All of Carmelite spirituality is rooted in the human heart’s deepest desire for intimate union with God. An ancient Carmelite author speaks of “tast(ing)… the power of the Divine Presence and the sweetness of the glory of the Most High, not only after death, but even in this mortal life…” St. Teresa of Avila desired that her daughters be the Lord’s intimate friends. Obedient to our Rule’s central precept to pray always, she taught them that prayer was the primary means toward this friendship with the Lord. She designed everything in Carmelite living to be ordered and directed toward preparing us for the “encounter with Divine Love”.
Since the early twelve hundreds when the first hermits of Mt. Carmel dedicated their oratory to our Lady, there has been a distinctly Marian tone to Carmelite life.
“Carmelites belong to a family consecrated in a special way to loving and venerating the Holy Mother of God. Mary’s presence among her daughters and sisters pervades the Carmelite vocation.” (Carmelite Constitutions) In Mary, we contemplate the ideal of the Order. We strive to imitate her in the way she humbly welcomed the Lord’s word and pondered it in her heart. We look to her as the one who was totally open to all the impulses of the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, the Carmelite bears Jesus in her heart, contemplates Him in silence, serves Him in humility and stands at the foot of His cross. In union with Mary, we live toward the perfection of charity in all that we do.
The Carmelite life of prayer is fired by the spirit of the Prophet Elijah who was zealous for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Our life is apostolic because our prayer is for the Church and for all of God’s people.
Our life of prayer is lived within an atmosphere that makes it possible for us to best listen and ponder God’s word in our hearts. It is in a spirit of silence and solitude that we live and pray. Silence nurtures a peacefulness of heart and allows us to maintain an attentiveness to the presence and gentle voice of God. The hermit aspect of our life is expressed in extended times of solitary prayer and solitary work during our day. Solitude is a means to detachment and habituates us in living in the presence of God as the source of our meaning and fulfillment.
The solitude of Carmel is balanced by times of recreation and fellowship with community. Our Rule calls the community together for the celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours (the prayer of the Church) as well as for meals. Two periods of recreation during the day allow the sisters to share the joy of companionship and to foster sisterly love.
The practice of self-denial and a life lived in simplicity free us from useless anxiety over temporal concerns. These values are safeguarded by enclosure. In embracing the boundaries which enclosure imposes on our way of life, we choose the way of self-emptying love and detachment from the world’s attractions so as to immerse and focus all our energies in developing the deepest possible friendship with God. In that relationship and encounter with Divine Love, we are shaped in Christ-likeness and love.
Living a life of prayer is Carmel’s gift to the Church and to the world. While our Lord calls all of His followers to pray always, our lives of dedicated prayer help to remind others of their own call to intimacy and friendship with the Lord.