My initial experience with Carmelite spirituality was similar to St. Teresa Benedicta’s.
“Picking up a book at random, Edith began to read. It was St. Teresa of Avila’s The Book of Her Life. Edith was so taken by this Spanish marvel of God’s grace that she read through the book, it seems, without a break. On closing the volume, she had to confess to herself: ‘This is truth.’ ” (The Science of the Cross by Edith Stein – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)
My own experience in this matter that led me to the exact same conclusion was with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Only a few months after I joined the Catholic Church while in my late twenties, I visited a Catholic bookstore where I came across The Story of a Soul – the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I had no idea who St. Thérèse of Lisieux was, but for some reason, I wanted to read that book. Later, as I was reading it, I thought to myself, “What she is saying is true. I really don’t understand what she is saying. But I know that what she is saying is true.” I had no idea that at that moment, I was beginning My Journey on the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed with St. Thérèse. I desired to know that truth that she was saying, as I do still to this day, and my life with all of its joys, heartaches, successes, and failures would be, and still is, that journey into the depths of the Immaculate Heart of Mary where Jesus Christ reigns in all of His glory.
Only a year later, on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, I consecrated myself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary using the formula of St. Louis de Montfort. I already had met St. Joan of Arc prior to all of this. In the summer after my high school graduation, I joined a small group of classmates for a six week study in Brittany, France. Before heading back to the United States, we visited the island fortress of Mont Saint-Michel where stood before the chapel door a statue of St. Joan of Arc. I asked my teacher, “Who is that?” “Ah, c’est Jeanne d’Arc!” was her reply. Jeanne d’Arc and I had been introduced. I later would come to know that Joan of Arc was a kindred spirit with Thérèse, as the latter herself revealed.
So, once consecrated to Our Lady, I was all prepared, it seems, to begin my journey. St. Thérèse, St. Joan, and the most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary were imbued in my interior life which was then starting to be nourished by Jesus Christ through His Church and her sacraments. Whereas there is only one Church and one way to the Kingdom through Jesus Christ, there is, in fact, a wide variety in our approach. If you will excuse mixing a metaphor, just as a beautiful panoramic meadow by a lake in front of majestic mountains is made up of a wide variety of flowers, creeks, and trees, the panoramic Kingdom of God likewise consists of a wide variety of kindred souls making up the beautiful colors in the landscape. Which path through the meadow would we take? Who were my kindred souls? What spiritual DNA binds us together through the Holy Spirit?
The answer came through the initial step in my journey after reading St. Thérèse. My fascination with her spirituality led me to take on the challenge of reading the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the founders of the Discalced Carmelites. Again, I had the “St. Teresa Benedicta” moment and the same as I had reading Thérèse’s book. I did not understand them, but I knew that “what they said was truth.”
Off we went, with St. Joan of Arc and St. Thérèse of Lisieux leading me down the the path that is the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed, under the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin, and in the footsteps of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. These were my kindred souls. This was my family. This was Carmel, and even more specifically, it was Carmel through the combined spirituality of St. Joan and St. Thérèse, radiating that beautiful color in the field that would inspire hope in me through the faith I had received already from the overflow of Joan and Thérèse’s spiritual gifts. This hope under the watchful eyes of my two saintly sisters would drive me forward into St. John’s night and toward his Mt. Carmel.