Carmelite Spirituality – Fraternity II
Patrick Burke, O.Carm. Carmelite Family: Number 12, Winter 2002
Fraternal life modelled on the Jerusalem community is an incarnation of God’s gratuitous love, internalised through an ongoing process by which we empty ourselves of all egocentricity - which can affect groups as much as individuals - as we move towards authentic centring in God. In this way we express the charismatic and prophetic nature of the consecrated Carmelite life, weaving harmoniously into it the personal charisms of each member, in the service of the Church and of the world.
The previous article – Constitutions 29 – states that the source and model of the fraternal life of Carmelites is the life of the Holy Trinity. The ideal for Carmelites is the knowledge and love that exists between the persons of the Trinity. Once this ideal is clear, Constitutions 30 identifies the principles of fraternal life and explains how Carmelite life can reach its ideal. The first section of the article ends with a statement of the purpose of this way of life.
Fraternal life is an incarnation of God’s gratuitous love. The love of God is active in bringing the members of the community together and their living together is an incarnation of that love. People from outside and inside the community who see the love that the members have for one another can take it that this is what God’s love is like. This is one of the ways that God has chosen to make the love of God known.
It is how it was with the early Christian community in Jerusalem. People who saw how this community lived were attracted to their belief and way of life. The way of life, as the Acts of the Apostles tell us, had five clear properties: the members prayed together, they listened to the teaching of the apostles, they broke bread, they shared their goods and they spoke of their belief in the Lord’s resurrection. We find in the Carmelite Rule these same five elements joined together at the heart of the Rule.
The Constitutions recognise that the building of this kind of community takes time and effort. It is a process of change and growth in the members. Gradually the members learn to recognise, accept and internalise the love of God, which is love without bounds, freely and generously given. The process is not an easy one. It calls for the emptying of ourselves. The members have to recognise the strength of self-centredness and move away from that in their openness to God’s law and in their commitment to the wellbeing and salvation of others.
The centre of desire and attention of each Carmelite in this process of growth into Christian maturity, moves from oneself to God. John of the Cross spoke of a loving attentiveness to God. In the development of a spiritual life people find that their whole life is taken up with God. They find themselves more devoted to the search for His will. The experience is one of intimacy with God and a willingness to serve Him with every human faculty.
Consecrated life is a life of total dedication to God, a life that belongs to God, a life that knows no other master. That too is an ideal. While we may fall short of the ideal, we know that God is at work in bringing us to consecration and our consecration cannot be mixed with any motivations other than a loving attentiveness to God’s presence and will. This presence and will are revealed in the life of the Church, in the Scriptures, in what is going on in peoples’ lives, especially in the life of the poor.
In a healthy community there is a harmonious weaving of the personal charisms of the members. For community to be possible, the members have to pay great attention to one another. The life of the community is an integration of the lives of its members. The giftedness of the community is a combination of the giftedness of each of the members, who enrich one another and are capable of bringing out the best in one another. Any failure to recognise and welcome the giftedness of each member will result in a serious impoverishment of the community. It will take away from its effectiveness to witness to the Gospel, it will adversely affect the health of each member and the health of the community itself and will make its apostolic commitment less effective.
The last point in this section of Constitutions 30 is that the purpose of Carmelite community is to be of service to the Church and to the world. While it is also possible to say that the purpose of Carmelite community is the sanctification of the members, here the Constitutions indicate that it is first of all a service to the Church. We believe that in this service the members grow in holiness and are sanctified, but it is important to understand that the community is not an end in itself. The reason why people gather together in community is to help the evangelisation of the Church and of the world through their life of fraternity.