Carmel in the World Magazine
Carmel in the World
2013. Volume LII, Number I
- The Rule of Carmel and Thérèse of Lisieux (below)
- Carmelites at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) Part 2
- Carmel Around the World
The Rule of Carmel and Thérèse of Lisieux
This article presents a reading of both the Carmelite Rule and The Story of A Soul written by Thérèse of Lisieux. We shall see in which sense Thérèse was inspired in her vocation by the Rule. In her book she refers to the Rule as the “Holy Rule” of her community. Which Rule was she citing, and what was her understanding of the Rule in her book? To answer all of these questions we divide our work into two parts, namely we first expose the dynamics of the Rule of Carmel in its historic context, and then we explain how Thérèse saw the Carmelite Rule as a guide to all.
Dynamics of the Rule of Carmel in its historical context
The Carmelite Rule is a document that originated as a response to a request from the first hermits on Mount Carmel. The first Carmelite hermits wanted a ‘Formula of Life / Rule’ that would reflect the kind of contemplative life that had produced fruits among them. They lived a form of contemplative life that generated a genuine wisdom which allowed them to intend their world in a very positive attitude. Having said this, much of the Carmelite Rule was an experienced way of life before being committed to writing by Patriarch Albert.
The Rule as a reflection of a lived experience
In silence and living in solitude, the first hermits experienced a wisdom that permitted them to imagine a new possibility of engaging their faith in God. On Mount Carmel they grew in love, and they were “able to see creation with the eyes of God and love creation with God’s heart.” They learned that within silence self-knowledge was a possibility and it was the only condition for authentic human maturity. Their joy was their experience of liberation from all finite desires. It was as if they lived what former Prior General of the Order, Joseph Chalmers, would later write: “where God’s seeming absence to our senses is God’s presence, and where God’s silence to our ordinary perception is God’s speech.” In silence and in solitude they saw God and easily spoke God’s language of love. What a joy! This joy meant the discovery of freedom to be able to love God, themselves, and the world. They had experienced this spiritual growth because “becoming a Christian person [is] growing to maturity,” asserts Michael Plattig, O.Carm. Such a human maturity was part of their new life. However, things did not stop there; in freedom they went ahead and saw Saint Albert, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, because they desired an official structure for their new life. Saint Albert, based on their proposal, gave them the Rule that described in detail a way of life which was essentially inspired by the Bible. The document given to the first hermits living on Mount Carmel specifically intended to show a way to live “in holy penance” in the footsteps of the prophet Elijah.
Historically the Rule was given to the first hermits between 1206 – 1214. This Rule was seen by the Church as a means to offer a possible way to maturely follow Christ by an exercise of “remission of sin” accepted as a personal commitment within a community. The ultimate goal of the Rule was “to achieve eternal life through conversion of morals and practices of penance.” The first hermits manifested a spirit of courage that allowed them to be in a place that had no peace. In 1187 Jerusalem had fallen into the hands of Muslims, and Christians were pushed out of the city. These historical circumstances did not deter them from pursuing their goal of penance in the land where Jesus Christ had lived and died. They were ready to participate in the same death after confessing their sins if this would provide an occasion to reach heaven. They personally imagined in which sense spiritual warfare was possible, “The thoughts of the Hermits focused on the Holy Land completely. From this posture which regarded the Holy Land as the sacred patrimony of Christ, one must view the Rule and spirituality of Carmel.” The Rule is admired for its insistence on personal responsibility to follow Christ in a spirit of faith-filled determination. Moving to the desert with faith in Christ the first hermits, for their own salvation in the land of the Saviour, were “willing to accept martyrdom, to drink that chalice which Christ himself had first consumed.”
The Rule as a possibility of a new beginning of lfie in spiritual exile
The Rule demonstrated how one living in exile is ready to fight against one’s inner demons. The first hermits were inspired by the ascetical life to “live in solitude, following models of the penitent.” They individually cherished a spirit of self-determination to penance, for they “were nothing more than individual simple converts.” A personal engagement to conversion is the backbone of the Rule. All evidence confirms that “the hermits were not natives of Palestine, still less were they Greeks.” They came from far away with one intention, that of the “remission of sin” in order to witness to Jesus Christ. They were “individuals [who] were bound personally before God” to rebuild his kingdom of love with purity of heart and stout conscience.
Beginning in 1238 the hermits began migrating back to Europe due to wars with the invading Muslim Turks. They went back with the formula of life Albert had given them on Mount Carmel. In exile they learned how to respond in actions to their faith in God. In the environments of the cities, the hermits soon became aware that they were no longer living in the desert. Life needed to change. There was a necessity to adapt the Rule in order to flexibly satisfy the needs of the new environment. How could the flame of the prophet Elijah burning in their hearts be seen in the cities? The changes in the Rule aimed at responding to how one remains faithful to the prophet Elijah as he/she sees others in Christ. It was as if their mission now consisted of knowing how and where “Carmel can profit spiritually by helping their neighbours” without neglecting their own personal salvation.
At this point it is understood that the Carmelites were already open to a mixed spirituality, meaning they emphasized the need to cherish the eremitical life of contemplation, but also as mendicants they felt called to participate in the lives of other people. Under Pope Innocent IV, in 1247, the Rule was readjusted and made to respond to the needs of adaptation to the new context of the Carmelites without adulterating their spirit of contemplation. They were in the world without being part of the world. It envisioned and exemplified how the spirit of exile could be cherished in the middle of cities.
The Carmelites at this stage of life had come to understand that their prophetic role in society was meant to make Christ known to their neighbours. It was to find a means that could encourage others to abandon their sins and to serve Christ in purity of heart and with good conscience. Concretely it was to answer the question of how one could cherish the benefits of exile while living in cities. The adaptation of the Rule to new circumstances established a possibility to be prophetic in the world without getting lost in it. At this point it is worth noting that Pope Innocent IV had to remind the Carmelite friars, in his document Quae honorem of 1247, that Carmelites within their Rule were called to “to profit themselves and their neighbours spiritually.” In a renewed vision of the Rule, the desire for holiness through contemplation was preserved, but at the same time the Rule emphasized the importance of sharing the goodness of God with one’s neighbour in a spirit of “purity of heart and good conscience,” which was a new kind of exile.
The Rule and the spirit of contemplation
The idea of contemplation which is part of the Rule was reiterated within The Book of the First Monks of the late fourteenth century. This book demonstrates how important contemplation was in Carmelite spirituality from the beginning: “The goal of this life is twofold. ‘One part, by our own effort, . . . is to offer God a pure and holy heart, free from all stain of sin’ [and] as a free gift of God, . . . to taste somewhat in the heart and to experience in the mind the power of divine presence and the sweetness of heavenly glory.” The Carmelite Rule has been well spelled out within the scope of contemplation where it declares a need to share in a lifestyle of living in allegiance to Jesus Christ as the central part of the Rule. Living in allegiance to Jesus Christ is to accept the condition of exile in order to contemplate God who freely reveals himself to us. It is to commit oneself to finding a new possibility of liberating oneself from what is opposite to Christ in any context of life.
The living in allegiance to Jesus refers to the perspective of “military obedience,” in which one is called to respond to the necessity to serve Jesus “with pure heart and good conscience.” Such a spirit of Christian maturity shies away from any given idea of feeling lost in one’s weakness or in other people’s frailty. It means being ready to die with honour for Christ out of love of the Kingdom of God as he did in the Holy Land. It is “to follow in the footsteps of Christ” with hope and courage to do what is right for God’s kingdom. By so doing one becomes a new creation in Christ. The Rule implies that the experience of new creation in us takes places when we willingly and seriously take the challenge of exile in our spiritual life to see if there is a better possibility of relating to him than what we actually are doing. Such spiritual engagement opens new doors of how we undertake our human ways of thinking, loving, and acting in a community.
The Rule explains to us that contemplation consists of looking into one’s life to see if there can be another possibility to relate to others in a natural attitude that can produce respect and love. As such the Rule emphasizes the importance of being natural and in maintaining common sense as we struggle to become new creations in Christ. The spiritual weapons such as poverty, chastity, and obedience are important for contemplation. Moreover, contemplation looks at how to work and serve others and how one can respond to the desire for holiness as a source of love of God and neighbour. The first hermits understood well that all this awareness of their reliance on spiritual weapons was good, but they believed that the beginning of any kind of contemplation required first the remission of sins. The contemplation in the Rule allows one to encounter the world of the other with love and respect and with a clear conscience. One must be ready to see a new profile in one’s life and in the life of the other which allows him/her to be seen as a child of God.
The spiritual ambition to see the other through the eyes of God implies a need to engage in self-conquest and readiness for the service of Christ. A Carmelite is always happy to see others in the way that Christ sees them. The Carmelite Rule is a school of contemplation and of prayer that sees Christ as the centre of any spiritual engagement. The Rule insists on the fact that the success of this contemplation is the acceptance of silence because “silence is the way to foster holiness.” Here silence is not silence per se but the Rule talks of the kind of silence that makes one become aware that “the Lord is . . . the ultimate goal” for any experience of spiritual freedom. It is seeing Christ in the now of daily experiences with others and living by hope that we are where Christ expects us to be without any fear at all. In the experience of silence Christ is the centre, and Christ inspires our way of looking at others with compassion and empathy so that together we may build a community that reflects the image of God. Such a perspective encourages us not to run away from fraternal corrections but to cherish contemplation as a way to reach our personal purification in order to cultivate a spirit of empathy with those who are in trouble. Such a contemplation provides a process that leads to human maturity, maturity as “a gift of God which inspires us to weigh justly the needs of our neighbours.” It is a contemplation that empowers one to look for new ways to see how “the life of man on earth is a warfare” and therefore it is imperative that one becomes aware that being in the footsteps of Christ is to exercise courage and hope to see the person of Christ in the other. It follows that if one is afraid of encountering humiliations he/she has not yet understood that the world is the place to see God in others within a very creative attitude.
The Rule as a possibility of worthy spiritual warfare
The Rule is adamant in reminding us that Carmelites owe Jesus “obedience and faithful service” to achieve the liberation of the world from sins. It spells out the yearning and willingness to keep the promise of obedience to Christ in a military discipline. In physical terms some preachers in the past did talk about “the liberation of the Holy Land,” which implied “penance, prayer, preaching, obedience . . . even warfare” in some circumstances.
Living in allegiance to Christ meant clearly a military promise that carried the weight “to depend in all things on Jesus and be completely available to him” in all situations of life. Such a spiritual warfare involves a personal engagement and focuses on a personal relationship with Christ. It is as if there can be no possibility of a new birth of the self and of the community without such a military discipline. In this line we understand the attitude of those first monks of the ancient deserts who “abandoned the world, dedicating themselves entirely to God, obliged to a ‘laudable life’ which included vows before God” to die for him as a possible way to experience purity of heart. In this sense, the Rule is portrayed as a way to imagine that there cannot be a possibility of “holiness and goodness” without a personal commitment to pursue a religious discipline. It is crystal clear that “the subject living in the Holy Land must be completely faithful to Christ” to the point that one gives away one’s personal likings in life in order to gain the same life in perfection from Christ. The Rule emphasizes this spirit of self-determination that should animate anyone who desires to see “Jesus . . . receive justice in order to balance injuries and injustices from others.” For this matter, faith in the person of Christ must be complete as a way to show self-understanding by living in allegiance to him.
The Rule is unequivocal in offering a means to succeed in this spiritual warfare by mentioning the importance of penance and solitude. The first hermits of Carmel found their energy to follow Christ by means of penance and solitude in exile. They showed that there cannot be another way to succeed in spiritual warfare without vesting themselves “in spiritual armour” of penance and solitude. It is a way to engage in spiritual combat following the example of Elijah the prophet. The Rule dealt with the spiritual armour that generated in them a spirit of building the world in the spirit of Christ where people felt themselves belonging to one another within their desire to follow Christ. The Rule was for them a place to experience the creation of human relationships between people under the monitor of Christ’s love without fear of anything. The hermits lived that spirit of the Rule before Albert put their proposal into writing as an example of how this spiritual warfare was as accessible to anyone as it was to the first hermits. Such an experience made them become aware of what was needed for them to engage in a movement that would support the ideal of being human by channelling God’s goodness to one another as citizens of the world. The first hermits came from different corners of Europe, and on Mount Carmel they founded a community of brothers. Really, “to be a hermit of Carmel was a form of ‘earthly citizenship’” with the purpose of acquiring a human environment under God’s protection.
The spirit of putting God first in any endeavour is paramount in the Rule. Such a spirit demonstrates how an experience of a new world of Christian perfection “involves a certain degree of separation from the world . . . and pilgrimage away from one’s true fatherland” in order to rebuild the world with a clear conscience. The hermits left Europe and when they went back they were ready to serve their neighbours. They were immersed in the spirit of the Rule that calls one “to dwell in a place where one was not known, to be a foreigner without friends and family, without protection and security.” Their life in exile purified them and allowed them to make a spiritual leap of conversion. They were grounded in the joy of having found Christ through penance, which was a process of looking at “the naked Christ as a naked disciple” by committing oneself to reject without regret the inessentials in one’s life for the sake of Christ. Under this condition, solitude and penance became the perfect way to imagine a possibility that led to perfection in Christ. In religious perspective, some symbols were made available such as “a special habit” to signify the beginning of the engagement in spiritual warfare.
The Rule as a possible place to interact with God as teacher by his word
Because the Rule appears to us to be in harmony with Scriptures it suggests to all Carmelites that to be faithful to the Rule one needs to familiarize oneself with the biblical stories. Throughout the Rule the desire to be close to the biblical message, to know much about God and to let oneself be taught by God by his Word is felt with joy and eagerness. In contemplation, one becomes aware that to understand the Rule in its biblical perspective he/she is required to listen to God speaking in the Scriptures.
It appears to Craig Morrison in his article on the Carmelite Rule that since the time of Albert the Rule has maintained the ever-present awareness of God in our life through his Word. In the Rule, all are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ” as far as one lives by the Word of God in the spirit of the first hermits. It is as if one has to answer the following question: “How can we bring our lives into harmony with the Word of God?” For the first hermits living on Carmel what mostly counted was pondering the law of God day and night and keeping watch at prayer. As a result they achieved authenticity of love for God and for neighbour. They discovered that there was no difference between holiness and goodness (in the Rule: justicia). To become holy was to be aware of one’s goodness by the decision of leaving behind any sign of sinful ways. The Word of God was the basis from which to imagine how this could happen. They read the Word of God by associating themselves with the different characters mentioned in biblical stories. It was clear to them that one achieves personal authenticity by emulating the biblical characters in what they did that preserved God’s image in their individual experiences.
In this sense the Word of God inspired the Carmelite to see clearly that there was no other way to imagine a new creation without “a process of bringing the concrete events of one’s daily life with the scriptures”. Then the Word of God provided a means to reach one’s personal perfection through the examples of the ‘holy fathers and prophets such as Elijah.’ The Word of God became for each Carmelite “the sword of the spirit” that permitted one to live in allegiance to Christ. The first hermits interpreted the Word of God by association as it appears in the Rule. For example, one associated oneself with the “saintly forefathers” mentioned in the Rule by reference to the “fathers” of the Letter to the Hebrews. Another example of association is seen in the Rule where we read that “man’s life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devotedly in Christ must undergo persecution.” The two parts of this sentence within the Rule come from Job and 2 Timothy respectively. By putting them together, Albert was affirming that the trial we suffer on earth is to be associated with the persecution that Christ endured during his life. Reading Scriptures by association provided the Carmelites with a means to combat against the devil in the same way as Christ or those fathers such as Job or Elijah did in the past.
The Word of God within the Rule allows ways to remain faithful to Christ as far as his Word “dwells in the mouth and heart of each Carmelite” who wills to be taught by God through his word. Whenever a clear intention to learn from God through his Word is well established, one feels obliged to fuse one’s personal horizon with God’s divine word. When the two horizons join together, there is a possibility that one’s own world may look differently. One may see well the world intended by Me and Others. On this point we agree with Craig Morrison that this way of reading the Word of God was “Albert’s dream for the Carmelites.” In fact the Word of God plays a key role in maintaining meaningful associations based on “freedom and love.” Really what one enjoys as he/she reads the Bible is the kind of powerful incentive to associate with others in order to build up strong relationships of love and freedom without fear. It happened in some of the biblical stories and it can still happen today.
Meditation on the Word of God is essential for an understanding of the Rule. It brings about the importance of personal perspective embodied in the Rule. Becoming a follower of Christ means to associate our actions with those of Christ, to be courageous as Christ was. The perspective of allegiance to Christ does not evoke spiritual gifts or human qualities: a strong personality, sins, weakness, etc. Instead the Rule shows how this allegiance to Christ is unique and lies in the desire to pursue inner purity with a good conscience and meditation on God’s word. In this context one discovers the intrinsic unity between the Word of God and the Rule. He/she understands that the Word of God deepens the intention of the Rule to respect one’s neighbour within a universal law of love. Then the possibility to see well one’s neighbour goes beyond whatever can surprise us coming from him/her. It is to practice love for the sake of love within a natural attitude without being frightened by any sign of martyrdom from wherever it may come. The Rule in harmony with the Scriptures invites us to love as Christ did.
There is a commonality between Scriptures and the Rule: the use of metaphor. The use of metaphors in the Rule is noticeable in some texts such as “pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers.” Such metaphoric language intends to underline the simplicity of the Rule and its accessibility and how the Rule gives room for further interpretations by using other metaphors to understand it. Metaphors are the key to reading and amplifying the Rule with new, good metaphors as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux does. We shall explain this point in the second part of this article that deals with Thérèse’s life within the Rule. Having said this, the Rule within its metaphors shows its accessibility to everyone who wants to experience penance and to fight the devil in the footsteps of Christ through his word. Most importantly, here we have a key for future generations of Carmelites that will be used to understand the depth of the Rule in the new context of life. Metaphors will be profitable in opening the treasures of the Rule.
In the end, what is obvious is the fact that the Rule is there to help people grow in humility and in truth. It opens the window to the welcoming of others in their diversity, because through the love of Christ we are citizens of one world. The Rule is simple and teaches everyone how to carry the natural simplicity of detachment from anything and everything while one commits himself/herself to follow Christ here and now. It awakens in everyone a new possibility within one’s personal experiences to intend the world and oneself in a meaningful way; a way in which they can attain the crown of life by obtaining “the hereditary right . . . to become . . . special subject” of Christ in the world. The Rule within its metaphors allows for Christ to emerge strongly in me and others. Then the experience of the new birth of self and of other is established in unambiguous terms. The important attitude is now to become aflame with love for God in the way Thérèse lived it.
Thérèse of Lisieux: the Carmelite Rule as a guide to all
Would it first be legitimate to ask whether Thérèse was ever in contact with the Rule of Albert as we have just described? John Russell seems to think that she might have heard about it, but “Thérèse of Lisieux never quoted the Rule of Saint Albert as such,” he maintains. In her book, The Story of A Soul, there are some indications that she knew about the Rule and referred to it as, “the words of our Holy Rule,” a Rule that facilitated her life of prayer. It is a Rule that showed her the implication of basing one’s life on Christ, and walking in his footsteps as a disciple called to love. It was embodied in her to the point that she did not make any explicit citations of it. However it played a major role in her vocation to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ.
Living in the spirit of the Rule
As early as possible in Carmel, Thérèse realized the Rule was there to be lived. Her text calls these first hermits, “Desert Fathers.” All indications are present in her text to let us know that she was well acquainted with the spirit of the Rule of living in allegiance to Jesus Christ. She wrote, “I want to be a warrior, a priest, an apostle, a doctor of the Church, a martyr . . . I would like to perform the most heroic deeds. I feel I have the courage of a Crusader. I should like to die on the battlefield in defence of the Church” for Christ. She was ready to do everything for Christ, for she says, “Jesus has shown me the only path which leads to this divine furnace of love,” and she was to reciprocate that love in her daily life. She really wanted to defend the Church even if this might imply becoming a crusader.
In her desire to live according to the Rule, she usually prayed through the intercession of the prophet Elijah by saying, “I beseech you . . . to adopt me as your child. . . . Please answer my prayer! I implore you let me have a double portion of your love of God.” Elijah played a great role in her life just as he did in the lives of the first hermits. Thérèse was well acquainted with him and she wanted to follow him in his footsteps as a prophet in her life. Besides Elijah, she had Jesus Christ at the centre of her prayer, “What I demand is love. I care now about one thing only – to love you, my Jesus!” By keeping in mind the presence of Elijah who lived on Mount Carmel and Jesus Christ, one would not dispute her knowledge of the Rule because she really knew its spirit and she lived by it as it appears in our reading of The Story of A Soul.
The Rule and its Christocentric Approach
In her book she explains to us that she lived in the love of Jesus Christ as if she were following a compass. Her joy was to be part of “the glory of being the bride of Jesus.” It was clear to her that Jesus guided and inspired her every moment of the day. She saw the presence of Jesus Christ in everything. She felt that her life made sense as far as she was able to dedicate her entire life to Jesus Christ. It was also true that she experienced this intimacy with Christ before entering into Carmel where she expected to live as “the little exile dove” in the hiddenness of the monastery in order to “work only under the gaze of Jesus” who loved her. By so doing, she saw Carmel as “the true gateway to heaven” to be where Christ was just in the same way the first hermits expected to meet Christ by choosing the solitary life of prayer in the desert. Her experience in Carmel was a possibility to imagine how to love Christ and how such a life could be a sure way to participate in his power by living in harmony with other people.
She understood her personal exile in Carmel as a way to move away from her personal likings such as her love of her sisters as she claims, “I did not enter Carmel to live with my sisters.” The freedom from such likings was one of the conditions to belong to Christ and a way of producing lasting fruits of love. Moreover, in silence and in hiddenness with Christ she gradually spelled out the other reasons for living the Holy Rule. She came to Carmel “to save souls and above all, to pray for priests,” for her desire was to make many priests love Christ. Her dedication to priests in prayer was a sure way to imagine how such love could be pure in them. The priests were for her the only possibility of showing the attraction of Christ’s love as transparently as possible in the world. She loved to be with them on pilgrimages to Rome and knew their limitations which, ironically, inspired her vocation to love them all the more. Her love for God came out in a confession made to Father Ducellier, “I made my confession . . . I remember what Father Ducellier said to me. He urged me to love . . . I left the confession happier and more light-hearted than I’d ever been before.” Such an exceptional experience inspired her to love the priests and to dedicate her entire life to praying for them and living like a dove in exile with Christ. Carmel was the place in which to do so.
Such a personal observance of love in her life was an indication that helped her become responsible for others and she was responsible to God. It reminded others how to love God and how to be peaceful. At the same time this implied having many good priests whose lives would be centred on Christ in order to console those who were in trouble.
The Rule and the meaning of rpayer that makes its way from a cell
In Thérèse’s view the solitary life experienced in a cell gave her an opportunity to name her own scrupulosity and her own childish sensitivity. By so doing, she imagined a way to grow out of it through her dedication to love and to intend her world in a different way. She explained in her own words how she achieved this love in hiddenness from the world. One occasion she recalled how on Christmas Day, 1886, she emerged from her childhood and stopped behaving as a child, for Christ “clothed me with weapons” of love. The experience was as if she gained the intensity of her voice to speak the truth of love almost done in a military manner following the Rule. She realized that “to become a saint one must suffer a great deal, always seek what is best, and forget oneself” without fear. She was given back the possibility to own her voice of love through a spiritual cure, which was symbolized by the smile of Blessed Mary to her, “My pain vanished and two great tears crept down my cheeks – tears of pure joy.” A new day had dawned in her life in the form of “the fire of divine love” as she submitted herself to Mary, an important figure in Carmelite spirituality.
Moreover, in the cell she really understood her need for penance by responding to her call to abandon her sins in order to live in love for the sake of Christ. The idea of remission of sin in the Rule reminded her that even in Carmel, “one certainly has natural likes and dislikes” to which one is called to respond with a natural love. To love for the sake of Christ was to live in awareness that we were called to make little tabernacles in our hearts where Jesus could find refuge and then console the sinners through our presence to them. The presence of sinners in our life should not surprise us because this is the way Jesus is trying to reach them, by bringing them into contact with us.
Our mission in the world is to console people by allowing them to know Christ and to love him through us. It naturally consisted of putting up with all one’s neighbour’s faults, and never being surprised by their weaknesses for “charity covereth a multitude of sins.” The disappointment is when we fail to see the possibilities that forge an attitude of welcoming all sinners for the sake of love. In her cell she even metaphorically imagined sitting beside the unbelievers and sinners at the table waiting for the sign of conversion from God. Her life of penance made her become more open to sinners and even to murderers, praying for their conversion as was the case with a criminal, Pranzini, whom she called, “my first child” because when Pranzini was ready to put his head under the guillotine, suddenly he turned and seized the crucifix offered by a priest and kissed the sacred wounds. Such a gesture was meaningful to Thérèse as it was a proof that Pranzini had made a leap into the love of God. In her cell she was never afraid of meeting sinners, rather, she loved them and prayed for their conversion for “God’s love never fails.” In the hiddenness of her cell, she really appropriated the implication of being a person of love.
Appropriation of the Rule in personal symbolism
One way of understanding what Thérèse meant by love is to look into her use of symbols that spell out her spiritual transformation. She talked about a symbolic kiss from Jesus that made her feel loved by him and then she declared, “I love you and I give myself to you forever.” The beginning of love needs the presence of a loving other and, in this case, it was Christ. Such an encounter created in her the determination to follow Christ without any desire for turning back. It is as if within this symbolic gesture of love she was ready to die so that this natural attitude of loving God and neighbour would be obviously seen in her as a way to go “peacefully towards the shore of heaven.”
Thérèse illustrated how this kind of love became contagious in Carmel as she approached in an attitude of natural love the sister who disliked her. The gesture did not remain unnoticed because the other sister became intrigued and asked Thérèse: “Will you please tell me what attracts you so much to me? You give me such a charming smile whenever we meet.” The attraction of the love for Jesus was expanded towards the others in a very special way. It created new ways for natural love to influence others to transform them. This kind of possibility of loving was instrumental in building a loving community in Carmel in such a way that she believed that “a word and a pleasant smile are often enough to cheer up someone who is sad and upset.” Such a change had nothing to do with divinely miraculous experiences, but the awareness of being in allegiance to Christ was innovative for awakening new alternative strategies to see life differently. It clearly renewed within a perspective of love and courage a desire to go beyond whatever could sadden others. It was keeping the military discipline in which one keeps courage to confront the different challenges ahead with hope and trust. It was living by hope that there could never be any human situation that discouraged one from loving the other, no matter what. Such a faith-filled self-determination to be holy and good opened in her a door to authentic human maturity.
Moreover, we find in her book other symbols that named her spiritual transformation. She mentioned her reception of a habit and a veil. She says, “the time came for me to take the habit. . . . Nothing was missing, even snow. . . . So, on the day I received the habit, I longed to see the world dressed in white like me.” On the day of her reception of the habit Thérèse explained how the ceremony meant a great deal in her life. The habit marked her beginning to totally love Christ. It was as if nature participated in the process of revealing God’s love to the world in a kind of a blanket of snow covering everything dirty. Clearly, the day was there to start contributing to the beauty of God’s love for all. Such a message was strong to her, and the place was perfect to do so: “Carmel was the desert where God wanted me” to magnify his love in the world.
In such circumstances the habit was not only ceremonial but it was a tangible sign that was beginning to unfold in her as to how she was to witness her faith in Jesus Christ behind the grilles of the monastery. In this context Balthazar, thinking about Thérèse, agrees that “the habit requires her to grow to its shape” in perfect harmony with God and people. It was as if the time had come for her to relate with the world in a different way and in a spirit of penance that the habit symbolized in order for her to love. In her habit Thérèse learned how to strip herself of what was purely human, even the relationships with her sisters in Carmel. What counted for her now was to engage with the demands of love in allegiance to Christ.
The habit spelled out the need to leave behind everything that was indispensable to love by allowing herself to surrender to the love of Christ. By accepting the veil on September 24, 1890, Thérèse knew well what she was doing, “several . . . circumstances . . . cast a veil of sorrow over everything. . . . Yet, I found abundant peace at the bottom of the chalice.” She had entered into a process that would allow her to master her self-love. She was getting ready to accept the daily cross in which the worldly-self had to die in order to let a new self be born for the purpose of keeping the obedient military love, “I welcomed the Cross and my love of suffering grew steadily.” She was well aware that the cure and the transformation of herself into “the divine, eternal form” depended on her personal commitment to wear a habit and a veil in clear awareness that her religious life was “like a kind of dam that increases the potential of the soul for heaven” when one accepts the responsibility to become the instrument of God’s love in others. She was ready for her mission to love.
The Rule and a call to love
Thérèse shows us how her vocation to love made sense, and in love she was able to imagine a world where people felt a sense of belonging to one another within the desire to serve Christ in others. We hear her exclaiming, “My vocation is to love.” Such an experience was foundational in Carmel. She was able to imagine a new way of love that went beyond family ties to reach all-embracing love. She engaged herself in a movement that supported her ideal of human maturity which allowed everyone to become channels of God’s goodness in the world. Really, in Carmel, she was called to belong to others as if they were citizens of one world under God’s protection. The success of such a perspective of spiritual maturation relied on a personal assumption of having a clear conscience of purity of love in Christ. Such was the fruit of her spiritual leap of conversion from the filth of life to contemplation of “the naked Christ as a naked disciple.”
Interestingly, Thérèse mostly came to know the implication of God’s love through her meditation on the Word of God. She was very familiar with the biblical stories that recharged her faith and her love for Christ. She found that God’s Word tremendously inspired her way of relating with the other. It is as if her reading of God’s Word was specifically answering the question of how her life could make sense by being in harmony with the Word of God. She pondered day and night on the Word of God in her cell which was a special place in her life in Carmel. The cell was where her “soul was flooded with divine light.” It was where she received powerful confidences from God, “On the evening … I went back joyfully to my cell … my dear Jesus gave me … the sign that I should soon be entering eternal life.” However, in her cell, God continually taught her to love through his word. God’s Word made her into a permanent disciple of Christ. She kept watching in love. The Word of God allowed her to become aware of the fact that there is no difference between holiness and goodness. It was clear in her conscience that to become holy was to live in awareness of one’s goodness by offering love in any circumstance of life. She associated herself with different biblical passages, and in the end her theme of love was more renewed than before, helping her become imaginative in engaging the world of the other in a new vision. In her cell others were respected and loved all the more.
Her meditation on the Word of God provided her with a means to combat against the devil and to live following the examples of biblical characters such as Elijah. The truth is that the Word of God was permanently in her mouth and in her heart. God’s Word influenced her way of understanding herself, and her contemplation became a way to look into new profiles in order to see the other in such a way that the other person could feel respected and loved without any signs of personal merit. She gained from the Word of God a personal understanding of the Rule that invited one to love as Christ did.
The Rule and Thérèse's love of biblical metaphors
An important sign of her familiarity with God’s Word is well perceived in the way she used metaphors in her book. She found in the metaphors a way to recharge her energy of love’s flames through the desire to emulate the simplicity of the biblical characters. She did this by identifying herself with them in a way that they inspired her sense of responsibility.
While reflecting on the importance of the love of Jesus in her life she says, “I was saved only by the great mercy of God. I am aware that without Him I should have fallen as low as Saint Magdalene. . . . I also know that Jesus has forgiven me more than He did Saint Magdalene.” Then living her penance according to the Holy Rule she had to forgive others in the same manner as a condition of experiencing the emergence from childhood to maturity. Such an attitude of penance became almost her second nature in striving to be good and pleasant to others. It was the kind of goodness that went without witnesses. Her deepest desire was to live by the example that emerged from different stories of the bible where God is merciful in love. She said that the bible was where, putting “myself into the arms of my Saviour. . . . I know how He loved the prodigal son, I have heard His words to Saint Mary Magdalene, to the woman taken in adultery . . . No, no one could frighten me, for I know what to think about His love and His mercy.” Her intense fusion with the horizons of these biblical characters created in her a new creation, a new person who was willing to love such as God loves. It was to live a kind of gratuitousness for the service of the other.
So for her, to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ meant to embody the biblical sense of gratuitousness towards the other in all circumstances. It was to naturally manifest love to the other in such a way that the other in his/her natural attitude was responsibly welcomed and loved as a citizen of the same world. Her vocation to love was a natural attitude attainable by any human person. It was to behave in a reasonable way in the world where nothing from the other should surprise us. Her reading of God’s Word interestingly evolved within an environment of passionate fusion of the horizons of biblical figures such as the Prodigal Son, Mary Magdalene, etc. It allowed her to symbolically graft to her life her deep sense of empathy in relationship with the other. If Jesus Christ was never surprised by the attitude of the Prodigal Son or of Mary Magdalene for example, why should we be distressed over similar cases? Looking at life this way was for Thérèse the Little Way that led her to her holiness. Such a Little Way was within the reach of any human person as far as one condition was fulfilled: the necessity to go and live in ‘a foreign land’.
The Rule leads to a foreign land
Reading the Rule in the way Thérèse understood it, one is convinced that the Rule of Saint Albert invites us to an adventure to ‘a foreign land’ which could be a cell in a monastery or a kind of solitary life. Such a spiritual exercise of detachment is necessary to know what is implied in love and in forgiveness. We need to go to a ‘foreign land’ to contemplate “the naked Christ as a naked disciple.” It is the Christ who invites us to not be ashamed of the other in his/her shortcomings in life.
A journey to perfection in love entails living in a supposed ‘foreign land’ in our imagination. Then one can also experience what she wrote, “I long for no other treasure but love, for it alone can make us pleasing to God.” The Carmelite Rule emulates this loving, natural attitude that begets a genuine sense of generosity after the experience of solitude in a ‘foreign land’ in the spirit. This reminds us of how the first Carmelites migrated back to Europe to share their new life with their neighbours after their lives had been shaped within a spirit of love. Carmelite spirituality focuses greatly on being generous towards the other without a hidden agenda of collecting merits but with absolute goodness. It forges a world of the other within the perspective of God. It always looks at the other as “my first child” as Thérèse always maintained. Then the smiling face becomes the ultimate goal for Carmelite spirituality. Otherwise going another way just opens one up to hostility because it is proof that we may have failed to cherish “the naked Christ” in our differences and to recognize the goodness in everyone else.
What counts the most is the willingness to embark on the journey to see the possibility of relating to God and others in such a way that there is nothing that causes us to shy away from the need to simply love in the manner of “a baby sleeping without fear in its father’s arms.” Carmelite spirituality is the Little Way to love and to be loved in a natural attitude of self-responsibility while behaving as a child with a sense of determination “to strive hard to be good” at all times. It is a way to remain obedient to one’s personal conscience of goodness and to see others as lovable and equal to me. Following the Rule Thérèse was well aware that spiritual warfare meant that to love implied a deep sense of suffering in peace and of willing whatever Jesus wills in Carmel. She says, “These desires caused me a real martyrdom, and so one day I opened the epistles of Saint Paul to try to find some cure for my sufferings.” In some instances her meditation on God’s Word and the Rule in a combined effort taught her how to courageously bear crosses without fear while gaining in humility. Such was her spiritual warfare.
The Rule as spiritual warfare
The Rule is presented to us in terms of spiritual warfare. It engages the possibility of adopting a certain kind of silence, penance, love; a kind that generates life and never death in the other. For example, in the Rule “silence is the way to foster holiness.” It is silence that helps one to become aware that Christ is the ultimate goal in all endeavours. It is to see Christ in the now of the daily experiences and to be ready to be where Christ expects us to be after having travelled in a ‘foreign land’. In this manner one reflects one’s will to participate in God’s generosity without any fear at all. He/she is overwhelmed by Christ who inspires the way of looking at other with compassion and empathy. She explains to us of how she was able to adjust herself to the other sister. In her testimony, she was able to create a new type of fraternal correction that found its being in love. This is how Thérèse tells us her story:
At meditation I was for a long time always near a sister who never stopped fidgeting, with either her rosary or something else. Perhaps I was the only one who heard her, as my ears are very sharp, but I could not tell you how it irritated me. What I wanted to do was to turn and stare at her until she stopped her noise, but deep down I knew it was better to endure it patiently – first, for the love of God and, secondly, so as not to upset her. So I made no fuss, though sometimes I was soaked with sweat under the strain and my prayer was nothing but the prayer of suffering. At last I tried to find some way of enduring this suffering calmly and even joyfully. So I did my best to enjoy this unpleasant little noise. Instead of trying not to hear it – which was impossible – I strove to listen to it carefully as if it were a first-class concert, and my meditation, which was not the prayer of quiet, was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.
This example shows how the application of the Holy Rule creates new possibilities to respect the other without hurting them. It is a matter of courage to confront evil without any fear by being aware of the need to save the person who is challenged by evil. In fact contemplation reminded Thérèse to engage herself in an attitude of respect and attention, reverence and vigilance, to fight the devil. Here it was as if Thérèse were on a battlefield with the devil and had to make sure that the devil was destroyed without losing her sister who was in trouble because “the life of man on earth is a warfare.” Such a natural attitude that surfaced in her through her contemplation was marked with empathy. Empathy is a fruit of contemplation where each one is called upon to see in the life of the other an alternative that helps us to perceive the other in justice and love. In solitude and penance we become aware of our commonality, and we respond in a positive attitude knowing that, in Carmel, “there were first more thorns than roses on my path.” Difficulties are ever-present in any human experience.
As if she were in the forefront of a battle, spiritual warfare shaped her into a new person who grew into the courage needed to handle challenges with determination and hope, “I was scolded nearly all the time during the hour I spent with [prioress],” but she never gave in. She was well aware that to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ one must be flexible to save the other. It does not matter the circumstances in which one may be involved. There is a necessity to adapt to all situations while keeping in mind one principle: to belong to Carmel was to grow in love. Contemplation meant the possibility of winning the spiritual warfare by imagining how to love the other. By doing so she became aware of the necessity of living with purity of heart and with a good conscience. Thérèse felt she was called to share the goodness of God with her neighbour. She was always conscious that her contemplation reminded her to find new possibilities to liberate herself from what was opposite to the attraction of love in Christ. It was to obtain courage to shy away from any given idea or feeling lost in one’s weaknesses or in other people’s frailty. It was to be ready even to die out of love if possible that the honour of Christ was safeguarded.
Such a contemplation generates a deep sense of new creation in Christ as we try by all means to see in our relationships with others if there can be a better possibility to relate to them than how we actually do. A given engagement opens new doors of intending our ways of thinking, loving, and acting with others. Here we clearly understand that contemplation within the Rule upon which Thérèse meditated helped her to know how to work and serve others and how to respond to the desire of holiness as a source of love of God and neighbour. Such an awareness of a spirit of hospitality reminds us that what causes our inability to relate well with one another is a lack of goodness which is a consequence of our refusal to abandon our sins. Such a perspective allows one to see the other through the eyes of God – full of compassion – as a way to live in allegiance with Jesus Christ.
Reading the Rule in the eyes of Thérèse we become aware of what it implied with its desire to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ. For her it simply meant to love, “Jesus, I love you,” and this goes with the other cry, “I long to be a martyr.” Her voice finds a loud echo in our personal experiences of today. However, she reminds us that we have to keep a smiling face while knowing that “the life of man on earth is a warfare” in the human perspective. This is not being pessimistic. It is being real because she cautions us to put our trust in Jesus Christ who is our reliable protector.
Thérèse understood very well that the grace of living in allegiance to Jesus Christ was achieved when one becomes well aware that the truth of life is that love and suffering are inseparable. They live together side by side. Again, such an experience of love and suffering is narrated in The Story of A Soul when Thérèse tells us how she handled the case of a sister who “never stopped fidgeting” and kept annoying her during her time of meditation. She showed us how love means to adopt a natural attitude of empathy. Thérèse did everything to make sure that the other was never saddened by her actions no matter how much she was provoked. Such an attitude is exemplary of military obedience to one’s conscience to always see the other through love for Christ.
In the life of Thérèse, love opens a way to self-direction in life to do the right thing in the moment. Love is never afraid to handle experiences of fraternal corrections. She reminds us of her sister who was involved in gossiping. Relying on the spirit of courage experienced in the Holy Rule, she says, “I was thinking one day about the permission we had to talk together so as ‘to incite one another to a greater love of our Spouse’ – in the words of our Holy Rule.” The encounter with her sister resulted in healing and in a changing of direction. They gained purity of heart and a good conscience when they mingled their tears as a sign of the affection and love they had for each other because of their love for Christ. Such a natural love “enlarges … the heart” because it knows that the truth of life naturally navigates between love and suffering.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul. (New York: Doubleday, 1989). P. 131.
 Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., “Prayer and Contemplation: In the Spirit of the Carmelite Rule,” Mount Carmel 56 (July-September 2008). P. 23.
 Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., “Prayer and Contemplation.” P. 27.
 Michael Plattig, O.Carm., “The Rule and Spiritual Growth,” in The Carmelite Rule 1207-2007: Proceedings of the Lisieux Conference 4-7 July 2005, ed. Evaldo Xavier Gomes, et al. (Rome: Edizioni Carmelitane, 2008). P. 515.
 See Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., “Prayer and Contemplation: In the Spirit of the Carmelite Rule,” Mount Carmel 56 (April-June 2008). P. 27.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule of Carmel, trans. Gabriel Pausback, O.Carm. (Darien, Illinois: Carmelite Spiritual Center, 1984). P. 77.
 See Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 99.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 304.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 61.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 61.
 See Ibid., 146.
 See Ibid., 130.
 See Ibid., 139.
 Ibid., 171.
 See Ibid., 118.
 See Ibid., 305.
 Ibid., 207.
 Ibid., 305
 Felip Ribot, O.Carm., The Ten Books on the Way of Life and Great Deeds of the Carmelites, trans. & ed. Richard Copsey, O.Carm. (Faversham: Saint Albert’s Press / Rome: Edizioni Carmelitane, 2005). P. 9.
 See Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 14.
 Ibid., 267.
 Ibid., 268.
 See Ibid., 149-150.
 See Ibid., 149.
 See Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 150.
 Michael Plattig, O.Carm., “The Rule and Spiritual Growth,” 525.
 See Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 274.
 Michael Plattig, O.Carm., “The Rule and Spiritual Growth,” 526.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 277.
 Ibid., 62-63.
 Ibid., 15.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 69.
 Ibid., 77.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 34.
 Ibid., 39.
 Ibid., 40.
 See Craig Morrison, O.Carm., “The Carmelite Rule: A Lectio Divina by Albert of Jerusalem,” Mount Carmel 56 (July-September 2008). P. 50.
 Craig Morrison, O.Carm., “The Carmelite Rule: A Lectio Divina by Albert of Jerusalem,” Mount Carmel 56 (April-June 2008). P. 51.
 Ibid., 46.
 See Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 147.
 Craig Morrison, O.Carm., “The Carmelite Rule . . . ,” 46.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O. Carm., J.C.D, The Rule, 202.
 Ibid., 145.
 Hebrews 1:1.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 149.
 Job 7:1.
 2 Timothy 3:12.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 203.
 Craig Morrison, O.Carm., “The Carmelite Rule: A Lectio Divina by Albert of Jerusalem,” Mount Carmel 56 (April-June 2008). P. 49.
 Michael Plattig, O.Carm., “The Rule and Spiritual Growth,” 517.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 147.
 Ibid., 299.
 John Russell, O.Carm., “Thérèse of Lisieux and the Rule of Carmel: A Guide for All,” Mount Carmel 57 (July-September 2009). P. 51.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse, 131.
 Ibid., 149.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 150.
 Ibid., 156.
 See Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 102.
 See Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 91.
 Ibid., 142.
 Ibid., 119.
 Ibid., 91.
 See Ibid., 76.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 61.
 Ibid., 26.
 See Ibid., 47.
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 111.
 See Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 299.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse, 124.
 Ibid., 128.
 Ibid., 117.
 Ibid., 64.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 127.
 Ibid., 139.
 Ibid., 94-95.
 Ibid., 41.
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Two Sisters in the Spirit: Thérèse of Lisieux & Elizabeth of the Trinity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992). P. 149.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse, 101.
 Ibid., 91.
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Two Sisters in the Spirit, 150.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse, 155.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 39.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse, 98.
 Ibid., 116.
 Ibid., 56.
 Ibid., 149.
 Ibid., 150.
 Ibid., 64.
 Ibid., 150.
 Ibid., 54.
 Ibid., 154.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 150.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse, 142.
 Carlo Cicconetti, O.Carm., J.C.D., The Rule, 277.
 John Beevers, trans. The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse, 90.
 Ibid., 157.
 Ibid., 154.
 Ibid., 142.
 Ibid., 131.
 Ibid., 128.
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