Carmel in the World Magazine
Carmel in the World
2014. Volume LIII, Number 2
- Allegiance in the Rule of Albert (below)
- Silence in the Rule of Carmel
- The Carmelite Rule in art
- Greetings from Albert
- Elijah – The Man of Mountains
- Titus Brandsma – A Carmelite who continues to inspire us
- Book Review – In Search of Living Water
- Carmel around the World
Allegiance in the Rule of Albert – A Reflection
Bernard Roozendaal, O.Carm., is a Dutch missionary working in the Philippines.
The Church of Christendom which originated in the fourth century with Constantine and reinforced in the ninth century by the reforms of Gregory VII, established the model for a centralized Church. That model was a pyramidal Church with pope, bishops, priests at the top and the ordinary people called the faithful (laity) at the base; a model which survived officially until Vatican II. In its structure it is a copy of the feudal state with king, lords, vassals at the top and those who are faithful to the top (the slaves) at the base.
It is surprising that Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, living as bishop within this feudal period, wrote a letter to a group of hermits at about 1214 AD, intended to be a Rule of Living for those hermits on Mount Carmel, without mentioning anything in his Rule about the feudal structure. No allegiance requested to the pope, bishops or priests. His heart and mind were filled with the spirit of that man living about 1200 years ago in the region, where Albert now is the shepherd. He confirmed their living in allegiance to Jesus, the man from Nazareth, and that is enough. That allegiance to Jesus vibrates through the whole Rule.
A great challenge for New Evangelization
After more than 800 years the Carmelite Family members all over the world are still holding on to that allegiance to Jesus, meaning ‘to completely accede to the other’, where the Other – Jesus of Nazareth – is our very model as Christians. Acceding to the Other is not just a matter of pronouncing a formula, but taking the risk of entering into a process of silencing myself – because the Other will speak and I will listen. The Other sees me and I belong to him. As the Rule expressed so clearly, our attitude must be ‘unswerving’: in complete faithfulness and trust.
This quality does not fall from heaven just like that. It finds its origin in developing a ‘purity of heart’, becoming receptive to God, an open space. A farmer makes efforts to clean the land from stones, weeds and rubbish in order to prepare the soil to become receptive for the seeds. In the same way we have to purify, to clean our innermost being from the clutter of countless traditional, institutional, personal and cultural hang-ups and negative tendencies, in order to offer an ‘open space’ that can receive Jesus’ standpoint and viewpoint in life, and, hopefully, make it our own and become the perfect human beings we are supposed to be. As Pope Francis says: Not being afraid in the process of New Evangelization to get our hands and feet dirty.
Who is this Jesus?
We may ask ourselves: ‘Which Jesus are we talking about?’ How can we become a little closer to his standpoint and viewpoint if we want to continue being ‘in allegiance to Jesus Christ’ in our very own time and be involved in New Evangelization?
There are at least three ways to look at Jesus.
· The first way to look at Jesus is the way he understood himself and his life and work. It is to look at Jesus through his own eyes. Many of the first generation of Christians also shared this view or image of Jesus, among them the Gospel writers.
· The second way to look at Jesus is the way the Roman-Greco and later Western eyes regarded Jesus and his life and works. For example, while Jesus’ concern was the total well-being of the person, the second way of seeing him tends to make redemption of souls Jesus’ concern. While Jesus liked to talk in terms of food, the second way talks in terms of sanctifying grace. This second way lasted from about 50 AD to the 1960s, a very long segment of Church history. And even today, this second look is still the way many Christians see Jesus. However, we must say that by itself it no longer vibrates with the rhythm of people’s lives. It can no longer provide answers to many of our pain-laden questions so it is time for a third way to look at Jesus.
· The third way is to see Jesus through the eyes of the poor. It is the view of the exploited, the oppressed, but also the awakened, the struggling and the selfless poor who want to create a just, humane and sustainable world. This third way is very similar to the first way and is in allegiance to a Jesus who says: ‘I want to see you freed from hunger’. If we speak in the twenty-first century of the Carmelite Family being ‘in allegiance to Jesus Christ’, we have in mind the Jesus of the third way above and, for many of us, this requires a mind shift to the Jesus reflected upon and written about by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We are challenged to seek a ‘new way’ of making the ‘Jesus story’ of the four Gospel writers alive among us, daring us to have another look at Jesus in our time.
And that Jesus of the third way of seeing him expresses his standpoint and viewpoint as ‘an authoritative preacher’ proclaiming the presence of God’s reign, teaching and exemplifying selfless love of others, catching the human imagination through parables which haunt the mind with their insisting questioning of conventional priorities, welcoming the outcast into his company without compromising his own integrity, extending healing and compassion to those in need and who cross his paths. This person who displayed anger at the stubbornness of heart of those who turned away from the truth, this person who denounced hypocrisy and warned of judgment to come upon the city of ‘Jerusalem’ – this Jesus is immensely human.
The Carmelite Teresa of Avila, speaking of prayer, spoke several times of the temptation to ‘abandon Christ’s humanity’. Going directly to God would be more perfect. Teresa responded with a splendid vindication of Jesus’ humanity: ‘It is through this door that we must enter if we want the sovereign Majesty to show us great secrets’. Thus if someone believes that ‘separating oneself from what is corporal must be good’, then let such a person know that: ‘the most sacred humanity of Jesus should not be excluded therein’. She warned that this is like ‘having the souls walking on air....which provides no support’.
Unconscious fear of the human figure of Jesus, may block our shift to the standpoint and viewpoint of a Jesus who discomforts us preferring instead an indefensible biblical fundamentalism which creates a comfortable Christian life.
Faithful in being together
Albert did not request the brothers on Mount Carmel to promise allegiance to the existing feudal, pyramidal structure in the Church but to Jesus Christ, although he is asking obedience to the prior, the one selected by them to guide the brothers. Do the brothers promise obedience and fidelity to the prior? Or do they – in the presence of the prior – promise to be obedient and faithful to the purpose of being together, which is ‘living in the footsteps of Jesus Christ’? None of the functions the Rule assigns to the prior are meant to assert authority or to demand obedience, but being faithful to life in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, as people-in-community. The basic meaning of obedience is ‘to listen’, to silence all the noise within myself and to listen to what Jesus has to say. This is an essential part of being faithful. Faithfulness is also the essence of the relationship expressed in marriage between husband and wife, as well as the relationship between parents and children, and between friends. Likewise, the expression of faithfulness is not a question of articulating a few words during a religious profession, a marriage ceremony or commitment to live together and share life, but of actual deeds in daily life of the community, the family, or of any kind of group.
A space for feeling at home
Albert suggests in the Rule he presented to the brothers, that everyone should have a place where to live and feel at home. In our present world with millions of people uprooted as never before, being victims of violence, the greed of others, or of natural calamities, moving from one locality, province, state or country to another in order to survive, this seems to have become for many a ‘lost-human-right’. Being and living in ‘the midst of the people’ as members of the Carmelite family, we have to join the millions in their demand for a human environment of having a cover over our head, making intimate family life possible and feeling at home somewhere.
The Rule suggests also a deeper meaning of having a place. It comes close to the expression: ‘On what side are you on?’ In other words, it asks, ‘Where do you stand’ or ‘What is your standpoint and consequently your viewpoint?’ The meaning goes way beyond the physical place; it allows the transformation of ‘my place’ and ‘my standpoint’ into ‘the place’ or the standpoint of ‘The Other’. We have to make a shift of our standpoint and viewpoint to that of Jesus’ – his mentality, spirit, orientation and will. And that is a constant and ongoing process of change and conversion to live ‘a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ’, to the human Jesus of Nazareth rather than holding on only to a faceless divinity.
We call that deeper meaning of place also the ‘mystical space’ – going beyond a place with geographical dimensions, away from fixed ideas that are predetermined and limited, away from the tsunami-like flood of virtual realities entering my life through modern communication technology. It is jumping into the solitude of the many rooms in that interior mansion, into a desert-like environment, into the so much-desired ‘open space’ which is free from all kinds of hang-ups.
Elijah has given us an example. He travelled across his country moving from one place to another, zealously promoting and defending the God of Israel. But what happened to him? Elijah had been guided by the word of God until that point in his life when he was threatened by the powers-that-be. And from then on he allowed fear to control him. He was deathly scared of the consequences of his prophetic actions. Elijah had lost grip on his ‘place’ and surrendered to terror. It was a humiliating experience.
On top of the mountain he finally got rid of all kinds of anxiety and human frailty and allowed himself to recover his place. God met his frightened prophet not in the traditional signs of a strong wind, an earthquake, or a fire....but in the presence of sheer silence, but it was rough. Elijah was able to clean up the mess within him and to reclaim the place he was supposed to occupy. He regained his proper place in that ‘open space of silence’ where the voice of God could be heard.
The meaning of ‘place’ in Carmel is not determined by the geographical location; it is not necessarily in a rural area, a desolate place, a monastery, a house in a city or the fourth floor of a town house. The most important criteria for a Carmel-inspired place is that it offers openness to where I really belong – the place where I can live ‘in allegiance to Jesus Christ’ while remaining in the midst of the people. It may be good that whenever we veer off-course, in moments of trouble or confusion, we remember to ask ourselves what Elijah was asked: ‘Why I am here? What is my place?’
After having talked about prayer, common property, fasting, weekly meetings and the beautiful passage on God’s armour, Albert spent much space on the topic of being engaged in work. He talks about ‘doing work of some kind’. Every human being has a vocation. Being images of God the Creator we are called co-creators, workers in charge of this creation in one way or another. Members of the Carmelite Family are working as farmers, painters, carpenters, welders, construction workers, technicians, computer scientists, pastoral workers, researchers, journalists, priests, garbage collectors, journalists and so on. Our work is the concrete proof of our being God’s image. That is our vocation, our call and our responsibility. That is our dignity as human beings.
Christ gives that basic human vocation a futuristic content of building a new heaven and a new earth, which he calls ‘God’s Kingdom’. It is a state of being where there are just and right relationships between God and his people, between people everywhere, between people and the animal species, between people and the whole of creation, so that love for one another is made possible and peace will be experienced everywhere. And that needs hard work.
Sad to say but millions of people who are willing to work today are either unemployed or underemployed and cannot earn their own bread. The dominant economic system is based on profit making through competition and is dominated by the rich and powerful. This system excludes millions of people and creates hunger. They are not unwilling to work but they are forced to stop working or are not given any opportunity to answer their vocation like the thousands of young people who, after long years of intense study, or for many years having washed cars for the rich, still cannot find a decent job. And that indeed, creates restlessness.
We know too well the effects of that restlessness: demonstrations, stealing, gambling, drug use even violent protests. Modern economy and existing governments do not create opportunities for work, but have created better trained riot-police and bigger prisons for those who raise their voices, protesting and denouncing the prevailing system’s inability to provide opportunities to answer their God-given vocation.
Being present and guiding that restlessness to bring down discriminatory systems and to replace them with just and right relationships for all has opened many doors to challenging new and relevant pastoral ministries by helping to restore that basic dignity of human beings as workers. Albert may give us the suggestion in our turbulent time: ‘This is the way of holiness and goodness. See that you follow it’. It is an excellent expression of being in allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth, who was for most of his life a worker, a carpenter and for a few years a wandering missionary.
In order that work will not endanger the allegiance to Jesus, Albert quotes the apostle saying that in silence and hope we have to work. Instead of adding numerous virtual friends to our digital communication, minimizing or closing the open space for Him to whom we have promised allegiance, we are encouraged to allow the deep humanness of Jesus of Nazareth to occupy the open space in ourselves, filled with hope, full of good news and busy with creatively working towards the new heaven and the new earth. And ‘anyone who does more than he or she is obliged to do, the Lord will reward him or her’. But use you common sense, no exaggeration on the one hand and slowing down on the other.