Message of the General Chapter 2001 to the Carmelite Family Throughout the World
Carmel - The Journey Continues
"In holiness and justice before God all the days of our life"
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Carmelite Family.
The grace of the Holy Spirit be with you all. We greet our brothers and sisters in Carmel throughout the world and we would like to share with you some of the fruits of the grace-filled days of the Chapter of the First Order.
The General Chapter of 2001 took place at Sassone in Italy from the 4th to the 21st September. as its theme, "Carmel: The Journey Continues." We stood at a an important point in history and looked briefly backwards at the journey which Carmel had taken. We observed the continued vitality of the Rule to inspire, to challenge and to bring forth new forms of life. We sought through a Lectio divina method to grasp what God might be saying to us and to find help in following his way. We considered the point at which where we have arrived, and found many reasons for thanksgiving and joy. We also thought of the journey ahead. Planning for such a journey is difficult, because we do not know in what ways the Holy Spirit will continue to surprise us. We are also an Order that is ancient and in some places very young. It is an Order rich in pluriformity and new forms of life; General Chapter did not, therefore make very specific recommendations for different places and for the years ahead; the main implementation of the Chapter will be at more local levels. Our hope is for continued growth and the favour of the Lord. Our journey continues.
The General Chapter sees as one of its major task to evaluate, to encourage and to build up the Order. We observed with great joy the expansion of the Order in new countries. Since the last General Chapter in 1995 there are new signs of life in different countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Oceania. We were very impressed by the generosity and vision of the older provinces of Europe, the Americas and Australia which, often with diminished manpower, have planted Carmel anew in other places. We look forward to ever deeper riches coming to the Order from these new foundations specially in the "Third World".
We heard of new forms of community life, often arising from renewed pondering of the Rule and the post-Vatican II documents of the Order. From these we saw new expressions of Carmelites "living in the midst of the people" but always as a contemplative fraternity (see CON 15). We were inspired by new forms of parish life, by the rediscovery of the values of the common life together with the laity, by genuine options for the poor, and by solidarity with those whose lives were broken. With these new forms of community life, we also found new outreaches to various places of need in the Church and world. Whether we looked at new communities or at established ones, we were constantly reminded of the need for initial and for an on-going formation which is life-long. We were also challenged by weakness in community life and the need for renewal of community (see Relatio of Father General). In recent years we have produced life-giving documents but we have to receive them more profoundly by reflecting on them in our own prayer and along with our brothers and sisters.
The Call to Peace
We were shocked and profoundly saddened by the terrorist atrocities in the United States of America on 11 September 2001. How can we respond to this depth of disregard for human lives? We look to our faith and to our spiritual resources which hold up to us the sacredness of human life and the primacy of God whose name and image must not be used to serve anything other than God’s own will. This tragedy, which also reflected the violence of our world, invited us to turn again to what our Constitutions say to us about Justice and Peace (see CON ch. 9). We must respect the sacredness of all human life and seek to plant seeds of a new humanity.
As we pondered the Rule and our documents, we heard again the voice of St. Paul speaking across the ages to us. We see his care for the Churches, his fidelity to the Risen Lord and his matchless discernment of the Spirit at work. We saw him constantly building up and encouraging the young communities as well as challenging those Hebrews who had long been servants of Yahweh. We offer the Order a short reflection based on the conclusion of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, a letter which we find quoted in the Rule itself.
Ours too is an exhortation to hope. Paul is writing to a community of Christians who were in situations not unlike many found today in the Order. They are living in a hostile environment; they are somewhat confused; they remained, however, constant in their faith, hope and love. Paul concludes with a powerful exhortation, which we can pray over for the various situations of the Order (I Thess 5: 12-24).
A Reflection an First Thessalonians 5:12-24
"We appeal to you brothers and sisters to respect those who labour among you and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you."
Our lawgiver St Albert begins our Rule by demanding that the hermits have a prior (B) to whom they are to promise obedience. The prior is a principle of stability for the community. After showing his role for the hermits, Albert again returns to him at the end of his Formula of Life, demanding obedience and that the brothers see the person and authority of Christ in the prior. Our world is marked by excessive individualism and frequently by moral and spiritual anarchy. Authority as service and obedience are certainly counter-.cultural values. In Carmel we are challenged to see that in community we have genuine Christian freedom (see Gal 5:1.13), a freedom that is not a selfish autonomy but a genuine perfection of our humanity. In the years ahead we need to look again at the values of Christian authority which we have vowed ourselves to follow. We seek to find ways of exercising authority which will avoid all authoritarianism or fear, and will be directed to love and to concern for the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of the brothers and sisters.
"Be at peace among yourselves"
Our Rule several times encourages us to live according to ways that reflect a consensus in the community. Where there may well have been some discord and confusion on Mount Carmel, the hermit brothers went to Albert who showed them a way of peace in living with minimal but powerful structures along with a prior.
"Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all."
Though there are many signs of life, we find in some places some discouragement and genuine difficulties in living community. The community of brothers is also a community of sinners. Our Rule envisages constant encouragement and also fraternal correction. This is also a counter-cultural value, as modern man likes to live in an isolated and proud autonomy. The truth, however, is that we all need both correction as well as encouragement. These two are for us daily in the Word of God, but there is also a time when words of encouragement and correction need to be spoken to us by a brother. Whereas in the past there was a great emphasis on our structures, now our common call to discipleship and more human values and along with communion must also come to the fore, along with genuine hospitality and welcome. Such fraternal help is an important way in which we seek to do good to one another and to all.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of Christ Jesus for you."
As Carmel continues it journey these exhortation of Paul have a particular urgency. In one way it should be easy to continue rejoicing and giving thanks, for we are surrounded by so many blessings. Carmel can never cease from prayer: we are a contemplative community centred on the Word and on the Eucharist (Rule 10 and 14). The serious situations of our contemporary world not only call out for conversion, prayer and intercession, but our very response has to be conditioned by prayer and mediated through it. Our prophetic spirit demands that we be watchmen for the house of Israel (see Ezech 3:17; Is 21:8.11). But it is only through the Spirit that we will be able to hear and express the prophetic word (see 2 Pet 1:20-21). We, like those who have gone before us, must remain praying prophetic communities in the midst of the people.
"Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the word of prophets."
The wind or the spirit breaths where it wills (see John 3:8); the Holy Spirit gives gifts to each one in the Church (see 1 Cor 12:7 and Vatican II, Church LG 12). Each of us needs to recognise and accept thankfully the charisms we have received and to use them for the good of all. At the same time, we have always to be on the alert to the charisms of each of our brothers and sisters, so that we may encourage them in their use for the up building of the community (see 1 Cor 14:5; Vatican 11, Laity AA 3; Priests PO 9). The word of the prophet is frequently an uncomfortable one. We need at times to look behind the personality of the prophet to grasp the message of God given in all too human forms.
"Test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil."
The very abundance of the gifts of the Spirit makes discernment a crucial task. Discernment is a sensitive charism and art for it is easy to quench the Spirit. There are always false prophets, or those who seriously distorted or dehumanise a genuine message. Our world is marked by great evil, some of it cruelly obvious, but much is hidden and subtle. Our ability to abstain from evil will itself involves discernment, prophetic insight and constant prayer.
"May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. The one who calls you is faithful."
In this great time of grace we are being called by our God who is faithful and the God of peace. We are constantly awaiting the coming of the Lord Jesus, not in an anxious spirit, but with hope that Jesus to whom we owe allegiance (Rule, 2) is both present and coming.
Towards the Future
"The journey continues." Therefore we look the future. The chapter echoes the address given to it by our Prior General when he said:
"I am very hopeful about the future. There are no major divisions within the Order and we have managed to enunciate clearly in our official documents what is our charism...There are obvious challenges which we face in the future...I believe that the biggest challenge for us is to respond faithfully to the vocation to which we have been called... We can be Carmelites in and through all sorts of apostolic commitments. There is no dichotomy between the service to which we are called and the contemplation to which we are equally called. A serious challenge for us is to integrate these two essential elements of our charism along with our commitment to fraternity in a healthy and balance lifestyle."
These ideas have been reflected in various proposals made by the Chapter which are addressed not just to the Order as a whole, but will require serious consideration at provincial and community levels.
The General Chapter delights in God’s work in our midst by so many of our brothers and sisters. It sees this Marian year as a time to look again to Mary, our Mother, Patron and Sister. The Holy Father in his message to the Chapter placed before us the inspiration of Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Referring to our journey to the holy mountain which is Jesus Christ our Lord, he wrote:
The prophet Elijah burned with zeal for the Lord (see 1 Kgs 19:10) and made his way to Mount Horeb, and even thought he was tired, he continued to walk until he had reached his goal...Looking to him as an example the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel understand more profoundly that only one who has trained himself to listen to God and to interpret the signs of the times can meet God and recognise Him in the events of daily life. God speaks in many ways, even in ways which can seem insignificant.
The Holy Father invited us to contemplate the scene of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56), in which each Christian finds a model of vocation. He wrote to us:
"Let this be true for you in a special way, as you are gathered together in general assembly to give a new ascetical and missionary impetus to the Order. With a heart full of praise for the Lord as you silently contemplate his mystery, move forward joyfully on the paths of charity and open yourselves to welcoming all in a fraternal way as credible witnesses to the merciful love of the Word of God made man to save the world."
We find the same inspiration for our continued journey in our Constitutions where we read:
"All that we desire and all that we wish to be today was fulfilled in the lives of the Prophet Elijah and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In their own way, both had "the same spirit...the same formation, and the same teacher - the Holy Spirit." By looking to Mary and Elijah, we can more easily understand and internalise, live out and proclaim the truth which makes us free." (CON 25)
We hope that this message will help all of us in the Carmelite Family to live in obedience to Jesus Christ (in obsequio Iesu Christi - Rule 1). And we commend all to the care of the Mother and Beauty of Carmel, our Patron and Sister.
The Participants at the General Chapter
21 September 2001