Taking a title after one’s name has been a Carmelite tradition for many years. St. Teresa of Jesus, our Holy Mother, and St. John of the Cross, our Holy Father, both took titles that were dear to them. It is often said that the mystery your title expresses often plays out in a special way in your own life as a religious. This definitely held true with St. Teresa and St. John. The Carmelite, by choosing a title full of personal meaning, is able to embrace a specific mystery of the faith or a favorite saint with the hope that they might find fuller expression in his life for his salvation and that of others.

Complete Self-Gift

When I first began to hear the call, I was reflecting on Christ Crucified. I was thinking about how Jesus, our Lord, gave Himself entirely to me through His sacrifice on the Cross. The words of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity express the movements of my heart at that time:

A Carmelite . . . is a soul who has gazed on the Crucified, who has seen Him offering Himself to His Father as a Victim for souls and, recollecting herself in this great vision of the charity of Christ, has understood the passionate love of His soul, and has wanted to give herself as His did.
Letter 133 (Aug. 7, 1902)

I wanted to give myself to our Lord for His glory and the sanctification of the world. This sentiment has stayed with me into my religious life. During my postulancy, as I was reflecting on a possible title, I wanted it to reflect this ‘first love.’ I thought of some different possibilities, but eventually the Cross grabbed me and never let go.

St. John of the Cross & St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Another reason I chose this title was due to my devotion to St. John of the Cross, our Holy Father, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the Jewish Carmelite martyr of Auschwitz. I love both of them very much and their writings have been extremely important for my own journey. St. John of the Cross was particularly instrumental in teaching me about prayer at a time when I was really struggling to comprehend the Lord’s work in my heart. Taking the title of the Cross enabled me to express my devotion for these two amazing saints while also emphasizing the mystery of complete self-gift.

Sharing in Christ’s Work of Salvation

Another theme that has been important to me is sharing in Jesus’ work of sanctifying and saving the world. While I was discerning my vocation with the Carmelites an apostolic thrust was beginning to grow in me. I was coming to see more fully that my life is not just for me. In the words of Samwise Gamgee, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo . . . and it’s worth fighting for.” I wanted to fight for the souls of all of my brothers and sisters in this world who are broken and burdened with life’s troubles. Knowing that even the little I can do to help save souls does not amount to much, I looked to the Cross of Christ. St. Teresa of the Andes sheds light on this mystery: “

[The Carmelite] immolates herself on the cross, and her blood falls on sinners, pleading for mercy and repentance, for on the cross she is intimately united to Jesus Christ. Her blood, then, is mixed with His Divine Blood.” (Letter 58) United to Jesus on the Cross, my blood and His Blood are one. In this mystical way I am able to share in His great work of salvation.

Upon entering religious life, a zealous young man or woman has lofty desires and longs to do something great for the Lord and His Church. St. Teresa Benedicta though is quick to remind us that the most essential activity is not ours, but the Lord’s. As she was seeking entrance at the Carmel of Cologne, the Mother Prioress was hesitant about being the one who took such an intelligent and influential woman out of the world where she could do much good. The future saint responded with these words: “It is not what men can accomplish which helps us, but the sufferings of Christ. To share in that is my request.” I beg her, my sister in Carmel, to come to my aid and share with me her resolute desire to share in the Cross of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Perhaps then I will, in my own little way, help to save the world.