A VISION REDISCOVERED: SECULAR CARMELITES OF THE FUTURE
As we settle into the third millennium, we might stop and reflect on the real meaning of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. His birth was the start of the Christian journey, a journey to bring to the world the message of God's love and peace. It is surely an ideal time to focus on our own journey of faith and on the ways in which we can witness anew to our following of Christ. We must be people with a vision for the future, a vision of where we want to go and how we want to live our Christian lives to the full. One such vision has opened up for many of us in the Carmelite Secular Order.
A witness to prayer
Members of the Secular Order follow Jesus, meet him and change. We are called to live a life both contemplative and apostolic, and to carry into the world the distinctive witness of Carmel. We are called to the formation of Christian community. A Carmelite community exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the church. To be fully human is to be in relationship, and it is in relationship that we live out our faith. The core gospel message is that God is love and the only way we can show that we are his disciples is by the love we have for one another: 'Love one another as I have loved you.' Everyone who comes to join us has the opportunity to live this life of love. Our members are deeply committed to praying for the world, witnessing prayer to others. We seek to have a deep relationship with God in prayer.
A community with one heart
One of the more enriching aspects of belonging to the secular order is the experience of being part of a family, the family of Carmel, where all are imbued with the same ideals and mission. As Carmelites, we are called to consecrate ourselves to the Church, the Order and our community. The Christian life is not sustained only by private acts of prayer, justice and virtue. It is sustained by a community which gathers, ritually, to listen to the word of God and to share in the breaking of the bread. However, it is important to understand that our meeting together monthly is not simply a social occasion. It is a gathering together as a Carmelite community, which brings about a transformation in each of us, beyond anything that we can understand or explain.
Silent prayer and the Eucharist
When we meet together as Carmelites, we spend time in silent prayer. As we sit together in silence, we try to focus on God, not on ourselves. In this way, we experience real community and intimacy with one another, at least for a brief period. Our differences, our angers, our jealousies dissolve. This time spent in silence creates a unity that is at the heart of our community experience. As Carmelites, too, we are called to celebrate the Eucharist, daily as individuals if possible and together when we meet. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity. It is the unifying force of the Church and draws our members into an ever closer union with one another and with Christ.
Fellow seekers for truth
I have always had a profound love for Carmel and my initial attraction to it has never wavered. In the secular order, I find others who also value and experience this attraction. Here I find that I am a fellow seeker with others who are also seeking the truth. A vocation to the Carmelite Secular Order is a response to God's love. We find that we can learn more about this love in the lives of our Carmelite saints, perhaps especially in the life of St Therese of Lisieux who was utterly transformed by this love. I would like to see her attitude incorporated as much as possible into my own life and into the lives of those dear to me. The spirit of Carmel is a spirit of love and that spirit is very much alive in our communities.
A rule of life rooted in the scriptures
Members of the secular order follow a rule of life which is founded on the word of God, as it is proclaimed in the Beatitudes. It is a rule which unites us all. We meet together to encourage one another to live in the spirit of that rule, according to the ideals and example of our Carmelite saints. The scripture texts embedded in the rule inspire and enable us to live our special charism. We are all called in love to share in the holiness which belongs to God alone. 'You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt. 5:48).
A long line of pray-ers
As Carmelites, we have our own special Saints - Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of the Child Jesus and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). St Teresa's way of prayer, as she describes it in the Interior Castle, is a gradual journey into the centre of our hearts. It is a gift of the Spirit, welling up from the depths which brings enlightenment with it. It leads to a life of joyful humility, repentance and complete surrender. 'Teach me, O Lord, to do your will.'
Jesus - model of prayer and action
Edith Stein - a great Carmelite saint for our times - once said, 'Only by following Christ is it possible to hold on to him: Christ is the model of man at prayer, only from him can his disciples learn how to speak with the Father.' For her, interior prayer and external action are inseparably linked. Our task is to radiate, with a joyful countenance and in our whole bearing and actions, the compassion and love of God, made manifest in Jesus and experienced in prayer. The task of taking God to others is not simply a matter of handing them a bible. We must first assimilate the word of God ourselves in prayer and then, in turn, become 'a word of God' for others. That is what it means to be a Christian, a Carmelite.
In the spirit of Elijah
The foreword to our Carmelite rule of life speaks of the prophet Elijah as our inspiration. He appears unexpectedly on the scene in conflict with the culture of his time. He confronted and challenged the society of his day to return to God. As Carmelites, we continue to echo his words emblazoned on our Carmelite crest: 'With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts.' He lived in a land where the powers of the world were opposed to the rights of God. It is a situation all too familiar in our world today. Elijah declares that he is for God: 'The Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand.' He then challenges others who are wavering in their allegiance: 'How long' he said, 'do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If Yahweh is God, follow him: if Baal, follow him.' There can be no compromise between good and evil: 'no one can serve two masters.'
A challenge to persevere.
As lay people, the Secular Order gives us a fixed and permanent way of life. When we finally make the promise required of us, we hope that by God's grace, we will persevere faithfully to the end. Experience shows, however, that people fail to progress spiritually for lack of determination. We must resolve to be faithful to our daily practice of prayer, both liturgical and personal. Prayer is what Carmel is all about. It is the centre of our lives. Our prayer and our lives are for others.
An ancient path for new people.
The present age challenges us to turn to Christ, who is the Living Lord of the 21st century. Today new norms of contemplative living continue to emerge and there is growing interest in the spiritual life, together with a deepening desire for a renewal in prayer. As we turn again to Christ, we are challenged to review our ancient Carmelite rule of life and ask if it can continue to draw us nearer to Christ in today's rapidly changing world.
I am convinced that it can. The contemplative life is of paramount importance for the whole Church, and it cannot be confined to the enclosure, nor simply produced by enclosure. I see our Carmelite way of life as a means and an opportunity to nurture the greatest gift of all: contemplative prayer. This kind of prayer is always relevant. It is a natural development in every life of prayer, I believe, and a gospel challenge to every Christian.