The Carmelites? Who are we?
The Holy Land, Mount Carmel to be exact. A mountain celebrated for its sheer beauty. Stretching out into the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea Mount Carmel in the springtime of the year is a glow with the vivacious colouring of flowering shrubs and plants. A symbol for the beauty of Mary.
On that mountain the first Carmelites came together, a unique group. Laymen, most of them, living as hermits in community. They took as their model one who appealed to many monks in the West, the Prophet Elijah. And with the passage of time they took Mary as the companion on their journey to the Lord. Carmel stands for prayer and union with God on the holy mount. Every Carmelite house, even the smallest in the back street of some huge city, still manages to recapture something of that unique and beautiful spirit of Mount Carmel.
The Carmelite Order has its own Rule, given to the hermits on Mount Carmel, by St. Albert, the Patriarch of the Christian community in Jerusalem.
The Rule, originally drawn up for these hermits living in community is still the basis for Carmelite life.
Prayer is at the heart of the Carmelite Rule, prayer which is described as continuous conversation with God, allowing his Word to penetrate the mind and the heart. As the Rule itself says “mediating on the law of the Lord day and night.”
The Rule, even though written for a small group of hermits does not prescribe for living in the clouds. It is a re-statement of the Gospel which is the rule for all religious men and women.
The person of Jesus Christ dominates the Carmelite Rule. The Carmelite is one who “lives in the footsteps of Jesus Christ” one who is expected “to live devotedly in Christ”, and to be whole hearted in the service of Jesus Christ. Christ is the beginning and the end of Carmelite Rule. All the great Carmelites across the centuries have been intensely drawn to the person of Christ. Among them is one who has been described as ‘the greatest saint of our age’, St. Therese of Lisieux. Christ has an extraordinary fascination for young people today. No age has produced more musicals or films or songs about Jesus Christ as our age has. Some of them only succeed in concealing the real Christ — the Christ who gave himself unto death and who seeks to find a place in our hearts. The Carmelite finds Christ in the very depths of himself. He is expected to tackle the most demanding journey of all, the journey inwards into his own heart.
Elijah is different. He suddenly appears out of nowhere and vanishes from the scene just as quickly. But in the meantime he makes an impact.
Elijah is not afraid to challenge those who get rich at the expense of the poor. A man of God, a man of prayer and a man of action, he loves the poor and they love him. A people’s man. Carmelites have always been people’s men. We like to think that it’s some thing we have got from Elijah, our easy way with people. People need so much men and women of God who do not threaten by a show of learning or of prestige but by simplicity and com passion. True simplicity and true compassion can conceal profound wisdom, the wisdom that comes from the Lord and from a true appreciation of this great and wonderful world.
From Elijah, Carmelites learn to be people of the desert, with heart undivided, standing before God and entirely dedicated to his service, uncompromising in the choice to serve God’s cause, aflame with a passionate love for God. Like Elijah, they believe in God and allow themselves to be led by the Spirit and by the Word that has taken root in their hearts, in order to bear witness to the divine presence in the world, allowing God to be truly God in their lives. Finally, in Elijah they see, not only prophetic wisdom, but also brotherhood lived in community; and with Elijah they learn to be channels of God’s tender love for the poor and the humble.
St. John Paul II’s motto “totus tuus” (totally yours), applies to Mary Mother of the Lord. It expression to his very childlike devotion to Mary. It captures the Carmelite’s devotion to Mary. The official title of the Carmelite Order is, “the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.” The Carmelite identifies with Mary especially in her receiving of the Word of God. The Word has to become flesh in the life of the Carmelite as Christ became flesh in the womb of Mary. In order that he may bring forth the Word and share the Word with others.
Carmelites have always thought of Mary as the Patron of the Order, its Mother and Splendour; she is constantly before their eyes and in their hearts as “the Virgin Most Pure.” Looking to her, and living in spiritual intimacy with her, we learn to stand before God, and with one another, as the Lord’s brothers. Mary lives among us, as mother and sister, attentive to our needs; along with us she waits and hopes, suffers and rejoices.
The scapular is a sign of Mary’s permanent and constant motherly love for Carmelite brothers and sisters. By their devotion to the scapular, faithful to a tradition in the Order, especially since the 16th century, Carmelites express the loving closeness of Mary to the people of God; it is a sign of consecration to Mary, a means of uniting the faithful to the Order, and an effective and popular means of evangelisation.
Contemplation - Prayer
The heart of the Carmelite charism is prayer and contemplation. The quality of our prayer determines the quality of the community life and the quality of the service which is offered to others. The goal of the Carmelite life is union with God. We seek to live in God's presence and consent to God's will for us. This involves us in listening to God who speaks to us in many ways and especially in the words of Scripture. Prayer is the way we relate to God and as we grow in friendship with Christ our prayer will tend to become more and more simple. The relationship with Christ will change us, impelling us to move out of the prison of selfishness towards the bright daylight of pure love for God and our fellow men and women. We are called to embark on a journey of faith whereby we are gradually stripped of all that is not God so that we can put on Christ. We do all we can to respond to God's initiative in calling us but we are very aware that in the end only God can change our hearts and so we learn to wait patiently for the coming of God to us. As we follow Christ along this path of trust in God we are inspired by the example and virtues of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Prophet Elijah.
Prayer and contemplation for the Carmelite are not private matters between the individual and God but are to be shared with others since the charism is given for the whole world. Therefore there is an emphasis in the Order on the ministry of teaching prayer and giving spiritual direction. The Carmelite is aware that the transformation of the human heart by God may be hidden from most eyes but has far reaching consequences for our world. The way of prayer is mysterious and goes beyond our normal human categories. Prayer opens us to the Ultimate Mystery.
A contemplative attitude towards the world around us allows us to discover the presence of God in the events of ordinary daily life and especially, to see him in our brothers and sisters. Thus we are led to appreciate the mystery of those with whom we share our lives. Our Rule requires us to be essentially “brothers”, and reminds us that the quality of interpersonal relationships within the Carmelite community needs to be constantly developed and enhanced, following the inspiring example of the first community in Jerusalem. For us to be brothers means to grow in communion and in unity, overcoming privileges and distinctions, in a spirit of participation and co-responsibility, in sharing material possessions, a common programme of life, and personal charisms; to be brothers also means to care for one another’s spiritual and psychological well-being, through walking in the way of dialogue and reconciliation.
Carmelites seek to form communities where each person feels accepted and valued not for what he can do but simply because he is. This kind of community is in itself a witness that the love of Christ can break down the barriers which human beings set up and that it is possible for people of different backgrounds and nationalities to live together in peace and harmony. Carmelites are also aware of being part of an international fraternity which is present in many parts of the world.
As a contemplative brotherhood, we seek the face of God also in the heart of the world. We believe that God has established his dwelling place among his people, and for this reason, the Carmelite brotherhood knows itself to be a living part of the Church and of history - an open fraternity, able to listen to the world it lives in, and willing to be questioned by it; ready both to meet life’s challenges and to give an authentic, evangelical response based on our own charism. Carmelites will show solidarity and will be eager to collaborate with all who suffer, who hope, and who commit themselves to the search for the Kingdom of God.
When hermits were forced to leave their home on Mount Carmel and settle in Europe. There they changed their style of life from hermits to friars. The major difference is that friars are called to serve the People of God in some active apostolate. Some Religious Congregations were founded for a specific work but the Carmelite Order tries simply to respond to the needs of the Church and the world which differ according to time and place, and so, many friars work in parishes, schools, universities, retreat centres, prisons, hospitals etc. The kind of service which each individual friar is involved in will depend on the needs of the people in whose midst he lives and his own particular talents.