The leader of our priest retreat was a Carmelite priest, Fr. Michael Barry, OCD (Order of Carmelites, Discalced). This immediately won favor with me because of our patroness, who was of course herself a Carmelite, and Fr. Michael did not disappoint in referencing our little flower, but also the other big-hitters of the Carmelite tradition, including one who is less familiar to me: Elizabeth of the Trinity. I will have to learn more about this girl who was much like our Thérèse, dying young in France only a few decades later.
In reference to the life of the priest in our world today, Fr. Michael used the essential images of St. John of the Cross. One that really stuck with me, and most fitting for our feast of Pentecost, is from his poem Living Flame of Love. In this poem, he begins speaking about the spiritual life’s process of purification as similar to a log of wood being thrown onto a fire. Because the log is at first much like its former self (living wood) and so unlike the fire, it experiences the fire as a painful assault on itself. This is the process of conversion that the soul must undergo. God’s ways are not our own ways and so the pain of conversion is not easy. But in time, slowly but surely that log begins to make the fire more and more its own, or rather the log transforms into the fire itself. As the fire exposes the imperfections and purges the log of what cannot be transformed (seen in water, sap, black smoke), the log can then become united with the flame of love, can become love itself. This is sanctification. The work of painful purification and glorious sanctification both come from the same flame of love.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God that has been poured into our hearts, the fire that convicts us as he transforms us to burn with him. This is the fire that has transformed Thérèse and the all the saints. This is the fire that the Church wishes to respond ever more faithfully to in the years to come. May we be made holy by that same living flame of love. Come Holy Spirit!