Who are we?
The Discalced Carmelites are men and women, in religious consecration and lay people, who dedicate themselves to a life of prayer. The Carmelite nuns live in cloistered monasteries and follow a completely contemplative life. The Carmelite friars while following a contemplative life also engage in the promotion of spirituality through their retreat centres, parishes and churches. Lay people, known as the Secular Order, follow their contemplative call in their everyday activities. Devotion to Our Lady is a characteristic of Carmelites and is symbolised by wearing the Brown Scapular.
Carmelites trace their roots and their name to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. There, in the 13th century, a band of European men gathered together to live a simple life of prayer. Their first chapel was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They called themselves the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.
The first Carmelites came as pilgrims to Mount Carmel to live a solitary life-style. These early hermits were mostly laity, who lived an unofficial religious life of poverty, penance and prayer. Between 1206 and 1214, St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, brought the hermits on Mount Carmel together, at their request, into community. He wrote them a formula for living, which expressed their own intention and reflected the spirit of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and of the early community of Jerusalem.
They were also inspired by the prophet Elijah who had been associated with Mount Carmel. That influence can be seen by the words of Elijah, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, God of armies” (IKg 19:10) on the Carmelite crest. Within fifty years of receiving their rule the Carmelite hermits were forced to leave Mount Carmel and settled in Europe.
FROM ACTION TO CONTEMPLATION
The heart of the Carmelite charism is prayer and contemplation. The quality of prayer determines the quality of the community life and the quality of the service which is offered to others. Prayer and contemplation for the Carmelite are not private matters between the individual and God but are to be shared with others since the charism is given for the whole world. Therefore there is an emphasis in the Order on the ministry of teaching prayer and giving spiritual direction.
For a Carmelite, prayer is guided by the teachings and experience of St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, as well as the saints who have followed in their steps.
Fraternity, service and contemplation are essential values for all Carmelites. The hermits were forced to leave their home on Mount Carmel and settle in Europe. There they changed their style of life from hermits to friars. The major difference is that friars are called to serve the People of God in some active apostolate. Some congregations were founded for a specific work, but the Carmelite Order tries simply to respond to what it sees as the needs of the Church and the world which differ according to time and place, and so many friars work in parishes, schools, universities, retreat centres, prisons, hospitals, etc. The kind of service in which each individual friar is involved will depend on the perceived needs of the people in whose midst he lives and his own particular talents.