Carmel in the World Magazine
Carmel in the World
2007. Volume XLVI, Number 1
- Editorial: Stop and Think
- The Carmelite Tradition and Centring Prayer and Christian Meditation
- How do I, as a Lay Carmelite, follow St Albert’s Rule? (below)
- A Desert Carmelite Today: Carmel in the World interviews Fr Robbie McCabe, O.Carm.
- How to live the Contemplative Dimension in Daily Life
- Carmel around the World
How do I, a Lay Carmelite, follow St. Albert’s Rule?
By Ed Lauriha, T.O.Carm. Regional Coordinator/Formation Coordinator, West Central Florida Region, U.S.A.
In the early years of the thirteenth century a group of holy hermits who had been living in the caves of Mount Carmel came to realize that in order to improve their spiritual lives, they needed a more formal structure to define it. They turned to Albert of Vercelli who was the Patriarch of Jerusalem at that time. All Carmelites are aware of the outcome of that holy beginning. Albert, in cooperation with those early hermits, wrote for them a Rule of life which today is the definition of the Carmelite life, only three pages in length but replete with wisdom and Scriptural references.
What impact does this eight hundred-year old Rule have on the life that my wife, Helen and I share as professed Lay Carmelites? Has our formation in Carmel in regard to the Rule prepared us to appreciate fully what Albert is telling us about living the life of Christ according to the Gospel? Do we fully understand what is expected of us and other Lay Carmelites as we endeavour to follow the Rule?
As we celebrate this Eighth Centenary of the Rule of St. Albert, it is incumbent upon us as Carmelites to take advantage of the opportunities which are available to us to further enrich our knowledge of what Albert and those holy hermits are saying to us as we study and live the Rule. In order for me to follow the Rule it is important that I establish a thorough knowledge of what it is saying. By this I mean probing into the depths of the Rule and trying to determine what it is that Albert and those holy hermits intended by its creation.
Fortunately for all of us the many scholars of the Order have clone exactly that, and because of their efforts, Lay Carmelites now have multiple sources available with which to increase their own understandings of the Rule, and by the same token, generate a new sense of spirit in their own lives, if they choose to make the effort. This can be accomplished through their use of published materials, tapes, CD’s, periodicals, newsletters, lectures, study groups, retreats, clays of recollection, individual contacts with members of the main Order and much more.
In our region we endeavour to have at least one three-day retreat every year. The theme of one our recent retreats was “The Rule of St. Albert.” Father John-Benedict Weber, O.Carm., the retreat master, enriched our lives by revealing to us the richness of the Rule and how it applies to the Lay Carmelites today. The following year lie enriched us even further by elaborating on “Spiritual Combat and the Lay Carmelites” referring to Chapters 18 and 19 from the Rule as a starting point.
Providing different insights and further enrichment, Father Patrick T. McMahon, O.Carm., will be our retreat master for our 2007 three-day retreat. Since this is the Eighth Centenary of Albert’s Rule, the theme will again be the “Rule of Albert.”
On a personal note, my purpose for writing this article was to give my own version of what Albert’s Rule means to me as a Lay Carmelite and to share with others how it affects my life. I retired nine years ago from teaching and administration in t he field of education. One of the first things I learned and never forgot was that “there is no learning unless there has been a change of behaviour.” When I joined the Lay Carmelites after retiring nine years ago, I learned this: “Carmel means change.” Of course, the bottom line is to change OUR behaviour not necessarily to change everyone else’s behaviour, which is typical of us as humans. If I am to follow Albert’s Rule in today’s world I have to change MY behaviour. This seems to be the most difficult part for most Lay Carmelites, and I suspect, even for some of the Order’s religious.
At the retreat echoing St. Albert’s Rule, Father John-Benedict Weber conveyed to us that “Albert keeps stressing that the most important reality for Carmelites is the Word of God, it is central to our way of Gospel living,” and that prayer is not the goal of our life; it is the means. The goal is transformation in Christ — to become one with God.”
This means to me that I must continually make changes in my life to respond to God’s call for transformation. The lessons taught by Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection and so many others, including our present-day Carmelite scholars, have instilled in me a greater appreciation of what I need to do every single moment of every day to bring this to fruition. I need to focus continually on Jesus Christ because it is He who is calling me and He who I am seeking.
Albert’s Rule consists of only 24 short “chapters.” Some of the chapters apply basically to those religious in our Order. But the spirit of the Rule applies to all Carmelites, and its implications are vast, as can be seen in all of the research offered to us by our scholars in the Order. The Prophet Elijah by his example of prayer, community, and service has given Carmelites the initiative; the Rule shows us the way. In order for me to continue on this journey as a “typical” Lay Carmelite I must conscientiously fulfil the promises I made at my profession. Chapter 11 of the Rule refers to praying the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully; Chapter 18 tells us we must undergo persecution and that the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for prey to devour (our souls) and to clothe ourselves in God’s armour so that we always be ready for spiritual combat.
In Chapter 19, Albert tells us to gird our loins with chastity and fortify our breast by holy meditations and to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves. He continues by saying that victory lies in our faith; that on our head, to wear the helmet of salvation; the sword of the spirit, the Word of God, must abound in our mouths and hearts.
Of particular interest to me is what Albert says in Chapter 10. He says that “each one is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty.” In Chapter 11 he tells us to say the canonical hours according to the Church’s approved custom. Both religious and lay Carmelites are expected to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily whet her in community or privately; it is the official prayer of the Church. Albert’s emphasis on prayer in the life of a Carmelite is most obvious and is a living factor in our Carmelite charism. As I go through all the activities in lily daily life, I must always keep in mind that Jesus must be lily focus and try to conduct my life according to Him. Formation in Carmel teaches us that Carmelites are called to be contemplatives as were Elijah, Mary, Teresa, John of the Cross and so many others. Father John-Benedict, in one of his retreat talks shared with us that the Rule of St. Albert is not asking us to live a contemplative life style, only a contemplative life. Father also said that a contemplative is a mature friend of God. In my case, I choose to respond to that request and pray for God’s grace to receive it.
In Chapter 14 Albert talks about having an oratory built as conveniently as possible among the cells to gather together each morning to hear Mass. Carmel tells us to attend Mass daily, if possible. This is part of the armour that we as Lay Carmelites must wear in order to ward off the enemy. We can imitate the hermits by attending Mass in community, especially on the solemnities and feast days of our Carmelite saints. We can be examples for others by living our faith according to the Gospel as we are called to do as Lay Carmelites.
In Chapter 21, Albert tells us, “The Apostle would I have us keep silence, for in silence lie tells us to work. As the Prophet also makes known to us: Silence is the way to foster holiness. It is no easy task to find silence in today’s world. We are inundated with every type of noise machine now available to man. We can’t even seem to make it through the day without listening to the television or radio. or even die tiny personalized speaker stuck in our ear. I can’t fail to mention the myriad of cell phones; we wonder how we ever made it through life without them. While I am quick to agree that they certainly can serve a useful purpose, I also wonder how much of the communication that takes place is useless drivel. Are we Lay Carmelites guilty of this? How can we hear God speak to us if we indulge in constant talking? Albert speaks further by saving, “The use of many words brings harm to the speaker’s soul.” Silence is part of our charism in Carmel.
On our living, room wall hangs an engraved heavy bronze sign that reads BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM. Helen and I purchased it at a Trappist monastery in Colorado a few years ago. It serves as a beautiful reminder of who we are and what we are in this world and that God is with us. Our living room is our “cell” where we pray the Divine Office, lectio divina, and so much of our spiritual reading. In tact, a great deal of our spiritual reading takes place when we are in various waiting rooms. Lay Carmelites need to reserve a place in their homes for prayer. Those who are married and have young children will definitely find this to be a challenge. They will need to be very creative in trying to arrange a cell. Our cells also lie within our minds and hearts. We must strive to do our best, according to our state of life, to follow the Rule faithfully.
In summary, even though the Rule of St Albert is eight hundred years old, it is still very much alive and pertinent today. It is my guide to live the Carmelite Way. The main Order interprets the Rule for me in such a way as to offer me this opportunity to live the life of Christ according to the Gospel. Because we realize that Christ is within us, we must always continue to respond to his great love for us by acknowledging his presence throughout the day with thoughts, personal prayers, ejaculations, praise and conversations with him.