Pope to Carmelites: be austere, penitential, contemplative and missionary
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel a message on the occasion of their General Chapter, encouraging their members in their “ancient charism.”
The Pope said “In a world that often misunderstands Christ, and in fact rejects him, you are invited to draw near and to unite yourselves more closely with him. It is a continuous call to follow Christ and be conformed to him. This is of vital importance in our world so disoriented, “for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim.” (Lumen Fidei 4).
Speaking of the contemplative roots of their order, Pope Francis said “a Carmelite without this contemplative life is a dead body!” But, he warned that even the contemplative life can face hidden perils: “today, perhaps more than in the past, it is so easy to allow ourselves to be distracted by the cares and worries of this world and to succumb to false idols. Our world is fractured in so many ways.” Yet, true and consistent contemplative life “unites and powerfully builds the call to unity. “
The Pope exhorted Carmelites to adopt “a more austere and penitential life, according to your authentic tradition, a life distant from all worldliness, distant from the world’s criteria.”
Speaking of the order’s missionary character, Pope Francis acknowledged that mission faces “heavy challenges as the Gospel message is not always accepted or even violently rejected.” He urged Carmelites to take courage in their faith and bear witness to it even in the face of death.
Below we publish the full text of Pope Francis’ message to the Carmelite Order on occasion of their General Chapter 2013:
To Most Reverend Father
Fernando Millán Romeral
Prior General of the Order of Brothers
of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.
I address you, dear Brothers of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, as you celebrate your General Chapter. At this time of grace and renewal that calls on you to discern the mission of the glorious Order of Carmelites, I would like to offer you a word of encouragement and hope. The ancient charism of Carmel throughout these past eight centuries has been a gift for the whole Church. Your contemplative origins spring from the land of the epiphany of God’s abiding love manifested in the Word made flesh. As you ponder your mission in Carmel today, I would ask you to consider three things that might guide you on your pilgrim way: love as allegiance, as prayer and as mission.
The Church has the mission to bring Christ to the world and it is for this, as Mother and Teacher she invites each one of us to draw near to him. In the Carmelite liturgy for the feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel we contemplate Our Lady as being “near the Cross of Christ.” This is also the place where one finds the Church: near to Christ. It is also the place for every faithful member of the Carmelite Order. Your Rule begins with the exhortation to the brothers to “live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ”; to follow him and to serve him with a pure and undivided heart. This close relationship to Christ happens in solitude, in fraternal assembly and in mission. “The fundamental choice of a life that is concretely and radically dedicated to following Christ.” (Ratio Institutionis Vitae Carmelitanae 8) making of your lives a pilgrimage of loving transformation. The Second Vatican Council recalls the role of contemplation on the journey of life: “It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world as pilgrims.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 2) The early hermits of Mount Carmel retained the memory of that holy place, and even if exiled and distanced from it constantly kept their gaze fixed on the glory of God. Reflecting on your origins and history and contemplating the vast lineage of those who lived the Carmelite charism down through the centuries you will discover again your present vocation to be prophets of hope. It is precisely with this hope you will be reborn. Often what is new is only something very old seen in a new light.
Within your Rule is the heart of the Carmelite mission then and now. As you approach the eight centenary of the death of Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1214 you will recall that he formulated “a way of life”, a space that enables you to live a spirituality that is orientated towards Christ. He outlines both external and internal elements, a physical ecology of space and the spiritual armour needed in order to fulfil one’s vocation and mission.
In a world that often misunderstands Christ, and in fact rejects him, you are invited to draw near and to unite yourselves more closely with him. It is a continuous call to follow Christ and be conformed to him. This is of vital importance in our world so disoriented, “for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim.” (Lumen Fidei 4) Christ is present in your fraternity, your common worship and in the ministry entrusted to you: renew the allegiance of your whole life!
The Holy Father Benedict XVI, before your General Chapter of 2007 reminded you that “faith’s inner pilgrimage towards God begins in prayer”; and at Castel Gandolfo in August 2010 said to you that: “You are the ones who teach us how to pray”. You speak of yourselves as contemplatives in the midst of the people. If it is true that you are called to live on the heights of Carmel then it is also true that you are called to witness in the midst of the people. Prayer is that “royal road” that leads to the profound mystery of the One and Triune God, but it is also the narrow pathway to God in the midst of the people as pilgrims in the world towards the Promised Land.
One of the most beautiful ways for entering into prayer is through the Word of God. Lectio divina brings you into direct conversation with the Lord and it opens for you wisdom’s treasure. The intimate friendship with the One who loves us, enables us to see with the eyes of God, to speak with his Word in our hearts, to treasure the beauty of that experience and to share it with those who are hungry for eternity.
Returning to the simplicity of a life centred on the Gospel is the challenge for a renewed Church: a community of faith that always finds new ways of evangelization in a world continually changing. The saints of Carmel have been the great preachers and teachers of prayer. This is what is needed once again from Carmel in the twenty-first century. Constantly throughout the length of your history, the greats of Carmel have sought to call you back to your prayerful contemplative roots, roots always fruitful in prayer. Here is the heart of your witness: the “contemplative” dimension of the Order, to be lived, cultivated and transmitted. I would like each one of you to ask yourself: how is my contemplative life? How much time during my day do I dedicate to prayer and contemplation? A Carmelite without this contemplative life is a dead body! Today, perhaps more than in the past, it is so easy to allow ourselves to be distracted by the cares and worries of this world and to succumb to false idols. Our world is fractured in so many ways: rather the contemplative unites and powerfully builds the call to unity. Now more than ever is the moment for you to discover again that inner pathway to love through prayer and to offer to the people today in your preaching and mission the witness of your contemplation, not easy solutions but that wisdom that comes from pondering “day and night the Law of the Lord”. The Word always brings one near to the glorious cross of Christ. United in contemplation and austerity of life is not a secondary aspect of your life and witness. There is a very strong temptation even for you to fall into a mundane spirituality. The spirit of the world is the enemy of the life of prayer: never forget this! I exhort you to a more austere and penitential life, according to your authentic tradition, a life distant from all worldliness, distant from the world’s criteria.
My dear Carmelite brothers, yours is the same mission as Jesus. All the planning and Chapter dialogue will be of little use, if you do not begin your renewal here. Your Carmelite family is seeing a wonderful “springtime” across the world, that fruit, a gift of God, and the missionary involvement of the past. Today the mission brings its heavy challenges as the Gospel message is not always accepted or even violently rejected. We must never forget, even if thrown into murky and unknown waters, that the one who gives the mission will also give the courage. So celebrate your Chapter with the hope that never dies, with a strong spirit of generosity regaining your contemplative life and the simplicity and austerity of the Gospel.
Addressing pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square I said: “Each individual Christian and every community is missionary to the extent that they bring to others and live the Gospel, and testify to God’s love for all, especially those experiencing difficulties. Be missionaries of God’s love and tenderness! Be missionaries of God’s mercy, which always forgives us, always awaits us and loves us dearly”(Homily 19th May 2013). The witness of Carmel in the past is one of a deep spiritual tradition that grew into one of the great schools of prayer. It has evoked courage in men and women facing danger and even death. We are only too aware of two great contemporary martyrs in Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and Blessed Titus Brandsma. I would ask you then: today among you, do you still have the endurance, the courage of these saints?
Dear Brothers of Carmel, the witness of your love, and your hope radiating from your deep friendship with the living God, can reach like a “gentle breeze” renewing and re-awakening your ecclesial mission in today’s world. To this you have been called. Your Profession Rite puts on your lips these words: “I entrust myself to God that by His grace and with the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary I may attain perfect charity in the service of God and the Church.”
Our Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, accompany your steps and make fruitful your daily journey towards the Mountain of God. I invoke upon all the members of the Carmelite Family, and most especially you Capitulars, the abundant blessings of the Holy Spirit and to all I heartily impart the Apostolic Blessing.