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Interview with Sr. Veronica

August 15, 2007

Q1: Would you tell us a little about yourself and your background? Can you recall any connection between what happened in your youth and your decision to be a Carmelite?

“Prior to my conversion I had a Methodist background, but I came to the Catholic Church, in Oxnard, California, when I was 16. This conversion occurred after I ceased believing in God at age eleven.  When I was eight and my only brother was five, after suffering with tuberculosis for 3 years, my mother died. Medical help was limited and tremendously expensive, especially during that time of the Great Depression. Finally my father decided to send us from Oxnard, California, where we were living, to Los Angeles, 60 miles south of Oxnard, to be with my aunt, for a couple of weeks while school was out. So, he left us there and the next thing we knew was that he just disappeared. I realize now, he thought there was no way for us to get help unless he wasn’t in the picture. During this time I didn’t mope around or anything, actually I was a rather happy child. I had a happy childhood with some hard patches.  At that point, I thought my father was dead and they just weren’t telling us because my mother had passed away just 2 years beforehand. This is when, at 11 or 12, I stopped believing in God and began reading scientific books that tended to ‘debunk’ religion. I wasn’t old enough at that age to cope with what I was reading. But at 16 I had a conversion experience and became Catholic. No one in my family really had anything against the Church.  Even though my Aunt wasn’t Catholic, my Dad’s side of the family was; actually he was the only one not practicing. "

"The way my conversion happened, if you want the whole story, is as follows:

My best friend and I each just bought a new dress and we wanted to show them off. So, we chose the biggest church in town to attend Sunday services. It was a Catholic Church. I had no idea what was going on. I knew nothing about what the Catholic Church believed, but I said to myself, ‘I’m going to come back!’ Every weekend after that I started out for the 11:00 am Mass - I didn’t know that church services where held at any other time but 11:00 - and ended up at the beach instead."

"By now, we were living in the war era, World War II. On sundays, when the boys would be off duty, I liked to go to the beach with a group of friends. Soon the boys would be going overseas and this was all very innocent, but I wasn’t getting to church. One sunday in May I woke up and thought, ‘I’m getting to church today no matter what!’ So I did. I was kneeling in the very back of the church and again I had no idea what was going on because the mass was all in Latin. Suddenly I said, to myself, ‘There is a God and he’s in this church!’ Now, I had no idea about the Blessed Sacrament or anything. When I got out I went over to my Aunt’s, who was Catholic, and told her, ‘I want you to introduce me to a priest. I want to become Catholic’, which, she did. The next time as I was leaving to go to mass, I noticed my brother with a wistful look on his face. So I asked him, ‘Do you want to come with me?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ As we were walking out of the church I told him, ‘I’m joining this Church!’ He responded, ‘I am too!’ We took instructions together and both became Catholic. My dad finally came back to the church after my final vows as a Carmelite; shortly before he found out he was ill with cancer. His return to the faith allowed him to have a very holy last few years.”

Wow! You can really see God’s providence in your life. All your friend and you wanted to do was show off your dresses, and you ended up Catholic.

“Yes! I imagine it’s the only conversion due to vanity! That’s how it started, God just wanted to get me in there.”

“The Church became such an important part of my life and I was thinking about entering a convent. However, I was told that because I was such a new convert it would be better that I wait awhile. So, I attended Mount St. Mary’s College for Women in Los Angeles, which was the best thing in the world for me at that time. Later, I had to take a year off from school in order to work so that I could support Dad and Dick, my brother. When Dad was able to take over again, having been in touch with the Carmelites during this time, I finally got accepted into the order. I entered and didn’t have a lot of difficulty, I was fine. I always had a very strong religious sensitivity. When I was five, I remember, it must have been June, seeing a movie in our Methodist church about the Passion. During the crucifixion I cried, the other children laughed at me, but even at that age I was very religiously sensitive. It really touched my heart.  Maybe it was genetic. My mother was an example to me of a joyful Christian. She was very happy, and a good Methodist. She never needed a lot of things, nor did she have them. She really loved God and this gave her joy.”

Q2: This may be somewhat abstract, but how would you explain “Vocation”? What does it mean to have a vocation? 

“First, I think you have to look at the derivation of the word: ‘To be Called’ or ‘To Call’. It is that; a Call, not hearing voices necessarily, but a call to the heart from God. We all have a vocation. When the idea of a vocation used to be discussed it was always in terms of a religious vocation. But in my own mind I always add that everyone has a vocation. A married person has a vocation to marriage. The single person has a vocation to the single life. And the Religious to the religious life.It’s a call from God. The heart is moved toward that, even when you’re fighting it off.”

So, a Vocation is that which God created you for.

“Yes. That’s what it should be. For awhile, I was fighting it really hard, I was enjoying college and I didn’t want to leave. Finally, I think in my own case, He kept narrowing things down to where there wasn’t anything else! No, not really. I always had a choice; there were marriage proposals, and…But that just wasn’t it. The vocation to marriage wasn’t for me. To the amusement of my family, I would say, even when I was young, that I’d never marry. There is a certain joy that comes when you follow your vocation, you can’t explain why, but you just know that’s your vocation and there is a joy."

Q3: You personally seemed to have little trouble finding what God wanted of you and where. However, many people struggle with discernment, and even once knowing their vocation they are unsure of what order God wants them to join. How do you recommend discerning these things?

“It’s always a good idea to speak with someone who can help, such as a spiritual guide, to discern your own spirit, to see if you really are being called, and to discover where.  Prayer has a lot to do with it. When you pray, you begin to discover. You may hear about this order and that order, and eventually something will grab at you. I think God gets us into where He wants us to be. When you begin to become aware of your vocation, it is helpful to have a spiritual guide who will help you discern the motions of the Holy Spirit.”

Q4: Regarding prayer; how should one pray? What is prayer? Is it not simply that communication with God?

“Holy Mother Teresa of Avila said, ‘It [prayer] is a loving conversation with Him whom we love, and who we know loves us.’ I think we try to complicate it when it is actually rather simple. ‘Prayer is simply the lifting up of the soul to God, in sadness or in joy’ –Definition of St. Therese. If we can get in the habit of believing in the presence of God, because as long as we are in the state of grace we are in His presence, then the soul is loving Him. Even if one is not in the state of grace, God is still present, holding us in existence. We are in Him, and created for Him. He is omnipresent. Remembering His presence doesn’t come easy. I’m still working on it!”

“Even the distractions can be turned towards God when you have that link between your daily life and Him. Prayer can be made very complicated, as I said before, but it is just a loving talk, with someone who loves us. We can get very formal with different ‘formulas’ and certain written prayers. But anything that helps you to really communicate with God can be used. One of our Carmelite fathers says, ‘Pray as you can and don’t try to pray as you can’t.’ It helped me. When I entered I didn’t really know how to pray any other way than reciting written prayers. We had two hours of prayers that gave me time to learn. However, you can’t expect to have ejaculatory prayer at all times. You can’t do all the talking. Sometimes you have to just sit silently in the presence of God, even when the distractions come, relax about it. If you need to take care of the distraction think about it for a few minutes and then come back to prayer. I would say, ‘Be simple and meek.’”

Q5: Often we can wonder, “Will I really be happy if I follow what God wants of me, even when it’s so different from what I had planned or imagined?” 

“If God loves us then I think He will give us the grace to desire it too. Even if part of you is shrieking. Honestly, I was shaking in my boots when I entered the Carmelites. I thought, ‘What are Dad and Dick going to do without me?’ They got along fine. Even if for a second it’s very scary, like jumping off a cliff, but you do it even if it’s an act of the will. There has to be a choice. You don’t grit your teeth anymore than you would if you get married, I will say that. There might be a certain resistance just for that first step; personally I found it very hard to leave my family. Even though I was really eager to enter, it was difficult. Once I had entered, I knew I was home. Even though my family may not have known it, I did. After that initially hard step, it was fine. If God really does want it, He gives the grace. Also, there has to be a certain desire. You can’t be completely revolted by the whole idea of going. He wants our happiness. In the call to religious life, there are many times of joy, as well as trials and spiritual difficulties. There is something here that in the depths of a person keeps them steady and at peace. If a person isn’t called, it’s like planting a bush in the wrong soil-it just won’t flourish, they will be miserable. Usually we can spot it, though. We have even received those who unknowingly come more for the sake of their parents than because God was calling them. These became very unhappy. Sometimes the parents seem to think only they know what will make their child happy and decide for them which vocation they should have. You just can’t decide that.”

Q6: Lastly, would you tell us about the vocation of a Carmelite and the Carmelite spirituality?

“Foremost in the Carmelite spirituality is the calling to a life of prayer. All orders have times of prayer, but the Carmelite apostolate is prayer. The spirituality, itself, is actually very simple. It is: Seeking to know God’s will, to live in His presence. As I said, it is very simple. There are many methods of prayer and I’m sure all of us, in our community, have different ways we pray. So for each Carmelite, the spirituality will be manifested differently, nevertheless there will be certain basic elements present. We don’t have a Dominican spirituality, not to say it is any less worthy, or a Jesuit spirituality, although we may use the retreats of St. Ignatius, with a Carmelite flavor, for example. For me, it’s hard to describe our spirituality because it’s so uncomplicated. It is simply living in the presence of God and trying to do His will as best one can. Trying to pray to the best of your abilities; this can be hard with a distraction here and another one there. Our day is primarily dedicated to prayer, however as I said, you can’t be making ejaculatory prayers all the time or keeping your mind on praying, praying, praying… there are times when you need to focus on your work. So, even if your attention isn’t completely directed towards God, you live in His presence. It’s like being in the same room as someone you love; you may not be directly speaking with them but you know they are present. In our schedule, we have two hours of personal prayer, one in the morning and one in the evening. We pray the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours as it’s called no, five times a day, which is in the morning, midmorning, midday, afternoon and at night. Counting Mass, we then have a large portion of the day set aside for prayer. Outside of our set prayer times we work, which there isn’t a lot of time for so we have to get a lot done in little time, in addition to periods of recreation or relaxation.”

Q7: I believe the Carmelite order is a very ancient one. What is the history behind the order? 

“Actually some of the first Crusaders who went to Palestine began to live on Mt. Carmel in caves and dedicate themselves to prayer, becoming hermits. They asked for a rule from St. Albert of Jerusalem, who was the Patriarch at that time. This rule happens to be one of the shortest as it is only a few pages in length. They didn’t need many things; they remained in their cell and prayed most of the day and night. Soon, though, the Muslims came in and slaughtered the priests at Mt. Carmel. The original founder is not completely known, but the monks at the time attributed the rule to man named St. Brocard. The original Rule was signed only with a 'B', so we really have no way of knowing for sure. The order has been attributed to Elijah, the Old Testament prophet.  Although the order does reflect his spirit in a way, it wasn’t founded by him personally. That would date us at pre-New Testament times and we simply aren’t that old. On our shield is the motto, 'Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo Exercituum' translated as, 'With zeal I am zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.' This phrase of Elijah was taken by the early Carmelites because they saw themselves as following in his footsteps.”

"The order of nuns was only about a century old when the Black plague struck. Pope Innocent III mitigated the rule because of the difficulties people were having in living it out during the time of the plague. They were so weakened that they couldn’t carry it out. Consequently, when the plague had passed, St. Teresa saw the need for reform and began to carry it out. At the time she entered, there were about 100 members in the community which put a great strain on the convent; they would have to beg in order to have enough food, for example. Unfortunately, not a few of the members entered for social/political reasons instead of having pious motivations. Teresa was helping the order return to the basics, remembering their roots. Now there are approximately 800 Carmelite Sisters worldwide.”

For the Faith 
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