Carmelite Spirituality

“Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”
~Saint Teresa of Avila

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I had an epiphany of sorts, recently. The Lord placed on my heart a heartfelt pang of love for our youth. Without effectively encouraging the next generation to grow in the love of our Lord, there will be no next generation to pass on our legacy.

It is a sad fact that many of those who were baptized or confirmed during our Triduum celebrations will fall away from the faith, due to several factors:

  • Lack of proper follow-up catechesis,

  • poor parental modeling,

  • peer pressure,

  • declining cultural morality, and finally,

  • poor modeling on the part of the clergy on the importance of the internal life of prayer.

 

The contemplative life should be the central focus in the life of the Church. All the men and women of faith should follow Christ in the contemplative life — at least on some level. In this focus, we become a people who are continually seeking the face of God and are actively participating in the Church’s mission as her praying heart.

 

Without a concerted effort to pray, we have no effective communication with God. We also lose a sense of awe and wonder in the sacramental life of the Church. In many ways without this open line of communication with the divine, we are simply going through rote motions.

 

Think about it, what would become of the weaker members of our Church, who don’t find in you, prayerful support to continue the journey? In my opinion, the decline of the Church in our age can be intrinsically linked to a decline in the personal prayer life of our clergy — bishops included.

 

We are finding that a church without a focus on the internal life becomes devoid of the beacons that signal to the presence of Christ in our midst. Without internalized, contemplative prayer, many are lost on the high seas, without the torches that illuminate the darkness we are going through, without the sentinels announcing the new day when it is still night?

 

To my brother bishops, I encourage you to take this as a serious challenge for the spiritual formation of those in our care. Catholic spirituality, which, as you well know, consists of a path of gradual identification with the attitude of Christ towards the Father. This is why, since formation clearly continues throughout a lifetime, it is also necessary to accept the responsibility that it is a slow process, for which it is important not to be hasty. In this context, I also remind you of the importance of discernment and of the spiritual and vocational accompaniment of candidates, without ever allowing oneself to be filled with anxiety over numbers and efficiency as well as the formation of catechists called to provide the service of authority.

 

In order for your contemplative life to be meaningful for the Church and for today’s world, it is necessary to focus on a formation that is adapted to the needs of the present moment: an integral formation, personalized and well-accompanied. Such formation will nurture and safeguard your creative fidelity to the charism received, both of each of the sisters and of the whole community.

 

In the above understanding of the need for ongoing catechesis, a dedicated prayer life, I encourage each of you to consider adopting a formal recognition of religious orders. The particular spirituality of Saint Nicholas OCC is focused on the Carmelite tradition. You are welcome to join me in this particular Order. You can find more information regarding Carmelites Spirituality in this article. And, if interested you may contact me for more information about forming a Carmelite Chapter in your own jurisdiction.

In the 12th century on Mt. Carmel, two Saints, John of The Cross and Teresa of Avila began the Carmelite Order. They wrote spiritual classics about the importance of suppression of the desires for divine union with God. And about the importance of prayer and spending time with God. These important writings set the base of the Carmelite Order. We are simply a Contemplative order of Christians, who practice Carmelite Spirituality.

What is Carmelite Spirituality

Let’s start with what Carmelite Spirituality is not. Well, the Carmelite Order is not a sect, which can be entered only by elites. Therefore, anyone with the divine calling can participate and become a Carmelite. Here at Saint Nicholas, we are promoting what is commonly referred to as the "Third Order."  This is where our professed members can be either married, or single, taking vows of chastity, appropriate to their sacramental state of life. These Carmelites are Christians, praying for the One True God and the Carmelite Saints. We base our approach to this particular spirituality on the "Rule of St. Albert" and the lived example of St. Teresa of Avila.

What is the Carmelite Charism

Carmelite Charism is simply traditional Christian spirituality – not some sort of esoteric spiritism or mystical approach to faith. As such, contrary to some popular misconceptions, it is not reserved to a select group within the Church or to a spiritually elite but is accessible to all whom the Spirit calls to follow this way. As a Christian spirituality, Carmelite spirituality is a way of following Jesus Christ, walking the path of the gospel, and fulfilling Jesus' great commission. Following the examples of the Old Testament Prophet Elijah and Our Lady of Mt Carmel, everything we do points to Jesus Christ, as the only way, the truth, and the life.

 

Carmelite spirituality is characterized by an intense thirst for an immediate and direct experience of God. Reduced to its most fundamental expression, Carmelite spirituality is centered on prayer, understood as loving friendship with God, and contemplation as the free gift of God. Hence, Carmelite spirituality is focused on attention to one’s relationship with Jesus. Our spiritual lives are expressed in various ways, but primarily relying on a few major sources, such as the Rule of St. Albert, the writings of the founders of Discalced Carmel Saints. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and indeed in the writings of all our Carmelite saints.

 

In the Rule of St. Albert, the Christian character of Carmelite spirituality is clearly expressed as living "a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ." This involves a gradual and progressive conversion and transformation – a putting on of the mind and heart of Jesus. Sts. Teresa and John, speak of prayer and contemplation as ‘friendship with God’ and ‘union with God’ respectively. Prayer and contemplation, as a relationship with God, in and through loving friendship with Jesus Christ, is not a technique or one of the many daily activities but embracing of one’s whole life. For the Carmelite then there is no experience in one’s life that is outside the ambit of relationship with God.

 

Together with study, prayer, and contemplation, Carmelite spirituality emphasizes the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling. Both Saints Teresa and John teach us that God, the Blessed Trinity, dwells within the human person. Hence, one need not go out of self in search for God but enter progressively ever deeper within oneself to be with God who dwells at the very center of our being. 

 

St. Teresa speaks of this journey within as an itinerary through a castle with seven mansions. St. John of the Cross hymns this reality: “What more do you want, O soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction, fullness, and kingdom – your Beloved whom you desire and seek? Be joyful and gladdened in your interior recollection with Him, for you have Him so close to you. Desire Him there, adore Him there. Do not go in pursuit of Him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and wearied thereby, and you shall not find Him, or enjoy Him more securely, or sooner, or more intimately than by seeking Him within you.” (S.C. 1:8) Interiority and recollection, then, are at the very heart of Carmelite spirituality.

 

In order to foster and facilitate a relationship with God, through prayer and contemplation, Carmelite spirituality proposes certain means, both personal and communal, namely meditation on the word of God, liturgy, silence, and solitude, and asceticism. The Rule of St. Albert urges an unceasing pondering of the Law of the Lord in Scripture and the strengthening of one’s heart with holy thoughts, so that the word of God may abound in one’s heart and lips, and guide all one’s actions. The Rule also exhorts Carmelites to come together daily for the celebration of the sacred liturgy.

 

Carmelite spirituality proposes silence and solitude as necessary pre-requisites for prayer and contemplation. Silence refers not only to external noise but also to the stilling of one’s internal noises. Silence is the condition for listening attentively to the still small voice of God. Solitude provides an ambiance where one may be alone so as to focus more attentively on the Beloved. Solitude then is not primarily separation or isolation from others, but a place of privileged encounter with the Beloved.

 

Asceticism is the means of freeing the self from the tyranny of self-will, simplifying one’s life, and preserving all of one’s energy for journeying to God. For St. John of the Cross, the main expression of asceticism involves a radical detachment from inordinate or disordered desires and appetites. Detachment is a way of prioritizing God above all creatures. As such, it witnesses to the primacy and all-sufficiency of God. Asceticism is not only at the service of a deeper life with God, but it is also geared to the demands of the apostolic ministry.

 

Although Carmelite spirituality highly esteems prayer and contemplation these are always in service of the apostolate. Hence, integral to Carmelite spirituality is apostolic service to the Church. This aspect is particularly highlighted by St. Teresa. For St. Teresa, while prayer and contemplation are paramount, they are not ends in themselves but are orientated to the support, welfare, and apostolic fruitfulness of all those engaged in the work of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Carmelite spirituality, then, is not simply about self-salvation, but a way of co-operating with God in bringing about God’s reign on earth.

 

Finally, Carmelite spirituality teaches that authentic prayer and contemplation is accompanied by and promote growth in the human and theological virtues. This leads to a flowering in the Carmelite of the two-fold gospel commandment of love of God and love of neighbor.

3rd Order Carmelites -- Uniquely Secular

Yes, third-order Carmelites are uniquely secular. This means that even though we are living our daily lives in this world, we are uniquely set apart from the ideologies of this world. Our true home is not in this sinful flesh, nor in the pleasures of this life. We live amidst the realization that our ultimate destination is in Heaven, with our Lord. Yes there are bad things in this world and yes there will be suffering, but Carmelites understand that there is a glorious Kingdom that awaits us.

 

Eternity in heaven is a place far greater than any of us can truly imagine. We are admonished in scripture not to love the things of the world, nor are we to be conformed to it. The things that unbelievers, those in the world live for are temporary and it can vanish n an instance. We realize that we MUST live for Christ and that trying to fit in is little more than pride and vanity. In our separation, Carmelite Christians don’t act how people of this world act, but instead we strive to be imitators of Christ, living His gospel, so others may find the path to their heavenly home.

 

As Secular Carmelites, we share the same charism as vowed brothers and Sisters, the same traditions, the same call to holiness, and the same apostolic mission. What is unique about our vocation as a secular order is that we live the Carmelite charism not in a monastic community but 'in the world': we are laypeople (or diocesan clergy). Whether we are young adults, middle-aged or elderly; married, widowed, or living a single life, we live our faith and Carmelite vocation in the midst of and through that present situation. In our families, in our work and professional lives, in parishes, in school parent's groups, in nursing homes, in the supermarket, on trains and buses, wherever we are, as prayerful people, living in awareness of God's presence, we bring this presence into all these situations and so bring this presence to others. Carmelite spirituality is not so much about doing certain things but rather about being a certain kind of person and so it affects every aspect of our lives, and every relationship or interaction we have with others. In such ways, we contribute to the Order the benefits proper to our secular state of life.

 

Transformation and Witness

In a world of diverse beliefs and values, we are called to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ, supported by the patronage of Mary, our Mother. This involves a gradual and progressive conversion and transformation – a putting on of the mind and heart of Jesus. We cooperate with this process by taking time daily to develop and maintain an intimate friendship with Jesus, the one who we know loves us. As with any relationship, this friendship develops by spending time together. Jesus is with us throughout our day but we can develop our conscious awareness of his continual presence by developing certain daily habits, which, over time, become a way of life. Finding time for the listed prayerful activities each day can be challenging in the midst of our busy lifestyles, but a discerning spirit will always focus on the purpose of these set activities. Relationship with Jesus is a consequence of our baptism, made more specific through our Carmelite calling.

 

Some of the ways we foster this relationship is by:

  • listening to the Word of God and responding in silent prayer for at least half an hour each day,

  • participating in the Church’s liturgy – daily Mass where possible, Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church, and, if possible, also Night Prayer,

  • taking Mary our Mother as our model of prayer and service as she pondered the Word of God in her heart and lived in obedience to that Word,

  • studying and meditating on the inspired teachings of the Carmelite saints, especially Saints Teresa and John of the Cross, studying and meditating on the beliefs of our Christian faith and our Catholic tradition,

  • supporting one another through regular Community meetings, contact, and service.

 

Our commitment to this way of life, through responding to God’s invitation in love, is a source of growth, strength, and transformation. Through our way of life, we desire to be changed into people who are the living Gospel to others and so to spread the message and charism of Carmel. Saint Teresa tells us the only proof of prayer is the growth of virtue, and also writes, “This is the reason for prayer, …. the birth always of good works, good works.” (Interior Castle VII.4.6.)

 

As we are called to evangelization, we are particularly interested in promoting prayer: meditation and contemplation, and sacramental and spiritual life. As exhorted by Saints Teresa and Thérèse, we support priests and religious by our prayers and sacrifice, while also collaborating with the Friars and Sisters in their apostolic commitment where possible.

 

The Church reminds us that the world has a need for witnesses to the presence of God. We want to be those witnesses in the world so that through knowing us others may know the love of God. Becoming such a person, however, is a life long challenge, but being a member of the Order, through the local community, can be constant support along the way.

Saint Teresa of Avila’s Story
Teresa lived in an age of exploration as well as political, social, and religious upheaval. It was the 16th century, a time of turmoil and reform. She was born before the Protestant Reformation and died almost 20 years after the closing of the Council of Trent.

The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer.

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man’s world of her time. She was “her own woman,” entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer; a holy woman, a womanly woman.
Teresa was a woman “for God,” a woman of prayer, discipline, and compassion. Her heart belonged to God. Her ongoing conversion was an arduous lifelong struggle, involving ongoing purification and suffering. She was misunderstood, misjudged, and opposed in her efforts at reform. Yet she struggled on, courageous and faithful; she struggled with her own mediocrity, her illness, her opposition. And in the midst of all this, she clung to God in life and in prayer. Her writings on prayer and contemplation are drawn from her experience: powerful, practical, and graceful. She was a woman of prayer; a woman for God.

Teresa was a woman “for others.” Though a contemplative, she spent much of her time and energy seeking to reform herself and the Carmelites, to lead them back to the full observance of the primitive Rule. She founded over a half-dozen new monasteries. She traveled, wrote, fought—always to renew, to reform. In her self, in her prayer, in her life, in her efforts to reform, in all the people she touched, she was a woman for others, a woman who inspired and gave life.

Her writings, especially the Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, have helped generations of believers. In 1970, the Church gave her the title she had long held in the popular mind: Doctor of the Church. She and St. Catherine of Siena were the first women so honored.

Ours is a time of turmoil, a time of reform, and a time of liberation. Modern women have in Teresa a challenging example. Promoters of renewal, promoters of prayer, all have in Teresa a woman to reckon with, one whom they can admire and imitate.
 

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reflection

“Whenever we think of Christ, we should recall the love that led Him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of His love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love Him.”
~Saint Teresa of Avila