What is a Charism?
Part II of II

Editor’s Note, in Part I, we looked at charisms in general.  Today, we will examine the Carmelite charism in particular.

Every religious community is unique because it lives out the charism or gift of the Holy Spirit, that vision of how to follow Christ imparted to its founder or foundress, to fulfill a need in the upbuilding of the Church and which determines the life of the community and the mission entrusted to it. The spirit and aims of the founder are bequeathed to the institute which is founded. The fruit of this charism should be evident in the life of its members and bear fruit abundantly in every age.

MountCarmelIMG2873There is a sense of mystery and fascination regarding the origin of the Carmelite Order. The Carmelite way of life began in the late 1100’s in the Holy Land with a group of lay men living a contemplative life as hermits in community on Mount Carmel. Sometime after 1206 they requested from Albert Avogadro, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, a written formula for their way of life, which they received in 1214.

Due to the inroads of the Saracens into Jerusalem and nearby areas the hermits began to migrate to the West settling in Sicily, Italy, Spain, France, and England. Facing a new challenge from their former way of life they began to move into crowded cities and eventually adopted a mendicant style of life, which was flourishing at the time. They experienced the tension between a more active life style in order to promote their spirituality while at the same time endeavoring to maintain their contemplative spirit of solitude.

The Order eventually came to receive women as nuns and also laity who formed a secular spirituality. Thus the charism of the Carmelite Order flowed through the eremitic, mendicant, monastic and lay forms.

New tensions, causing divisions, arose in 1432 when some mitigations were made to the Rule. Some priories began a reform seeking a stricter adherence to the original Rule while others refused to accept any such reforms.

TeresaofAvilaMirrorA great influence on the development of the Carmelite Order and spirituality began in Spain in the 1560s, with the work of Saint Teresa of Ávila, who, together with Saint John of the Cross, established the Discalced Carmelites. Teresa experienced resistance from both the local townspeople, as well as the diocesan clergy, in establishing houses of reform for both her nuns and for the friars. Due to misunderstandings and poor communication this dissatisfaction also made itself felt by the unreformed Carmelite houses. It wasn’t until the 1580’s that the Discalced Carmelites gained official approval of their status. The Order now became two Orders: the Calced and Discalced.

So where do the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles fit into this Carmelite family? It all began with the birth of a little girl, María Luisa de la Pena, on June 21, 1866, in Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco, México. She became affectionately known as Luisita. From an early age she desired to become a religious but, in obedience to her parents, she was given in marriage to Doctor Pascual Rojas, a prominent physician who was twice her age. After fourteen years of married life Maria Luisa was left a widow.

for post on what is a charismFollowing eight years of widowhood, during which she managed the hospital her husband had established, María Luisa finally realized her early desire to become a religious and so entered the Cloistered Carmelites where she became immersed in the spirituality of Carmel. After seven months she was asked by the Archbishop to return to her work at the hospital which needed her guidance. Many others were attracted by her and the work she was doing. The Archbishop re-appeared and told her that she would have to join an existing religious Congregation. Obediently she left all her works behind and joined the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. Four years later the Archbishop asked her once again to return. Humbly she obeyed. This time, however, the Archbishop himself suggested that she found a Religious Congregation and the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart was established on February 2, 1921. Her charism “to unite the spirit of Carmel to the active apostolate” unfolded.

In 1926, her beloved México experienced political unrest which escalated into religious persecution which claimed the lives of many priests, religious and lay persons. There was a bounty on Mother Luisita’s head and the community needed to go into hiding. Mother Luisita felt keenly the need of protecting and preserving the lives of those entrusted to her. After much prayer, she discerned that God was leading her to seek refuge in the United States.

On June 20, 1927, the eve of her sixty-first birthday, dressed in secular clothing, Mother Luisita and two companions left their beloved homeland by railway to seek refuge in another country. They arrived in Los Angeles on June 24, 1927. Thus the seed of a new Carmelite Community was planted in the United States.

This woman whose life adventure led her through various vocations in the Church: single, married, widowed and consecrated religious returned home to God to begin her eternal adventure on February 11, 1937.

Mother María Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, who was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on July 1, 2000, was born at a time when the Divine Gardener was tilling and preparing the soil of Carmel for a rich harvest.

She left behind her a community steeped in the Carmelite tradition of contemplative prayer and action, enriched with the spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa’s doctrine. Thus, our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service of the Church as we promote a deeper spiritual life among God’s people through education, healthcare, and spiritual retreats. Thus in sharing our charism with God’s people we continue to strive to build up the Church.


Originally published by the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.  Used with permission.


Art for this post asking what is a charism?: Emblem for the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, used with permission. Views of Mount Carmel from Kibutz Yagur, deror_avi, 6 August 2010, own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; Mirror of Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615, PD-US copyright expired; all Wikimedia Commons. Venerable Mother Luisita and the emblem of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, courtesy of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, used with permission.

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