The Carmelite Order is guided by the principles and values contained in its Rule, given to the Order by Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Fundamental to the life of all Carmelites, regardless of juridical affiliation to the Order, is to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ and embrace his Gospel as the supreme norm of our lives. Carmelites understand their lives to be influenced by the power of his Spirit, enabling each to discover the call of the divine to live together in mutual service of one another and of all people.
The Carmelite’s entire life is characterized by an intense search for God with total adherence to the teachings of Christ. This requires one to be transformed in Christ—a continual process of conversion. Living with this ideal at the forefront, the Carmelite cooperates in God’s plan and, each utilizing his or her own gifts, finds expression in fraternal life and apostolic zeal.
Contemplation, as a fundamental value of the Carmelite’s life, should be understood as the inner journey of the person, leading to unity of love with God, raising up the person so that this gratuitous love made be discovered and the person lives in that loving presence. This overwhelming love of God leads one to a transforming experience: it empties us of our limited and imperfect human ways and transforms them into divine ways.
Seeking the face of the living God is clearly reflected in the Rule of St. Albert, which describes a community totally dedicated to a prayerful attention to the Word. Contemplation begins when we entrust ourselves to God. It is an attitude of openness to God, whose presence we discover in all moments.
Carmelites commit themselves to make the crucified Christ the very center of their lives. Through living this attitude of contemplation each moment of one’s life, the Carmelites channel all their energy entirely towards Christ, tearing down any obstacles or detaching or emptying oneself from all that stands in the way of total dependence on him or impede perfect charity towards God and towards others.
This process of detachment or emptying leads to union with God– the ultimate goal of all human growth. We use expressions such as “purity of heart” (puritas cordis) or “total availability to God” (vacare Deo) and the experience of the desert to capture the concept of detachment.
This attitude of contemplation allows us to discover the presence of God not only in the events of ordinary daily life but especially to see God in our brothers and sisters. As such, we learn to appreciate the mystery of those with whom we share our lives.
Fraternity is the area in which the transformation within us is tested. The Carmelite Rule requires us to be essentially brothers and sisters. It strongly reminds us that the quality of interpersonal relationships within the Carmelite community needs to be constantly developed and enhanced. The examples of the Divine Trinity and the early Christian community in Jerusalem are examples to be imitated.
For the Carmelite, to be brothers and sisters means to grow in communion and in unity, overcome privileges and distinctions, in a spirit of participation and co-responsibility, sharing material possessions, a common program of life and personal charisms; to be brothers and sisters also means to care for one another’s spiritual and psychological well-being.
Religious life lived in community is a sign of the Church, which is “essentially a mystery of communion” and “an icon of the Trinity.”
Prayer is the way the Carmelites relate to God both as individuals and as community. In prayer one becomes open to God who gradually transforms the person through all—great and small—events of their lives. This process of transformation allows one to sustain authentic relationships; it makes one willing and eager to serve, as well as being capable of compassion and solidarity. With prayer, one is enabled to present to the God all the aspirations, the anguish, the hopes and cries of the people.
The practice of prayer is not only the source of the Carmelite’s spiritual life; prayer also determines the quality of our fraternal life and of our service in the midst of the people of God. The prayer of trust, if practiced with fidelity in the midst of the complex events of daily life, makes Carmelite brotherhood a witness to the living and mysterious presence of God in the midst of the people.
Among the gifts of the Spirit to the Order is the evangelical life— the commitment of members to respond to the call by Christ by living and spreading to the world his transforming and liberating power. This evangelical life is characterized by an intense search for God which is expressed in fraternal life and apostolic zeal.
As part of the contemplative nature, the Carmelite seeks the face of God in the world. The Carmelite tradition understands itself to be a living part of the Church and of history, able to listen to the world it lives in, and willing to be questioned by it. That tradition is ready to meet life’s challenges and to give an authentic evangelical response based on the charism. Carmelites show solidarity with all who suffer, who hope, and who commit themselves to the search for the Kingdom of God.
This way of being “in the midst of the people” is ultimately a sign and a prophetic witness. It is a prophetic message of justice and peace in society and among people. The Good News requires that this prophecy must be fulfilled through an active commitment to transform sinful systems and structures into grace-filled systems and structures.
It is also an expression of the choice to share in the lives of “the little ones” (minores). In this way Carmelites speak a word of hope by their lives and not merely by their words. This option flows naturally from our profession of poverty in a mendicant tradition. It is also in keeping with our allegiance to Christ Jesus to live in allegiance to the poor and to those in whom the face of our Lord is so clearly reflected.