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Carmelite Spirituality - Allegiance to Jesus Christ

Most Rev. Fr. John Malley, O.Carm.

Carmelites are the only religious and lay family in the Church whose beginnings took place in the Holy Land, the place where Jesus was born, lived, taught, suffered, died and rose from the dead.

Benedictines might speak of Subiaco and Monte Cassino, Dominicans of southern France, Franciscans of Assisi, Jesuits of Paris and Rome as their birthplaces. The Carmelites alone can point with justifiable pride to Mount Carmel, the place of Elijah and Elisha, the land of Jesus and Mary.

When Albert, the Bishop of Jerusalem and the Patriarch of the Holy Land, wrote a formula of living for the first hermits on Mount Carmel, approximately 800 years ago, he had in mind the most important event in all of history - the birth of Jesus, God becoming incarnate among His people. Albert made this truth the central value of the Rule of Carmel: “Everyone ... should live a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ ... each one, pure in heart and stout in conscience, must be unswerving in the service of the Master ... each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers, unless attending to some other duty.”

Jesus continues to be the center of the Carmelite way of life. In our tradition and for our saints, this allegiance to Christ became the essential element in putting Albert’s formula of living into practice. They took to heart as their inspiration the words of St. Paul to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

St. Teresa’s writings are filled with this allegiance and with the following of Jesus, and she emphatically tells her sisters that the person who would find God must go to Christ Jesus. She writes: “Imagine that the Lord Himself is at your side, and believe me, you should stay with so good a Friend for as long as you can before you leave Him. If you become accustomed to having Him at your side, as if He sees that you love Him to be there and are always trying to please Him, you will never be able, as we put it, to send Him away.” In contrast to many of the theologians of her day, both Dominicans and Jesuits, Teresa put great emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. She recounted His own words to her over and over again: “Be not disturbed, for I will give you a living book.” She emphasized: “The Lord Himself says that He is the Way; the Lord Himself also says that He is the Light and that no one can come to the Father save by Him, and he that sees me sees my Father also.”

St. John of the Cross strongly stressed the same value. To him, Jesus is the revelation of God, His presence among us. In the Ascent of Mount Carmel, he tells us that “in giving His Son, which is His Word - and He has no other - God spoke to us all together, once and for all, in this single Word.” For John, Jesus is the way, He is the door, the only door through which we reach the Father: “O would that I could get spiritual persons to understand that the road to God ... lies in denying ourselves in earnest within and without, and undergoing suffering with Christ”.

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."