In the Service of the Gospel
Prayer, community, and service are the pillars of Carmelite life. The Gospel can be summed up in two invitations of Jesus: ‘Come follow me and ‘Go and preach the Good News.’ Every Christian is called to follow Christ, to stay close to him through prayer, in whatever form it takes, and to bear witness to the power and reality on the Gospel in their lives.
The evangelisation of the world, so intimately part of the mission of the Church, in as a much as it is accomplished primarily through love and prayer, has always been a priority in the apostolic work of the Carmelite Order. For Carmelites prayer is the root and source of our life and charism. It gives meaning to who we are and what we are. We pray, because we need to pray; without it we cannot fulfil our vocation and because we believe in the power of prayer to heal and renew a restless, fragile world. ‘Let us not desire to be occupied in prayer for our own sake’ St Teresa tells us ‘but to have the strength to serve.’ Teresa knew that our inner and outer lives need each other; and that the hands of Martha and the heart of Mary must both work together in the service of God.
During the last century members of the Anglo-Irish Province has established houses in California, Philippines Islands, Australia and Nigeria, all of them now flourishing communities, continuing the work of spreading the Gospel in other lands.
The Rule of Carmel
The Rule of St Albert has a privileged place in the story of Carmel, both as a spiritual document and as a juridical one. It is an inspirational text and expression of a commitment to an ideal. It is about a spirituality that is experienced and a way of life that is lived. Carmelite spirituality as such is impossible to define.
Not only is the precise date of the Rule unclear (c 1207) but there is no one historical person or persons that can be named as founder of the Order. The Rule itself is basic and concise. It has a beauty and simplicity about it that gives it a quality of poetry more than of legislation, humble, almost domestic expression of a family spirit and charism, that captures the inward character focus of our life rather than any outward expression. The Rule of Carmel is the shortest of the great classical rules approved by the Church – shorter than that of Augustine, Benedict or Francis – yet today, eight centuries later, it is still a way of life and a vehicle of religious experience for thousands of women and men all over the world. It is amazing that such a large tree should have so simple a root’.
The Rule of Carmel greatly influenced Teresa of Avila and found concrete expression in her writings and in the spirituality of the many convents founded and shaped by her. As she was dying she said to those around her, with warmth and maternal love: for the love of God, Sisters, take care to observe the Rule and Constitutions. These were not just the words of a dying nun, not even of a dying saint; they were an expression of Teresa’s constant advice and admonition to all her communities, words that still echo down the centuries and are a constant invitation to all every Carmelite to refresh our spirits continually in the spring of Carmel so that, in Teresa’s own words, we can begin always anew.
Queen Beauty of Carmel
By God's grace, Carmelites, bear the name 'Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary' and belong to a religious family dedicated to her love and service. This special bond with our Lady influences our whole way of life; it pervades our communities, nourishes our life of prayer and our ministry.
Devotion to Mary as Mother is a characteristic expression of Carmelite Spiritualty. Mary is also seen as Sister, sharing the journey of faith with us. To both are added the title of Beauty – the name Mount Carmel means: the garden of God – so that Mother and Beauty of Carmel is an honoured title among Carmelites.
Our Lady as portrayed in the Gospels, is thus put before us as the perfect embodiment of the ideal of our Order. Like her, we strive to treasure God’s word in our heart, pondering it in faith and thus, under her guidance, strive to share more fully in the mystery of Christ and his Church.
The Brown Scapular
Among the many devotions to Mary that have developed through the ages, there is one of special significance, namely the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It has been sanctified by seven centuries of Christian tradition, approved by Church, and accepted within the Carmelite Order as an authentic expression of grateful love and filial devotion.
The word “scapular” means an apron or protective cloth worn by monks during manual work.
Traditionally it has been part of the habit of nearly all monastic orders. In course of time a symbolic meaning was attached to it. The scapular came to signify the following of Christ and became a sign of consecration and dedication to Him. Among Carmelites, the scapular – reduced in size – also represented dedication to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and an important sign and expression of association with the Order.
The importance of the brown scapular is that is an acknowledgement of Mary’s spiritual motherhood, the power of her universal intercession, and the constant teaching of the Church that those who honour Mary and model their lives on hers will never lack her assistance in life or in death. It is an acknowledgement of the significant role she plays in the continual unfolding of the saving mystery of Christ. It is a sign, too, of the spiritual bond that unites all who wear the brown scapular in her honour into the one great religious family of Carmel.