Carmel in the World
2011. Volume L, Number 3 – Fiftieth Year

  • Milestones on the Road to Eternity
  • Growing Awareness of the Lay Carmelite’s Vocation and Mission in the Carmelite Order, 1971-1983
  • The Second Vatican Council, the Laity, and the Carmelite Family: A Tribute to Fr Redemptus Valabek, O.Carm.
  • The Carmelite Rule and Lay Carmelites (below)

The Carmelite Rule and Lay Carmelites

Most Reverend Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., Prior General 1995-2007.

There are many ways to live the Carmelite life and many forms of being a Lay Carmelite. However the vast majority of Carmelite Laity are members of the Third Order and a very important moment during my service as Prior General was the publication of the Rule for The Third Order of Carmel in 2003. This was not without controversy as some friars believed that such a document was unnecessary. I believe, however, that the controversy should not overshadow the importance of the document in the life of members of the Third Order. In this article I want to look at the Third Order Rule in the context of the Carmelite tradition and particularly in relation to the Rule of St. Albert.

The Rule of St. Albert
The founding charism of the Carmelite Order is contained in the Rule of St. Albert, commonly called the Carmelite Rule. By this I mean that all the elements that go to make up the Carmelite vocation are to be found, at least in embryonic form, in the Rule. This document began life as a brief letter written to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel by St. Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, somewhere between 1206 and 1214. We cannot date it any more exactly because we do not possess the actual letter but we have a very good idea what was in it because of some detective work. St. Albert arrived in the Holy Land from his native Italy to take up his new task given him by the Pope early in 1206 and he was murdered in 1214 by a cleric whom he had deposed from his job as being unworthy. At some point during this period, the hermits – or a group of them – went to Albert, and asked him to write for them some directions for their way of life.
In this letter or “formula vitae” (formula of life), St. Albert based his prescriptions on the “avowed purpose” (Rule, 3) of the hermits, i.e., what they themselves had been living for some time and how they wanted to proceed. We do not have any indication in what this “avowed purpose” consisted but it was probably a verbal explanation given by the hermits to St. Albert regarding how they wanted to follow Christ. St. Albert’s letter became an official Rule of the Church in 1247 when Pope Innocent IV approved it with certain modifications to allow the hermits to make foundations in cities and to basically change their lifestyle to become like the other mendicant friars of the time.

Our Carmelite Vocation
I said that the Rule contains in embryonic form all the elements of the Carmelite vocation. In the first place, in Chapter 2, St. Albert states that all Christians are called to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve him faithfully with a pure heart. In the succeeding chapters, St. Albert lays down the fundamental principles by which the hermits are to do so. These principles are like seeds scattered in good soil, which will bloom and produce a bountiful harvest down through the centuries.
St. Albert addressed himself to the hermits “who live near the spring on Mount Carmel” (Rule, 1). This was the spring of Elijah the Prophet and it can be visited to this day. It is not possible that the hermits were unaware of the connection that Elijah had with Mount Carmel and the Prophet was also seen as the model for all monks at the time. The early Carmelites were very aware of the example of Elijah, which inspired them to continue their spiritual journey despite difficulties. When the Carmelites arrived in Europe in the middle decades of the thirteenth century they faced grave difficulties. The very existence of the Carmelite Order was threatened and they looked to Scripture to find there an inspiration for the way of life they wished to follow. They began to construct for themselves a history of the Order in which the Prophet Elijah loomed large. Although the stories of Elijah founding the Order were not factually accurate they did convey a great truth that the Order’s understanding of its own vocation was bound up in the figure of the prophet.
The naming of the oratory on Mount Carmel, built in the middle of the cells according to the Rule (14) in honour of Our Lady, is the beginning of the great Carmelite Marian devotion. Carmelites knew they were not alone. Mary, their Patroness, Mother and Sister, accompanied them and led them to the mountain of glory, Christ the Lord.
In the individual prescriptions of the Rule can be found the fundamental values that help us to follow Christ and fulfil God’s plan for us. One of the values that the Rule holds dear is the primacy of the Word of God, which must accompany everything we do (Rule, 19; cf. Colossians 3:17). We are to ponder on the law of the Lord day and night (Rule, 10; cf. Psalm 1:2). At the time the Rule was written by Albert, the spiritual life was understood as a battle against a powerful enemy who wished to destroy us. We are to clothe ourselves in God’s armour because the devil, our foe, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, so that we may be ready to withstand the enemy’s ambush (Rule, 18; cf. 1 Peter 5:8). The early monks went into the desert to fight the demons. Our battle is not so much against external demons but the ones inside ourselves, which seek to prevent us from becoming what God knows we can be.
The enemy wishes to prevent the Carmelite from reaching the centre. St. Teresa of Jesus reminds us in her Interior Castle that at the centre of each human being lives God. The end of the spiritual journey in this world is to arrive at the centre but first we must do battle with the enemy. The armour, which is provided for us, is made up of chastity, meditation, holiness, love and faith (Rule, 19; cf. Ephesians 6:10-17). The sword of the spirit is the Word of God and with this sword we can defeat all enemies. We are to use also work and silence as valuable aids on the journey (Rule, 20 & 21; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12).
St. Albert laid down that the hermits were to build an oratory in the midst of the cells where each morning they were to gather for Mass (Rule, 14). They had to leave their individual cells and gather together in the centre. This practical reality was also a symbol for the spiritual journey. They do not walk this path singly but as members of a community and so they leave the isolation of their individual cells to gather together in the centre of the community. They then return to their cells, strengthened by the prayers of their brothers, to continue their struggle against the enemy. Our fellow Carmelites are a great support to us as we seek to follow Christ but, at times, they are also the instruments of our purification and transformation in God’s hands. It is very easy to love our neighbour if we do not have one, but how we treat other people day in and day out will show us how far advanced we are on the spiritual path. What effect do we have on others? Do people like to see us or are we a torment for others? Do we build up community or tear it down?

The Carmelite Way
St. Albert sums up the Rule as “a few points I have written down to provide you with a standard of conduct to live up to” (Rule, 24). These few points have inspired millions of people throughout the centuries to follow Jesus Christ according to the Carmelite way. This Rule has nurtured many saints and encouraged many ordinary people to live humble lives dedicated to Christ. The Rule has lost none of its power to inspire. We are assured that “our Lord, at his second coming, will reward anyone who does more than he is obliged to do” (Rule, 24). Fr. Kees Waaijman, a Dutch Carmelite, has brought out the connection between the last chapter of the Rule and the story of the Good Samaritan in St. Luke’s Gospel (10:25-37). The Carmelite is to be like the innkeeper who works generously for the good of others but who is always aware that the Lord could return at any moment. The innkeeper is very busy but keeps an eye on the horizon looking for the first sign of the Lord. It is interesting to note that St. Luke places the story of the Good Samaritan very close to the experience of the lack of hospitality that Jesus had in Samaria. St. Luke tells us:
When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. (Luke. 9:51-56).
Obviously Jesus did not hold grudges. What about us?
The hermits on Mount Carmel began a journey that we are continuing today. Also each one of us is on his or her own individual journey. We are assisted by our fellow Carmelites but no one can walk this path for us. We have to do it ourselves and face God at the end. You can fool some of the people some of the time but God’s gaze goes right to the heart.
Eight hundred years after these small beginnings, the Carmelite Family numbers many thousands of people all over the world, who look back to the experience of these hermits as a source of inspiration. The hermits could not have been aware of the significance of their actions. They just wanted to follow Christ and they were inspired to do so by living as hermits on Mount Carmel. Not long after, when they moved out into Europe, they changed their lifestyle somewhat in order to serve the poor in the new cities. What they did was not completely new but all the elements of how they wanted to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ formed the impetus for a new religious family in the Church. Their decisions had a profound impact on the Church and on our lives.
We live in a very different world from those first hermits so what on earth can a thirteenth century document written for hermits have to say to us? Not long after it was written the hermits wished to change their lifestyle somewhat to become more actively involved with people but the eremitical beginnings were never forgotten. Every reform within the Order harked back to these beginnings about which little was known, except by means of the text of the Rule.
The Order has rediscovered the importance of the Rule for our life and as a result we have seen many studies written of this ancient text and new discoveries of possible meanings for today. New groups of lay people have sprung up in various parts of the world dedicated to the study of the Rule or to living out its implications in various ways. A Rule that is officially recognised by the Church has an enduring quality. In some way God speaks to men and women who are called to live the Carmelite vocation through this Rule of life, no matter how far they are removed culturally from the text. It is very useful for all of us, religious or lay, to read the Carmelite Rule carefully and ask God to show us what values are contained there that can help each of us to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ today.
St. Albert wrote his letter for a community of hermits who lived on Mount Carmel. By the time this letter became a Rule by the approval of Pope Innocent IV in 1247, the Carmelites had spread out to various parts of Europe and had begun to serve people in various ministries. The text of the Rule was changed by the Pope to accommodate such changes and to turn these lay hermits into religious. However, other legislation was also needed to fit changing circumstances. This was done not by constantly changing the Rule (only the Pope can change the Rule), but by using another vehicle common to religious orders – the Constitutions. These are intended to explain the spirituality of the Rule in ever changing circumstances and provide a precious source of assistance to religious in living the consecrated life.
The latest Constitutions date from 1995 and have been a source of great renewal for the Order. The first text of the Constitutions we have dates from the General Chapter held in London in the year 1281. Presumably there were earlier Constitutions but these are the earliest we have. In this text there is an instruction to young Carmelites so that they can explain to others the origins of the Order. Throughout the centuries, the Rule has remained the same but the Constitutions have changed in order to help Carmelites live their vocation in changed circumstances.

Living the Carmelite Way
I wrote in the letter of promulgation of the Third Order Rule on 16 July, 2003:
The text of the Third Order Rule, which I have pleasure in presenting, has had a long history. It has been claimed that the first such rule was written by Blessed John Soreth in 1455. It was to him that Pope Nicholas V addressed the famous bull Cum Nulla in 1451, thus putting the official seal of approval on lay people being members of the Order, living our spirituality in their own situation. It was decided after the Second Vatican Council to submit the Third Order Rule to a process of updating. This process has lasted for more than thirty years and has involved the input of many Lay Carmelites. An international commission was appointed by the General Council after the General Chapter of 1995 to oversee the final stages of this process. A new text was submitted to a meeting of Lay Carmelites held in Rome during the Jubilee Year 2000 and the comments of the participants were incorporated into the final draft. The new General Council, elected at the General Chapter of 2001, wrote the final document to be presented to the Holy See for approval. This approval was received on 11 April 2003.
The Rule for Lay Carmelites does for lay people what the Constitutions do for the religious: it takes the values contained in the Carmelite Rule, written between 1206 and 1214, and makes them understandable in our modern world. The Rule for Lay Carmelites takes the values of the Carmelite Rule, written by St. Albert, and re-presents them in a modern way. Let us now look more closely at this Rule for Lay Carmelites, which has the title, Living the Carmelite Way.
The Second Vatican Council made it clear that all Christians were called to holiness, which means to be like God, sharing God’s own life. It is a constant temptation for human beings to try to confine God to their very limited ways of seeing things. When we bring God down to human size, it is an idol we worship. The prophet Elijah teaches us to be faithful to God as God is no matter how surprising and new that may seem to be. We must let God be God, which means that we must avoid all temptation to limit God. Therefore there are many ways to God. In Eucharistic Prayer IV we pray for all those who seek God with a sincere heart. Some of the ways of seeking God are more secure than others. The Carmelite way has been hallowed by tradition and by the lives of countless saints. God calls some people to follow Christ along the Carmelite way while others find the Franciscan way or the Jesuit way more helpful to them. These ways are not mutually exclusive. All Christian spiritualities must say basically the same thing, although in different ways, because they are all focused on the following of Christ, or “living in allegiance to Jesus Christ” as the Carmelite Rule states.
The Rule of St. Albert gives us in a nutshell all the basic ingredients of the Carmelite way. The Rule for the Third Order of Carmel expands these to help lay people live in allegiance to Jesus Christ by living the Carmelite way. The first part of the Third Order Rule lays out the spirituality and the charism of the Order with emphasis on the lay vocation. Carmelites are, of course, members of the Church as the Carmelite charism is a gift raised up by the Holy Spirit within the Church. Therefore they must fully accept the faith of the Church as expressed in the creed and the teaching of the Magesterium, that is, the Pope and bishops. The Carmelite way assumes the Catholic faith and simply chooses to emphasise certain parts of it. Therefore it is important to know and appreciate as much as possible what is our faith. We have noted an increasing problem of people seeking to enter consecrated life who know very little about their faith. I presume the same could be said about people seeking entry into the Lay Carmelites. An integral part of any formation programme for Lay Carmelites will be formation in the basics of the Christian faith.
Article 10 of Living the Carmelite Way, tells us that Lay Carmelites
are called to a task that is proper to them, that is, to illuminate and rightly value all temporal realities in such a way that these things are brought to fulfilment according to Christ’s values. In this way they offer praise to the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier in a world so secularised that it seems to live and act as if God no longer existed.
Your particular challenge is to live the Gospel within this secularised world and so transform it by your lives. The world in which we live faces us all with many challenges. The social structures that supported faith have disappeared in many areas and the option to follow Christ needs courage. The vocation of lay Christians, above all, is to be a leaven at the heart of the secular world. Lay Carmelites live this vocation, inspired by the centuries old Carmelite tradition.
After a suitable period of formation, the Lay Carmelite makes his or her profession and in this way enters the Carmelite Order. Profession is not just a devotional commitment; it is a plan of life and a strengthening of the baptismal promises. The particular Carmelite way of living out our baptism is to “learn to appear before Christ empty-handed, by placing all their love in Christ Jesus, who becomes personally their holiness, their love, their justice and their crown.” (Living the Carmelite Way, 12). You commit yourselves “not to serve false idols, but to attain the freedom of loving God and neighbour” (article 13). Holiness lies in the fulfilment of the double command of Jesus to love God above all things and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus calls for a higher standard when he said, “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Jesus said that he called his disciples “friends.” God begins the dialogue of friendship and we respond by the way we live. The Carmelite ascends Mount Carmel, which is a journey away from self-centredness to God-centeredness. (Living the Carmelite Way, 17). In this way we enter into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity where we experience an intimate relationship with God. However the journey is long. The Living the Carmelite Way points out that “gradually Jesus must become the most important person in the Lay Carmelites’ existence,” so it is a gradual process of taking on the values of Christ (Living the Carmelite Way, 19). We should not think too soon that we have arrived at the summit of Mount Carmel.
Lay Carmelites, where possible, are to take a full part in the liturgical life of the Church, especially sharing in the Eucharist, the source of the spiritual life (Living the Carmelite Way, 37). This echoes Chapter 14 of the Rule of St. Albert, which lays down that the hermits are to leave their cells and move together to the oratory at the centre for the celebration of the Eucharist. Daily community Mass was not a usual prescription in the thirteenth century for hermits. The Eucharist is celebrated symbolically at the centre, in the midst of the cells, because the Eucharist was to be at the heart of Carmelite life. For the Lay Carmelite, the Eucharist must occupy a central place in his or her spirituality, for it is in this sacrament that we encounter Christ who gives his life to be our life, his strength to be our strength. We cannot walk the spiritual path trusting in ourselves. St. Thérèse of Lisieux teaches us that we have no other holiness than Christ himself and that we can put no trust in our own strength. Lay Carmelites extend the celebration of the Eucharist into daily life (Living the Carmelite Way, 25). A very important part of this extension into daily life is the struggle against the tyranny of sin in oneself (Living the Carmelite Way, 27). It is not easy to defeat sin and we must always be careful lest we stumble. Therefore the Sacrament of Reconciliation should be an important part of the Lay Carmelite’s spiritual life.
Carmel of course is marked by prayer, which is the intimate dialogue between God and the human person. A life of prayer is, in itself, apostolic as we are called to pray for the needs of the world but prayer also spurs us on to action to make the message of Christ a reality in our own time and place. The Liturgy of the Hours “represents a reminder during the day of the grace that wells up from the Eucharist and nourishes an authentic encounter with God” (Living the Carmelite Way, 38). It also is a share in the intimate dialogue of Christ with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Rule for Lay Carmelites points out that we must also go into our room and pray to the Father in secret, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel (Matthew 6:6; Living the Carmelite Way, 39). Great importance must be given to the prayerful listening to the Word of God (ibid.).
We are accompanied on our journey of transformation by Our Blessed Lady and are inspired by the example of the Prophet Elijah (Living the Carmelite Way, 34 & 35). The scapular is the beloved symbol in the Carmelite Family of our relationship with Mary, our Mother, Sister and Patroness. Living the Carmelite Way says of the scapular, quoting the letter of the Pope to the Carmelite Family:
Those who wear the scapular are called to be interiorly clothed with Christ and to show in their lives his saving presence for the Church and for humanity. The scapular reminds us of Mary’s protection which is given throughout the course of life, particularly in the moment of passage to the full enjoyment of glory. It also reminds us that Marian devotion, more than a collection of pious practices, is a real habit, that is a permanent orientation of Christian conduct. (Living the Carmelite Way, 40).
Therefore Marian devotion is not something separate from the rest of our lives; it must inform all that we do. By wearing the scapular we take upon ourselves the virtues of Our Blessed Lady. What are these virtues? To find out we must read and meditate on the Word of God, especially the Gospels. There we discover the first disciple of Jesus, the woman who heard the Word of God and who put it into practice. It is difficult to really hear because we have so many prejudices, of which we are not aware, prejudices that filter the Word of God and try to tame it to become palatable so that it may fit into the way we already live, therefore not upsetting our well-ordered lives.
In the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Our Lady breaks out into praise of God for all the wonders accomplished in her. She was a contemplative, able to see as God sees and love as God loves. She accompanies us on our journey of transformation. This journey, the ascent of Mount Carmel, can be long and arduous. It passes through mist and a dark night but we are never alone. We are of course accompanied by our fellow Carmelites, members of the same Family, but we are also accompanied by our saints who have gone before us marked by the sign of faith, and especially Our Blessed Lady, our Patroness, our Mother and our Sister.
The Lay Carmelite, like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is called to be “love in the heart of the Church” (Living the Carmelite Way, 46). Carmel is apostolic and therefore all Carmelites are concerned about the salvation of their neighbour. The work of transformation that God accomplishes within us is not for ourselves alone but contributes in a profound way to the ultimate salvation of the world. Therefore while love obviously has an outward thrust, it also transforms. St. Paul has beautifully described Christian love in his first letter to the Corinthians:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)
The reason that the ascent of Mount Carmel, or the spiritual journey, or the journey of transformation (different names for the same reality) is arduous is that love such as described by St. Paul is not easy for us (cf. 1 Cor. 13). The Carmelite way takes us on a journey where our human and limited ways of seeing, behaving and loving are transformed into divine ways. Our vocation is to become like God in our human way. In this way Lay Carmelites will fulfil the profound mission given them in the Lay Carmelite Rule: “Every Lay Carmelite is like a spark of love thrown into the forest of life: they must be able to enflame anyone who approaches them” (Living the Carmelite Way, 44).
May Our Lady of Mount Carmel and all the saints of Carmel assist every Lay Carmelite to become all that God knows you can be and so fulfil God’s plan for you, for the Order and for our world.

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