Carmel in the World
2007. Volume XLVI, Number 3

  • Editorial: Many new beginnings
  • Letter of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
  • New Leadership for our Carmelite Family
  • Three Reflections from the Carmelite Family: A Praying and Prophetic Community in a Changing World
  • General Chapter 2007: Some Impressions and Thoughts
  • The Carmelite Charism at the Service of the Church Today (below)
  • Great Things Begin Small
  • The Word gives the Kiss of Peace
  • Carmel around the World

The Carmelite Charism at the Service of the Church Today

Peter Hoang Nguyen, O.Carm., a Vietnamese Carmelite friar studying in Washington DC. He wrote this essay originally for an examination in the Carmelite Studies Program at the Washington Theological Union. Currently a deacon, he will be ordained to the priesthood in the spring of 2008.

In order to examine the theme of “The Carmelite Charism at the Service of the Mission of the Church in the 21St Century”, let us take an overview of our charism and its history.
The Carmelite charism is based on three dimensions: Prayer, Community, and Service. This charism helps us to maintain our relationship within our Order, as well as with God’s People, the Church. The first Carmelites came to the Holy Land, to Mount Carmel, there to search for meaning in their lives by following the footsteps of Jesus Christ. They had abandoned their homelands, their families, their friends, and their properties for the sake of the Gospel. They sought to imitate Jesus Christ. They meditated on the Word of God, and they offered their prayers for the repentance of those who were estranged from God and for the mission of the Church. The first Carmelites received their formula vitae, (the Way of Life, or, as it is called today, the Rule) from Saint Albert, Patriarch of the church of Jerusalem (1205-1214). The Rule guided the hermits showing them how to live a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ, and it shaped their community life. The Rule laid down that an oratory should be built in the midst of the cells (Rule 14) where each day the whole community is to gather for the celebration of the Eucharist. The members left their cells to come together at the centre of their communal activities, signifying that Christ is the centre of their life and their spiritual journey. Over time and throughout the generations, our brothers and sisters have contributed to the mission of the Church in both terms of prayer and of service of the Church. Today, in the twenty-first century, we face many challenges to continue the mission of Christ but by our Charism: Prayer, Community, and Service, we can make our selves available to serve the needs of the Church and God’s people.

Our Rule calls us to contemplate the Word of God day and night (Rule 10). We let the Word of God abound in our mouth and hearts (Rule 19). The Word of God becomes comfort and strength for us, burning with passion for God, defeating the depression and temptations of surrender within us. Through contemplation, we can help the Church to discern the signs of the times and how the Spirit of God is leading us into an unknown future, our future, where the Holy Spirit will surprise and challenge our love and service. It is important for us today to experience the Word of God, to live with the Word of God, and to witness to the Word of God. The good news is that we proclaim God’s love and mercy to all creatures because God so loved the world that he offered his Son (I Jn 3:16)). We proclaim Jesus Christ is our Lord, our God, and our Saviour because through his life, death, and resurrection, He desires to bring all people to God’s hands. Following the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we experience the grace of God even as we experience the disgrace of the world. We challenge the world with its sinful structures that cause injustice and which oppresses human dignity. Like Elijah, the Carmelites try to be faithful to God and to point out the injustice of the world. Through prayer, the Carmelites can help the Church and God’s people in the way of prayer, to feed their spiritual hunger for God. We can help the Church and the world to pray for God’s love and mercy and the conversion of the world in these times threatened by terrorism, and undermined by moral relativism. Our prayer, joined to the prayer of the Church, praises God, converts the sinners, and prophetically challenges the existing sinful structures of the world around us.

The common Carmelite charism makes us one religious family even as our various personal charisms enrich it and express its multifaceted beauty. Community life is in itself both a proclamation and a challenge. A community that is full of life is both attractive and prophetic. Christ is present in the heart of our community as well as in the heart of the Church and in the hearts of so many people. We, as Carmelites, experience the beauty of community life, in which we share our common goods, and our gathering for the Eucharist nourishes our spiritual life as well as our relationships. Coming together with one another and finding communion with Christ provide the central moment of Carmelite spiritual life. The fact that we are living in community and celebrating the Eucharist together helps to nurture the spiritual life of the Church at the level of religious community. We can expand our prayer for those who, for some reason, cannot go to church themselves. Saint Therese, the Little Flower, spoke of this deep Communion with the Church and all its members as she wrote “in the heart of the Church I am love”. As a spiritual family within the Church, we Carmelites are the signs of hope, of the potential which we humans can reach with God’s grace. We respond to God’s call and to the Church’s teachings with humility. By our community lifestyle, we can inspire the world to live in peace with one another, and to share their concerns, their anxieties, and their resources with one another. Our lifestyle must be open and welcoming, inviting us to share with others the communion of hearts and the experience of God, which we are living in the community. When we live in the midst of the people, we help them to grow in their relationship with God and the Church. In the midst of the people, we bring them into the love of God, we do not shut them out.

Service is an integral part of our charism. As baptized people, we are called to live a life of service. Based on the value of the Gospel, our Rule mentions that the prior is the one who best serves of the needs of his brothers and so our leaders today serve the needs of the brothers and sisters — but we are all called, in turn, to serve others. Our lifestyle and our spirituality must be translatable into attitudes and actions capable of communicating our Carmelite spirit through an ongoing effort to inculturate our charism and the gospel message. We are open to every kind of service, apostolate or profession. As we bring Christ to people, we encounter Christ present in them by obedience to Christ’s command to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe my commands.” (Mt 28:19-20) Our Order promotes the continuation of a long missionary tradition which reached its high point when St. Therese of the Child Jesus was made patron saint of the missions. We are confident that missionary work today will reveal in a new way the heart of the Carmelite charism as the Carmelite family goes into new cultures and nations. The Carmelites can cooperate with the Church in this most sacred duty because we participate with all Christians in the Church’s one channel of grace. But we have a unique vocation in the service of the people. The Carmelite, by virtue of our contemplative prayer, can help the Church to listen to the cry of the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, and the marginalized. We are willing to learn to work with others in the service of the Kingdom, to develop a special love for and interest in the Church and her mission. Thus, in whatever work we do, we focus more on the spiritual journey of those around us.
The Carmelite charism can contribute the mission of the Church in the twenty-first century through our life of prayer, community and service. In serving of the mission of the Church we are also open to the Holy Spirit who enriches our charism through dialogue, service and living the value of the Gospel. We can help the Church in its work in parishes, in education, in working with the NGOs at the United Nations, and in all these ways — and in so many others — to be the outreaching hands of the Church itself. We hope we are always available for the Church’s mission. We try to be generous to the Church in serving God’s Kingdom. We hope that our talents can contribute more to the mission of the Church and God’s Kingdom.

Copyright © Edizioni Carmelitane