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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Two men hope to become tools of God as Carmelites"

From The Catholic Sentinel
By Ed Langlois

Photo: Fr. Matthew Williams, Carmelite Provincial Superior, blesses newly professed Br. Mark Kissner, left and Br. Mark Silva. Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin

MOUNT ANGEL — A former Silicon Valley executive and a former electrical engineer have made lifetime commitments to an ancient way of life that balances prayer, ministry, solitude and community.

Brothers Mark Silva and Mark Kissner professed solemn vows last month in the Discalced Carmelite Friars. St. Mary Church here was full for the rite, during which the men bound themselves to a tradition that reaches into the 13th century.

Brother Silva, 46, was a successful risk management chief for computer and insurance companies in California. But since high school, he had felt a tugging at his heart toward priesthood and religious life.

“I kept putting God on call waiting,” he says.

A native of Glendale, Ariz., he went to a Jesuit high school and then on to Santa Clara University where he studied finance. He landed jobs in Santa Clara and then San Jose and enjoyed the life of beach, mountains and friends.

He was happy, but something seemed inadequate. He felt God calling gently but doggedly. He consulted a vocations book, put the idea on hold for years once again, but then met with a vocations director.

During that session, a spiritual spigot turned on inside him and he articulated his heart’s desires. The priest knew enough to direct him to the Carmelites, whom he joined at age 39.

“I just really felt at home,” he says.

Superiors expected the usual struggles that men with established lives have when making the transition to religious community. But Brother Silva seemed beyond that.

The Carmelites’ primary ministry is prayer, but they serve in parishes, retreat houses, hospitals and prisons. Brother Silva is open to any of those.

“I hope I can be an instrument of God so he can use me to bring souls to him in a loving embrace,” he says. He’ll be known officially as Brother Mark of the Sacred Hearts.

Brother Kissner, to be called Brother Mark of of the Most Precious Blood, was a 30-year-old electrical engineer working in San Diego when he joined his parish’s group for young adults. He learned more about his faith and dated, hoping to be married and raise a family.

“Over time, through prayer and study, I grew more and more in love with Jesus Christ and His Church,” Brother Kissner writes in an e-mail interview. “I had also been influenced by several holy religious priests and nuns over those years. At some point during this period of deepening my faith, the idea of becoming a religious priest entered my mind.”

He struggled with the idea for years, because his vision for himself had always been as a husband and a father. But the more he tried to put the idea of religious life out of his mind, the worse he felt. He describes his decision to truly consider the life as “a surrender” that yielded much peace.

“God made the path to enter the Carmelites fairly easy after that,” writes Brother Kissner, a 42-year-old native of Dayton, Ohio and a graduate of Purdue University.

He read St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, 16th-century Carmelite mystics and leaders. They changed his life. He began attending Mass with some Carmelite nuns in San Diego. At age 35, he entered formation. Those who become Religious give people a witness that the Kingdom of God exists, Brother Kissner says, and show “that there is more to life than what you see, that there is a who God loves them.”

Carmelites look to the gospel story of Martha and Mary to seek a balance between service to the world and simply sitting at the feet of the Lord.

Carmelites have their roots in the 13th century, when a band of European men gathered on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. They wanted to help build up the Church through a simple life of prayer and witness to the Gospel.

It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah the prophet contemplated God in prayer. Carmelites look to him as a source of inspiration.

Among Carmelites, the spiritual writer St. Thérèse of Lisieux stands out for her ardent desire to “be love in the heart of the Church.” The young nun died in 1897 at age 24 and has a massive following.

In 1999, the Western Province of the U.S. Carmelites decided to establish its house of studies near Mount Angel Seminary.

Young Carmelites generally spend six months in provisional membership and then enter a year-long novitiate, a time to learn the ways of prayer and the basics of Carmelite life. Those early periods take place in San Jose, Calif.

Then come temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and about six years of study at Mount Angel. Permanent, or solemn, profession of vows follows. If the brother is to go on to become a priest, which most do, ordination comes after more study.

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