Friends of Carmel

by Tomas Maher

On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Theresa of Avila, Mary O’Dwyer, a local woman from Dromore West, approached the Carmelite Community of Apostolic Hermits to discuss the possibility of setting up a group of people who were interested in exploring the history and riches of the Carmelite tradition, embracing the wisdom of the tradition, and applying the insights garnered to their daily lives.

Mary entered into discussions with Sister Patricia McGowan from Holyhill, and after a period of prayerful reflection the ‘Friends of Carmel’ group was born. The first gathering of this fledgling group took place on 28th March 2015. The group, which is made up of women and men from all walks of
life, has continued to meet every three months, and has gone from strength to strength over the past four years. The members of the group come together to share aspects of their own life experiences, and to provide spiritual support to each other as companions embarked on a meaningful
faith journey.

In 2016 Gillian Coxhead, a committed member of the group, was invited to take on the role of co-ordinator and she agreed to do so. Gillian travels over from her home in Preston, Lancashire, where she lives with her family.
The mother of four grown up boys, she works as a critical care nurse at a local hospital. Gillian has a deep understanding and appreciation of the Carmelite tradition, and her
inputs to the group are always insightful. Gillian, together with Sister Ceil from Holy Hill, have opened up the lives of the Carmelite saints to the group, and have deepened our understanding of the riches of the tradition.
The lives of Carmelite saints such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Thérese of Lisieux, Edith Stein and Elizabeth of the Trinity have all been explored. At our most recent gathering on 23rd Feb, Gillian focussed on the life of St John of the Cross, and recalled the challenging words spoken by the saint shortly before his death; “Where there is no love put love, and you will draw love out”. We live in an age where there is much fragmentation in society. People search for meaning in their lives, and for a sense of belonging. The one thing our souls cannot live without is meaning. In former times, many
cultures had no word for religion. It was the same as life. So how do we deepen and enrich our experience of life? One way is to gather with other people who are searching for meaning, and who are willing to share aspects of their own unique life experiences. The wisdom of our ancestors is captured succinctly in the Irish proverb, “Ní neart go cur le chéile” (our
strength lies in coming together). When we share aspects of our faith journeys we connect in a deep way, and we encourage one another to continue on this journey of discovery.

Every living thing has to be nurtured and fed or it will die. It is the same with our spiritual lives. We are human beings on a spiritual journey, and unless we continually rekindle the flame of faith, the fire will burn out. We need support to sustain us on this journey, and one way of doing that is to come together as a community of believers, thus providing mutual support to one another as we deepen our understanding of our faith.If you are interested in coming along and joining the
group, then feel free to make contact in advance with Sr Patricia.