Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whose feast the universal Church celebrates today, is observed as a national holiday in Chile (where, by the way, I’ve been working this summer), the country consecrated to Mary under this title. And perhaps not coincidentally, the first Chilean to be canonized was St. Teresa of the Andes (1900-1920), the Carmelite nun who died at the age of 19 after only 11 months of religious life–and without, it would seem, leaving so much as a ripple on the surface of Chilean society. Teresa was canonized quite simply for “living, believing, and loving”. Chile has, of course, her industrious “Martha” as well in the person of St. Alberto Hurtado, SJ (1901-1952), the social thinker, founder of institutions, and father of the poor. But, all in all, the spirit of Carmel has been more notable in Chile over these last days. And despite my loyalty to my Jesuit confreres, I have to admit that there is a special urgency to the holiness of Carmel. For attention to the Church’s esteem for “unaccomplished,” contemplative lives helps to disambiguate two ideals so easily confused in our age: Christian holiness and philanthropic moralism—with the latter being understood more or less as the duty to reduce human human suffering whenever possible.
The Chilean Church’s seemingly disproportionate joy over these feasts of Carmel reminded me of a letter written by Georges Bernanos that I ran across some years back (and that has haunted me ever since). Read the rest of this entry »