I finally arrived here last Friday for the concluding summer session of the certification program for Carmelite Spiritual Direction. It took me three years to enter the program last year and was denied boarding at the airport due to the very recent COVID closure of Spain for many nationalities. Last year was the first time they offered the academic part online, although it was a challenge in spite of their having other courses online.
There is a practicum part that has to be done onsite, and I am fortunate this year to be able to make it here. Tuition, room, and board are very reasonable, much cheaper than in the US. There is much work in a very packed schedule with only Sunday afternoons free. I ask for your prayers to help me through completion with many term papers in Spanish and God willing I will come back with three diplomas from the Carmelite Mystic University, the Catholic University of Avila, and the Center for Cognitive Coaching, all as an integrated program. The faculty is nothing but world-class. The main professor is Fr. Luís Jorge González, OCD from Mexico, who teaches at the Teresianum in Rome and knew my late Carmelite Bishop uncle from there. I will also be celebrating my uncle's 95th birthday in heaven here.
The star-shaped building below is the Carmelite Mystic University, an ultra-modern energy-efficient building and I am here with other Carmelites, some of whom I have known. It is just a 5-minute brisk walk around the corner from the Monastery of the Incarnation, where St Teresa entered as a postulant and what inspired her reform of the Order, and a brief walk downhill from the Catholic University of Avila. We also have a great view of the well-preserved walls of the medieval city of Avila, the real thing, not just a Disney fantasy, although I took the picture below up-close on my morning walk observing the moonset on the walls.
In 2014, the prioress of Manila Carmel, also the president of the Philippine Federation of Carmelite monasteries, and Carol Twombly our community president then, urged me to compose music for the STJ500 celebration. The final form was an antiphon on Nada te Turbe, inspired as historical fiction from just my readings of St Teresa's life in the Monastery of the Incarnation. It was among 16 selected out of 84 entries in the International Competition for Antiphons for STJ500.
I was overjoyed in 2015 when I was selected as an alternate member of the STJ500 pilgrimage of our province and was able to visit the Incarnation Monastery with Cindy Sliger, a provincial council member, and Fr. Donald Kinney, OCD. There I saw how it really looked like. When I departed Spain to head back to the US, I had a €10 bill left in my wallet. I kept that in my wallet all this time as my reminder that I will return to Avila on a longer visit. That time has come.
Today, I attended mass at the Monastery of the Incarnation in the Transverberation Chapel with the picture below and offered that €10 bill to our Holy Mother. It was an emotional moment for me and a gift of my return here to our Holy Mother to grow in Her service. The Gospel of healing on faith was also symbolic of my healing ministry for others and my own healing from many cumulative events, especially my Mom's stroke and my Dad's passing from heart failure last year that set my sleep disorder on a long tail-spin with many affairs still to take care of.
The summer schedule of this course is always planned to lead to the Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel. I am overjoyed beyond belief to be able to celebrate it right here in Avila this year and include all of you in my prayers and intentions! Praised be Jesus Christ!
Unidos en la oración, Luís Antonio Labayen, ocds
Praised be Jesus Christ! I am right now here in the Carmelite Mystic University, the ultra-modern building in the foreground with the medieval walled city of Ávila in the background. https://www.mistica.es/
The English term of spiritual direction is really misleading. In Castilian Spanish, it is called Acompañamiento Espiritual, meaning Spiritual Accompaniment. The spiritual director is really the Holy Spirit, and this is one of the key points emphasized over and over. There are very specific techniques using neuro-linguistics that we are taught in order to bring the person under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. One of the key techniques is empathy, examining Teresa and John, and the doctoral dissertation of Edith Stein on Empathy.
We do not infuse our own teachings to the person and leave it all to the Holy Spirit. In this case, most priests are not equipped in this method, but rather infuse their own teachings. We really need more laypeople in this field. One-third of the students are priests, only one Carmelite, and a Carmelite nun. One-third are Carmelite or other order seculars. Another third are civilians who are in various professions like tax law, social work, labor relations, psychiatry, etc.
The neuro-linguistics part was the most difficult part of the course, and even the native Castillian Spanish speakers had a very tough time with it, so they said, more especially for me. It certainly pushed me much further along. Our group that went through the practicum for Cognitive Coaching developed close, supportive relationships very quickly.
That course was the most intense I had ever taken in my life, including technology courses. The spirituality courses, while also intense, are not as exhausting. Right now, we have a priest of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a Ph.D. in Psychology in our course on normal and clinical psychology. Again, the approach is the same, to enable the person to transcend him/herself with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This place is run by Carmelite priests who are devoted to scholarship in mysticism. They are so humble. We live together in a community. It is like the modern version of the design of Athens in ancient Greece, where scholars and students were gathered to advance the field of philosophy. There are some employees hired for various functions.
The administrators are all OCD and they all even help serve meals and clean the tables, especially with COVID sanitation. There are glass booths on the tables so that we can sit together and yet be isolated from each other's breaths. I've attached our very structured and tight schedule. There's no time for anything else, even finding time for laundry is challenging.
Last Sunday, we got the afternoon off, but this Sunday is class all day. Thank God for the official siesta to refresh the mind and prepare for another intense class. My sleep disorder had been worse so I struggle with attention during class. I was able to purchase a melatonin formula that has herbs to prolong sleep and that has helped a bit.
At the conclusion of yesterday's course on Edith Stein spirituality, I made a comment that is somewhat an over-simplification of our process and drew a little smile from the professor, who is the director of the university. If a train is not obedient to the rails, it can go nowhere. But if a train abandons itself to being directed by the rails, it can carry so many passengers to any destination they choose. It is the passenger's responsibility to purchase the correct ticket for the destination they wish to travel to.
Other news: my composition awarded here in Ávila 7 years ago will be sung at the Carmelite Youth Congress in the summer of next year.
Unidos en la oración, Luís Antonio Labayen, ocds