Carmelite Spirituality – Consecrated Life
Patrick Burke, O.Carm. Carmelite Family: Number 17, Spring 2003.
Our consecrated life, configured to the life of Christ by means of the three evangelical counsels taken on by the vows and by other evangelical values, is a gift from God. Its motivation is not that ‘of the world’, yet it places us in the world as witnesses to the value of life itself as a precious gift. This value, lived in the spirit of the beatitudes, transfigures the world according to the Father’s design.
Christians, through baptism, are consecrated to the Lord. In this sense all baptised are called to a consecrated life and to a following of Jesus in their lives. Yet consecration is a word used sparingly today. It implies change and a new order of things. The consecration at Mass represents the moment when through the power of God’s word, pronounced in the Church, Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The consecration of baptism represents the moment when through the power of God’s word, pronounced in the Church, and their own willingness, people become children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Christ. The consecration of adults, whether as aspirants to Religious Institutes or to Secular Religious Orders, represents that moment, when as adults, fully conscious of the demands of the Gospel, they pronounce their willingness publicly in the Church and take on a way of life that seeks to be as clear and committed as possible to the value of the Gospel in their lives. At that point, people belong in a different way to themselves and in a different way to God. They take on a new way of being and a new way of belonging.
Calling and Commitment
This way of life cannot exist without a calling from God. It is a gift of God, freely given, for the sanctification of the person, the service of the Church and the building up of the Kingdom of God. Jesus calls people to follow him. It is a radical following of Jesus, a following that is from the roots upwards. It suggests a commitment that involves the whole person. It points to the idea of total self-giving to a worthy cause, to a belief, or to a person. In fact, we can find numerous examples around us of this kind of commitment -in families, in the caring professions, in public life, even in sporting associations. In the religious sphere, this commitment is to the imitation of Christ who is the greatest example for us. When it came to the ultimate price, the ultimate proof of his own commitment to the will of the Father, he did not draw back. His was a life of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Following of Christ
Our salvation and fulfilment in life comes through our following of Christ. This following is based on our closeness to Christ, our reliance on his help, and our imitation of his virtues. It is firstly our closeness to Christ that defines this following. By this closeness we allow ourselves to be influenced by him whereby we become more like him. In this way our life becomes a life of obedience, poverty and chastity. These three words are intended to be a description of the life of Jesus. They then become a description of the life of his followers.
The Church authorities approved the Constitutions of the Friars which cover the evangelical counsels and vows in the context of Carmelite spirituality. They treat of the decision of people to take on a closer imitation of Christ in the Church, through the counsels which refer to values that the Gospel recommends to all those who wish to live a life of fidelity to Christ. Lay Carmelites make profession of the evangelical counsels and vows according to their lay state so that through their Carmelite consecration they become witnesses to the Gospel values in their world. Their consecrated life, lived in the spirit of the beatitudes and their Carmelite vocation, transforms the world according to the Father’s design.
The Evangelical Counsels
These gifts represent three ways of relating to God the Creator, to other people and to the goods of earth. We relate to the plan of creation, by searching for the will of the creator, by building right relationships with other men and women and by using the goods of the earth to their best effect
We relate to Jesus as the one who was obedient. He obeyed the Father in all things. He showed his poverty by opting to live among the poor, while all the time he cherished the goods of the earth and knew how to make the best use of them. When he died on the cross he showed the ultimate poverty. Stripped of all earthly wealth and dignity he cried out to the Father. His chastity could be seen in the way he honoured everyone as a child of the Father, worked for the salvation of every human person and made no one his servant, or slave.
The consecrated life also relates to the world that is to come, when Christ will have gathered everything to himself. Then our union of will with the Father will be total and obedience will be complete. Our possession of the goods of the earth will be the fulfilment of God’s promise and our union with other people will be free and perfect.
A Change of Focus
This way of life represents a choice of focus. We choose not to be focused on ourselves anymore, but to be focused outside ourselves. Our motivations is to come from a sense that God has a design for the world, that design is represented by the words “Kingdom of God” and the vowed person is a child of that kingdom. What the vowed person wants to know is that the kingdom of God is present, that it is taking hold of the world, and that she or he is able to judge what is happening in the world and in their own lives on the basis of that kingdom coming into the world.
In the Spirit of the Beatitudes
Another way of speaking about this life is to say it is the life of the beatitudes. The believer sees in the beatitudes a description of the kind of life that Jesus recommends to his followers: to be poor in spirit, to mourn the fragility of life in this world, to be peacemakers, people who hunger for justice, people willing to accept suffering and even persecution for the sake of Jesus. In more general terms it holds out the promise of blessedness or happiness for those who accept suffering and even persecution for the sake of Jesus closely or radically.
We are nothing without Love
These three small words can appear to represent only a part of the Gospel, but in reality, together, they capture the whole of Christ’s life in its different aspects. The one thing that is not said but is implied is that obedience, poverty, and chastity make no sense without love. Obedience allows us to love more in that it allows us to love with the love of God, poverty allows us to love more because we use the goods of the earth not for ourselves but for others. Chastity allows us to love more because it frees us from self-love.