When God gifts us a share in His suffering, emotional, physical or spiritual, a Carmelite begins to look within and is beckoned to pray for souls as well as for the alleviation of the suffering. St John of the Cross tells all Carmelites that we should never try to take away the suffering of another because God is doing mystical things through that gift. His words can be very challenging because of what appears to be an uncaring teaching.
There are many ways of sharing the heavy burden of the suffering which others are enduring.
Through prayer, and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, (the Principal Educator in our spiritual journey), we learn that we may walk the journey of pain with those who are suffering, we may pray with and for them, shoulder their burden with them. We may offer them our hidden presence, offer hidden sacrifices for them which are known and seen only by God. This is vicarious suffering. We may never have met those we pray for; they may live miles from where we live or they may live just up the street; they may have gone Home to God or they may yet to be born.
Prayer and love are not bound by time or place.
Christ draws us into His Ultimate Sacrifice, invites us to plead for others by uniting our small sacrifices with His Act of Redemption, and He hears and answers each prayer petition. Then He waits to reward us for what He gave us the power to do in the first place.
The ultimate example of vicarious suffering offered in endless love from the Cross is Jesus and through His saints, we witness how He shares the power of His suffering with His saints. When St. Therese, our Little Flower, prayed and suffered within the four walls of the monastery, the Holy Spirit enlightened her mind to see that her vocation was love. She gave her Fiat to that vocation and her suffering intensified. Through her sacrificial and hidden prayer the power of her suffering reached depths unseen and unknown, even to her community.
She longed to be a missionary, calling souls to the Love of the Savior from every corner of the world. Her sacrificial prayer took her to every place where Christ was suffering in souls. She never left the Carmelite convent yet thousands of souls were won for Him.
She saw and was distressed by the behavior of priests on her journey to Rome so her prayer for priests became a driving force in her short life. She was given to understand that these men are chosen by God to bring us His Sacred Body and Blood in the Eucharist and the battle for their souls is terrifying. When the devil wins the soul of a priest, many sheep are in spiritual danger. She called praying for priests "Bulk buying" because keeping the shepherd safe means keeping the sheep safe.
Now, over 100 years after her returning to God, her vocation of love, of spending her heaven doing good on earth is clear to any who ask her intercession. Her life of terrible suffering and intense prayer has borne over a century of spiritual fruit. From deep in the Heart of her Beloved she continues to reply to a call from a broken child. She answers a cry from Vietnam as quickly and easily as one from France or Alaska. She hears our heartfelt prayers for the souls of priests ...and in our prayer, her pleading of a 100 years ago on their behalf now becomes her missionary work once more. Time and geography are irrelevant and her missionary zeal lives with and through and in every pulse of the Savior's Great Heart in His world, working endlessly through us in whom the Indwelling God lives and loves (Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity).
This is the vocation of a Carmelite. As we pray for one another, may we always remember the words of our fellow Secular Carmelite Discalced, Saint John Paul II: "Suffering is an invitation to be more like the Son in doing the Father's Will".
With the glorious help of these two Carmelites, may we offer the gift of our pain and climb on to the Altar with the Willing Victim of Love, our Master, and win thousands of souls for God.
Prayer soars beyond place and time.
" ... Love is all things, and that, because it is eternal, it embraces every time and place." (St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face)
"Behold, I am with you always, yes, to the end of time." (Matthew 28:20)
Anna Rae-Kelly OCDS