Carmel in the World
2015. Volume LIV, Number 2

  • Carmelite Saints – Blessed John Soreth
  • Carmelite Mariology and the Second Vatican Council – Part I
  • The Depth of the Spiritual Life of Juanita Fernández Solar – Saint Teresa of the Andes
  • Mary the Prophet: Mary as an Inspiration in the Work for Justice
  • When we Pray
  • A Profile of Edison Tinambunan from Indonesia
  • Live in the footsteps of Jesus Christ
  • Before whose Face I stand
  • Letter of the Prior General on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
  • Charisms in cyberspace
  • Silence is More
  • The Gift and Challenge of Religious Life (below)
  • Carmel around the World

The Gift and Challenge of Religious Life

Míceál O’Neill, O.Carm., is a member of the Irish Province and is Prior of the Centro Internazional Sant’ Alberto in Rome.

Today we do not need so much to talk about Carmelite life. We have done so much work on Carmelite life in recent years that now we have come to a good place in that regard, but the state of religious life is quite different.
We have come through a time of negativity in relation to religious life. We were beginning to believe in some quarters that the time of religious life as we know it was passing and the Church was beginning to find other forms of consecrated life to replace it. We began to wonder why anyone would be attracted to the kind of life we were trying to live.
Then along comes Pope Francis and everything seems to have changed. We now live in a very positive climate where the virtue and gift of religious life is once more being proclaimed. This is capable of giving us new confidence in ourselves and in the life to which we are committed. Pope Francis has said to us at different times that religious life is a gift to the Church and that it has something that the world needs. When lived as it is intended it is capable of waking up the world and letting people see the beauty of the Gospel.

In following Pope Francis, I would like to make six short statements:
  • Our religious life is centred on Jesus Christ, but not always ….
  • As religious, we are experts in communion, but not always ….
  • Our religious life is prophetic and attractive, but not always ….
  • Our religious life is free from worldliness, but not always ….
  • Our religious life sends us out to the peripheries, but not always ….
  • We are contemplatives, but not always ….
The challenge is the ‘not always’: what happens our life when it is not centred in Christ, when we are far from being experts in communion, when our life is not prophetic or attractive, when we are immersed in worldliness, when we are slow to go out to share the Good News. Does this describe some of the malaise of the present moment? If so, can we turn it around? What Pope Francis has said can help us enormously.

1.    Our life is centred in Jesus Christ
If we want our lives to be centred in Christ we have to find him in the Gospels and make this our rule of life. Those who find Christ in this way can be recognised by the joy they have in their lives, even in the midst of difficulty. With Christ, we will find ourselves driven towards the peripheries with a word of tenderness and mercy. The periphery is that place where we are not in control, and we are willing to be challenged by the demands the situation makes on us. It is the place where we meet the cry, the cry that Jesus heard and to which he responded. This is the best place from which to examine and interpret what is going on. As religious we should try to remain on the margins and not seek to be in the centres of power, except when we have something to say to those who are there. In everything we are to use discernment.

2.    Experts in Communion
It is difficult for us to identify with this title until we realise that religious have become experts in communion by reason of their charisms and their tradition. They have a knowledge of communion that has been handed down from generation to generation. When religious use this knowledge they give a positive witness to a world torn by conflict. They create a culture of living peacefully together. They go to places where there is conflict and use their expertise to bring peace. They have in their lives the mysticism of encounter, where there is no isolation, every person is valued, and people work together to achieve the common good. They celebrate the Eucharist and from it learn a Eucharistic tenderness which forms the way in which they relate to one another. The Blessed Trinity provides the ultimate model of communion.

3.    Prophetic and Attractive
Religious are prophets when their way of life allows people to see how Jesus lived on this earth: the places he went, the things he did, the choices he made, the things he stood for. Prophets have a deep knowledge of God and of humanity, because of the way they pray and are attentive to what is happening around them. Prophets are free because they have no other interest than the will of God. They are not looking for praise and recognition. They are habitually on the side of the poor, close to the poor, learning from them, helping to defend their dignity. When people see that religious live in this way they are attracted by what is beautiful and authentic. Would a person who was attracted by anything else be suitable for religious life?

4.    Free from Worldliness
In talking to the Prior General (Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm.) during the last General Chapter, Pope Francis reminded Fr Fernando of the pillars of our life: prayer, fraternity and a rejection of worldliness. Worldliness is an understanding of life that takes over the space that belongs to God. It is deceitful and insidious in doing that, disguising itself as so much that is regarded as respectable and socially desirable. With the word worldliness, the Pope associates the words, gossip, careerism, self-absorption (the need always to refer to oneself in the first place), and clericalism (the habit of looking at reality from a distance).

As a way of understanding what he means by worldliness there is a clear indication in what he said about the tiredness of priests in his homily at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday 2015. He spoke of three kinds of tiredness: tiredness of the people, tiredness of the enemy, tiredness of myself….. the first is good. It’s the tiredness a priest feels at the end of a long day in ministry. The second is difficult. It is that daily struggle that helps us to overcome our sinfulness. God’s help is always there. The third needs care and attention. When a priest is tired after a hard day, where does he go for rest? To prayer, to the Blessed Sacrament, to St Joseph, or to more refined consolations, not those of the poor, but of the consumer society? Applied to the life of a religious, the same question arises; will rest be found in prayer or in escape to a world that is not ours? The Pope once used the image of the priest, with dark glasses and a fast car, slipping out the back door and getting away from it all.

5.    The Church is alive when it is moving outwards
A Church that is worldly and turned in on itself cannot share the Gospel. In order to stay alive the Church must go out, bearing the good news that it has been given for others, for everyone in the world, without distinction. It must always be on the move outwards, it cannot stay at home and worry about itself. It is the same for religious men and women. Religious life can never be a refuge for people who want to get away from the challenges of living and working with people in a world that poses many questions.

6.    Live contemplatively
It is in this context that Pope Francis speaks about contemplation and about living contemplatively. It means that we are to be attentive to what is going on. We are to look closely at what is happening and ask what it means: In what way is God acting in what we see? It is the same kind of approach and wisdom that we use when we engage in lectio divina. The text is our life, which we ponder closely and ask questions about what God wants to communicate to us. When we begin to discern the answer, there is a moment when we have to accept what we see. This moment of acceptance is the moment when God’s way becomes our way and we adjust our thoughts and our lifestyle accordingly.

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