Carmelites and the Future - 1. Creative Fidelity
Mt. 28, 18 — "Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
This text spells out our task in the present and the future. We, as members of the Church, are to carry on the mission of Christ. The end of our Rule points us towards the future. Like the innkeeper in the story of the Good Samaritan, we continue our work while keeping an eye on the horizon waiting for the Master's return.
More and more people in our western societies no longer count themselves as Christians. In some societies I suspect that the number of non-Christians and those who are actively opposed to the Catholic Church is growing. More and more children are being brought up with no sense of God. In fact, God does not enter into the thought of a number of people and is being excluded from many areas of human life. Religion is slowly being relegated to the private sphere as a personal hobby so long as it does not interfere with anyone else. Abortion is often presented now as a human right and those who are opposed are painted as enemies of women and of human progress.
In the midst of our changing world, the primary challenge for us as individuals and as an Order is unchanging. We are called to be constantly faithful to the charism that God has given to us in trust for the Church and the world. Being faithful does not necessarily mean repeating what has gone before. Times change and so we must change our way of living and presenting the charism so that it can be an effective vehicle of evangelisation in a new era. We do not of course change the charism but we can and do change the way it is presented; we also add to it and enrich it by how we live it in our own day. We can learn a great deal from the prophet Elijah in this connection.
God speaks to us in many ways. One of these ways is through the cultural changes that our world is undergoing at present. We cannot claim to be faithful to God if we do not ponder the Scriptures but equally we cannot claim to be faithful if we do not listen to what God is saying to us from the heart of the world. A new kind of evangelisation is required for a new situation. We must seek to understand what is going on and why and then respond the best way we can. Perhaps we hide the face of Christ from some people by our tired words and tired ways. We must be careful lest we find ourselves speaking in a language of yesterday to the people of tomorrow.
All consecrated men and women "must continue to be images of Christ the Lord, fostering through prayer a profound communion of mind with him (cf Phil 2, 5¬11), so that their whole lives may be penetrated by an apostolic spirit and their apostolic work with contemplation." There can be no doubt that in the eyes of most people Carmel stands for prayer, contemplation, and the interior life. Carmelites do many different things, and that is one of our strengths, but in all these different apostolic works we are expected to express our spirituality. What we do must spring from what we are. We are most faithful to God when we are faithful to the vocation that has been given us. There is a distinction that I have always found helpful between working for God and doing God's work. We work for God in all sorts of ways and our apostolic labours may be very laudable but are they all according to the mind and heart of God? To do God's work means to do what God really wants of us. Our charism is spelled out clearly in our official documents. How do I incarnate this Carmelite vocation of living in allegiance to Jesus Christ through prayer, service and fraternity according to the inspiration of Our Lady and the Prophet Elijah?
The fundamental thrust of our lives has to do with the contemplative aspect of our charism. This does not mean that we all must become hermits but that we must be contemplatives in the midst of the different activities in which we are involved. Our prophetic and apostolic activity will naturally flow from our contemplative life. We cannot be contemplatives if we do not spend time alone with God but more than that, it is a process whereby God purifies and transforms our hearts so that we become like God. This process requires our consent to the action of God in our lives and a recognition that God works often in very human ways. The whole thrust of our spiritual tradition is about this process in which God transforms our selfishness into pure love. God will use all the ordinary events of daily life to reveal to us who and what we are. This is a very painful process and therefore it is much easier to forget about prayer and immerse ourselves in working for God while perhaps forgetting to do God's work. Am I faithful but also creative? Are we, the Carmelite family, faithful to God and yet creative, so that we can proclaim the Good news in a way that people in our own culture can actually hear it?
to be continued