Singing is part of daily life for the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles — they sing at Mass, during the Liturgy of the Hours and during grace at meals.
“We’re so used to singing together it’s not hard to pull our voices together,” said Sister Mary Scholastica.
From their musical tradition, the sisters are sharing songs about their relationship with God in hopes of drawing listeners closer to Christ.
Their seventh CD — called Lean Into the Wind — features a mix of chant, praise and worship and contemporary music.
“This CD, more than any of our others, has a more distinct variety,” said Sister Mary Scholastica, who was involved in producing the CD.
The album contains 14 songs, 12 of which are the sisters’ original compositions. All are meant as love songs to the Lord, said Sister Mary Scholastica.
“We have long used the gift of music to draw souls to Christ,” explained the Carmelite community’s superior general, Mother Judith.
The order’s foundress came to the United States from Mexico in 1927, and the order has grown to include 134 sisters.
Based in Alhambra, Calif., the sisters also have sites in other parts of California, Arizona, Colorado and Florida.
Love and joy went into the CD, said Sister Marie Estelle, one of the 12 sisters who sang on the recording.
“There was such a joy in singing the songs that had been written by our sisters that really revealed the depths of their intimacy with God, and it overflows into these songs that they’ve written, which are reflections of their heart, of their union with God,” she said. “That is one of the beautiful things: to be able to see the beauty in another person’s soul and her encounter with God.”
A verse from the title song shows this depth of intimacy with God:
Are you here for consolations?
Mere pleasures and devotions,
flowing only with the motions,
in the shallows you stay?
Or are you here to love me?
Your heart undividing,
relax the grasp of all that you clasp;
be rich in me.
Sister Marie Estelle, a soprano who also sings alto, has worked on several of the sisters’ other CDs and also plays the organ for the community.
The order’s mission is to promote a deeper spiritual life in God’s people, Sister Mary Scholastica said. Proceeds from the CD will benefit apostolates in health care, education and retreats, but the sisters hope the music will reach souls and draw them closer to Christ.
Said Sister Marie Estelle, “It really is to let what is overflowing in our hearts spill out into the world,” she said. “The world really is starving for a few things. One is silence, because we have so many frenetic things, noise and constant media. We wanted to use the media as a means to bring a peace [to the world].”
The CD was recorded at Studio City Sound in Studio City, Calif., where a number of well-known secular musicians offered their talent, Sister Mary Scholastica said.
Making the recording with the musicians “became a moment to evangelize culture and to encourage them to use their gifts to be at the service of beauty, which, ultimately, we know is the Beautiful One, God, Our Lord, in heaven,” she said.
The feedback the sisters receive about their music, whether recorded or performed live, indicates that the music changes lives. The sisters don’t perform many concerts, but they sing as part of their ministry for the dying.
“We have found that, when we sing, when we invite people to different events or to join us for prayers, and they hear the singing, it has touched people more deeply than we expected them to be touched,” Sister Mary Scholastica said.
The fact that the sisters wear habits — a visual reminder of their commitment to Christ and of their joy — also has a powerful effect on their audiences, she said.
The sisters sing a new song by how they live, said Sister Marie Estelle, who added that the songs help her to live her vocation more deeply.
They hope that people will encounter the living God in their music.
“That wherever they’re at, in a painful situation, fearful, doubtful or in places of joy, that everything in their lives could be united to the Lord,” Sister Marie Estelle said. “That people can come away not just with the music, but being led in the direction of seeking and loving the Lord more.”
Not all the sisters are singers, however, Sister Mary Scholastica noted. “There are those of us who stay to do the dishes while there are others of us who go out to sing.”
“Music is a language that has no boundaries,” Sister Mary Scholastica added.
“It doesn’t matter what religion you are: There’s something about music that touches people deeply, sometimes more deeply than words might. And, for us, I think it’s just another means of fulfilling our mission and promoting a deeper spiritual life. If one small thing you do draws someone closer to the good Lord, then it’s worth it.”
Susan Klemond writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.