that you hold so close makes you more like him to the point of allowing his heart to beat in yours and release that uncontainable love that he has for every human being and for the Church, ever holy and sinful. 

We can still see in your profile traces of our own. We too, led into the aura of solitude by an Eternal Love, sooner or later, come to taste the bitter flavour of the struggle. How difficult it is to change, to be converted in heart and in mind.  For each one of us too every day is a step further towards  a full, conscious and mature adherence to the stature of Christ. We grow every day in the awareness of our littleness, our limits, our sin, and as that continues the cry for mercy that rises from every kind of existential periphery becomes an ever greater provocation.

You lived in the years that followed the Council of Trent. We are  daughters of the beginnings of the third millennium and  we would love if everyone could truly  experience the love of Jesus. Really, this present time seems to be a time of confusion, of a great ethical relativism and of corruption at every level. Sometimes it looks like as if the bad is getting the upper hand and peace is merely a utopia and that Christ’s agony goes on and on without a break all over the world.

You had a desire in your heart to see a Church that was pure, a Church Spouse, a Church mother and that is our desire too. “May the flame that comes out of their monastery be such as to set on fire all the hearts that are frozen in love of self, in seeking their own will, in the desire for worldly things”. (Renewal of the Church 105)

Just like you, we would love Jesus to find a welcome in every human heart. And yet how many arguments and contradictions there are. You know how we live on the margins of the world and it would seem that we are not called by God to get involved on the frontlines like many witnesses to the faith. Nevertheless, we, like you, feel that we are fully part of what is going on in the world as women, as contemplatives and as Carmelites, and we know that we are called to jog the consciences of people at every level, the secular and the ecclesiastical. 

Your earthly life teaches us that in the first place our task is to become part of the sacrifice of Jesus. He gave his life out of love and in order to do this we have everyday to become more him, take on his DNA, and become accustomed to living in the Spirit. 

In the concrete situation in which you live, you cultivate more and more the consciousness that God is calling you to an active engagement in the renewal of the Church, not an easy task, but one that is made necessary by what you call, “the sweet will of God”. Your cry reaches into our day, just like an echo of the voice of God, in God’s constant search for his children.

What happens in your life and the contagious desire to make his love known that burns in our hearts also, makes us believe that in spite of the continual failure of humanity, God does not abandon the hope of bringing “fire upon the earth”. Adam and Cain, the generation of the flood, and the generation of the tower of Babel, your time, our time ....

As we write, we are thinking of the ideological wars of this present time, and the violence incited by extremists that in the name of religion threaten and attack our peace and the security of the world, and life itself. We think about the thousands of refugees, abandoned in the sea, trafficked illegally, without any certainty of reaching our shores, stripped of every dignity behind the alibi of surviving. The stories are many, too many stories of failures and revolts. Yet God does not abandon anyone, and hoping against all hope, continues to call people and to love people.

As we read your works, we are overjoyed to see that even though the women of your time might not have had much access to the Scriptures, you cultivated a great love for the Word and you understood that even going back to the people of Israel, faith is not the result of human searching for God but rather of God’s movement towards humans, as the expression of a nostalgia for the original beauty of the work of his hands that we are. Then, like a little bell, you wanted to remind the Church that it belongs to Christ.

“My Word has a little bell in his left hand. O God, how I admire seeing you like that, but there is some great thing hidden from us and it is there to teach me. With this you are thinking that I should understand that I have to remind the spouses of the perfection for which you have called us, and you want this little bell to give out a deep sound but make noise, because I have to act gently and meekly in announcing and encouraging,  and with no bitterness, getting more good out of speaking gently and sweetly than by being sharp and severe. You hold it on the left side because that is the side where your heart is, to show me that the words that I will say have to come from the heart, I mean from a deep love of God and of my neighbour, and I must not say things that have not first had an effect on me”. (Probations, 1 251)

All of this seems to be perfectly in tune with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, because of which the Holy Father wishes in practical terms to remind everyone that we belong to Christ through the Church.

With a style that was typical of you, you stretch our vision and help us to see, as contemplatives, that our experience of communion with the Church is not the result of any kind of abstract love. You transmit a love for her that is so strong, that it broadens and deepens the interior awareness of our calling and of our task in the Church: we are to seek God, in truth and humility, beginning with the renewal of our life, with a greater and purer fidelity to the Gospel, and for us, there is a constant demand to be humble intercessors of mercy for all.

We remain in our monasteries, but we know that to seek God in truth will lead us to encounter him in the brothers and sisters that in a variety of ways come to us and in those whom perhaps we will never meet, but for whom every instant of our lives is offered so that they too may recognise themselves as beloved children of the same Father. 

Yes, in this face of a Church that humbly intercedes before God we recognise our duty for today: to always seek the truth, open to understanding the pain of others with great compassion, in following the greatest of all Truth, Christ crucified and risen. 

Quaerere veritatem: our community’s journey lies in searching for the truth, through dialogue and encounter, facing up to reality, listening, under the sign of the cross of Jesus and with our eyes fixed on the resurrection. 

Magdalen, like many other sisters, you helped the story of Carmel to advance, along the path of witnessing to the faith in the total handing over of your life. In many ways, and all of them praiseworthy. We think of our fathers long ago on Mount Carmel, who out of a desire for the restoration of holy Jerusalem, pitched the tent of their lives in the style of a total and exclusive belonging to God alone. Then we begin to think about the great Teresa, inspired and driven by apostolic zeal to found monasteries in which lives would be spent in prayer for the salvation of the world. 

What should we say about the sixteen sisters of Compèigne, who died in defence of the faith that was being threatened by pseudo liberal ideologies, or the young Thérèse of Lisieux who with her little way, from her cell and from her bed of pain, won the prize of being proclaimed the patroness of the missions... And again, a little closer to us, the great Edith Stein, Jewish convert and then Carmelite, aware that she was contributing, by the offering of her life to the good of the Jewish people. Now you are all there, the crown of Mary, interceding for us and rooting for us. We look at you all, we cherish your spiritual legacy and from it we feel encouraged to follow the courageous paths of witnessing to love.

Dear Magdalen, before we leave you, we beg your forgiveness for having kept you so long with our chattering. We ask you as our big sister and companion on the journey; help us to keep our hearts always turned towards God, in listening to him, and in being constantly purified, and help us so that we can always renew our acceptance of the will of God the Father, so that from the margins of the street, where our vocation is located, our life may be an eloquent and contagious witness to love, and so help to renew the face of the Church making it shine with a feminine geniality.  

With deepest affection, in oneness and hope.

Your sisters in Cerreto Carmel,

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." 

 



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