Lay Carmelites bask in spiritual richness of the Our Father

By Christine Bordelon

Teresian Sister Isabel Ordono enlightened members of the Lay Carmelites in New Orleans and the surrounding area July 16 about the deeper meaning of the “Our Father” at a day of reflection at St. Maria Goretti Parish in New Orleans.

Interpreting what St. Teresa of Avila writes in her book, “The Way of Perfection,” Sister Ordono broke down each line of the Our Father, assuring the Lay Carmelites that Jesus is father to all.

By starting the prayer with “our” Father, St. Teresa said it is “already a relationship of family and a relationship of friends.” It doesn’t matter if you are a pauper or a millionaire, she said, we all have the same father. And, as a good father, he forgives us and loves us.

“There is no father that is better than God,” Sister Isabel said. “No matter what we do, he has to forgive us because we are his children,” but he likes to hear about our wants and needs, even though he knows us intimately.

“God fills you with peace and contentment,” she said. “God as our Father is our provider. Whoever has God, nothing is lacking. You have peace, a certain sense of security and contentment. You really have everything you need.”

St. Teresa of Avila defined heaven as that place where Jesus resides. If we truly believe that God lives in our soul, we shouldn’t get it so dirty, Sister Isabel said.

She expressed the importance of establishing a strong relationship with God early on so that when troublesome events enter our life, we know God is there as our source of strength, not blame. It is never God’s will to cause harm to us willingly, she said.

“You have to create in you this inner world that God is a source of strength so that when bad times come, you can hold on to him,” Sister Isabel said.

“God gave us free will. You have to distinguish what is God’s will. God’s will is you go through it, accept what has befallen you, and, in bad moments, you have to hand on to him.”
Sister Isabel said God’s will is the opposite of what the world promises. Once an individual accepts what happens, he or she can handle the situation better knowing God gives the strength needed.

She said we should live for what we have in life, not for what we have lost. We have to live in the process of (letting go) and letting God, just as Mary let her son Jesus go. “We prepare for ‘thy will be done.’”

If we become positive people who accept God’s will, when it comes to the temptations, if the moment comes, you will be ready for it, she said.

Sister Isabel said she hoped St. Teresa’s words were helpful to the Lay Carmelites, allowing them “to put more meaning on the words and say the prayer a little differently when they pray. Often we don’t pray with meaning.” 

Lay Carmelites growing

There are currently 10,000 Lay Carmelites in the United States, with 13 communities in Louisiana and Mississippi. It is growing, according to Eugenie Bellanger, a Lay Carmelite regional formation director who is part of the Immaculate Conception community on the West Bank.

Each individual Lay Carmelite community has monthly meetings, but the groups come together once annually, usually in July, for enrichment opportunities such as the talk with Sister Isabel.

“To me you are living your baptismal promise more intensely,” Bellanger said about being a Lay Carmelite. “We study more so we can go deeper in prayer and meditation.”

She said Lay Carmelites live out the Carmelite spirituality by not only praying together, since “people know us for our charism of prayer,” Bellanger said, but also working in their individual church parishes and community.

Lay Carmelite Tina Bonilla said being a Lay Carmelite is a vocation.

“We are an extension of the Carmelite order, but the lay part,” Bonilla said.

Near the end of the day of reflection, members attended Mass and seven members took final vows as Lay Carmelites after six years of preparation. Those who had taken previous vows also renewed their promises.

“You are formed until the day you die,” Melanie Sawaya, regional formation director said. “You are constantly learning.”

For details on the Lay Carmelites, call Sawaya 388-3896.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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