What is a “Carmelite?”
Is it a sugarless candy? Is it a weight-loss program? Is it even a new type of light bulb? So the Carmelite saints don’t roll over in their graves…let us state the plain truth here and now…IT IS A WAY OF LIFE! We draw our inspiration from OUR LADY OF MT. CARMEL AND THE PROPHET ELIJAH, who both guide us towards Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Assuming that each and every one of us is hoping to spend eternity in heaven, we would look for ways to achieve that goal, given our different personalities, temperaments, skills and talents, cultural differences, and even culinary preferences! When Pope Saint John Paul II reminded us of our universal call to holiness, he urged us to respond to that “call” – a vocation for each individual…an invitation by Our Lord Himself – to a relationship with Him, uniquely deep and personal, lifting our souls into a union indescribable in human and worldly terms!
One of the many pathways to respond to this call is to belong to the THIRD ORDER OF CARMELITES. Whereas the First Order are the Carmelite priests and friars, the Second Order are the cloistered Carmelite nuns, the Third Order are the lay men and women who freely choose to live the Carmelite spirituality. They can be single, or married with families, and may be holding regular jobs. Whoever said that only priests and religious can be saints should beg forgiveness quickly from their saintly grandparents, parents, and that pious aunt who has been the prayer warrior for their entire clan!
Our beloved pastor - Fr. Douglas Lorig (entered eternal life on Feb. 28, 2019) started a Lay Carmelite community at St. Anne c.1993-1994, the LAY CARMEL OF ST. THERESE OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST. Father Doug would teach his flock weekly on the virtues and struggles of the Carmelite saints, amongst other things. He discipled us – imparting the merits, wisdom, and beauty of embracing the Carmelite way of life.
Our CHARISMS are three-fold:
- PRAYER From the most mundane daily routine chores done in love –as the “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux suggests, to the teachings of spiritual giants Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross…we sit in the classrooms of these and many Carmelite saints, attempting to climb the heights of meditation and contemplative prayer, hoping to have a taste of the Lord’s presence in the depths of our soul. Part of our solemn promises is to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (at least the Morning, Evening, and Night Prayers); Lectio Divina, and daily Mass if possible.
- COMMUNITY Although we do not live in one house, convent or monastery, we live in local “communities” with a set of officers, under the umbrella of regional, provincial, national and international FAMILY OF CARMEL. This large network of support is our lived experience of being brothers and sisters in Carmel, praying for each other and the world, and serving God’s people. Indeed the earliest Carmelites (c. 1200) were hermits, men who lived in solitude on Mt. Carmel in the deserts of Israel. Today, Carmelites are present throughout the world in towns and cities, large and small… “LIVING IN THE WORLD, BUT NOT OF THE WORLD.”
- SERVICE Carmelites serve wherever there is a need…preach and teach in schools, universities, work in different parish ministries and apostolates, prisons, hospitals, retreat centers, missionary work throughout the world (like our Carmelite Sisters at St. Anne). After all, St. Therese the Little Flower, who died at age 24 and never left the cloister, is co-Patroness of the Missions! God does “write straight with crooked lines!”
Carmelites are more popularly known by the brown habits worn by the Priests and Religious, and the large BROWN SCAPULAR that Lay Carmelites wear. Our Lady herself gave this – her GARMENT– to all of us, her children, through St. Simon Stock. It is a sign of our commitment and faithfulness to the Gospels, and belonging within the folds of our Heavenly Mother’s loving embrace! Interestingly, becoming a Carmelite means becoming attached to the ORDER OF THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF OUR LADY OF MT. CARMEL. Our Lady is both our Mother and our Sister!
It’s true… Carmelites do not point to one “founder” of the Order. Our history began with a group of men who dedicated their lives to OUR LADY OF MT. CARMEL, living together in poverty and detachment, celebrating Eucharist daily, and meditating day and night on the word of the Lord. In the O.T., the prophet ELIJAH (the Spiritual Father of Carmelites) models the proper way to encounter the Lord – through silence and prayer in the wilderness of the desert. Today, our wilderness is in the culture and the noise of the world.
Also known as “ACTIVE CONTEMPLATIVES,” the Carmelites are a leaven that counteracts the negatives of the fallen world with the lively springs of prayer, love of neighbor and love of ABBA FATHER! Indeed, to understand our existence, one only needs to examine the NINE THEMES OF CARMELITE SPIRITUALITY – the CHARACTERISTICS THAT DEFINE CARMEL:
CHRISTOCENTRIC, EUCHARISTIC, SCRIPTURAL, MAGISTERIAL (harmonious with the Teaching Office of
the Pope and Bishops), THEOLOGICAL (in the classic Catholic Tradition), MARIAN (in the context of
our Christological focus), ELIJAN (ELIJAH - a contemplative fearless prophet, filled with restless energy for
God), COMMUNITARIAN (not individualistic), and ROOTED IN THE LAITY (not Clerical or Monastic).
The resources dealing with these topics are plentiful…one search of the word CARMEL will open wide the wealth of information at one’s fingertips. For example, it is no secret that our beloved Pope Saint John Paull II had a Carmelite spirituality – he planned to become a Carmelite priest before his Bishop advised him to choose the diocesan route. His doctoral thesis was on John of the Cross. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen made his profession as a member of the Third Order of Carmel at age 53 while a Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Catholic University of America.
How about the brilliant scholar and philosopher Edith Stein (A Jewish convert to Catholicism, now known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). Part of Formation in the Order is studying the history of Carmel and the life, works and teachings of many Carmelite saints.
You and I are ordinary individuals, not aspiring to be famous or great leaders…but CARMEL can bring us a sense of purpose, an order and structure that have been proven FOOLPROOF by centuries of its existence; it offers the possibility of a DEEP AND INTENSE SPIRITUAL LIFE. We can decide to cease being the stagnant pew-warmers, and instead GROW spiritually from where we were last year, last month, last week, or yesterday! We can decide to move an “inch” towards the Lord, and He will readily give us a “yard!” If you will consider asking the question – IS GOD CALLING ME TO CARMEL – then we invite you to explore further, what do you have to lose? If you’re still reading this…there is no time to waste, is there?
Finally (you can give a sigh of relief now), as a vocation that I have lived since making my Permanent Profession a little over 18 years ago, I will wholeheartedly admit that in Carmel, there is much fulfillment in the intellectual, spiritual, mystical, practical, emotional, psychological, and all other aspects of my life! No amount of sugar or honey can come close to the sweetness of the Lord that I have tasted so far. Practicing the tenets of the Carmelite Rule keeps me afloat in the river of God’s mercy, having shed much of the weight of my sinfulness (thanks to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist). The endless wonders of God illumine my heart, mind, and soul at
each revelation – thus providing the lamp unto my feet – as I tread the guided path up the MOUNTAIN OF CARMEL…GOD’S “GARDEN!”
For more information, contact Aurora Sarmiento (Director, Lay Carmel of St. Therese of the Holy Eucharist)
Wait…did we just answer the opening questions at the top?
The ANSWER IS……Y-E-S …… to all 3 questions! (Check the last paragraph).
We continue to meet monthly on the 2nd Saturday of the month (virtually since the onset of the health crisis). If you are drawn to a life that marries CONTEMPLATION AND ACTION, contact us NOW! Formation groups start soon!
Check these websites for more info:
http://www.carmelites.ie/saintsindex.html (Partial list of Carmelite Saints and Blesseds)