A Discalced Carmelite is a monk who has the great privilege to follow our Friend – Jesus – in His prayer.
Religious life is following Christ. It is based on the evangelical counsels. Through public vows of chastity, poverty and obedience the Discalced Carmelites want to follow Christ more precisely. Through religious profession they become similar to Jesus inwardly in such a way that their whole life is offered God in a burnt offering. Religious life in teresian Carmel is a life led in obedience to Christ with a pure heart and good conscience.
The Discalced Carmelites are especially called and obliged to follow Christ giving Himself to contemplation in the desert. Choosing consciously this aspect of our Lord’s life – contemplation in the desert, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they want to become similar to Christ through this primacy.
Following the teachings of St. Teresa of Jesus, contemplation is a deep relationship of friendship in which we talk to God one-to-one convinced that He loves us. For St. John of the Cross contemplation is the ability to love or God’s knowledge of love poured into us. Contemplation defined in this way is the basic ideal and goal of Carmel.
It is also a means to reach communion with God – communion with a Friend. Apart from being called to the communion with God the Discalced Carmelites are called to remain in communion with Mary who is our Mother and Sister. The relationship with Mary gives the fullness of life to the charism of the Carmelite vocation and testifies to it. Carmel, which for centuries has been called ‘totally Marian,’ enlivens all that it undertakes with a Marian spirit. On the other hand, the sisterly dimension of Carmelite spirituality is manifested in remaining in intimate friendship with Mary.
Like Mary, the Discalced Carmelites are to give themselves to the contemplation of the word of God and like her they are to penetrate Christ’s mystery. St. Joseph, the bridegroom of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is to the friars a special example of devotion to God. He is a model of contemplation, as he himself experienced pure contemplative love of God’s Truth.
Talking about contemplation and its important role in the Carmelite charism we cannot omit its sources. One of them is the Word of God. The Bible, which we read and which is a source of reflection to us, is first of all a book to meditation prayer, leading to contemplation. The Scriptures contain an extraordinary treasury of prayers. The Bible is a book of worship and contemplation. Through the love of Scripture the Discalced Carmelites learn the will of God and the Word of God directed to each of them. The Word becomes the source of rational and contemplative cognition, which through the word introduces into the personal communion with God. The prophet Elijah is a figure particularly close to Carmel. He stood continuously before God and is a model of the contemplation of the Word.
The contemplative ideal of Carmel demands silence and solitude – both outer and inner. Carmel is totally focused on prayer and the contemplation of the things of God, and consolidation in solitude and silence helps to achieve it.
Another dimension of the charism of the Discalced Carmelites is the community dimension. The fraternity formed by the Discalced Carmelites is the place of Christ’s presence. In this place all the monks are gathered in the name of the Lord in contemplation. The Discalced Carmelites live their religious consecration in the fraternity, too – experienced in the spirit of brotherly love, consecration is obeying God’s will together. The vow of chastity taken by the religious is an expression of unreserved devotion to the service of Jesus, it is a desire to love Jesus and serve Him. Poverty lived in a Carmelite community is an expression of spiritual unity which characterizes and unites the friars. It is poverty lived in imitation of Christ. What is important for a Discalced Carmelite is spiritual poverty which is stripping the spirit so that his heart is free to follow the things of God. In teresian Carmel obedience is expressed in submission to God’s will which is an expression of Christian perfection.
The Carmelite vocation implies taking a community lifestyle. It covers such realities as celebrating the Eucharist together, celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours, recreation, looking after ill and weak brothers, engaging in dialogue during chapters and meetings, having meals and relaxing together, apostolic work.
The Eucharist, which was given to the Church by Christ, is not merely one of the gifts, but is the biggest gift, since Christ offered Himself in sacrifice. Without a doubt, celebrating the Eucharist is the most fundamental moment of the day in a teresian community. In addition to the Eucharist, celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours together contributes to enlivening the teresian community. It must also be emphasized that giving himself to personal prayer a Discalced Carmelite is never isolated from other friars. His prayer always remains in relation to the community of which he is a member.
Solitude and silence which are very important dimensions in the life of a Discalced Carmelite enable him to engage in dialogue with a confrere, open him to meeting him. Another important element of a community life in teresian Carmel is recreation which serves as momentary relaxation and helps the friars to get to know each other. It is also the time of strengthening fraternal ties. Another element is work understood as an expression of service to Christ. In teresian Carmel work is undertaken in the spirit of prayer and does not remain on the level of verbal assurance and personal desires only but is carried out very specifically and decisively.
The Order of the Discalced Carmelites is also a community of friars preaching the Good News. The Discalced Carmelites undertake apostolic work that arises from the fraternal communion of life. Service to the Church is the service undertaken out of love for Jesus. Through planning and discerning together the Discalced Carmelites try to realize apostolic tasks according to the needs of the Church. It is also important for the works done by the Carmelites to be imbued with the real Carmelite spirit, i.e. the apostolate of the spiritual life.
An apostolate is born of and arises from contemplation. It is the fruit of remaining in communion with God and brothers. Promoting and nurturing spiritual life is a special task that was entrusted to teresian Carmel by the Church. However, it is important to stress the fact that the Discalced Carmelites are first of all called to take on a very unique form of involvement – the apostolate through prayer alone.
At the forefront of the pastoral work undertaken there is the apostolate connected with hearing confessions and spiritual direction. It involves ministry to lay people as well as to Discalced Carmelite sisters and the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. This form of apostolate is especially realized in the houses of prayer which provide people from the outside with an opportunity to take part in recollection days, to calm down and enter the silence of a few days’ retreat.
An important element of the apostolate of the Discalced Carmelites is spreading Marian devotion which is reflected in promoting among the faithful the scapular devotion. Apart from this form of apostolate, the Discalced Carmelites’ pastoral action includes also leading parishes and publishing work which is, so to speak, the continuation of the pastoral work connected with promoting the knowledge of the legacy of Carmel’s saints among the faithful.
The apostolic dimension of the teresian charism includes also missionary activity, which is the beloved commitment of the Order. As consecrated persons the Discalced Carmelites become involved in ecumenical dialogue, answering fully to Christ’s call ‘that all of them may be one’ and thereby undertaking to care for the unity of all Christians.
That is the charism of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. The charism is rich in content and still appeals to a lot of people who decide to start living according to it. At the end let us listen to the foundress of the Order of Discalced Carmelites St. Teresa of Jesus, ’remember (…) how much grace the Lord has given us calling us to this Order.’