At the Heart of It All: Prayer as a Way to Intimacy with God

Sister Mary Scholastica

Sister Mary Scholastica, O.C.D. (Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles) serves as the Director of Advancement for her congregation, which runs several Catholic schools, infant care and preschool programs. Her congregation also operates a bustling retreat center and three elder care facilities that are in the process of expanding. Here she talks about the Carmelites’ devotion to prayer.

Tell us about the role of prayer in Carmelite congregations.

Prayer is at the heart of our entire life. Within each day, we have times set aside for prayer, for silence, for time with the Lord. Large and small decisions are made in light of how it affects our own union with God in prayer. All foster the interior life and allow us to walk with the Lord throughout the day, united with Him in all that we do and say. Friendship with Christ is fundamental to our existence.

What is a typical day like for you?

We rise at 4:55. We are at prayers at 5:25am, and then have a half hour of quiet meditation followed by mass. Breakfast is at 7:15, in silence. After taking care of our convent responsibilities, we go into the areas of service where we are assigned, such as to school, to our retreat center or to our elder care campus. We gather together before lunch, taking time out to reflect on how we have walked through our morning with the Lord and how we responded to His prompting.

After lunch, we step away from the apostolate to renew ourselves through time with the Lord. At 4:45 we pray our rosary together, have a half hour meditation then chant evening prayer. This is followed by spiritual reading to nourish the soul, dinner in silence with a spiritual tape being played, recreation, which is essentially like family time – a walk, crafts, and games. After recreation, we pray night prayer, which includes preparing readings for the following day’s Mass, examination of conscience, chanting compline, grand silence.

What do you wish people knew about religious life?

The spirit of joy is what drew me to our sisters. People tend to have the misconception that people called to religious life are grouchy, that something sad or negative is at work. They say, “You give everything up, why would you do that?” I want people to know that there is so much joy in giving your life over to the Lord, even if times are tough. We love each other as sisters. It really is a religious family.

What does it feel like to experience that joy?

There is a sense of innate peace. Most people lack and truly desire peace, not just world peace but peace within our own selves. And peace is very much tied to joy. Think of a lake. If it's a choppy day, the surface of the lake is in turmoil. When you go deep, deep, deep down, there is just peace.

How did you decide to become a Catholic sister?

My parents converted to Catholicism. My mom’s side is Buddhist and my Dad’s side is Protestant. My mother became a gung-ho Catholic. She always told me I would become a sister. But I had no desire. I had an aversion to everything church-related. I just didn’t like it.

When I was 11, my mother sent me to a summer program at a religious community on the East Coast and then again the next year. She wanted to send me again the year after, but the community asked me to stay home. I wasn’t the easiest child. My mom – who is a persistent woman – then sent me to volunteer at an eight-day retreat with the Carmelites in Alhambra. I didn’t want to spend my summer with a bunch of nuns. Yet I found myself wanting to be around them. When I was with them, I felt peace.

At the end of the retreat, I joined the sisters as they prayed in the sanctuary. The prayer was one where we lift our arms up and say, "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You." I'm not a demonstrative person and I certainly didn't like praying, but I copied what they were doing. I felt an instantaneous conviction in knowing I had a vocation to religious life. I remember saying in my heart, “Yes Lord, whatever you want Lord.” I knew I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t follow it. I entered the convent after high school.

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