Credit: Jenny via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Credit: Jenny via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Here at CNA, we like to delve into the really deep questions. Why was it necessary for God to become man? What do Catholics really teach about Mary? And, can discalced Carmelites wear bunny slippers?

I’m not sure how it started, but that last question had us debating back and forth for hours in the newsroom the other day. What does it really mean to be discalced? What qualifies as a shoe, and what does not?

Finally we decided to go right to the source – a discalced Carmelite order. Which was tricky, because many of them are strictly cloistered and communicate with the outside world mainly through handwritten letter. In the spirit of the Year of Consecrated Life, we decided to share this correspondence with you.

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We ended up contacting the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, a contemplative/active order (with e-mail!) who work in healthcare and education. Below is a transcript of the first e-mail:

Hello Sisters,

We were having a discussion here at the CNA offices that got pretty lively, and we wanted to know: what is considered a shoe when you’re a discalced Carmelite? And are Discalced Carmelites allowed to wear bunny slippers?

Your response is greatly appreciated!

Thanks and God Bless,

Mary

Later that same day, I received an e-mail from Sr. Timothy Marie of the Carmelites, subject head: “Enjoy Bunny Slipper answer”. I knew this was going to be good. I was glad to hear that this wasn’t a question the Carmelites are often asked, and that we could help peel away some of the mystery of religious life, one silly question at a time.

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Dear Mary,

Just about the time one thinks, “Well, we’ve answered just about every question possible regarding the Carmelite Way of Life, the morning email brings in something totally new. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought a question about “bunny slippers” and Carmelites would come our way. But it did today, so here’s our answer:

#1: Discalced Carmelites do NOT go barefoot.

Important information. Perhaps many people confuse “discalced” for “barefoot.” The word “discalced” has Latin origins, according to a not-very-labor-intensive Google search, meaning the removal (dis) of the shoe (calced). But not all footwear is created equal, as Sr. Timothy explains:

#2: Discalced Carmelites wear a variety of sandals purchased from various outlets and some Carmels still wear the original alpargatas (rope sandals which they make themselves). It is permissible to wear socks in the winter in most Carmels or to wear shoes if there is a medical issue requiring shoes.

If I were a Carmelite, I would totally favor Birkenstocks. ‘Stocks and socks is my favorite fall footwear. Plus they last forever and are quite comfortable.

#3: Now to the clincher: Do discalced Carmelites wear bunny slippers? Well, let’s say someone gets a pair of “bunny slippers” as a gift.

Ah, saving the best for last. Wise choice, sister. Apparently, there are three possible ways this could play out:

1. She could ask permission (in a spirit of detachment) to give them away to someone who could really use them.

2. Or she could save them for one of our famous “Carmelite Skits and Plays.” Perhaps an Easter musical? Recall how St. Therese played St. Joan of Arc and her sister Celine took a photo of it. It’s online if you’d like to see it.

I actually did not know that was a famous hallmark of the Carmelites. Yes I would like to see it. Online I go.

St. Therese as Joan of Arc. Source: http://www.maidofheaven.com/joanofarc_st_therese.asp

St. Therese as Joan of Arc. Source: http://www.maidofheaven.com/joanofarc_st_therese.asp

3. Or they could put away in a closet until one day in the future when one of the nuns needs foot surgery and during recuperation needs to wear something soft. In that case, I’d suggest a sign on the shoe box as it sits in the closet with the words “Do not open until recuperating from foot surgery.”

So there you have it folks. You no longer have to lie awake at night, wiling away the hours, wondering whether or not discalced Carmelites ever have the pleasure of wearing rabbit-resembling footwear.

Do you have a seemingly silly but nonetheless burning question about something in the Catholic Church?