Carmelite Family – Bulletin of Lay Carmel
Number 14. Summer 2002
In the Spirit
and Strength of Elijah
St Teresa of Avila (X)
By its very
nature, community life must promote human, intellectual, spiritual and
pastoral growth of all religious, so that they may be fully integrated into
the community and into its mission, according to personal qualities and
aptitudes. Thus, the expression of unity is to be sought in organic
diversity -not in shapeless uniformity. Discernment at all levels must
precede both the appropriate distribution of work and the community’s choice
of particular activities.
Const n. 33
So far, in
relation to community, we have said that it is founded in the Holy Trinity;
it is the place where fraternity finds its most complete expression. It is
open to others and its purpose is principally to be a service to the Church.
That brings us to
this latest reflection which begins at the end of Constitution no. 32: By
attending to these things - our communities will be authentic expressions of
faith, hope and charity and will become places conducive to full human
This sets the
scene for what follows by opening up the topic of full human development.
Experience shows how community life, without the conditions listed in
previous constitutions, is capable of damaging, or diminishing its members.
The reverse is the desire and the ideal: that the members of the community,
by reason of their participation in the life of the community and in the
attention the members of the community show towards them would grow as human
beings. This human growth includes growth in faith, hope and charity as its
principle elements. It also includes intellectual growth, affective growth
and growth in the development and use of each one’s gifts. The saying of St
Irenaeus comes to mind: The glory of God is the human person fully alive.
The constitutions connect this with the idea of the person’s integration
into the community. This calls for more than mere presence. It recalls the
doctrine of St Paul who talks about the integrity of the one body, in which
every organ contributes to the life of the whole, every organ has to be
cared for, valued and respected for its own distinctive contribution. This
life is different from the life of a hotel, where people share the one space
but very often without engaging with one another, at least to any meaningful
degree. This life is described as a life of organic diversity, which is to
be preferred to one of shapeless uniformity. There is an implicit plea for
beauty in this, where the elements flourish, complement one another and
shine forth in their truest colour and shape which enhances the whole and
each element of it.
A further element
that distinguishes this kind of community is the possession of a mission,
that all the members share the one mission, even though they may approach
the mission from different points of view, and make distinctive
contributions to its furtherance. The quality of the members’ community life
furthers the mission and the furtherance of the mission in turn redounds
upon the community and its members.
To hold all of
these elements together in proper fruitfulness and balance, discernment is
needed. Just as in the Carmelite Rule, when all the elements have been put
in place, the legislator Albert calls for discernment, which is the guardian
of all the virtues. Discernment is required so that the decisions may be for
the good of those concerned. In other words, that they may be in accordance
with the will of God, and that they be examined and taken with the help of
the Holy Spirit. Such discernment is a skill that has to be learned. It is
also the result of Baptism. All too often we impoverish our lives by not
adverting to the presence of and need for this discernment in our lives.
There is personal individual discernment involved, as well as community
discernment. Community discernment calls for prayer and open conversation,
aimed at arriving at the best possible decision, the one that will foster
the human development of the members, strengthen and deepen the bonds of
community and add impetus and direction to the mission. It is based on the
recognition that we are servants of something greater than ourselves and
that the contribution of each one is important but limited. It is in the
putting together of all the resources of the community that the community
flourishes in its service of the Church and of the Kingdom.