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The Carmelite Way
 
Come Lord Jesus Icon
Composed by Sister Mary Grace, OCD. Discalced Carmelite of Terre Haute
 
1. CHRIST THE CENTRE
Carmelite Spirituality is centred on the person of Jesus Christ. At the beginning of the Carmelite Rule the ground plan for Carmelites is laid down simply and strongly: "everyone whatever his state of life.... should live in allegiance to JESUS CHRIST and serve him faithfully with a pure heart and a good conscience." We cannot stress sufficiently: Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the Carmelite Rule. The Rule begins in Christ and ends in Christ. To live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ: this is the heart of our Rule; this is what the first hermits on Mount Carmel proposed to themselves. Their desire was to follow Christ, leaving all things in order to respond to Christ's invitation to the rich young man: 'Come, follow me.' To live in the service of Christ, and to live devotedly in Christ: in these words of St Paul the first Carmelites outline to St Albert the fundamental purpose of their eremiticism. They wish to serve Christ by living a solitary life near the spring on Mount Carmel, fasting and keeping vigil, meditating on the law of the Lord, instant in prayer. They wish to imitate Christ in his prayer at night on the mountain, and to keep watch with him in the garden. Whoever wishes to imitate Christ must be obedient as Christ was, who was made obedient unto death. Hence both the first and the last articles of the Rule are concerned with obedience. Christ is the centre of the Rule, and therefore of Carmelite life and spirituality. Those who follow this Rule will find Christ not only in formal obedience, but in hallowing all their actions 'in Christ'. The Carmelite Rule is also the source of two important strands in Carmelite Spirituality:
 
2. 'CARMEL IS ALL MARY'S'
The early hermits on Mount Carmel in Israel chose to consecrate themselves to the service of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was to Mary that these pioneers looked as their living exemplar. Always they knew her as a real person - their lady to whom they owed allegiance; their elder sister who shared their life; later, their loving Mother and Queen. She is never an abstraction and each Carmelite develops a personal relationship with her. Mary has always stood at the core of our spirituality - and still does today. The Carmelite Scapular is a sign of her patronage and our devotion to her. Mary's presence pervades the entire Carmelite family. St Teresa of Jesus and St John of the Cross present her to us as a model of prayer and self-denial on faith's pilgrimage. Mary humbly and wisely welcomed the Lord's Word and pondered it in her heart. She was wholly responsive to the work of the Holy Spirit in her life. Mary's example inspires us to follow in her footsteps. She takes the lead among the Lord's poor and little ones. She best exemplifies contemplative life in the Church.
 
3. ELIJAH THE PROPHET
The early hermits dwelt on Mount Carmel near the spring of the prophet Elijah. By pondering on the example of this eminent Biblical figure, Carmelites draw much inspiration. Our vocation is a prophetic one; and the role of the prophet is to stand in God's presence, listening attentively to his Word. Elijah heard God's voice above all in the solitude of Mount Sinai, in the still small voice which touched his heart and led him to bear witness to God's uniqueness and his living presence. The whole Elijan story (1 Kings 17 - 2 Kings 2) has much to teach us about the prophetic vocation of Carmel - above all the power of God's love holding and guiding us and the overriding demands of his Kingdom. Elijah's motto has been adopted as that of Carmelites: 'With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts'.
 
4. THE REFORM OF SAINT TERESA
The object of St Teresa's reform was a reform to the spirit of the Primitive Rule of St Albert. Prayer, the heart of the Rule, was to be the heart of her reform - a life of prayer was its object: 'Prayer must be the foundation on which this house is built'. The prayer of Carmel is derived from those early hermits of the Order and its spirit remains essentially the same today for all those who are called to the family of Carmel whether as lay people living ordinary family and working lives, as friars or as enclosed nuns. St Teresa's spirituality is broad and human. Her understanding of human nature was profound, her sympathy and compassion deep. Her spiritual teaching which still inspires so many today may be examined broadly along three main lines:
Firstly, God is sought for His own sake, because He is worthy of all love and adoration, and before Him all created things fall into nothingness;
Secondly, this contemplation of God, in Himself, is inseparable from a loving obedience to His Will, since the only possible union with God is this conforming of our will with His, and without this fundamental union, other mystical experiences are suspect;
Thirdly, union with God in prayer leads to an ever increasing desire to serve Him by furthering His plan for the salvation of all and by working for the establishment of the Kingdom here on earth.
 
'Prayer', she says in a famous definition, 'is nothing but friendly and frequent solitary converse with Him, who, we know, loves us'. This knowledge of God, coupled with a deep awareness of her own inadequacy and need of redemption, explains her profound love of Christ her Saviour, to whom her whole heart belongs, and concerning whom, she writes, 'Even if I could obtain it, I want no blessing save that which I acquire through Him, by whom all blessings come to us. May He be for ever praised. Amen'. In all her writings, her aim is to lead her readers on to the closest possible union with God, along this broad and royal road of prayer, but she does not do this by teaching techniques, as if prayer were some kind of accomplishment, whose rules can be learnt and put into practise in isolation from the rest of life. Writing of the prayer of quiet, she says of certain people, who pursue its consolations too eagerly, 'let them take my advice and become less absorbed in it .... for life is long and there are many trials in it ....'. The union she teaches, the union 'which I have desired all my life', is attained by submitting our wills to the Will of God, that is to say by imitating Christ, who 'humbled himself and became obedient unto death'. 'What do you suppose His Will is, daughter? That we should be altogether perfect and one with Him and with the Father, as it is His Majesty's prayer.' Perfection consists in the love of God and the love of our neighbour 'and the more nearly perfect is our observance of these two commandments, the nearer perfection we shall be'. Consolations come and go, and here on earth we cannot judge their value, but nothing can replace the loving, humble obedience to God, that is implicit in the gospel call to 'repentance'. Prayer, as such, is never for St Teresa, an end in itself. She writes, 'we should desire and engage in prayer, not for our enjoyment, but for the sake of gaining this strength, which fits us for service'. The love of God possesses her to such an extent, that as 'God so love the world, that He gave His only Son....' so she is consumed with love - love for the men and women for whom Christ died, love for the Christ, who died for them, and this love drives her to spend herself for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Working in close collaboration with St Teresa was Saint John of the Cross whose poetry and prose lie equally with St Teresa's writings at the heart of Carmel's spirituality. Both of them in their own unique way expressed the charism and ideal of Carmel. Union with God is the only goal of the Carmelite life and both St Teresa and St John are sure guides to this transforming work of God. Re-echoing the precepts of the Rule, dedication to Christ and intimate union with him, in prayer and friendship are both the means and the end of this work. The Teresian family truly forms part of the People of God, whose Head is Christ, whose condition is the freedom and dignity of God's children in whose heart the Holy Spirit dwells and whose law is Christ's new commandment to love as He loved us.