I was standing in the parking lot of the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Dallas on a recent morning as the sun began to peak. The horizon below revealed car lights making their way across northwest Dallas and Irving. Up here, the only sounds were those of birds chirping and of a couple of dogs barking in the distance. Monarch butterflies were moving from plant to plant nearby, seeking nectar from flowers that had long seen cooler days.
It’s been nearly 10 years since I first set foot onto the seven-plus acre property in southwest Dallas.
Like me, many people who come here and sit for a moment in the gazebo outside the walls frequently describe the experience as “finding peace.” Inside, the parlor or inside the chapel, 3-inch flat wrought iron woven like a checkerboard on the public side and vertical wooden bars on the cloistered side, separate the nuns from the public.
The nuns rarely allow their faces to be seen and when they accept visitors in the parlor, the placement of the wrought iron and the wooden bars make it difficult to see their faces fully, or to touch.
Over the years, I’ve been allowed the privilege to observe life behind the grate: to see their cells, the kitchen, the work rooms where they iron, cut and sew garments and make chaplets; the recreation room (there are no sports or fitness equipment, by the way), the gardens, the cemetery, the hermitage and the choir room, which is the focal gathering place for Mass, prayer, and professions of vows.
When a woman enters the convent to begin her cloistered life, their families wrestle with bundles of joy for the vocation and with bouts of tears because they will never be able to touch, hug or kiss their loved one again.
Women “die to themselves,” prostrating on multi-colored roses inserted into a bed of greenery shaped like a cross, their bodies resembling the wings of doves as their hands are outstretched under ivory-color garments. I’ve shed my own tears as they’ve sung, “Bride of Christ,” penned by a sister of one of the Carmelites who herself is a Dominican sister. I never tire of its words, melody or even the
emotion that it evokes.
They pray fervently in English and Latin. They have smiles on their faces when they sing acapella in various languages, their voices filling the choir room and drifting mightily into the chapel beyond the grate.
They miss their families at times, but know that they have been called to Christ’s side for a greater good: sacrifice and prayer—for individuals, for families, for the salvation of souls, and, especially during turbulent times of upheaval and unrest, for the whole world.
I’ve watched them giggle, even laugh heartily when they are together; and I’ve seen them wipe tears even as they sing “Salve Regina” when they’ve had to bury one of their own.
For many people, life behind the grate at this monastery is both a medieval throwback and a modern- day mystery. “How could anyone choose such a place?” is quickly followed by “What’s it really like in there?”
For these women who have been called to the contemplative life here at Carmel, their lives are centered around the love for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
And their days are wrapped around prayer, peace, love, and, of course, joy.
— David Sedeño
Editor’s Note: The Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Infant Jesus of Prague and St. Joseph is located at 600 Flowers Ave., Dallas, TX 75211. For prayer requests or to learn more, go to www.dallascarmelites.com or call 214-330-7440. To learn how to contribute to the Dallas Discalced Carmelite Fund of the Catholic Foundation please contact The Catholic Foundation at 972-661-9792 or e-mail email@example.com.