40th Anniversary of the Titus Brandsma Institute

Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm.

First of all it is a great honour to take part in this celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Titus Brandsma Institute of Nijmegen. After 40 years, this Institute continues to work hard in the field of spirituality, helping many people to think about and to deepen their understanding of this fundamental dimension, not only of religion, but of human life itself.

I want to say thank you for the invitation that I received some months ago from the provincial of the Dutch province of Carmelites, Fr. Ben Wolbers, on behalf of the Institute.

Forty years ago this Institute began under the inspiration of Fr. Titus Brandsma. Brandsma was an extraordinary man, who was able to be a mystic in the midst of all his work, his travels, his classes, and indeed of all sorts of activities. He was even able to be a contemplative in the midst of the abyss, in the hell of the Lager in Dachau. He was convinced that mystical experiences were not a sort of antiseptic bubble separate from reality, divorced from everyday life, but that they were precisely at the heart of our lives, at the very centre of reality. We could say that he was an extraordinary man, who perceived God’s presence in ordinary life.

I have always felt very close to the figure of Titus Brandsma. I had the chance, twenty three years ago, to participate in his beatification in Rome, and that was a very important moment in my life and in my vocational journey.

For us Carmelites, this anniversary of the Titus Brandsma Institute is a special reason for joy and congratulations. Spirituality provides the tools and the vocabulary for our reflection on what it means to be a Carmelite and on the values that underpin our vocation. For this reason it is a very important part of our lives and it is an important field in Carmelite studies and thinking. In my talks to the various provincial Chapters this year I have underlined this idea:

In the General Chapter of 2007, several of the speakers who assisted our reflection insisted on the importance of silence and contemplation – two key concepts in spirituality – in order to fully live our charism. The importance and centrality of contemplation is well known, and I shall not dwell on it. Simply by way of example, our guide for Carmelite formation, the Ratio Institutionis Vitae Carmelitanae, explains how contemplation constitutes the heart of the Carmelite charism and adds: The contemplative dimension is not just one of the elements of the charism (prayer, fraternity and service), but the dynamic element which unites them all. (RIVC, 23).

We live in a time of computers, of the virtual, of the immediate. News travels from one side of the world to the other in a fraction of a second. We have immediate access to a mountain of information. All of this undoubtedly has a positive value, as the Church has pointed out on numerous occasions. However, we do also run the risk of falling into the worrying superficiality of data with no criteria for analysis; information without formation, a light, post-modern culture which exalts the empty, the passing, the insignificant.

Perhaps what this society needs, more than ever, is something that the Carmelite charism can offer: the meaning of contemplation, of spiritual depth. The Carmelite should be a man or woman with inner life, with depth, with spiritual riches, a man or woman who in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life, of the problems and contradictions of our time is able to create the inner silence in which God may speak.

Sometimes we too are swept up in prejudice, hurried opinions, fads, etc. Perhaps then we should focus on what St. Teresa said to her nuns: “Do not let us suppose that the interior of the soul is empty.” (Way 28, 10)

The contemplative man or woman is precisely the one who, looking at the reality around them, can find the mysterious presence of the Lord in their lives. They do not just look up, they look around, and even down, towards the most needy, the most humble, who are marginalised by the world, and discover in them that presence, more mysterious than ever. True contemplation and true spirituality become a stance of service and of generous giving.

Therefore the mystic, the truly mystic, the spiritual, the truly spiritual, or the contemplative, the truly contemplative, man or woman must be a master of humanity and compassion, and reflect, with their way of being and living in the world, the mercy and tenderness of God.

I want to finish by saying “Congratulations” for this great work of the last forty years. Congratulations to the Dutch Carmelites and to the Radboud University of Nijmegen. Congratulations to the board of the Institute and to the two Directors that the Institute has had during his forty years: Otger Stegink, who is very well known in Carmelite topics in my country, in Spain for his books on Teresa and John of the Cross, and Kees Waaijman, who has successfully guided the Institute in recent years. And congratulations to all the people who are working in the Institute, in research, teaching, helping in any way.

As Carmelites we strongly support this Institute, and we support it in its specificity and in its peculiarity, and that specificity probably consists in its openness to dialogue in many different ways: dialogue with our spiritual tradition (not only the Carmelite tradition but also the Catholic tradition, Christian tradition, religious tradition); dialogue with culture, or rather, with many “cultures” (with small letters and in the plural) that are present in our society; dialogue also in the ecumenical sense because the Institute has always promoted the creation of a space in which Christians from different confessions can share our common spiritual tradition and the possibility of experiencing God in our lives. Ecumenism is not something just in the realm of theology (even though, I am a dogmatic theologian), but also in praxis (working together as Christians for a better world) and also in spiritual experience and reflection. I hope the Institute will keep offering this great service for many years: “ad multos annos!”

Since I was elected Prior General of the Carmelite Order in September, many people have told me that it must be very hard work, travelling all the time, problems, meetings, and so on. Well, it is hard work, but there are also many moments, many situations, in which one feels very proud to be Carmelite. I can tell you that this is one of this moments. Thank you very much.

Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm.
Prior General
12 April 2008