Carmel in the World Magazine
Carmel in the World
2003. Volume XLII, Number 3
- Redemptus Maria Valabek, O.Carm.: The Mantle is Passed
- Redemptus Valabek and Lay Carmelites
- Fr Redemptus: The Friar with a Special Affinity towards Lay Carmelites (below)
- A Tribute to Fr Redemptus Maria Valabek, O.Carm.
- More Mother than Queen: Our Lady of Mt Carmel and St Thérèse of Lisieux
- Into the Land of Carmel: Letter to the Carmelite Family (II)
- Notes for the Mother of God
In August 2003, Redemptus Valabek, O.Carm. died tragically in a road traffic accident while on holidays in the United States. Redemptus had been the editor and driving force behind “Carmel in the World.” This edition is therefore dedicated to him and contains tributes to him.
Fr Redemptus: The Friar With A Special Affinity Toward Lay Carmelites
Tom Zeitvogel, T.O. Carm.
It is a privilege and honor to have been asked to write these few observations, or perceptions if you will, about a Carmelite friar who has endeared himself to the hearts of a multitude of Lay Carmelites throughout the world. Fr Redemptus Maria Valabek, O.Carm. was unquestionably our friend, our mentor and our advocate. It is for this reason that the comments I’d like to share in this brief article include thoughts from other Lay Carmelites who have been kind enough to provide them to me.
To do this, I’ve decided to organize these perceptions into four categories: Fr Redemptus, the Author and Editor; the Communicator; the Defender of our Traditions; and our Advocate in Rome. With the permission of the reader, I would also like to take the liberty of addressing Fr Valabek as simply “Fr Redemptus.” This is because I believe it is quite safe to assume that many Lay Carmelites may not even recall his last name, but nonetheless have a unique affinity for this special Carmelite friar they simply know by his religious name.
Author, Editor and Man of Peace
As has been the case for so many Lay Carmelites, I first became acquainted with Fr Redemptus through his many writings, such as Mary, Mother of Carmel (Vols. 1 & 2), Prayer Life in Carmel, and as editor of Carmel in the World. Since then, his work on Profiles in Holiness has added to the testimony that defines who he grew to be in the hearts of so many Lay Carmelites.
My first actual meeting with this exemplary friar was during Easter Week of 1991 while participating in a meeting of Lay Carmelites from around the world at The Friars, in Aylesford, England. Among other initial impressions, it became clear that one could differ with him on a given point without becoming alienated from him. A particular case in point was a breakout session where discussion between the merits of retaining a separate “rule” for the “Third Order” of Carmel should be the accepted position or whether we should opt for a “constitution” type of document. That session included both friars and Lay Carmelites, including myself. Although the proponents of each position vigorously articulated and defended their positions, Fr Redemptus was the one who, by word and example, insured that animosity did not follow us out of the meeting. I saw this unique trait exhibited on numerous occasions in meetings since that initial encounter with this remarkable Carmelite friar.
Lay Carmelites from many regions around North America and the world have shared with me how much the cards, notes, letters, phone calls and faxes from Fr Redemptus meant to them. I gladly and thankfully include myself in this group. Through these various means of communication, Fr Redemptus never seemed far away. He was always there when we needed him, and baffled many of us on how he found the time to maintain these communications! He became our one constant.
A few excerpts from some of the letters that he sent to Lay Carmelites who were kind enough to share them with me may help to substantiate how Fr Redemptus became a “real” person to us, even from his far-off residence in Rome. I would like to first quote verbatim from a letter I received from a Lay Carmelite, who would prefer to remain anonymous, that truly summarizes this point. She writes:
When I consider the over 55 letters I have saved from Fr Redemptus, and I sit here reading them again, I marvel at the time and energy he so lovingly spent caring for my soul. Then again it was in 1987, the Marian Year, that I first met him in Rome and sensed that here was a Carmelite priest living the fullest of his vocation in Carmel. I saw him at retreats no more than five times after that first encounter of grace. I kept in touch with letters. He always made a person feel that he was special in Carmel and encouraged particularly Lay Carmelites to advance in holiness. His response to my letters was as if I were truly his sister in Carmel, inspiring me for continuing the work (in my area) among our Lay Carmelite family. Spiritual direction, encouragement and personal attentiveness were his characteristics in the letters he wrote. Love was always present as the presence of God continued to channel the graces of Our Lady and Our Blessed Lord Jesus whom he loved so dearly: I will always be grateful that this beautiful saint came into my life. He will be remembered always as one of the greatest and most prolific Carmelite writers in our time.
In another letter (he always began his letters with “Dear Fellow Carmelite”) one gets a glimpse of how Fr Redemptus relates our difficulties in today’s world — even within our immediate family — to the message of John of the Cross. He says:
... You mention that you are finding your painful sanctification within your own family circle. How many times this happens. It’s the normal way that the Lord has of purifying us and of leading us on the path to great holiness. At least He invites us to the heights. St. John of the Cross was convinced that too many of us prefer paths that prevent us from a rapid, direct climb of Mt. Carmel. This is why he seems too negative. He is reacting to those who should be on the road to perfection, but who like to take their time about it, and call the shots for themselves rather than being submissive to the Lord and accepting the crosses that he sends us in our normal living, whether it be in our family ambience or in the context of a religious community. We often think of spiritual growth in grandiose terms, whereas the Lord in his goodness links it to our humdrum everyday existence. It’s a lot less glamorous, but much more effective…
A brief note sent just prior to Easter hints at the physical pain that had consumed so much of Fr Redemptus’ physical strength in recent years:
Thank you for your Easter prayers, greetings and message. I too wish you a grace-filled Holy Week and Solemnity of Easter, the highpoints of our yearly re-living of Christy mysteries. May we year by year grow in depth in the meaning of these mysteries in our own lives, because as Christ’s Passion is forever — in us — so is his Resurrection/Glorification ... Like yourself my feet give me many problems, but as you say, others have far more serious problems with their health, both physical and spiritual ...
And finally yet another note on a postcard to a Lay Carmelite relates to us the mind and heart of Fr Redemptus, as he empathizes with tender concern about our spiritual growth.
I find it very disconcerting that we sometimes get bogged down on juridical matters and critiques and forget ‘the first thing necessary. I believe that we Carmelites have to be more and more faithful to our charism of fostering divine intimacy, i.e. seeing the hand of God in our concrete histories, and in the history of our times. When God gives us the spiritual sensitivity to be aware of his mighty loving presence, it is the height of charity to share this grace with others. Don’t you (agree) that this is the most important aspect of our Carmelite witness?
Another enormous “service” that Fr Redemptus rendered to us Lay Carmelites was the untold number of days of recollection and retreats he graciously led for so many of our groups here in North America. These were done almost always during his summer “vacation” time, and were clearly remarkable ways in which he communicated by example and word what genuine holiness and love for Carmel can be. It was infectious and exemplary — from his demeanor in the wearing of his habit and priestly garb, to the traditional basis of his teachings which were always in tune with the Magisterium of the Church. This was a constant that could always be counted on from Fr Redemptus.
Additionally, the spiritual direction he provided for an untold number of Lay Carmelites, both in person and with correspondence (as testified to in just some of his personal letters that were quoted above), will unquestionably have eternal value for these individuals.
Defender of Traditions
It is a fact that we are living in an era of permissiveness with tremendous pressures from well-meaning individuals. They often suggest and articulate vocally and in writing positions that are seemingly justified straying from solid traditional expressions of not only our Catholic roots, but also even from our roots in Carmelite spirituality This ranges from several aspects of the liturgy, to misinterpretations and even challenges some of the long-standing characteristics of our spirituality. Fr Redemptus remained a fiercely staunch advocate of the Order’s long-standing charisms. This was a common perspective related to me by many Lay Carmelites.
But even when it came to debates such as whether or not Lay Carmel should have its own “rule” or evolve to a “constitution”, the debates were never marred by animosity but, always conducted with charity and understanding. Both positions never questioned our “tradition,” but one always knew that Fr Redemptus was speaking from what he strongly believed was the true tradition of the Order. Lay Carmelites will forever be grateful for his example in this regard.
Advocate in Rome
For many years, Fr Redemptus was the promoter of causes for Lay Carmelites. I shall never forget the many times he would share with me the stories of the lives of Carmelite laity in the far-flung regions of the world who lived even hundreds of years ago; but how baffled he was that so many of them have not yet been officially canonized. In the same conversation he would always marvel at the heroic holiness being lived out by many Lay Carmelites today. These were edifying conversations that filled those of us privileged to be part of them with renewed hope in our own Carmelite vocations.
With his language skills in English, Italian and French, I personally witnessed Fr Redemptus on many occasions quietly but firmly argue on behalf of all Lay Carmel during meetings at the Order’s headquarters in Rome. But that was only the tip of the iceberg in the legacy he established for himself on our behalf for many many years — even within the various offices of the Vatican. It can truly be declared that he was our champion in Rome!
For me personally, I will always consider Fr Redemptus as my primary advocate in Rome. I give him full credit for the opportunities that I have had to work with the International Commission, to give a major talk at the 2001 Sassone Congress, to champion the work I have done with formation materials, and in so many other ways. This makes his passing an even deeper personal loss; however, I pray that he will not forget us from his eternal home above.
So on behalf of all Lay Carmelites who knew, respected and loved this great Carmelite, I say ... Thank you Fr Redemptus. You will be sorely missed by those of us who remain in this vale of tears, but we now ask your continued influence from your place with Jesus and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Please help us all to be with you one day with you when our time has finally come to leave our earthly journey.