An oratory should be built as conveniently as possible among the cells, where, if it can be done without difficulty, you are to gather each morning to hear Mass. ~ The Carmelite Rule, #14
The Carmelite Rule speaks much about silence, solitude, and meditation upon the Law of the Lord, but the 14th paragraph of the Rule offers the other extreme of the life of Carmel. A Carmel, and thus a Carmelite, can only exist in and with a community where the Lord is at the center. The rhythm of life in Carmel is a movement from the solitude of one’s cell to the communal place of prayer offered through the Eucharist. Christ is present in both the solitude of the cell and in the Eucharist, but again, the Eucharist makes known a key dimension of the journey of faith in Carmel: it is a place for the Incarnation.
Carmel in the Church
Carmel and Carmelites are not separate from the Church. Carmelites make vows that are rooted in their baptism to manifest to the Church a vision of the reality waiting for us in the Kingdom. As all religious in the Church, Carmelites are called to be living witnesses of the Eschaton; namely, the moment of divine providence that is called the last day. It is on the last day that the “new heaven and the new earth” (Revelation 21:1) will come about, and on that day, the Kingdom of God will be made known to all.
Yet, the life of a Carmelite is not merely a life pointed toward this moment. It is important to note that the Kingdom is not something we merely wait for but is a reality all Christians are called to proclaim in the present. It is through their proclamation, composed of human words and deeds, rooted in His truth, that Christ is made known, and thus a taste of the Kingdom is experienced.
Again, this part of the Carmelite rule on the Eucharist reminds Carmelites that through their lives shaped by the Eucharist, barriers are removed and the incarnation of Christ is extended and made known in the world. This happens because all the baptized are part of the Church. The Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, a mystery of our faith. It is not a mystery in the sense that she is unknowable but rather that she is inexhaustible because of her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
Carmel and the Incarnation
St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “Reflect upon the providence and wisdom of God in all created things and praise Him in them all.” The call and need for the Christian to be a person of recollection is a regular theme in the mind of Teresa. The prayer of recollection is an ethereal work, but it is rooted in and grows out of creation. God is the ultimate artist. Learning to be present with His creation gives one the ability to recollect the actions of God in one’s life. Teresa is calling her sisters to the reality of John 1: 3 “Through Him all things were created …”. We cannot approach Christ only in a spiritual way; we must approach Him also through our bodies which exist in the created order. It was the sacred humanity made to suffer for us that brought St. Teresa to the above understanding that if one loves Jesus then one must recall His role in creation and thus reflect upon it.
Through the profound beauty of creation, the loving and providential works of the Father are made known to the faithful. Christ embraced the flesh of humanity to make the Father known in love. It is only through the fullness of our humanity seen through the light of Christ’s incarnation that a heart becomes open to the Spirit, who transforms the heart in love. Living in the joyful relationship of the heart to the sacred humanity of Christ made known through His incarnation, one begins to taste the sweet necessity of the Eucharist.
Carmel and the Eucharist
Carmel’s devotion to the Eucharist as the primary place where the day derives its structuring, focus, and meaning, gives a Carmelite the insight that in the solitude of the cell, the Eucharistic presence of Christ is unfolded. That unfolding is not an exterior process but interior because Christ’s place in the solitude of the cell resides in the heart that carries Him into it. The dwelling in the cell offers one the means to reside with the Lord who fills, shapes, and revitalizes the physical and spiritual being of the Christian. When one realizes the all-consuming presence of Christ in the Eucharist, one begins to understand his relationship to Christ’s incarnation.
The beauty of this reality is captured powerfully by St. Teresa when she wrote:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
It is through the Eucharist that the presence and effects of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection are made continually known in the world. The name Carmel means “vineyard of God”: the vine manifests its relationship with the earth beneath it. If the vine has not taken to the earth, it bears little or no fruit, and even the fruit it bears comes across as bad. Thus, through the life of Christ, those outside the body of Christ come to know Him through His Body. How we live in and through Christ is manifested in how we share Christ with others. The vulnerability of Christ shown through His embrace of the Cross is now expressed through His embrace of the Church. He is vulnerable to her through the gift of His Body; how we as members of that Body receive Him is of the utmost importance.
Therefore, the call of the Carmelite Rule to daily communion is also a call to reflect upon our lives as we approach Christ in the Eucharist daily. St. Paul teaches us:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Corinthians 11: 27-30)
The cultivation of the heart to recognize the presence of Christ in both the solitude of the cell and in the communal celebration of the Eucharist makes it possible to extend His presence into the world. This holy hunger for the Lord impacts and shapes all apostolic activities of each Carmelite. It is through this hunger, shaped by the life of Carmel in the heart of the Church, that the life of nourishment in the Lord is made known to all throughout the pilgrimage of life.
As disciples, we need to remember that we are now in a world full of people who might have heard of Jesus but may never have seen Him, let alone experienced His loving presence. Carmelites know that Christ’s loving presence can never be confined to their cells but is meant to overflow into the world. This outpouring (Psalm 23) happens through the Eucharist as it dwells in a heart that is a home where the windows are never closed and the door never locked.
We close as we began this article: “An oratory should be built as conveniently as possible among the cells, where, if it can be done without difficulty, you are to gather each morning to hear Mass.” In this part of the Carmelite Rule, the journey to the Eucharist calls for a path of straightforwardness, a path that limits any difficulty of a Carmelite’s daily journey to Christ. I pray that our time with Him may make His presence known to others without difficulty in our lives.
“The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.” ~ St. Teresa of Jesus