Pray, work, pray, repeat

| March 25, 2015 | 0 Comments

Carmelite Hermits look to St. Teresa of Avila in their life of prayer for the people

Carmelite Brother Joseph Bubanko uses hand tools to work on a carving that will be displayed in the order’s monastery in Lake Elmo. The wood he uses comes from trees harvested on the grounds. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Carmelite Brother Christopher Burnside uses hand tools to work on a carving that will be displayed in the order’s monastery in Lake Elmo. The wood he uses comes from trees harvested on the grounds. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

What many people consider a retreat experience is a way of life for the Carmelite Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

At their cloistered monastery tucked away on DeMontreville Trail near Lake Elmo, two priests and five brothers — one of whom is studying at the St. Paul Seminary — dedicate their lives to praying for others, looking to many great saints of the Carmelite tradition, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John of the Cross among them. But one in particular guides them through their days not just of prayer, but also of study, outreach and craftwork, by which they support themselves.

St. Teresa of Avila, in what the Carmelites called her “down-to-earth” ways and “deep love for Jesus,” has taught for five centuries how to live prayerfully. March 28 marks her 500th birthday.

Father Peter Peach

Father Peter Peach

Father Peter Peach, who made his solemn profession with the Carmelite community last August, said St. Teresa has remained relatable throughout the centuries because her teachings are so practical. Reading her works is like entering into conversation with her, he said.

“She had an aptitude for friendships. Among her great friends were lay men and lay women,” he said. “She loved to discuss prayer with them, [saying] it’s possible for everyone to pray, not just those who are called to the cloister.”

St. Teresa explains prayer simply: It’s a conversation between two friends.

“You go to prayer knowing that you are loved and knowing that the one whom you’re seeking is already there waiting for you, and that the conversation just simply begins,” Father Peter said. “And there doesn’t have to be any kind of method, you just have to make time for him.”

Father John Burns, prior, said his community’s contemplative prayer is central to that relationship with God.

“Unfortunately, most of us have no experience of that, no awareness of that,” he said of Catholics in general. “We have an idea of our faith and hopefully are guided by our faith and the commandments of God, but in terms of having some kind of a personal experience of God’s presence within us, that’s not very common. And so what contemplative prayer or meditation is about is a desire to make some contact with this God who dwells within us, who calls us to friendship with himself.”

The Carmelites will celebrate a special Mass March 28 for St. Teresa’s 500th birthday at the Carmelite nuns’ monastery, located on their shared acreage. Since Oct. 15, 2014 — St. Teresa’s feast day — the community has been commemorating the year of St. Teresa, which will end Oct. 15 this year.

Her presence at the monastery goes beyond the six hours the men spend in prayer each day.

“We have an hour of recreation every night, and it’s as if she’s at recreation,” Father Peach said. “She’s one of those ever-present figures in our life. We speak of her as our holy mother. She teaches how to live the life.”

The cloister of the Carmelite Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the spring. Photo courtesy the Carmelite Hermits

The cloister of the Carmelite Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the spring. Photo courtesy the Carmelite Hermits

Simple life, great calling

The hermits’ interactions with the world beyond their gates is limited, but their spiritual connection to the Church and its faithful is great.

“We never forget the Church on the outside,” said Father Peach, adding that people regularly call them with prayer intentions. “Despite our silence and solitude, we always have our brothers and sisters in our hearts and in our minds as we go through the day.”

That’s what Michael Canning discovered about a year ago when he began working on the monastery grounds.

“Personally, I’ve had prayers answered out here that I couldn’t get anywhere else,” he said.

Canning, a parishioner of St. Michael in Stillwater, had worked at a St. Paul hardware store until it closed last year. Brother Joseph Bubanko, the community’s woodcarver, got to know Canning during his stops for supplies and offered him work at the monastery.

“I’m more at peace now than I’ve ever been, and it’s because I’m out here,” Canning said. “And I’m able to bring that back home. My wife and I value that more than anything else. I don’t carry the aggravation, the headache, the anger I had when I was working out in the public. I bring the peace of God home, and it really reflects.”

When Canning isn’t at the monastery, he’s a stay-at-home dad to his daughter, born Jan. 23 and baptized in the chapel at the nuns’ monastery. He believes it was the Carmelites’ prayer intercessions that made him and his wife able to conceive after some difficulty. Brother Joseph is the godfather.

Raised Catholic, Canning attends daily Mass with the hermits and said it’s through them that he also has come to appreciate the sacredness of the Mass.

“I didn’t get it until I came out here, truthfully,” he said. “It’s the slowness of it, the pace and the focus of it. You can see what God does on a daily basis by just slowing down and being with people who live it.”

Canning’s wife was raised in communist Russia with no faith tradition. He said because of his experience with the Carmelites, she now shares his devotion.

“She has come to see, believe and witness the power of God,” he said.

Canning said that until he became acquainted with the Carmelites, he didn’t realize what monastic life meant.

“Taking it from a personal standpoint, you see this and you think, OK, well, these guys are just trying to get to heaven and be first in line. But that’s not the case,” he said. “It’s not so self-serving. It’s a sacrifice for all of us. We give up certain things in order to have a family, but we stay in the community. They give up the community in order for us to be closer to God.”

Potential growth

While anyone is welcome to visit the hermits’ monastery for prayer and spiritual direction, they hope to offer more to the larger community by building a public chapel adjacent to their hermitage.

This spring, they’ll begin a $3 million fundraising campaign for the chapel, where people would be able to join them for daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours and private prayer. Father Burns said their chapel is too small to accommodate the many people who ask to pray with them. The hermits hope to begin construction in 2016 or 2017.

“When you need a personal connection with God for either a tragedy or for thanksgiving, this is the place to do it, because the solemnity here focuses you so much,” Canning said. “It’s not about the community, it’s about you and God. And that’s what this place does, it gives you a personal connection with God that you can’t get anywhere else, even in a parish setting. It’s that connection that is powerful.”

For more information about the Carmelite Hermits, visit http://www.decorcarmeli.com.


 

An icon of St. Teresa of Avila painted by Carmelite Brother Christopher Burnside. The Carmelite Hermits sell a variety of icons, wood carvings, books and more in their gift shop, open from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Photo courtesy the Carmelite Hermits

An icon of St. Teresa of Avila painted by Carmelite Brother Christopher Burnside. The Carmelite Hermits sell a variety of icons, wood carvings, books and more in their gift shop, open from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Photo courtesy the Carmelite Hermits

St. Teresa of Avila (aka St. Teresa of Jesus)

March 28, 1515 – Oct. 4, 1582

  • First woman named a doctor of the Church (universal teacher)
  • Foundress of the Discalced Carmelites; founded 17 monasteries of Carmelite nuns in Spain
  • Author of four major works:
    “The Life”
    “The Way of Perfection”
    “The Interior Castle”
    “The Foundations”

– Carmelite Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Category: Featured, The Last Word, Year of Consecrated Life