Carmel: The joy of belonging to God alone

By Catherine Sheehan

After 25 years as a Carmelite nun, Mother Teresa Benedicta OCD, Prioress of the Carmel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Launceston, said she felt immense joy and gratitude to God that she had been able to dedicate her life entirely to Him.

“I never imagined the Lord would call me to be a Carmelite nun,” Mother Teresa Benedicta said. “But it is an incredible source of gratitude and joy and peace for me that from all eternity He did!”

Growing up in a Catholic family in rural Victoria, she first felt the stirrings of a call to religious life when she was 14 years old.

Feeling a strong desire to give herself entirely to God, she began spending more time in prayer, seeking to discern His will for her life.

“A moment of great clarity came one Saturday afternoon when I was sitting quietly in my parish church alone, looking at the beautiful stained-glass windows, especially the one depicting Jesus in Gethsemane. I knew I would find peace only by doing God’s will not my own, and I knew from that moment He was calling me to this vocation.”

Upon completing her secondary schooling, she had planned to study a science degree at university but was prevented from doing so due to ill health. After regaining her health, she began studying a theology degree which served to deepen her love for the Catholic faith.

Under the guidance of her Parish Priest, she started investigating difference religious orders. Desiring silence and intimacy with God, she focused her search on contemplative orders.

“I also had a deep sense of wanting to give my whole self to God as a gift; not so much wanting to do something in particular for Him, but to belong to Him alone in response to His choice of me.”

She made a visit to the Carmelite monastery in Launceston and knew immediately that she wanted to spend the rest of her life there.

“After my first visit, I knew I had found where I was meant to be, and after subsequent letters and another visit, I applied to enter the monastery.”

Mother Teresa Benedicta said she was attracted to St Teresa of Avila’s definition of prayer as “intimate friendship with Christ”.

“Carmelite spirituality helped me to find the right way to express and understand my deepening relationship with God in spousal imagery. A religious vocation is about falling in love with Jesus and giving one’s whole life to Him radically. St Teresa knew this well; she says: ‘Your Spouse never takes His eyes off you!’.”

Life inside her enclosed Carmelite community centres around daily Mass and praying the Divine Office in Choir seven times a day. The daily routine is punctuated by times of silent prayer and solitude, work, and recreation.

“As well as seeking union with God in our own lives, Carmelite prayer has an essentially apostolic focus, especially praying for the Church, the Holy Father, and very specially our own archbishop and priests, as well as the needs and intentions of all people, especially here in Tasmania.”

Mother Teresa Benedicta said the best aspect of being a Carmelite nun was “belonging totally to God”.

“Being a Carmelite enables me to live out my consecration, literally being set apart to belong to Him alone, with great joy and an enduring belief in God’s unchanging love for me.”

She encouraged anyone considering the religious life to not be afraid but to “step out in faith”.

“Find a priest or religious who is joyful and strong in their vocation and speak with them about what you are sensing the Lord may be inviting you to, and most of all, spend time in silent prayer, listening to the Lord in the depths of your heart and asking Him to make His will clear to you. He won’t fail you.”

“I am so grateful for the joy and blessing of living for God alone in Carmel, and pray that many other young people will also know this grace, including in our Tasmanian Carmel.”

Tags: Front Page News, Launceston, News, Vocations