We had a lovely surprise at supper on Monday when we were informed that we had been invited to celebrate Mass at the monastery of the Incarnation and visit the cloister on Tuesday morning. After an early breakfast we set off at 8.00 am on the ten minute walk to the Incarnation. The magnificent bronze statue of St Teresa with her staff stands in front of the monastery. The main chapel and the chapel around St Teresa’s room are both magnificent.
We had a second surprise when the singing for Mass began. I assumed we were listening to a cd to when I heard a hymn sung in harmony and accompanied by a number of instruments. I presumed it to setting a prayerful mood in preparation for Mass. I quickly discovered that it was the community singing the entrance hymn! The singing all through Mass was exquisite. Fr General was the chief celebrant and he spoke of the privilege that it was for us a nuns and friars to share Mass in this place that played such an important role in the life of St Teresa. The homilist was Fr Miguel Marquez, provincial of the recently established Spanish Province (a combination of five provinces – Andalusia, Aragon-Valencia, Burgos, Castile and Catalonia). He gave a very moving homily which Fr Daniel Chowning has kindly translated. I will forward it when he has time to translate it. The poor man is exhausted with all the work he has as moderator.
After Mass the nuns welcomed us into the cloister. The Monastery of the Incarnation is also celebrating its fifth centenary having being founded on April 4, 1515. It is on a very large scale which is to be expected when you think that there were 180 nuns there in St Teresa’s time. We visited the room that St Teresa occupied as prioress with its own separate prayer space. We saw the Chapter Room where she was introduced as the prioress imposed on the community and where she put the statue of Our Lady of Clemency in the seat of the prioress to indicate who the real prioress was – a stroke of genius. The statue is now preserved in another chapel upstairs which we were invited to visit. The nuns told us that to this day they go there to pray for special intentions. We finally visited the garden where St Teresa planted a hazelnut tree which still produces nuts. Because we were such a large number only a few got to see the actual room where St Teresa lived when she first entered the monastery.
An added surprise was meeting Sr Juana Maria, a native of Washington, DC. It was great to have an English speaker to explain some of the history of the monastery. She told us of how she came to be in Avila. She felt called to Carmel and was thinking of entering Philadelphia Carmel. She felt a draw to Avila which she shared with her brother who was then a seminarian in Rome. He wrote to the prioress at the Incarnation – without telling his sister! The prioress invited her to come on retreat which she did in late December ‘94 – early January ‘95. She spent a month there and really felt at home. However there was no room for her. She prayed to Our Lady of Clemency for guidance. The night before she was due to leave an old nun who had been very ill died – leaving a cell free for a new entrant! Sr Juana completed her course in Spirituality in Rome and returned that summer to Avila – and the rest is history! She told us that there are normally a maximum of 29 nuns because that is the number of cells. But they currently have 30 because one nun is very ill in the infirmary and a Cardinal asked the nuns to make an exception and take a young woman who had been waiting four years to enter! We were all struck by how young the community is! There are four in formation and three other young women waiting to enter.
The nuns were Calced Carmelites for many years but when they escaped the Spanish Civil War without loss of life or property they felt called to return to their origins and became Discalced again in 1942. They are a very vibrant community with infectious joy. It was a real privilege to meet them.
The morning was tinged with sadness when we learned that the father of Fr Benjamin Elias (Provincial of South Kerala) died during the night. It is sad for Fr Benjamin to be so far from his family at this lonely time. May Mr Elias rest in peace.
We came back to earth with a bang when we gathered at 11.00 for our working session. Fr Daniel presented a synthesis of the group discussion on community. This was followed by almost endless interventions on themes that we have heard at every discussion on community! Strangely many of them were made by the same people who were objecting and testing our patience in the past two days!
Fr Prasad Theruvathu of Manjummel then gave a presentation on the Apostolate. He used the working document but elaborated on it with a very good powerpoint presentation. I found his outline of how our world might look like in 2050 very interesting and challenging. It will present many new challenges for the Order.
In the afternoon the groups discussed the relevant section of the working document. Fr General joined us at 4.30 pm to discuss a nomination for Definitor. I am not at liberty to disclose the contents of the discussion but he expressed satisfaction at our choice – it was also his! He took the opportunity to discuss the question of formation with us. With the shortage of vocations in our provinces he believes it is time for us to create joint formation programmes. He thinks that different provinces might at best be able to provide one stage of formation for the whole group (Noviciate, Philosophy and Theology studies). He asked us also to explore ongoing formation programmes for our friars.
This morning’s Mass was for the Evangelization of People and was led by the African friars with Fr George Tambala as chief celebrant and Fr Roger Tshimanga as homilist. The theme reminded me of our Nigerian brothers for whom I offered the Mass.
In the morning session we had the synthesis of the group discussions on Apostolate. This was followed by a period for observations, clarifications etc. At this stage we can almost predict who will speak!
After the coffee break Fr George Tambala, the African Definitor, made an excellent presentation on the Order’s Missions. One can see from the fact that there are only three paragraphs on the missions in Constitutions that there written for a very different world. Not only are there many more missions of the Order now but there have also been major developments in the understanding of mission in the thirty five years since the Constitutions were written. Mission today is understood as dialogue. It takes people were they are, is open to their traditions, their culture and their experience; recognizes the validity of their own religious existence and the integrity of their own religious goals. But it also encourages people to go further, to embrace a fuller and deeper truth. Fr George pointed out a major missing element in the Order: the study of the theology of mission in our formation programmes. It is essential in today’s complex, multicultural, multi-religious and globalized world. He also made practical proposals on how the Order might better organize its missions through the Mission Secretariat at the General house in Rome.
After his presentation Fr General read a number of letters that had been addressed to the Chapter with proposals from individuals. One that came from the Conference of English speaking African countries merited special attention. It was a request for greater representation at the Chapter. Fr General proposed that the language groups consider whether or not Regional Vicariates should automatically attend the General Chapter and Extraordinary Definitory.
Fr General also proposed a timeline for the re-reading of the Constitutions for consideration by the language groups and which we will be voted on later.
We had a nice surprise at the end of the morning session when we were told that we will have Mass at San Jose Carmel tomorrow evening.
The afternoon was given to the language group discussions and we ended with a meeting with Fr Antonio who is organizing the Teresian gathering and the Youth Meeting in August. When I get more information I will let you know about these gatherings.
I will let you know the names of the new Definitors when they are elected tomorrow.
The following are the names of the new Definitors and their provinces of origin: