A Charism of Many Colors
It took me about a year of my discernment to realize that not only do religious communities receive a charism, that is, a unique spirit or mission in the Church from the Holy Spirit, but individuals also receive a personal charism and vocation. As that understanding began to crystallize in me, I began to see that despite the almost overwhelming diversity in the religious communities of the Church, most of the communities seem to share common aspects: the vows they take as religious, the community life they share, their liturgical prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and conventual Mass, their commitment to service in a way that fits their spirituality, and most important the conformance of their lives to the Gospel.
As I got better at exploring religious communties as a discerner, I saw that the differences in each community seemed to flow most visibly from the way they approached the Gospel. Monastic and cloistered communities, for instance, seemed to identify with the hidden life of Jesus as he worked and prayed in obscurity before the beginning of his ministry. Other, more-active communities seemed to pattern their life and mission around a particular aspect of of Christ’s life and mission, focusing on His preaching, for instance, or His healing, His redeeming mission, or His compassion for the poor or oppressed.
As I continued to walk with many of these communities and meditate on their charism, I began to discern aspects of my own personal charism that seemed to resonate with them. After a long process, I found that the Carmelites’ unique pattern of emphasis on prayer, contemplation, community, self-examination, self-emptying, and service most closely harmonized with the tone and pitch of my own charism.
Nevertheless, I wanted to take some time to pause and reflect on those striking notes in the symphony of the Church’s religious life that have stayed with me and continue to define my personal melody within the larger music of the Carmelite tradition. These quotes were taken from the Constitutions of the communities that have made a lasting impression on me and that I will, no doubt, carry with me into the Carmelites.
We believe that God’s love for us is merciful and unfailing. We have not earned his love. We are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing without God. We are attracted to evil. We are sinners. Yet, God continues to draw us to himself.
We believe that in his love the Father calls us to conversion: to personal resurrection in union with Jesus, to a new life filled with the power of his Spirit. With Jesus, we die to ourselves when we surrender our lives to the Father, renouncing anything that separates us from him. The power of the Spirit forms Christ in us, and moves us to respond with love to the Father’s great love for us. Congregation of the Resurrection (CR)We, the Mercedarians, dedicate ourselves to God, source of all holiness, in order to obtain our own sanctification through the profession of the evangelical counsels. Faithful to the ideals of our founder and, “with integrity of faith, love of God and neighbor, devotion to the Cross and with hope of future glory”, we dedicate ourselves to visit and redeem, by means of suitable works of mercy, Christians who are victims of new forms of captivity, in which they find themselves exposed to the abandonment of the practices of the Christian life and to the loss of their faith. In order to attain this end, we are prepared to surrender our lives, should it be necessary, in imitation of the Redeemer. Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (O de M), para 4
In order to serve the Lord and their brothers and sisters, the Servants have dedicated themselves from their origins to the Mother of God, the Blessed One of the Most High.
The have turned to her on their pilgrimage to Christ and in their task of proclaiming him to the world. From the fiat of the lowly Servant of the Lord, they have learned to receive the word of God and to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit. From the participation of the mother in the redemptive mission of her Son, the Suffering Servant of the Lord, they have learned to understand and alleviate human suffering.
Since our ideal is to reach the perfect stature of Christ, we shall have only relationships of peace, mercy, justice and constructive love towards creatures. In our commitment of service, the figure of Mary at the foot of the cross shall be our model. Since the Son of Man is still being crucified in his brothers and sisters, we Servants of Mother, wish to be with her at the foot of those countless crosses in order to bring comfort and redemptive cooperation. Order of the Friar Servants of Mary (OSM), paras 318-9)