Baptism makes the Christian a new creature, an adopted son of God, a partaker of the divine nature, a member of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1265). This new life in Christ sets Christians apart from the world. They live in the world but are not of the world. Vatican II reminds us that all Christians are called to strive for the holiness and perfection of their state in life (Lumen Gentium #42). This universal call to holiness can be lived out in many different ways depending on the particular gifts that God gives to each.
The gifts, also called charisms, may be given to individuals or groups but are given for the good of the Church and the world. According to St. Paul, the different gifts are needed to build up the Body of Christ, of which all the baptized are members (1 Cor. 12).
For a religious order, the charism of the order refers to the particular way that its members are called to follow Christ – the emphasis of its spirituality.
The Essence of the Carmelite Charism is Prayer and Contemplation
Leading to union with God, Carmelite spirituality is characterized by an intense thirst for a direct experience of God and acceptance of His will. It is centered on a loving friendship with God and attention to one’s ongoing relationship with Him. In the Rule of St. Albert, this is expressed as “living a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ”. Carmelite spirituality also emphasizes the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling – that God, the Blessed Trinity, dwells within the human person (see Jn. 14:23). Therefore, one need not go out of oneself in search for God but rather, enter progressively deeper within oneself to be with God who dwells at the very center of one’s being.
To foster this loving relationship with God, Carmelites promote meditation on His word, liturgy, and interior quiet. Quiet enables one to listen attentively to God’s “still small voice”, and allows one to focus more on Him who is always present to us. Through prayer, one’s relationship with God grows and as it matures, prayer becomes simpler. As a person progresses, they are gradually stripped of all that is not of God so that they can put on the whole Christ and become united with Him.
Methods of Carmelite Prayer
Rather than one particular method of prayer, Carmelites offer a wealth of resources based on the writings and experiences of the great Carmelite saints. Among these, St. Teresa of Jesus (St. Teresa of Avila), St. John of the Cross, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus (The Little Flower) have been declared Doctors of the Church. This is because of the continuing richness of their teaching and the soundness of their spiritual doctrine for all people. Other renowned Carmelite writers include St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Blessed Titus Brandsma, Blessed Teresa of the Andes, and Brother Lawrence, to name but a few!
But while prayer and contemplation are paramount, they are not ends in themselves. They are meant to promote the spreading of the gospel. In the words of St. Teresa, “the fruit of prayer is good works”. For that reason, the Carmelite will also be involved in some apostolate as an integral part of his or her personal spiritual journey. The nature of the apostolate will vary depending on the Carmelite’s personal gifts and the needs of the local community. Thus, Carmelite spirituality is a way of cooperating with God in bringing about His kingdom on earth. It is accompanied by, and promotes, growth in the human and theological virtues. It leads to a blossoming of the love of God and love of neighbor in the Carmelite.