Carmelite Spirituality – Fraternity I
Patrick Burke, O.Carm. Carmelite Family: Number 4, Winter 1999.
A contemplative attitude towards the world around us allows us to discover the presence of God in the events of ordinary daily life and, especially, to see him in our brothers and sisters. Thus we are led to appreciate the mystery of those with whom we share our lives.
In our search for God, the Carmelite prayer tradition looks for an authentic experience of God reflected in the recorded legacy of our saints and felt by our contemporaries in the events of ordinary daily life. As the centrality of Christ and the primacy of living our ‘allegiance to Jesus Christ’ permeate the whole of the Carmelite Rule, it establishes for us the visible signs of the transforming action occurring in ourselves and in each other, so that “we can look at reality with the eyes of God and discern the signs of the times” (Open to God’s Future, 1997).
The ‘brotherhood’ envisaged in the Rule must reflect in our brothers and sisters today the inspiring example of the first Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42-46; 4:32-36), fostering the fraternal attitudes that enhance the spiritual life of the community described there. In this way lay Carmelites may become a living prophetic presence in the wider Christian community and market-places of our world. In our time too, Christ Jesus is not found alone – he is inevitably found within the members of his Body, his brothers and sisters. Such is the community of authentic discipleship under the guidance of Jesus, the Master, who teaches, presides and is at the centre of their work and meetings. The 1995 General Chapter in its document ‘Our Mission Today’ was pleased to acknowledge: ‘The awareness of being a contemplative fraternity at the service of the Church and the whole human family is growing more and more among us.’
Constitutions 20 states: “These fraternal values find expression and nourishment in the Word, in the Eucharist and in prayer.” The Chapter Document stated: “Lectio Divina, recognised by all as an essential element, is widely practiced both in common and in private, becoming the sign of our fidelity to the injunction to ‘meditate day and night on the law of God’. The habit of listening to the Word prevents us from falling into the trap of a selfishness which parades as spirituality. It gives us a vision of the world as the place where God is present. God’s presence in people and for them leaves us with no option but to be at their service.”
Our aim must be to allow every choice and every action to be guided by his Word and to discover in the awareness of modem challenges what “the Spirit is saying to the Churches” (Revelation 2:7), that reveal the meaning of our mission today. The Constitutions encourage us “to come together to praise the Lord and invite others to share in their experience of prayer.”
To be an authentic fraternal group, the individual members must accustom themselves to being attentive to their fellow members, sincere and open in their mutual dealings and sensitively concerned for the old and the sick. The growth in fraternity at the local level will affect a gradual identification with the Order, with its history, its traditions and its way of life, as well as fostering its international dimension, interests and concern.