“And so they are here today to be that little mustard seed that all of a sudden, my God, is so small and so little. Then boom! All the birds of the earth are coming on it. And because there’s a connection between the hunger in the heart and the graces of God, who has spoken to us through Jesus Christ, and they’ve accepted Jesus Christ in their baptism. Now they’re looking for ways to make that commitment, that hunger to Jesus to become more real and more concrete.”That was the heart of the homily Father Tracy O’Sullivan preached to his packed congregation during a Saturday evening bilingual vigil Mass, July 16, at St. Raphael Church in South Los Angeles, where a record 33 women and men were commissioned as Lay Carmelites on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A smaller group of parishioners also renewed their own vows as lay members of the Carmelite community. The seasoned Carmelite (Calced) pastor spoke passionately from the center aisle, his arms flying high in the air, about the desire of the candidates to open up the word of God in scripture, to sing it and, most of all, to proclaim and live it. He pointed out that the Carmelite call, Carmelite spirituality, always comes back to Jesus through the steadfast Gospel examples of Mary, his mother, and the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Taken together, these two flesh-and-blood models draw others to prayer, community and justice.Then Father O’Sullivan asked the soon-to-be professed Lay Carmelites, who were sitting on folding chairs in front of the pews, as well as members of the congregation to walk with Jesus down the aisle, which they did.“I think having over 30 people becoming Lay Carmelites at one time is a tremendous, powerful sign for the parish that there’s life here, that people are interested in learning more about the journey towards God”— Carmelite Father William Harry“These are your brothers and sisters,” Father O’Sullivan declared, his voice rising with emotion. “There’s nothing special about them. They come from you; they are you. They are the community. They are people, and they’re people saying: ‘I want to make a commitment to be with Jesus and I want to do it through prayer. I want to bring the word of God into my life. I want to let that word of God reach out to my brothers and sisters. And I want to say I am going to accept the way of Carmel to be a person that is going to be with Jesus.’ Okay, is that clear?”A chorus of “Yeah”s vibrated through the exposed dark wood rafters of the humble stucco church at 942 West 70th Street. “Is it difficult?” the priest asked, then after a beat acknowledged, “Of course it is.” Third OrderIn the 13th century, a group of European men took the intractable, road-less-travelled path of coming to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. Their goal was to lead an unadorned life of prayer while witnessing to the “Good News” of their savior, Jesus Christ. Dedicated to his mother, they called themselves the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and later became known simply as Carmelites. Lay Carmelites, historically labeled the Third Order, commit themselves to “live in the following of Jesus Christ.” Because their members are not Religious, they can be married. These men and women, after a lengthy formation period of one-and-a-half to three years, promise to live out their baptismal commitment according to the sacred charism, traditions and spirit of the Carmelite Order. Father William Harry, provincial of the Carmelites’ Western Province, officiated at the commissioning liturgy of the newest and largest group of Lay Carmelites in California — and, perhaps, the entire United States. First, he and Father Tracy laid over the shoulders of each individual an oversized brown scapular, with exquisite white-stitched letters of IHS (Jesus) on one side and BVM (Blessed Virgin) on the other. The brown scapular represents a sign of consecration to Mary, the consummate model of all earthly disciples of Christ. Then the provincial read aloud the venerable words of profession, asking the candidates lined up tight along the altar rail, stretching from one side of the church to the other, about their spiritual readiness and personal commitment. And, finally, the new Lay Carmelites were handed candles glowing in red containers to hold as the congregation erupted in spontaneous cheers and applause. ‘Powerful’ sign“I think having over 30 people becoming Lay Carmelites at one time is a tremendous, powerful sign for the parish that there’s life here, that people are interested in learning more about the journey towards God,” Father Harry told The Tidings. “And that’s what Carmelites are all about. So I was very enthusiastic when I heard Father Tracy and Father Tom [Alkire, associate pastor] have worked very hard on this. It’s a very large number, so this is kind of special.”Jose Roca, one of the new Lay Carmelites, said as a catechist at St. Raphael’s he wants to continue learning every day about how to be a better Christian. “Right here in the parish, we are really involved in how we need to connect the world with the spirit,” the 35-year-old man reported. “And as a catechist giving classes to adults and children, I need to study a lot. So I have been studying with Father Tracy for like two years reading the Bible. “We need to understand the parables and everything so we know how Jesus acted before and how we are now following him, step by step, with the apostles. So we think we are going to find him by reading the Gospel. Also, Father Tracy has been our pastor for all these years, so I think he has a lot of things to give us. And he wants us all to practice the rules of the Carmelites, which I enjoy. They are good for me.”Ena Duran, the parish secretary, also studied with Father O’Sullivan for more than three years, every Wednesday night from seven to nine o’clock. Then a year-and-a-half ago, she and some of the others in the group started more formal instruction in Carmelite spirituality. “We wanted to learn how to pray contemplative prayers like the Carmelites. We wanted to know about Lectio Divina and Christian meditation,” she recalled. “It’s a good motivation to serve God in different ways, more than just coming to Mass or just saying the Rosary. I think this is a lifetime commitment. For me it’s a challenge because I’m a single mother of four girls and I have to work. But the church is my life. And I think being a Carmelite is going to help me with my daughters, and help me to be more faithful to God and share the Gospel with other people.”After a moment, the 47-year-old refugee mom — who escaped from El Salvador during the Central American nation’s bloody civil war when she was 16 — mused, “It is wonderful. I feel grateful to be a Carmelite.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0729/carmelites/{/gallery}