"The root of brotherhood, then, is faith, adhesion to the plans of the Lord, to his way of living and dying. And the fruits of brotherhood are freedom, joy, peace." This quote from the reflection of the Carmelite youth group in Curinga, Italy will help the Carmelites and those who want to follow the Carmelite Charism experience the values of the Carmel Call - vocation.
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Be a Brother, Be a Prophet
Carmelite Youth Group
“I don’t think I should harbor this joy just for myself…” One of our group expressed herself in this way after our 1988 meeting/happening at Sassone. This conviction provides the motive behind our decision to share with our friends some aspects of our experience and of the guidelines which emerged from the meeting.
This report doesn’t even come close to being the acts of the congress. Nor does it pretend to exhaust the riches of the points that were made in the conferences and in the other interventions.
On the other hand, Sassone was not for us a congress in the ordinary acceptance of the term. It was not, that is, an occasion for a comparative study of diverse orientations and thrusts, a predominantly theoretic exercise.
Above all Sassone was a lived-out experience. The new messages we received came to us not so much by means of words as by gestures: the fact of praying together, of celebrating the Eucharist, of meditating, of singing, of sharing meals with many young people from various parts of Italy.
What follows is merely a series of notes about this living experience. We interpret these experiences as gifts of the Holy Spirit, as something, that is, which touched us and which is not our possession and for this reason should be shared, should be communicated, should be submitted to possible points of critique. Because the gift of God is infinite and perfect, whereas we are limited and imperfect, without doubt the way in which we received those gifts was partial and incomplete.
The Experience of Brotherhood
The first experience, the most lively and intense experience, was that of brotherhood. Brotherhood is a new way of being together with others, a new' atmosphere of relationships in which the other is an absolute for you and you are an absolute for the other. None of us - not even for a moment - ever felt self to be a number or a means; no one was used as an instrument for some other scope, however high and noble. Brotherhood is the acceptance of every person insofar as he/she is a unique and irreplaceable mystery.
Man understood in this sense of person - as an absolute and as a mystery - cannot but become an occasion to encounter the absolute and the mystery of God. It cannot but become the desire to be grafted into that tension of love of God for man in the form of total and generous giving which the love of God for man assumed in Jesus. "No one has greater love than he who gives his life for his friends” (Jn 15: 13).
The root of brotherhood, then, is faith, adhesion to the plans of the Lord, to his way of living and dying. And the fruits of brotherhood are freedom, joy, peace. 'That brotherhood which is not the authentic power of the Spirit, able to enliven and transform the world, risks being reduced to sentimentalism and to a certain type of group narcissism. It must be willing to face the daily grind of life, it must translate into intelligent dynamism, capable of individuating the real divisions that keep men apart.
At Sassone we were all challenged to the effort to overcome the barriers deriving from age, from different backgrounds, from different roles in the Church. There were young people between 13 and 30 years of age from Calabria, from Sicily, from Apulia, from Latium, from Tuscany, from Veneto; there were priests, religious, committed lay-persons and youngsters who were encountering the Church for the first time. We acknowledged one another in our common vocation to Carmel, in our being the People of God and the Body of Christ, at the service of the Kingdom.
But even this was not enough. The cenacle may become a refuge for our fears and our laziness if it is not permeated by the strong wind of Pentecost which disseminates us all over the earth.
To live brotherhood means squarely to look at the division which germinates in our own heart and which results in structures of oppression: hypocrisy, prejudice, fanaticism, protagonism, exclusivity of class. To live brotherhood means to dirty our hands in becoming the yeast of freedom and of redemption, wherever we find solitude, sin, deviant behavior, ignorance, hunger, war.
And if the living prophecy of the re-uniting of the divided human race is the Church, then the meeting of Sassone became for us an invitation to live as Church, even passionately. We are aware of our vocation, as part of all the baptized, to a worshipful knowledge of the Father. We acknowledge the service of truth and of charity on the part of Peter and of the Bishops. We accept the primacy of the Word, as we gather around Christ immolated in obedience to God. All this out of love for our brothers. We gather around the Eucharist, in other words, to gain strength, to give thanks and to have a foretaste of the feast of heaven.
What is a Prophet?
“Be a prophet" is an invitation that disturbs us. It does so because to be a prophet means above all to allow oneself to be possessed by the Word of God, by his vision, which alone gives meaning to the world and frees it, putting aside our own partial truths and visions.
But this type of dispossessing, this type of knowledge of nothing, to use the terminology of St. John of the Cross, is the sole condition to know the All of God - his honor and his glory. To be prophets in the Gospel sense, to be prophets in the Carmelite spirit, is summed up in this. Again, it’s a question of love.
It means becoming capable of knowing, of living, of witnessing, of freeing ourselves from the hellish prison of our egoism to become the signs of a much greater proclamation. “Be a prophet . . .” then is an invitation which gives enthusiasm. It follows that we are not truly youthful if we are not prophets. Surely to be young does not simply mean to be twenty years old, but rather to refuse to be humiliated by half measures and by compromises, in order to make a full and wholesome choice of life.
We are not young, we are not prophets if we refuse the uncertainty of a search. We are not young, we are not prophets if we accept the narrow viewpoints of a secularized world which denies openness to God, if we do not adore him, if we do not pray to him.
We are not young, we are not prophets if we give in to the temptations of consumerism, according to which you're only a man if you possess and if you count for something. Rather there must be a decisive affirmation that we are men only if we free our hearts of idolatry towards money and towards power, if we are meek, if we are peace-loving, if we are pure and simple, if we have hunger and thirst for justice.
We are not young, we are not prophets if we are resigned to the padded, obtuse shell of the prefabricated judgment of our families, of our own social group, of our own party, of our own religious association.
We are not young, we are not prophets if we are afraid to come into conflict with the world, which considers prophets different and dangerous: “As soon as King Achab saw Elijah, he said to him: ‘You are the ruin of Israel!' ”
We are not young, we are not prophets if we are not aware that to live our faith means to pay in our own persons, and often it will mean to live alone, calumniated, unemployed, deprived of friendships and affection.
When Elijah was sought out to he put to death, “…he grew fearful and entered the desert, walking a whole day. He seated himself under a juniper tree. He wished to die, and said: ‘This is enough, Lord! Take away my life because I am no better than my fathers.’” One of the most disturbing memories of our Sassone meeting was our encounter with a Carmelite bishop from Brazil, who had worked in a mine, whose office was more than once ransacked by the police. He spoke to us of the persecution which the Church in his country suffers because of the witness it gives to Jesus by means of its love for the poor and for the oppressed. The glory of God manifests itself in the anguish of Gethsemane and in the ignominy of Calvary.
God said “yes” to him who had been refused by men. Therefore, we cannot be prophets if we don’t believe that, with God who raised Jesus from the dead, change is possible; if we don’t live and proclaim the joyful expectation of the hope which enlivened the Apostle Paul: “Creation itself impatiently awaits the revelation of the sons of God . . . and fosters the hope that it will also be freed from the slavery of corruption in order to enter the freedom of the glory of the sons of God” (Rom 8: 19-21).
Search for Meaning
To live out brotherhood, to follow the Christian vocation to be prophets, means, in the spirit of Carmel, to question ourselves about our search for truth, for a meaning for our lives. This question upsets the men of our times. Elijah, the Father of Carmel, was eaten up with zeal for the truth. His existence was consumed by the fire of his mission in an era when his people had left aside its freedom of faith in Jahweh and had allied itself with the naturalistic polytheism of the cultures of the surrounding nations.
We asked ourselves whether the man of today—the young person who lives in today’s society—does, with serenity, pose questions for himself about the meaning he should give to his own existence, to his actions, to his death.
Many are overcome by the fetishes of career, of money, of sex, of an automobile, of a Hollywood value system. Many note the boredom, the absurdity of a life without reference points, which brings on despair.
Many searches for a solution in "religion," in a cheapened sense of the sacred, which demands signs and extraordinary factors, forgetting that Jesus affirmed that the only sign of Cod is “the sign of Jonah,” namely, the sign of the Resurrection. The compensations of “religion” are not faith.
And so we asked ourselves if our being Christian is truly to enter into crisis when faced with Christ’s challenges, or just another form of egoism which makes an analgesic out of Christ.
Carmel gives special stress to the need for vigilance not only vis-à-vis every obvious manifestation of idolatry, but also towards the more subtle forms of paganism which can infiltrate the spiritual life of a Christian. Once more we make reference to St. John of the Cross, for whom all the commandments are included in the first: “I am the Lord your God, who look you out of the land of Egypt from the condition of slavery: you must not have any gods before me" (Ex 20: 2).
The meaning of life, then, is none other than that of which St. Paul writes: “Everything is yours, but you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” This is the fact: all things have a meaning, a truly human dimension, to the degree that man acquires a divine dimension.
We asked ourselves what does it mean for us, in this local Church, under the guidance of our pastor, to work to be of service to the person in search of meaning, of truth. It could mean:
to face the problem of proclamation of the faith to those who have wandered off, to do it with love and seriousness;
- to welcome and help the person who lives in doubt;
- to study and understand the thrusts of culture and customs in our locale;
- to foster a knowledge of the Bible;
- to collaborate in catechetical programs;
- to appreciate the cultural structures of our parish;
- to create in our parish the means of social communication favoring evangelization;
- to deepen local sensitivity to the problem of missions.
Yes, these are vague replies, but they could become the jelling of precious energies in the communion of so many component parts of our parish community. This would be a great help to him whom the Lord has set in our midst as a sign of unity and who has invested us with the specific ministry of proclaiming the Gospel.
Vocation in the Carmelite Brotherhood
“See, I stand at the door and knock. If a person listens to my voice and opens the door, I will dine with him and he with me” (Apoc 3: 20). Jesus is saying: not some other time. But when events, illuminated by the Spirit, speak loudly and clearly with the voice of the Son of Man who, hungry for love, asks to sit at our table, before he continues on his way.
This is Carmel for us: the place where we educate our hearts to recognize the gift offered us by the Lord, in trustful surrender to his grace, in prayer, in vigilance. It’s this that gives transparence to the succession of events and encounters of our lives, of the life of the world. It illumines the ways, the ways of the world, by means of which we can reach him.
The monastery of the Carmelite lay-person is the world and his cell is Christ. But in the world of our time—in the world of all times— it is not easy to hear the voice of God. The noise in society, in the Church, in our hearts is deafening.
To hear God there must be silence. And in Curinga, Carmel wants to be nothing else than this: a space of silence facing lies, illicit desires, suffering itself. On the road to the rediscovery of our vocation, the July mission (Ed. note: A group of Carmelite Vocation Directors held a “mission” of ten days in Curinga during July, 1985) and the meeting at Sassone were important and decisive stages. Today we feel that the Lord is calling us above all to a transformation of our being. Our commitment and our activity in the Church and in the world will be authentic only if they are born of an overflow of contemplation.
In this spirit we are available for the service of our Church community and also of our civic community. We are grateful to the Confraternity which supported our search. In this last period, with risk and even suffering, it knew how to listen to our request as Church. We are grateful to our fathers who, often with hidden efforts, knew how to hand on to us the patrimony of our faith, of values, of institutions, without which we would not be in existence today.
We are grateful to all those who, from now on, will pray and work that the Confraternity recuperate its foundational charism and be open to the demands of the world of our time, and so become A Contemplative Fraternity in the midst of the People.
(Carmel in the World 1988)