A View from the Monastery

Aug 31

Speak Room

Speak Room

Sr. Mary Agnes

Sr. Mary Agnes

I always enjoy visits with my youngest sister. I like to say my sister, the sister. She is indeed a Discalced Carmelite (OCD) nun in a monastery in Pittsford, NY, just two blocks from Rochester, NY. We use the iPad to show her the family photos. This time I had her take a few photos with it. She caught on very fast as you can see from these photos. On this visit, she talked about being a hermit. It started when I asked her if she would share stories from our visit during recreation. She said no. That got me thinking because I knew the Carmelites worked in silence and solitude, but I haven’t heard the term hermit before as it related to her order. She talked about the history of the Carmelites and the start on Mount Carmel as hermits living close to each other. That resulted in me doing some Googling when I got home.

As Wikipedia reports, “Carmelites trace their roots and their name to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. There, in the 13th century, a band of European men gathered together to live a simple life of prayer. These early hermits were mostly laity, who lived an unofficial religious life of poverty, penance and prayer. Between 1206 and 1214, St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, brought the hermits on Mount Carmel together, at their request, into a community. He wrote them a formula for living, which expressed their intention and reflected the spirit of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and of the early community of Jerusalem. Over the years, the Rule was “mitigated” several times. Consequently, the Carmelites bore less and less resemblance to the first hermits of Mount Carmel. Along came Spanish saint, St. Teresa of Avila, who worked with St. John of the Cross to return to the Primitive Rule of the early hermits.

The Carmelite charism or characteristic that inspires the group and distinguishes it from other religious is prayer and contemplation. Even today, in addition to the daily celebration of the full Liturgy of the Hours, two hours are set aside for uninterrupted silent prayer. Carmelite communities are kept fairly small. Eleven nuns live in the Pittsford Monastery.

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