Secular Carmelite Update 2023

Last year marked an important milestone for us, when 5 members from Lincolnshire left to form the St John of the Cross group in Lincoln, so that we now have an OCDS presence in 3 of the 4 main counties of the diocese.

We have said some farewells. One of our younger members left to enter Notting Hill Carmel & received the habit in July last year; one of our councillors moved to East Anglia & has transferred to the Norwich group. We have said a welcome, too, to Maria who transferred to us from the Ealing group when she moved to Nottingham; in final promises Maria was a member of the first group to complete our spiritual direction formation programme at Boars Hill.

Over this period 2 of our members made their First Promise, more recently another her Definitive Promise and 3 people were received for formation, although one quite quickly – and to us  surprisingly - discerned that his calling was elsewhere. In this last month we’ve also welcomed a new enquirer.

Last year we led a retreat day With Jesus in the Desert – exploring His temptations and ours just before Lent and were pleased to attract 16 people, considering how very difficult communication with parishes had become. This year the diocese was offering several events so we didn’t think it right to compete. Instead, we are hosted a full day (from 8am to 4pm) of Eucharistic exposition on 10 June in preparation for Corpus Christi; we  provided resources and refreshments in the church hall with an opportunity to talk for anyone who wished to.

For the last 2 years, as our usual retreat centre was still closed, we had an overnight booking at a local Christian conference centre’ For the first we  used U-tube videos on desert spirituality & Brant Pitre on the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist; these really offered high quality input. Last year we returned in Lent but jointly with the St Edith Stein community in Derby; we looked at what it means to be Secular Carmelites, how do we live our Rule & promises in daily life? This year we joined together there again, with a focus on St Thérèse.  In both years a retired priest celebrated Sunday Mass for us. Last summer some of us, from both Nottingham & Lincs also managed a totally silent, self-catering retreat with the Benedictine monks of Christ our Saviour Monastery in Turvey. There are just 2 of them now; their hospitality was tremendous, warm & unobtrusive. Since then, dear brother Herbert, aged 105 years, has died but Fr John continues & we hope to return later in the year.

Although we were grateful to be able to use the conference centre this year we really felt the absence of a chapel & other places for quiet & reflection. The Hayes is true to its name & so is great for conferences, but we decided to return next year to Buckden Towers, which now runs on a self-catering basis. 

For several reasons our outreach groups ended with lockdown; we’ve felt a need to do things a little differently now, so that meetings are more definitely a place for spiritual conversation rather than simply discussion. Previously we’d been reading together either whole Carmelite works like The Way of Perfection or The Practice of the Presence of God or thematic extracts from our saints like Marc Foley’s Ascent to Joy, on John of the Cross or John Nelson’s The Arms of Love, on St Therese. This time we’re widening the perspective & exploring the basics of Prayer of the Heart using an introduction from Bp Hugh Gilbert, former Abbot of Pluscarden, followed by a booklet from a late Carthusian prior (translated by Bp Erik Varden). Throughout each month group members have just one short section with its biblical references to ponder/pray on; at the meeting there’s an opportunity to share any reflections that have come out of any of this. There’s then a time of silent prayer in which each person dwells with the phrase or image that has emerged over the month.

This past year members of our community have been, or are still, experiencing severe, sometimes life-endangering, illness or heart-breaking family crisis. The words of Julian of Norwich seem to apply “He did not say, you will not be tempested; he did not say, you will not be travailed; but he did say, you will not be overcome.

By Heather Ward Nottingham group

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