On 7th September 1974 in the Aylesford Choir Chapel, Francis Kemsley and I made our first profession as Carmelites. There was another with us who left after a couple of years but Francis and I stayed the course until Francis died towards the end of last year. It will therefore be only me celebrating the Golden Jubilee this September, Francis will I’m sure be joining from the halls of heaven. This is therefore an appropriate moment for me to reflect on the way my inspiration from the Carmelite charism has grown and developed. This will be a personal reflection, growing out of my particular circumstances. Francis I am sure would have written a different reflection, there is no “one size fits all” for Carmelites. He and I have followed our Carmelite way along very different paths. Having no founder means we do not have that particular focus. The Rule tells us that everyone is to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ before St Albert goes on to outline the specific way of life sought by the hermits on Mount Carmel. Every member of the Carmelite family will therefore have their own approach to the charism in whatever way they are called to live it. All of us will be inspired by the Rule of St Albert.
The major influence on my Carmelite inspiration and understanding of the charism would have been my decision to pursue Biblical Studies, a practical topic for one with an engineering background. My view of Carmel is therefore that of a Biblical Carmelite, a vision which fits well with our patrons of Mary the Mother of God from the New Testament and the prophet Elijah from the Old. The Rule itself is a profound biblical reflection setting out the life the hermits of Mount Carmel sought to follow, meditating constantly on the Law of the Lord. They were to be hermits in community. Whilst their emphasis soon moved to service of the people as friars, Carmel is always aware of its eremitical origins.
Important for me are the writings of St Thérèse of Lisieux and Brother Laurence of the Resurrection. They are similar in their simple approach to spirituality, Therese with her little way and the practice of the presence of God for Br Laurence. An important contemporary influence on my Carmelite inspiration has been the studies of the Rule by the Kees Waaijman.
Whilst all Carmelites find their fundamental inspiration in the Rule, we can say there are two main streams of Carmelite tradition. The original 13th century tradition goes back to Mount Carmel and the hermits. The other stream developed from that in the 16th century with the reform of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. Their reform remained within the Order and the split with the Discalced Carmelites came only after their deaths.
From this, my Carmelite inspiration follows the 13th century tradition. During the Crusades, Jesus was regarded as the Lord of the Land with his mother Mary as the Lady of the Place. Carmelites soon became known as the brothers of Mary of Mount Carmel. Not only did they regard Mary as mother but also as their sister, accompanying them on the way. The brown scapular became the sign of their dedication to her and her protection of them. Elijah was the one who stood in the presence of God and was aware of God’s presence in the still small voice. Together their patronage provides Carmel with its biblical foundation that I is so important. There is the great importance of Lectio Divina both personal and communal, that prayerful reading and sharing of the Scriptures by which the living Word of God becomes present among us.
The goal of Lectio is to open us to contemplation, that pure gift of God by which he gives us his graces and transforms us to share his divine life. Jesus in the Gospels was transfigured, transformed on a high mountain and showed his glory before the three disciples. St Paul uses the same word for our Christian life, that we are to be transformed into copies of Christ’s glorious body.
The Carmel charism today is therefore well described as a journey of transformation. It is the life- long commitment to follow God’s call to us with prayer as the centre of our lives. This commitment is expressed through the vows, especially the vow of obedience, seeking always the will of God so as to be witnesses to his Son. It is a life lived in community, journeying together as brothers, Carmelites have Priors, leaders, not Abbots, Fathers. Carmelite friars form a community of equals which leads to attitude of listening obedience and a continual transformation to be more like Christ. Many in many different ways share in this life as the Carmelite Family.
This way of life is synodal, which is so important for the Church today. With its biblical inspiration and the spirit of synodality we can say that the Carmelite charism is a charism for the Church of today.
Patrick Lombard O.Carm
See Richard Green’s reflection “Nourished by the Word”, 22nd January 2024.