My name is Sister Robin of the Blessed Sacrament. Born in a beautiful suburb of Philadelphia named Wynnewood as Robin Stratton, and the firstborn of five children, I entered Carmel in 1958, a year after graduating from high school. I have lived as a Discalced Carmelite for more than 60 amazing years. It has been a journey of prayer for God’s people on a road of light and darkness, of joy and suffering, not unlike the life of my sisters and brothers around the world.
Saint Teresa believed that prayer is apostolic, that the energy of praying people reaches out to embrace all people, all situations, all circumstances. Thus, as a friend told me when I was very young in Carmel: “Your life is not for yourself. In fact, it is not for your own consolation at all, but for God’s people. “This was a salutary lesson I have never forgotten. We minister to the people “God so loves” directly and indirectly, doing what we can to be of service to those around us, whether it be making sandwiches for the
homeless, or providing a place of prayer for others. All are welcome at our liturgies which try to make contemplative prayer contemporary and accessible. Our Sisters share the writings of the great Carmelite saints and teach prayer to those who gather with us. We pray with those who telephone, write, email, or contact us on our websites.
In solitude as well as in community, we carry in our praying hearts the entire universe, its dreams and demons, its starlight, daylight and black holes. We press them close against the Heart of Goodness itself.
Come with me. Let me tell you a story- a story that, like most, has a past, a present and a future.
Since the sixteenth century when we were founded by Saint Teresa of Avila, Carmelites have lived in small autonomous communities, self-sustaining and self-contained. Teresa desired that we be small enough that “all could be friends; all could be cherished”. But we were virtually isolated from one another’s Carmel. As a young Sister, I knew no Carmelites except the Saints whose works I read assiduously and those with whom I lived. This began to change in the years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
While we remain autonomous and self-supporting, our small communities (no more than twenty-two to a house,) have learned that we need one another.
The next chapter of our story is recounted on our website[ccacarmels.org]: “On February 2, 1970 an Association of Carmelite Nuns was formed in the United States. The primary aim and purpose of this association is to deepen and develop the Teresian contemplative life in the contemporary church and world. In virtue of their common source, vocation and mission in the church, the member monasteries through corporate effort, study, and sharing, seek to collaborate in the work of renewal and adaptation.
“Now called Carmelite Communities Associated, CCA, this association grew out of a desire to respond to the Holy See’s repeated directions regarding federation of contemplative communities; more immediately it has grown out of our increasing desire for greater unity and collaboration.
“In the strength of this unity it is our hope and purpose to provide an atmosphere of respect, support, and encouragement to one another.”
Our Charter of Life, a contemporary statement of our way of life, was completed by the Sisters themselves in 1979. In it we read: “We believe that each of us is called to follow (Christ) in a life of apostolic love by searching the depths of divine intimacy in solitary prayer. “This prayer is not for ourselves alone. Saint Teresa admonishes us that “the fruit of prayer is good works, Sisters, always good works.” Prayer, being apostolic, reaches out to embrace our wounded but amazing world. Companionship with Jesus “tends to accomplish what any close friendship does. Little by little the person takes on the mind and heart of the dear friend, Jesus. Soon God’s great love and care for all people and for all of creation is mirrored in the mind and heart of the person who is faithful to this life of prayer (CCA website)
For nearly 50 years I have experienced how life-giving it is to connect with my Sisters in other monasteries. CCA brings us together to support one another by working on projects that advance our experience of the lived charism – and to transmit this charism to a new generation. I have seen face-to-face how we have grown and matured in our relationships. New generations of Carmelites have grown up in Carmel, aware of the needs in other monasteries and willing to work together for the common good. Our new members are not isolated but support and encourage one another through peer relationships – and what wouldn’t I have given for a peer!
From its small beginnings we have been dreaming together. We established a quarterly newsletter to keep one another abreast of the events in our communities. Our dreaming stretched us beyond ourselves and encouraged us to invite other Carmelite Associations in the United States and around the world to our bi-annual meetings. As time went on, we initiated the use of technology such as live-streaming so that all members are able participate in our gatherings, and currently, we utilize Zoom as a marvelous means of communication. We have established “Sisterly Visits” to one another’s monasteries as a means of providing mutual support to the identified needs of our communities” (Goal Statement).
Our church has offered contemplative women like ourselves more responsibility for our lives and greater self-governance for our associations. In order to respond to this invitation and our current institutional challenges, our programming is designed to give us the tools we need to take more responsibility for our role in the church and in our order. Thus, we are planning a gathering in the summer of 2019. The meeting, which will be held at the Jesuit Retreat house in Faulkner, MD, is near our original property located in Port Tobacco. This first Carmel was founded by American women who entered Carmel in the English Lowlands and, in 1790, returned to found Carmel in America. Most of our monasteries in the United States are embedded in this Carmel’s history. Therefore, we plan to explore the origins, spirit, and history of the Founding Mothers, the ways in which their dreams live in us and continue to shape our future. Though the meeting was originally intended for the newer members of our monasteries it has, by popular demand, been opened to include all the members who wish to attend, with time set aside for the newer member to meet as a smaller group in order that the bonds among them can be facilitated. These are the women on whom Carmel in this country will be built. And we are passionate about that future!
In 2020, we will celebrate the 400th Anniversary of English-speaking Carmelites and the 50th anniversary of CCA. Our hope is rooted in the past but vibrantly alive in a present that holds in its heart “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted (Gaudium et Spes).