Secular Carmelites offer workshop on prayer

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Prayer is more than just saying words. Prayer should be a way of building a deep relationship with the Father through Jesus so we can remain in communion with him. But getting there can be a challenge and can be compared to tending a garden: It needs constant work.
This was the message at a workshop titled “How Does Your Garden Grow?” sponsored by the Austin area Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites at St. Elizabeth Parish in Pflugerville in honor of the 500th celebration of the birth of St. Teresa of Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Ávila.
For members of the SODC council, the event was an opportunity to help participants deepen their knowledge and experience of prayer.
Sarah Green, president of the Austin Secular Carmelite Community of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross and a parishioner at St. Mary Cathedral, said in her welcome that because St. Teresa is a doctor of the church, “her teachings about prayer and mysticism are recognized as a treasure at the very heart of our Catholic faith. We are hoping to share … some of the treasure which is the spiritual heritage not only of Carmel, but also of all Catholics.”
The foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Order was born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda in Gotarrendura in the Spanish province of Ávila on March 28, 1515. She was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV and declared a doctor of the church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, one of four women to have that title. This special title is given to certain saints whose writings and preachings are useful to Christians and are known for their depth of understanding and orthodoxy of their theological teachings.
JoAnn Murphy, a parishioner at St. Thomas More Parish in Austin and council member, said deep prayer for her was life-changing.
“It was like getting off a merry-go-round and finding a rock in God as my foundation,” she said. “Everything else fell into place. My life is not controlling me.”
Fellow council member Dieu Van Dinh, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Austin, often hears people say that they don’t have time for daily prayer.
“If you are really busy, you need prayer more,” he said. “Once you give control to Christ everything falls in order. When you find time for God, he gives you time to do it.”
The sessions in both English and Spanish included a keynote address by Discalced Carmelite Father Raúl “Ralph” Reyes, from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio. He said prayer is about reaching out to God and listening for his will.
Remember that “we are the garden where the sower goes to sow,” he said. “We are that soil. How are we doing in cultivating this soil? If we are watering it from the well, it requires a lot of hard work.”
The first step requires setting aside our ego that wants us to put ourselves first, he said.
As St. Theresa wrote we should go to the Lord with open hands so he can fill them with what we need, Father Reyes said. 
“Do not be discouraged,” he said. “The Father is helping us. It is Jesus walking with us carrying our cross.”
Shawn Chapman, a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites from College Station, led an exercise on St. Teresa’s Prayer of Recollection. She said St. Teresa saw prayer as an “intimate sharing between friends,” so the same courtesies and rules of friendship accorded to close friends should apply.
As with friends, the focus during prayer should be with God, not just talking but listening as well, and never rushing that communion. She recommends setting aside 30 minutes for prayer, opening with the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father and an act of contrition. For some, that may mean getting up early or staying up late.
“We lead busy lives,” said the mother of two children. “That means you’re going to have to say ‘no’ to some things if you’re serious about prayer.”
Time, silence and solitude are vital for prayer life in order to develop the “inner chapel” that St. Teresa described, Chapman said.
There will be distractions –– it’s unavoidable –– and there will be some dry spells during which it will be hard to get centered. But the important thing is to pray always.
“It’s something you develop for the rest of your life,” she said. “Don’t look back. If you miss one day you need to be gentle with yourself and start again.”
For information on Secular Carmelites, contact Sarah Green at svhgreen@gmail.com.

Department Categorization: