The first group of hermits set a Carmelite tradition of being attentive to God. They carried the Scriptures not in books, but in their minds and hearts. This tradition challenges us to be men of prayer in everything we do.
Like the prophet Elijah, we try to be alert to the God who whispers in the gentle breeze. Like Mary, we try to have complete trust in the love of God, who comes to us through contemplation.
We don’t prescribe or follow any one way of praying. Rather, we are listeners for the voice of the one who made us and who continually calls to us.
Read the reflections of various Carmelites on prayer-related topics below.
An appreciation of beauty
A few years ago I played in a small chamber ensemble composed of two flutes, harpsichord, and cello. Our specialty was the music of the Baroque -- mostly Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and other composers of that era. I learned a few lessons about beauty in that ensemble. First, the music was beautiful when everyone in the ensemble was in harmony -- not only playing the correct notes (in the same key) but also in tune to one another. And working together -- not striving to always be the soloist, but as a part of the ensemble, doing his/her part well. Second, the music was even more beautiful when we not only played the music, but played with the music -- ornamenting our lines, stretching the harmonies, or varying the tempo from strict time. Third, when we really "hit it" and the piece was super-good, the music could transcend us into another place, an exquisite place. Fourth, even when we hit the exquisite level, we gave the credit, somewhat to ourselves, but mostly to the composer. I will never meet Bach, or Handel, or Vivaldi but I can tell you quite a lot about each from their music.
The parallel between this beauty and Divine Beauty should be obvious. Rarely do we ever receive direct access into God, but when our lives are in harmony -- with those around us, with nature, and especially interiorly -- we become aware of all the interconnections and how exquisitely they are crafted. And in times of super-harmony, all the events of our lives make sense and fit together. Then, we begin to understand the Composer and even glimpse the Composer. Yes, I think we see God's Beauty when we strive to live in harmony and peace with our neighbor and strive to find interior harmony and interior peace. Therefore, to live a spiritual life is to strive to live a harmonious life.
The only way, I think, Saint John of the Cross could write his "Prayer to Beauty" (Commentary on Stanza 36 of "The Spiritual Canticle") is by living, not in self-centeredness nor even in other-centeredness, but in total-centeredness (himself with others in a harmonious whole). When we find this harmony -- this total-centeredness (doing our part in a whole ensemble) as a way of living -- we hear, breathe, behold, touch, and walk in beauty.
- Fr. Gregory Houck, O.Carm.
The centrality of Jesus Christ, the Word made human
by Donald Buggert, OCarm.
When the founding group of Western lay hermits asked Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to create a Rule of life for them, Christ was at its very center. In the Introduction to the Rule, Carmelites are told to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The remainder of the Rule spells out how the Carmelite is to live this Christ-centered life.
Since the Rule was written at the time of the Crusades, it reflects the Crusade spirituality of the time, which was founded on the passion of Christ. Only through spiritual combat in imitation of the suffering and Crucified Christ could the land of Christ be regained. This spiritual combat involved poverty, penance, silence, solitude, and above all meditating upon the law of the Lord. Through this spiritual combat the Carmelite would be transformed into Christ. Throughout its history, the saints of the Carmelite Order such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and St. Therese of Lisieux have focused in their lives and writings upon this imitation of Christ, especially the suffering and dying Christ.
Today Carmelites are still challenged to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and to imitate his suffering and death so as to win back the land for Christ. But the "land" is all the earth and all its citizens, so many of whom are marginalized and victims of violence and injustice. Carmelites today imitate Christ by continuing to carry out his own mission of making the Reign of God, God's peace and justice, a reality for all peoples, especially the "least of our brothers and sisters."
To carry on this mission of Christ, Carmelites today must continue to imitate Christ in his suffering and dying, as all Carmelites saints and mystics have done. As Christ himself, they must empty themselves in abandonment to God and His will so that they can be filled with the Spirit of Christ who continually anoints new prophets to make God's reign a reality in our world.
Fr. Donald Buggert, O.Carm.
A communion of love
St. Therese of Lisieux, one of our shining stars, learned through an intense search of many dreams and listening deeply to God that her "vocation is love, in the heart of the Church."
As a Carmelite, I have done so many things, which have defined me. Often I am working from my own energy, insights and resources. Yet, the more I listen to God, the more I realize how loved we are and how that experience of God's love for us gives energy and focus to everything I am and do.
Once grace embraces that profound experience of God's unconditional love, it changes everything -- and brings integrity, humility, and generosity to life. This was the insight of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila: love which is not self-seeking, love which transcends self, which draws us through dark nights of purification and intimate moments of ecstasy because it is God speaking and embracing -- communing with us -- and in us, with others.
In times of doubt, fear, or challenge, this prayerful experience has calmed my spirit, helping me know that I am not alone or simply burdened by my own messianic dreams and needs -- "that it is not about me" -- it is about God loving us.
Carmel is an experience of meeting God in the garden, where He creates fertile ground of intimacy, energy and life, for and with others. It is truly love that defines us in the divine image and is the divine spark which energizes life, community, and ministry.
Fr. Bob Colaresi, O. Carm.
Faith, a light in the night
by Fr. Tracy O’Sullivan, O.Carm.
Our Carmelite tradition speaks of darkness and silence rather than light and clarity as the places we often find God and God's will for our life.
Perhaps a profound experience of my own will help unveil this seeming contrast. I was in my fifth year as director of formation at Whitefriars Hall in Washington, DC, our house of Theological studies. I was feeling a strong urge to return to my previous ministry -- work in the inner city. I had been in this work for 25 years in Chicago.
As the internal turmoil got worse, I shared my feelings with an old and trusted friend. The problem was I was doing very important work in the seminary and I had more than another year to go to fill out my assigned term. Yet the urge to work with the poor grew stronger each day.
After some conversation, my friend said I shouldn't look for an answer but just rest in the presence of the Lord in silent prayer. I did this and after a few days a total surprise arose in my consciousness. I slowly realized that I had never really taken the time to mourn my displacement from Chicago, a real upheaval in my life after 25 years of intense commitment. Besides, it was home. Gradually it became clear I needed to let go of Chicago because my desire to work with the poor was all wrapped up there. I worked on this.
A month later, my Provincial came to me asked if I would go to the inner city in Los Angeles. I am pretty sure I would not have been so willing to say yes if I had not let go of my Chicago experience.
The darkness became light and the confusion clarity -- not by running away from it, but by entering it in openness and silence. God slowly brought the light and clarity and I've now been in Los Angels eight years.
It has been a wonderful and blessed journey with the Lord.
Fr. Tracy O'Sullivan, O.Carm.
Prayer and contemplation
Fr. David Simpson, O.Carm.
Our great saints were men and women of deep prayer. Contemporary Carmelites emulate these great contemplatives (St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux) by fidelity to prayer in the silence and solitude that allows God's voice to be heard. The grist for the mill is the Word of God. The listening heart hears the Word, reflects on it, and opens the self to God's desires as did Mary, the Mother of Carmel.
The longing in each of our hearts is for God. Carmelites know this and attempt to assist others in that journey. The simplest events in life and the most profound are God moments when His voice is speaking to us.
When the pressure is on or tragedy hits, when anger takes over, noise and pace distract, or agonizing questions confuse -- then God seems to be "on hold." Carmelites turn to God in prayerful listening. Where else can we go with all the mystery, the frustration, and the pulls of today?
We know that we must return to our inmost center, seeking Him whom we love. The result: calm, peace, and direction. In such silence God speaks and we know what to do and where to go.
Fr. David Simpson, O.Carm.
The Presence of the Living God
by Fr. John Malley, O.Carm.
You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
These words of St. Augustine echoed in the mind and heart of some pilgrims and hermits from Europe as they settled in the land of Jesus and Mary about the year 1200. These men, who were searching for a deeper awareness and understanding of the living God, became the first Carmelites. They imitated the prophet Elijah by living on Mount Carmel.
They deeply believed that God is always present among us. This was the basic insight that Jesus taught in His sharing among the people. God treasures every individual with a personal and everlasting love. In the words of St. John's Gospel 3: 16: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him - might have eternal life."
God has first loved us and continues to share that love with us day by day in so many personal ways. God is always with us, caring for us, supporting, and providing for us in all our needs. As the first Carmelites strove to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to follow His example, this fundamental message of the Gospel became paramount.
Carmelites have this ideal: to seek and search for God, to give and spend time with God (vacare Deo is the traditional Latin phrase), to be with God by their commitment to follow Jesus, and thus "to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind." (Luke 10:27)
This ideal excites and inspires us still. It opens a horizon that calls, provokes, and challenges us to try to empty ourselves so that we might be filled with the God who created us, guides us, and speaks to us today. (Psalm 94)
Fr. John Malley, O.Carm.
The Word of God and silence
The Word of God is Jesus Christ, revealed in the Bible. Carmelites gravitate to the Bible as the summary of all God has to say to us. We are not bible-thumpers. We listen to the teaching Church, to sound theology and spiritual teaching as mediations and derivatives of the Bible. But we always come back to the Book.
American Carmelites have had outstanding teachers of the Bible, such as Roland Murphy, O.Carm. and Christian Ceroke, O.Carm., who influenced a whole generation of Carmelites. The Bible is our Book.
We study it in school, teach it in classes and homilies, pray it in our daily office and liturgy; meditate on it "day and night," as our Rule says. We pray it in the age-old formula of "lectio divina," which is a way of listening to the Word of God, reflecting on it, opening our hearts to it, and finally experiencing it. It is a way to interpret God's Word for our own lives and to rest in the divine presence. The resting in God is silence. Silence is the ultimate response to God's Word. It marks a permanent effect of listening to the Word of God.
To put it simply, Carmelites are engaged with the Word of God to assimilate it and to communicate it to others. This is "the prayer and the ministry of the word" that belonged to the apostles in the New Testament. (Acts 6. 4) The goal is our own transformation; we take on a biblical mentality; we "put on" Christ for our own sakes and for others. Our best preaching is what we are, not what we say.
Our new identity is received in silence, and the silence is called contemplation. Contemplation happens when the Word has taken hold of us. We also cultivate that divince presence by our prayer and ministry. All this is summed up in the Carmelite motto, "vacare Deo." Vacare Deo means to be occupied with God, to relax with God, to experience the silent presence. This quality of contemplation is with us in all that we do. But there are special periods each day when we come aside and rest awhile with the Lord in meditation, and this is key to our contemplative life and ministry.
Carmelites are busy ministers of the gospel like other Christians. Their special focus, however, is the inner work that makes the outer work fruitful. We are sons of the prophet Elijah and brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but our deepest identity is to be in "allegiance to Jesus Christ." (Rule, prologue). We belong to him in busyness and in silence, and our connection is silent love, "the language God best understands." (St John of the Cross)
Fr. Ernest E. Larkin, O.Carm.
The value of the human person
As the news tells us about Church-related sex scandals, terrorists' threats, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and so on, one may eventually start to question the value of the human person. Or, one can decide to line up to defend the value of the human person in every day life as the only way to bring relief to the situations that confront us.
The Carmelite life, religious life, believes that the essence of prayer, community, and ministry is relationship. Because of relationships, day in and day out, the human person, any human person, every human person must be valued.
There is an old Texas saying about a braggart: "He's all hat and no cattle!" In our context that can be interpreted to mean that we need community, other people, just to stay human. That takes a personal commitment to the value of the human person or it goes nowhere.
Years ago, one Carmelite basketball coach's favorite exhortation to his players was: "Get in the middle and rebound!" What does "the value of the human person" mean everyday? All are important, all have a place in the community, all are connected, and all must be respected if we ever hope to marginalize situations that lead to sex scandals, terrorist attacks, drug violence, domestic violence, and all those things that denigrate the human being. And it means that there is a great opportunity for the committed person who is willing to "get in the middle and rebound!"
Fr. Simon Kenny, O.Carm.