Ask a Carmelite: What is the Goal of Carmel?


Dear Sister Mary Colombiere,

I know that all Catholic spiritualities are centered on Christ and the Gospel.  But what is the ultimate goal of Carmelite Spirituality?

Dear Friend,

Life is a journey through time and every journey has a beginning and an end. The goal of every journey is to reach the end having fulfilled the purpose of the journey. We all have wants and desires in this life and the goals that we set identify our desires and define the effort needed on our part to achieve within a limited time an anticipated result.

God has placed within us a longing and desire for Him. Since we are all called to holiness which is very clearly explained in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium, this longing and desire is expressed in the actions that enable us to reach our goal.

“Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ (#40).”

The fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity necessitates that we embrace the call of God the Father through the Holy Spirit that He might consecrate and transform us into the image of His Son. Thus we become a dwelling place of God’s presence which flows into every aspect of our life and into the lives of others. All other life goals, such as family, work, health, education, social, etc. must be in service to the perfection of charity.

To speak of goals of Carmelite Spirituality we would necessarily address first those of life which are already noted in Chapter 2 of The Institute of the First Monks:

  1. virtuous labor and effort with the help of divine grace: the purgative way;
  2. to taste in some way in one’s heart and to experience in one’s spirit the power of the divine presence and the sweetness of glory from on high. This is God’s gift, not attained by human effort: the illuminative and unitive ways.

This journey, whether it be long or short by human standards, is always a pilgrimage of conversion, a slow and pain-staking progress whereby we surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit allowing ourselves to be conformed to Jesus.

Carmel speaks of this goal as a two-part end or a double spirit and portrays the image as the double portion of the firstborn. Recall Elisha when he realized that Elijah was about to leave him and be taken up and so pleaded for a double portion of his spirit.

And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. (2 Kings 2:9)

This passing of the mantle symbolized the clothing of the Spirit of prophetic leadership from Elijah to Elisha as his divinely appointed successor.

The first Carmelites were hermits living in shared solitude who settled on Mount Carmel in northern Palestine in the 12th century. Inspired by the example of Elijah, a holy man and a lover of solitude, they dwelt in small cells near a spring called Elijah’s Fountain.

In Elijah, Carmel sees itself as in a mirror. His eremitic and prophetic life expresses its own most intimate ideal. In studying the life of Elijah, Carmel is aware of a growing thirst for contemplation. It perceives its deep kinship with this man who “stood in the presence of the living God”. If it shares his weaknesses and his anguish, it also knows his faith in God and his zeal for the “Yahweh of armies” and it has tasted the same delights of a life hidden in God which the prophet also experienced. (Carmelite Spirituality by Paul Marie de la Croix of the Order of Discalced Carmelites)

In the Book of Kings God had commanded Elijah to go east and hide himself in the wadi Cherith. There he would drink from the stream that God would provide as well as eat the food that the ravens would bring to him (See 1 Kings 17:3-4). Thus Elijah began not only a physical journey but also an inner journey of transformation. He was to experience the rigors of the desert – the first goal – the purgative way of purification, the dark night; he would spend time at Cherith in charity where God would give him to drink of His divine pleasures at the stream of transforming union.

A direct and intimate experience with God is the basis of Carmelite spirituality (Paul Marie de la Cruz). The Ratio reminds us that contemplation is the heart of the Carmelite charism. Although contemplation is a free gift of God the loving friendship with Him that is enkindled through prayer opens one up to be receptive of whatever graces He wishes to give. Carmelite spirituality is characterized by an intense thirst for an immediate and direct experience of God.

Thus prayer and contemplation promotes growth in the virtues. The perfection of charity is the fulfillment of the two-fold gospel commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. It is God’s presence within us carrying the Gospel of Jesus Christ into every part of human existence as we journey through life.

Perhaps this can best be summed up by Ernest E. Larkin, O. Carm.’s advice: “Prayer life is not about experiences, but about transformation in Christ.”

Until next time,

Sister Mary Colombiere, O.C.D

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Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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