Jesus Christ gave his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit and the mission to proclaim salvation to the whole world.
To live out the full dimension of this command is to pursue the “spiritual life.” The Church is called by the Holy Spirit to embody and proclaim union with God because the Church is the Body of Christ: a Body that is still in the process of formation, and sees its fullness in the future. The spirituality of the Church is many-faceted because the Church is composed of countless persons and groups. While each person receives the spirit of Christ, that spirit is lived out in various ways. The truth about Jesus which Carmelites are called to live out is Christ’s prayerful union with His Father while in the midst of the world.
Strictly contemplative orders are characterized by their emphasis on the inner life: the life of prayer and physical solitude.
They imitate the hidden, inner life of Christ’s union with His Father. Thus, the Rule of Carmel commands us to “meditate day and night on the law of the Lord.” The external precepts of the Rule are attempts to show how this continual state of contemplation can be achieved: through finding a suitable place to live; through silence; through prayer and celebration of the Liturgy; through poverty and detachment; through living out the virtues and through work. If our Carmelite presence in the world is to reflect Christ’s union with His Father, then the primary task of the Carmelite is to realize this presence of God within himself. This is acquired through what is called “inner solitude.”
For centuries Christians have resorted to solitude in order to find the presence of God within. The desert, the cave, the lonely uninhabited places have offered themselves to those who yearn to leave all things to find God. In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah, our spiritual father, went to the wilderness of Horeb to find and speak with his God.
It was in his footsteps that the first Carmelites gathered on Mount Carmel over 800 years ago. Ultimately, the heart is the desert, the wilderness that must be entered in order to find God. And it is the solitude that the Carmelite recognizes in order to live with God.
In the Midst of the World
Christ did not come into the world to be a solitary mystic. The world was created in order to find and love God. So, too, the Carmelite is called, not only to the simple private life of contemplation, but to share that experience of God with a world that is blindly seeking His face in all the wrong places. In so doing, the Carmelite testifies to the boundless love God has for the world. Prayer is not undertaken as a private task of personal meditation, but solely to reflect and share the God which he finds living within himself.
Active religious orders, on the other hand, are called to imitate Christ’s concern for people, especially the poor and defenseless. Their spirituality is founded in their authentic call of service in Christ’s name.
The Carmelite is called to live amid the tension of these two ideals: the abiding presence of God, and the call to be present in the world. Our life is not simply one of service, but especially a presence in prayer. Not only did Jesus come to serve the world, but he make His Father present wherever He was present.
Thus, the Carmelite disposes himself to the service of the Church. Our Rule does not specify what work the Carmelite shall do, for any form of service fulfills the vocation of Carmel if it is lived in the presence of God. The Rule does not restrict or limit how or where the Carmelite serves the Church, because his vocation is precisely to share that contemplation with the world.
The spirituality of Carmel is a dynamic, life-giving tension. Neither private prayer not public service by themselves fulfill the Rule of Carmel. Rather, to be present to God in the midst of His people, to bring to the world flames from the divine fire burning within our hearts, is the Carmelite vocation and spirituality.