A Developing Family

A Developing Family

Participants at the 2007 General Chapter of the Carmelite Order in Rome

This page gives information about how the notion of 'Carmelite Family' has developed, and how it continues to develop.

800 years ago Saint Albert of Jerusalem approved a 'Way of Life' document setting out how the Carmelites should live, and it begins by recognising that there are "many and various ways" to live "in allegiance to Jesus Christ". Indeed, there are many ways of being Carmelite, and in recent times the developing notion of 'The Carmelite Family' has allowed us to celebrate what is unique to each part of the family, as well as what unites us together.

Fr. Elias Lynch, O.Carm., once wrote that "Carmel is the least regimented Order", and arguably a reason for the Order's survival over 800 years has been that Carmel has been flexible and open enough to find expression in many different ways. It is a spirituality that fits with a mendicant lifestyle, a monastic lifestyle, an eremitic lifestyle, and a lay lifestyle.

Development of the notion of 'Carmelite Family'
The term 'Carmelite Family' has found widespread acceptance in recent years as a way of speaking collectively of the various different vocations lived out in various different organisational branches.

The term 'Carmelite Family' is a recent one, though the importance of familial relationships in Carmel can be traced back through the centuries to the Rule of Saint Albert.

The notion of Carmel as a family was particularly developed from the 1980s onwards by the then Prior General of the Order, John Malley, O.Carm.

In 1989 the General Chapter of the Carmelite Order (O.Carm.) gave significant attention and emphasis to the topic of 'The Carmelite Family'.

In 1992 at Aylesford Priory in England the first World Congress of the Carmelite Family took place with representatives from many different branches of the Order.

In 1994 the Council of Provinces (a meeting of senior Carmelites held in between General Chapters) was held in the French city of Nantes, and was devoted to the topic of 'The Carmelite Family'.

At the General Chapter held in Rome in 1995, the term 'Carmelite Family' was defined as follows in the new Constitutions of the Carmelite friars:

"The many and various embodiments of the Carmelite charism are for us a source of joy; they confirm the rich and creative fruitfulness of our charism, lived under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - a fruitfulness to be welcomed with gratitude and discernment.

All individuals and groups, whether institutional or not, which draw their inspiration from the Rule of Saint Albert, from its tradition and from the values expressed in Carmelite spirituality, constitute the Carmelite Family within the Church today.

This Family includes ourselves and our brothers of the Teresian Reform; the women religious of both branches; affiliated religious congregations; the Third Orders Secular; secular institutes; individuals affiliated with the Order through the sacred scapular; and those who by whatever title or bond are affiliated with the Order; those movements which, though juridically not part of the Order, seek inspiration and support from its spirituality; and any man or woman who is drawn to the values of Carmel." (§28)

This broad understanding of the Carmelite Family recognises that 'Carmel' is a gift from God to the Church that we do not possess, but which we are called to share.

Some discretion is need regarding certain groups calling themselves 'Carmelite' as they are sometimes schismatic. It is certainly possible to 'abuse' the name of Carmelite. Some groups and movements within the Church describe themselves as 'Carmelite' or 'Carmelite-inspired', but have little link to the mainstream understanding of Carmelite spirituality. Hence, discernment is needed, and the Carmelite Family has a right and duty to define and defend what is authentically part of our tradition.

Although the term 'Family' is perhaps problematic in today's society, when so many families experience some form of disintegration, nevertheless it remains a powerful metaphor for the ways in which different vocations are bonded together in Carmel. Just as a family has a place for men and for women, for young and for old, so Carmel can offer a home to many different people. Ideally a family is bonded together by love, which is able to accommodate a great range of experiences, ways of life, and opinions.

Carmel and Ecumenism

An interesting development in recent years has been the appeal of Carmelite spirituality in Churches beyond Roman Catholicism. With its emphasis on the sacraments and liturgy, and sense of the communion of saints, Carmelite spirituality can be said to be firmly rooted in the 'Catholic' tradition of Christianity, but Christians of other denominations find particular aspects of Carmel very appealing. Many are drawn by Carmel's emphasis on the value of silence and stillness in nurturing an open relationship with God, coupled with a commitment to active service of others. Many like the simplicity and honesty of the Carmelite saints in their writings. Many find a resonance in Carmel's focus on Christ and the Scriptures, and the primacy of nurturing friendship with the Living God.

Whereas some religious families - notably the Franciscans and Benedictines - have long had branches and expressions in non-Roman Catholic Churches, this has been limited with regard to the Carmelites. However, Carmel is growing in particular within the Anglican tradition. In Britain the Anglican congregation known as The Sisters of the Love of God (SLG) at Fairacres in Oxford has a special interest in Carmelite spirituality. In the United States of America, the Episcopalian Church has seen its first Anglican Carmelite communities develop with the Episcopal Carmel of Saint Teresa. The current Archbishop of Canterbury who is the head of the Anglican Communion, Dr. Rowan Williams, is a noted expert in the life and teachings of St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila).

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, with Sr. Connie FitzGerald of Baltimore Carmel (centre) and a sister from the Episcopalian Carmel

In the British Province of Carmelites participation in the life of Carmel is promoted among Christians of different denominations by Carmelite Spirituality Groups (CSGs). These have developed since 2006 with a particular outreach to Christians of different traditions, and many CSGs offer an experience of Carmel to not only Roman Catholics but also Anglicans, Methodists, Orthodox, and Quakers.

Collaborative Ministry and Presence

Another important development for the Carmelite Family in recent years, particularly within the British Province of Carmelites, has been the growing sense of 'collaborative ministry'. Roles that were traditionally associated with the 'religious' of the Order (friars, nuns, etc.) are increasingly being taken on by lay members of the Order, where appropriate. Tasks such as formation, administration and promotion of the Order are now shared by religious and laity as equal partners and collaborators. As with any family, each person has his or her place and role; one is not better than another, simply different.

Carmelite religious and laity together
at the 2007 General Chapter of the Carmelite Order in Rome
Carmel in the future

We do not know how the Carmelite Family will develop in the future, but as long as God has a purpose for our charism we will form praying communities at the service of God's people. We look forward to the future with hope and energy.

Could you be a part of our future?