Carmelite Chair Inauguration Mass Homily and Installation Speech at CUA

November 29, 2019 |

The Endowed Carmelite Chair and Center for Carmelite Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, was inaugurated on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. Below are the homily given at the inaugural Mass by the Very Rev. William J. Harry, O. Carm., Prior Provincial of the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, and the Chair Installation speech offered by Fr. Steven Payne, OCD.

Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of the Carmelite Chair and Carmelite Center

I think it is very appropriate that we celebrate the inauguration of the Carmelite Chair and the Center for Carmelite Studies on the Feast of the great Teresa of Avila. I would like to think she would be very pleased that such an initiative has been made: to insure the study of Carmelite spirituality on a large university campus.

While there are many things that will be said about Teresa of Jesus as she is celebrated around the world— well beyond the Carmelite world— I think I would like to highlight her desire to ground her work/her ideas on the spiritual life. In the Book of Her Life (Chapter 13) she writes “My opinion has always been and will be that every Christian strive to speak if possible with someone who has gone through studies; and the more learned the person the better. Those who walk the path of prayer have a greater need for this counsel; the more spiritual they are, the greater their need.” We owe it to the people to become well educated in our tradition and to set up the possibility for the tradition to be studied and adapted as a serious endeavor— as Teresa also says “May God deliver us from foolish devotions.”

It seems to me that much of her gift to Carmel and to the Church and to the World is that she was forever trying to get back to the “authenticy” of the Carmelite vocation in her day. What she left us with was a treasure trove of works that continue to guide us today in deepening our own response to God’s call to live the Carmelite vocation authentically. But it goes beyond the Carmelites— it is how anyone can seek out that inner silence, that inner empty space and allow it to be filled with God.

We have had many hours of discussions and meetings about what the Carmelite chair and Center for Carmelite Studies should look like and be. I remember at one point, we were addressing some sticky issue and whether or not we could do this or that. And Fr. Morozowich finally said “Good Lord. I just want this to happen!!” (It was more of a plead than a wish.) Well it is finally happening!!!!

But today is not just about the Carmelites or our Province—it is a celebration of Catholic University as well as the Church because our Carmelite tradition will now be more accessible. Serious study and reflection on of our tradition in relation to other areas of theology a will help illuminate effective and, at times, necessary responses to the challenges today’s believers and perhaps non-believers as well face.

For centuries Carmelites have been present in the University setting. Our history in the University setting is venerable and distinguished. By establishing this Carmelite Chair and Carmelite Center, our province will be continuing that tradition here at Catholic University.

One of the Province’s concerns was that this Center for Carmelite Studies not be an isolated box where only Carmelite history or spirituality would be discussed. We want this to be a place of dialogue between the Carmelite charism, spirituality, and history, with the other areas of theology and indeed with the rest of the academic world: philosophy, science, the arts, medicine. We are expecting that when this dialogue happens here on the academic level, informed action will follow. As President Garvey has said “At CUA we begin with the premise that we do well always and everywhere to serve God, and that all human knowledge works toward this end. We approach our work through the lens of faith.” Our Carmelite Chair and Carmelite Center will engage this study with a Carmelite filter on that lens.

We are not interested in a dry rehashing of what is but giving people the tools to create what should be. I think this would serve Teresa’s memory the best. She was a woman who never stopped conceptualizing what could be but going after it to made it a reality. She drove some crazy. Some tried to bring her down. But she held firm and gave when it was best to do so. I especially like the stories of her interactions with the Betica Province in Andalusia, Spain. I reminded the Betica Provincial of this when we were together at the General Chapter in September. She maintained a very close relationship to the Carmelite General Rossi (or Rubeo) who encouraged her new ideas for Carmel in Spain. Although he must have had some doubts from time to time about what he had unleashed.

Doubts are all part of the process. There are some who may doubt— well there are probably a few— that anything will become of this Center. But as we learn from Teresa, persistence (and openness to the grace of God) can overcome the doubts or shortcomings. I suspect any doubters here will learn that as well. As an ever wider circle of people are emboldened with a knowledge of Carmelite spirituality, this “gift to the Church,” and they begin teaching and writing about Carmel, and its intertwining with their work, their study, and their lives, I believe a real transformation can take place. A transformation in how the world understands itself, how these men and women who have studied here understand themselves, and how we professed Carmelites, members of the Carmelite Family see ourselves.

It is a bold new adventure. The first here at Catholic University of America. Certainly a first of our Province and the Order. There are still things to be worked out. But with the great Carmelite Teresa of Jesus, we believe the time is now and this is the place. We look forward to many, many years of working together on this great project.

William J. Harry, O. Carm. Prior Provincial

CUA Carmelite Chair Installation Speech

President Garvey; Provost Dominguez; Deans of the Schools (especially my own Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies, Fr. Mark Morozowich); other members of the Catholic University administration; Fr. Fernando Millán, outgoing Prior General of the Carmelite Order; Fr. Bill Harry, Provincial of the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary and your friars who are here; members of the Advisory Board for the new Center; my own Provincial, Fr. Jude Peters, and all those who belong to the extended Carmelite family; faculty, staff, and students of the Catholic University of America; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen….

I want to join my voice to all who have welcomed you here this afternoon for this official dedication of the new Center for Carmelite Studies, which I believe has so much to offer not only to Catholic University and the academic world but also to the broader church and society. And I want to say how honored, grateful, and, frankly, daunted I am, as the new chair, to be entrusted with the great task of helping the Carmelites and Catholic University bring this Center to birth.

Lately, whenever I speak to people about the new Center, I typically get one or more of the following questions: 1) What is “Carmelite Studies,” exactly?; 2) What will the Center do?; and 3) How soon will you start?

Regarding the first question, my temptation is to retreat to a paraphrase of Justice Potter Stewart, and simply reply that “I may not know how to define Carmelite Studies, but I know it when I see it.” In fact, one of the most pressing tasks for our Center’s Advisory Board is to develop clear descriptions and guidelines, including vision and mission statements, that we can use in our planning and promotions.

Interestingly, though I haven’t thoroughly researched the topic, I suspect that if you had asked Carmelites a century ago about the meaning of this phrase “Carmelite Studies,” you would have been met with a blank stare, nor would you have found that terminology used in any academic or popular writings. Even the narrower notion of “Carmelite spirituality,” as something distinct from other spiritualities, was only just beginning to emerge. Actually, the Dutch Carmelite scholar Blessed Titus Brandsma, whom Fr. Fernando spoke about earlier today, was one of the first to attempt a kind of modern synthetic overview when he wrote the article on the Carmelite spirituality of the Ancient Observance for the famous multivolume Dictionnaire de spiritualité back in the 1930s.

To be sure, there were important and influential collections of documents on the history and heritage of the Carmelites even back in the Middle Ages, just as there were for other orders and congregations. To be sure, Carmel has a long history of important scholarship and major scholars, from the great medieval scholastic philosophers and theologians like John Baconthorpe, through our martyred 20th century scholars Titus Brandsma and Edith Stein, down to Christian Ceroke, Romaeus O’Brien, Ernest Larkin, Kieran Kavanaugh, Eamon Carroll, and Roland Murphy, all of whom once taught here as faculty of Catholic University. We have even produced three doctors of the church, including one who has been called “the greatest saint of modern times”! And though Carmelites no longer claim a literal founding by the prophet Elijah, which would have made us the oldest religious order in the church by far, we can certainly claim an enormously rich 800-year intellectual, cultural, and spiritual legacy.

Still, as far as I can tell (and I stand to be corrected), the idea of recognizing a particular religious order’s broad heritage as constituting its own field of interdisciplinary academic and pastoral study is of relatively recent origin. Here in the United States, one thinks of the Franciscan Institute, founded around 1940 at St. Bonaventure’s College in upstate New York; or the Institute of Cistercian Studies founded in 1973 (which has become the Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies of the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo); or the new Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies inaugurated at Boston College in 2014. Thus, today there are a number of similar cases of study and research centers organized around a particular religious charism.

Within the Carmelite family as well, this interest in a deeper understanding and scholarly study of our own particular heritage has been growing over the last several decades. On the side of the Ancient Observance, for instance, there is the Institutum Carmelitanum, established in 1951 by the Carmelite Prior General Kilian Lynch to promote studies in Carmelite history, Mariology, and spirituality; there is the Titus Brandsma Instituut in The Netherlands, jointly founded by the Dutch Carmelite Province and the University of Nijmegen (now Radboud University); and, there are numerous other examples, not forgetting the wonderful Carmelitana Collection at nearby Whitefriars Hall, one of the best library resources for Carmelite research in the world. On the Discalced side there is the scholarly work in the Carmelite tradition associated with the Pontifical Faculty “Teresianum” in Rome and the Centro Internacional Teresiano-Sanjuanista in Avila, as well as my own province’s “Institute of Carmelite Studies” which, among other things, has provided affordable and reliable editions of many Carmelite classics in contemporary American English. In addition, and particularly important as a model for future teamwork, there are the collaborative efforts among the different branches of the Carmelite family, both female and male, including the Carmelite Forum which, for many years, organized major summer seminars in the Carmelite tradition at Saint Mary’s College in South Bend; the Carmelite Institute of Britain and Ireland, which has provided online courses accredited through St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth; and the Carmelite Institute of North America, which offers a variety of scholarly resources.

But the idea for this new Center at Catholic University seems to be most closely linked with earlier developments at the Washington Theological Union in Takoma Park. For many years, under the guidance of Fr. Jack Welch and the Carmelites, WTU was offering a graduate certificate in Carmelite Studies that attracted students from around the world and was also available in a distance-learning mode, and there were hopes that other Carmelite programs could be added in the future. When the Union finally closed operations in 2015, however, the Carmelite Studies certificate was orphaned. Some of its courses migrated for a time to Catholic University, but were not really able to be sustained without a particular academic program or center anchoring them, as will now be possible. And so the Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary was looking for the best way forward to insure the future of Carmelite Studies in the United States.

What all of these initiatives have in common, I would suggest, is the burning conviction that the patrimony (and “matri-mony”!) of the great religious families in general, and Carmel in particular, offer a vast treasury of profound knowledge, varied cultural expressions, and practical wisdom that is in danger of being lost because of the declining numbers of those professionally trained to explore them. Borrowing an image from John of the Cross, we might compare the Carmelite tradition to “an abundant mine with many recesses of treasures, so that however deep individuals may go they never reach the end or bottom, but rather in every recess find new veins with new riches everywhere” (Canticle 37.4). Borrowing a page from the Commission on the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition (CFIT), we can say that Carmel has its own vital “’word’ speak to people today,” one that arises out of its fundamental commitment to prayer and contemplation and “responds to deeply-felt needs in our Church and our world.”

So, turning to the second question, what will the Center for Carmelite Studies be doing to realize these goals and share these riches? Put simply, we will be promoting academic studies and research in the Carmelite tradition, which encompasses far more than its spirituality, as valuable as that may be. Though not all the details are worked out, we expect to provide various courses on a range of Carmelite topics. We will look into reviving the Certificate in Carmelite Studies, for example, and the possibility of making it available online. We will offer academic guidance and scholarship funding for doctoral students who wish to write dissertations in the field of Carmelite studies. We will organize public lectures, seminars, and workshops, as well as interdisciplinary conferences on topics of shared interest with other academic centers, both within and beyond Catholic University. We will support the publication of scholarly monographs, articles, and reviews. There will be opportunities to collaborate with those in the fields of church history, systematic and historical theology, biblical and pastoral studies, missiology, moral theology, Catholic social teaching and outreach, religion and culture, ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue, and so many other areas in which Carmel has an important contribution to make. We will also see whether it is feasible, for example, to mount more practically-oriented summer programs for those who work in Carmelite schools and parishes and need to know more about this tradition. And we will “network” with the many different centers and initiatives in the field of Carmelite studies around the world, so that we can collaborate rather than duplicate or compete with what they are doing. My hope is that this initiative will become known as an outstanding and truly global “center” for relevant contemporary study and research in the Carmelite tradition, which is such a vital resource for meeting the challenges of our time. And we can all be grateful that it is finding its home here in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the heart of The Catholic University of America, which trains lay and ordained leadership for every level of the church and society today and continues to be engaged in the great theological and social conversations of our times.

And so we come at last to the third question: “How soon will you start?” As many of you know and as I am gradually learning, there are certainly numerous university policies and procedures to be followed step-by-step, and CUA has rarely been accused of rushing into things. But already the Center has begun setting up an office, recruiting an administrative assistant, and lining up speakers. Already we have arranged to offer a Carmelite course next semester, with many more to follow. Already the Advisory Board is working on a plan for graduate scholarships in Carmelite Studies. I am hoping that, before Christmas, we will have a fully functioning website and various materials available, presenting the new Center and explaining its activities. So, watch this space!

Finally, because Carmel is best known for its contemplative prayer and mysticism, some may mistakenly assume that it is solely focused on cultivating the more advanced stages of an individual’s purely interior life. But Teresa of Avila, the pre-eminent Carmelite mystic whose feast we celebrate today, clearly held a different view. She saw that her contemporary church and society were “all in flames” with so many conflicts and critical challenges, as they are today, and she resolved to do all she could to help. She insists that God befriends us in prayer not for our own private satisfaction but for the sake of “good works, good works.” Carmelites are still driven by the same zeal for the living God and the good of our neighbor that we have all inherited from our spiritual father Elijah. We seek the same radical  vailability for God (Vacare Deo) that bore such fruit in Mary, and gave the world its savior, Jesus Christ, to whom Carmelites pledge “a life of allegiance” (Carmelite Rule, 2). Carmel is a gift of God to the world, and we want to be in dialogue with all the other great academic disciplines, and with all of the great social concerns of our time. We are grateful to the School of Theology and Religious Studies for providing an effective platform for this initiative. I ask your support, and most of all your prayers, for the success of this new Center for Carmelite Studies, and for myself as I undertake these new responsibilities. Thank you!

Fr. Steven Payne, OCD

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