BY FR. ALOYSIUS DEENEY O.C.D
I want to start off with a question: Who, here, among the Secular Order members, entered the Secular Order before the Rule of Life? The Rule of Life, as we know it, only came into existence in 1974. So, anybody who came into the Secular Order before 1974 came before a Rule of Life existed. Those who did will remember that before 1974 there was a book called the Manual. That was the legislation, if it could be considered that, since basically it was an instruction on how Secular Carmelites conducted their devotions. So, the Manual, written in 1921, was the only Rule available, the only form of legislation from 1921 until 1974. That year, the Holy See approved a text of the Rule of Life to be used experimentally for a period of 5 years. In 1979 the Holy See approved the definitive text, the one we are all familiar with. I wanted to mention that because some people act as if the Rule of Life fell from heaven itself and was therefore untouchable but that is not at all true.
Before 1921, before the Manual existed, there was no specific legislation for Secular Order Carmelites. In the oldest documents that we have in the English language, which date from 1912/1914, the Secular Order is referred to as The Confraternity of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. We can see, therefore, that an evolution as to the identity of the Secular Order has taken place and continues today. The Church is both source and cause of that evolution. In 1917, the Church approved the first Code of Canon Law, which was put into effect in 1918. As part of the response to the new laws of the Church, the Order had to codify something of the existence of this entity called The Confraternity of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Manual was the fruit of that impetus – of that movement on the part of the Church - to put things in order. The Manual, once written, guided the Secular Order until1974.
However, between 1963/65 the Second Vatican Council took place. This Council redefined many things in the Church, including the laity. In response to the redefinition of the identity of the laity in the Church, the Carmelite Generalate commissioned a committee of Friars to rewrite the Manual, in the light of the Vatican Council findings. This committee looked to see how to codify the identity of a Secular Order member in accord with the Council documents, the result being the replacing of the Manual by the Rule of Life. This then became the legislation governing the Secular Order.
Already, a considerable evolution has taken place. What began as The Confraternity of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has now become The Secular Order, an intrinsic part of the Order itself.
Three other significant things occurred: a new Code of Canon Law in 1983; the Synod on the laity in 1987, which produced the document Christifideles Laici, and then the Synod on religious life in 1996, which produced the document Vita Consecrata The purpose of the Synods, and both those documents, was to clarify and specify the findings of the Second Vatican Council.
The Rule of Life came before both these Synods and before the new Code of Canon Law. As a result of the process of what the Synod said about the identity of lay persons in the Church; what the Synod said about religious life and especially what it said in Vita Consecrata No.55 about the relationship between religious and lay people who identify with the religious charism, a certain re-evaluation of the Rule of Life was found to be necessary in order to respond to the Church.
Remember, the Church tells the Order what the Order is – the Order doesn’t tell the Church what the Order is! The Order is part of the Church and when the Church comes along with different legislation, different documents, different understandings, then we have to respond to what the Church says about us and sometimes that means big change.
(When Pope Paul VI was Cardinal Montini, Archbishop of Milan, he asked the General of the
Order, Fr. Anastasius, later Cardinal Ballestrero of
The Order responds to the Church, hears what the Church has to say and then accepts – that’s who we are, that’s what we do, that’s how we live. And that is the reason why we have to keep making adaptations!
We have already stated that specific legislation for the Secular Order did not come into existence until 1921. Then it was renewed in 1974 and now we are renewing it again. Why are we renewing it again? Because we respond to the different events that have happened, expressed in the documents of the Church, These events have had much to do with our identity as an Order and your identity as the Secular branch of the Order.
A further evolution has also occurred in the
process of assembling the Secular Order’s legislation. The Manual, (1921), was written by the
Friars. The Rule of Life, (1974),
was written by the Friars. But this
time, it is the committee, established in
The present form of the Constitutions is
a temporary text. Ten individuals,
having a variety of languages, have put it together. These members came from
Since most of the group spoke more than one language; two language groups were formed. One worked in English and the other in Spanish. It was still difficult. The basic text used was the existing Rule of Life. There were a variety of methods also. For instance, when we gave out the first three Articles to be worked on, the English group came back with one page for each. The Spanish came back with three pages for each Article. Differences arise out of language and culture. It is a difficult process to come together and produce a text that anyone and everyone can be happy with.
I want to emphasise two main points. Firstly, that the work on the present text, unlike
1974 or 1921, is being done by Secular Order members, who have between 5 and 45
years of experience as Secular Order. members .
Secondly, that this is a consultative document. The Secular Order throughout the world will
have been consulted before the text is even presented to the Definitory. In September, there is to be a meeting of
Provincials in the
One of the advantages I’ve had is to be able to
go around the world and discover those differences. The essential elements are the same but there
are many cultural differences. Different
doesn’t mean ‘better’! Different doesn’t
mean ‘worse’! Different only means
different! Where differences are found,
there is also found differing cultures, a different place and a different
time. Needs differ in
different places. ‘How do you
witness as a member of the Secular Order in a culture here?’ becomes a
different question in a different culture – like the
The Constitutions were issued in mid
January 2002. The first response came
Who is going to be happy with the end result? Only the obedient! It is a consultative process but not a democratic one! We/you are not voting on anything! That would not go along with the spirit of the Promise. You commit yourself to something if you go along with it and if you don’t go along with it, then your commitment ends!
You are now involved in a process and I want you to feel that you are part of that process, in consultation. However it looks, it’s going to be the result of study, writing, work by Secular Order. members, reviewed by the friars along the way, collating, putting ideas together in some sort of logic, but the actual work is being done by the Secular Order members. The committee of 10 represents about 40,000 people! It’s a headache! It’s much easier to produce a document if you are the only one working on it. Hopefully, in the end, people will understand that this document is coming from the fruit of the experience of Secular Order members – not just from the fruit of the friars. The friars have worked and laboured with the Secular Order.
I want to explain, now, the basic principles that we use as determining principles in the charism of the Secular Order. These basic principles define the identity of the secular Carmelite.
There are three difficulties that are common to the Secular Order of Carmel throughout the world. They are common to all, but vary in degree from Province to Province. They also are interrelated. The first is the most basic and the most common and is the basis for the other two difficulties. The first of these challenges is the lack of clear criteria for the discernment of a vocation to the Secular Order. One of the most common questions I am asked by Presidents of communities, or members of the Council, or formation personnel or Spiritual Assistants is “What do we do about members who seem not to belong to the Secular Order?” Many say that the main problems of the community come from members who do not belong in the Secular Order. The other two problems find their roots in this basic problem. They are the lack of proper preparation for making the commitment to the Secular Order by making the promises which leads to the improper understanding of the promise of obedience and the exercise of authority in OCDS communities.
The point of this presentation is to answer the question “What are the principles that you use to discern the vocation to the Secular Order? Who is called to be a Secular Carmelite and how do you distinguish between those called and those not called? Among the friars and the nuns, people do not leave because they are bad people. People are not sent home from the monastery or the convent because they are morally unacceptable. It is a vocation to be a member of the Order and one that needs, for everyone’s sake, to be clearly identified. Otherwise, the Order, either the friars, or the nuns, or the seculars, loses its way and confuses its identity
I would describe a member of the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Teresa of Jesus as a practicing member of the Catholic Church who, under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and inspired by Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross, makes the commitment to the Order to seek the face of God for the sake of the Church and the world.
I would note in that description six distinct elements that, coming together, are those elements that move people to approach the Order and seek identification with the Order in a more formal way.
member of the Catholic Church…” By this I mean Roman Catholic, which refers
to the unity under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. The majority of Roman Catholics belong to the
Latin Rite. There are, however, other
rites within the Roman Catholic Church, Maronite,
Malabar, Melkite, Ukrainian, etc. There are Secular Order communities in each
of these rites. The entire OCDS
The word “practicing” specifies something about the person who can be a member of the Secular Order. As a basic litmus test of “practicing” the Catholic faith I suggest the capacity to participate fully in the Eucharist with a clear conscience. The Eucharist is the summit of Catholic life and identity. It is the meeting point of heaven and earth. So, if one is free to participate in the summit, then the lesser points of participation are certainly permitted.
For most cases in the past this was rather simple to determine. People who came to the Secular Order came from parishes where the friars were present, or through contact with friars or nuns who recommended them to the Secular Order. Divorce was not a major factor in Catholic life. Most situations were clear.
It is not so today. Things are not always clear. It is precisely here where the Spiritual Assistant can be of most help to the Council of a community of the Secular Order in the screening of candidates. I give an example. A woman approaches a community of the Secular Order. The woman is known by some of the Council. They know that this is her second marriage. They also know that she regularly goes to Mass and participates in the sacraments. The Council would like clarity before admitting this person to formation.
There are a few possibilities with this case. The Church annulled the first marriage. Or, by arrangement with her confessor, she and her husband are living in such a way as to participate in the sacraments of the Church. An interview with the Spiritual Assistant would clarify the answers. Without necessity of too much explanation to respect the right to privacy and a good name that every member of the Church enjoys, he could give the word to the Council that would allow this person to enter the Secular Order.
The Secular Order is a juridical part of the
Order of Discalced Carmelites. It is an
institution of the Roman Catholic Church and subject to the laws of the
Church. The Sacred Congregation must
approve its own legislation. Therefore,
someone who does not belong to the Catholic Church may not be a member of the
Secular Order. Non-catholic people with
interest in the spirituality of
Here we have the first element of the identity
of a Secular Order member – a person who participates in the life of the
Catholic Church. There is, of course,
more, because there are millions of people who participate in the life of the
Catholic Church who have not the slightest interest in
We come to the second element – “under the
protection of Our Lady of
It is not just any devotion to Our Lady that identifies a person called to the Secular Order. There are many Christians who are very devoted to Our Lady and have a very highly developed Marian character to their Christian life. There are many Orthodox Christians as well as High Church Anglicans who are very Marian. There are many Catholics who wear the scapular for all of the correct reasons and with sincere dedication to Mary who are not called to be Secular Carmelites. Not only that, but there are some people who come to the Secular Order precisely because of devotion to Mary, the scapular, and the rosary who do not have a vocation to be Secular Order members.
The particular aspect of the Blessed Virgin Mary that must be present in any person called to Carmel is that of an inclination to “meditate in the heart”, the phrase that Saint Luke’s gospel uses twice to describe Mary’s attitude vis-à-vis her Son. Yes, all the other aspects of Marian life and devotion can be present, devotion to the scapular, the rosary, and other things. They are, however, secondary to this aspect of Marian devotion. Mary is our model of prayer and meditation. This interest in learning to meditate or inclination to meditation is a fundamental characteristic of any OCDS. It is perhaps the most basic.
A very frequent experience of many groups is to have a person approach the Secular Order to become a member, sometimes a diocesan priest, who is very devoted to Mary, a person who has been on many pilgrimages to Marian shrines throughout the world, a person who is very familiar with many of the apparitions and messages attributed to Mary, a real authority on current Marian movements. Many times they do not have the slightest inclination to “meditate in the heart”. They desire quickly to become the ‘teachers’ of the community about the Blessed Mother and introduce an entirely un-Carmelite strain of Marian interest into the community. If this person is a priest, it is very difficult for the community to protect itself from this detour in its Marian life. There are other Marian groups and movements that might be the home for this person, but it is not the Secular Order.
In addition, within the Teresian Carmelite
family there is a place for people whose primary motivation is devotion to the
scapular and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
It is the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular, or the Confraternity of
Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Before the
Council, in nearly all the countries where the Order is present, there were
many requests for the establishment of confraternities (Brown Scapular, Infant
of Prague, and Saint Therese) in different parishes and places. The registers for these confraternities are
kept in the Secretariat of the Secular Order.
After the Council, the requests for these confraternities nearly
disappeared except for
My own theory is that instead of establishing confraternities, every new group, in many places, made requests immediately to be established as Secular Order groups. As I see it, in many places, especially in some missionary territories, it might have been better to begin with confraternities allowing them later to develop into Secular Order groups. And even in some other places, the Secular Order communities are, in reality, little more than confraternities. I say that meaning no insult to the confraternities. I only mean that the motivation for the Secular Order is different than the motivation for the confraternity. If the Secular Order has lost its resolve and attraction, it may be because it has become something less than what it is meant to be.
Mary, for a Secular Order member, is the model
of a meditative attitude and disposition.
She attracts and inspires a Carmelite to a contemplative way of
understanding the life of the mystical body of her Son, the Church. It is she who draws the person to
A member of the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Teresa of Jesus is a practicing member of any of the rites of the Roman Catholic Church who, under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and inspired by Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross…
Here we have the third element. I mention both Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross and I might say, right at the beginning of this section, that I also include Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, or Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity or Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, (Edith Stein) can also be included, but Saints Teresa and John of the Cross are central to this point.
Having mentioned all of those great people of
the Carmelite tradition, I underline the importance of Saint Teresa of Jesus,
whom, in our tradition we refer to as Our Holy Mother. The reason is because she is the one to whom
the charism was given. In many parts of
the world we are called Teresian Carmelites.
The writings of Saint Teresa of Jesus are the
expression of the charism of the Discalced Carmelites. The spirituality of the Discalced Carmelites
has a very well based intellectual foundation.
There is a doctrine involved here.
Doctrine comes from docere, Latin for
‘to teach’. Any person who wants to be a
Discalced Carmelite must be a person with an interest in learning from the
A person comes to the community, a person with a great love of the Blessed Mother, wants to wear the scapular in honor of Mary as a sign of dedication to her service. This person is very prayerful but has no interest in reading or studying the spirituality of the Teresian Carmel. This person tries to read one of the Carmelite Doctors but just cannot find the interest to keep reading. To me, this is a good person who may belong in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular, but definitely does not have a vocation to the Secular Order of Carmel.
There is an academic aspect to the formation of a Teresian Carmelite. There is an intellectual basis to the spirituality and identity of one who is called to the Order. And, as with each friar and each nun, each Secular represents the Order. A Carmelite that does not have the interest in studying or deepening the roots of his/her identity through prayer and study loses their identity and can no longer represent the Order. Nor does that person speak for the Order. Many times when listening to a Carmelite speak it becomes obvious when hearing what is said that they have not gone beyond what they heard in formation years before.
This intellectual basis is the beginning of an attitude that is open to study. It leads to a deeper interest in Scripture, theology and the documents of the Church. The tradition of spiritual reading, lectio divina and time for study is the intellectual backbone of the spiritual life. Good formation depends on good information. When the information is bad, or absent, or incorrect, the formation stops or is stunted, resulting in confusion in the Secular. If that Secular, through some twist of fate, becomes somehow an officer of the OCDS community, the community suffers. It happens with friars and nuns, and it happens with Seculars.
For some incredible reason that I have never fully comprehended, some Carmelites consider themselves and the Order dispensed from listening to the Church or following the indications given in Church documents. This is very present among Seculars. What the Holy Father said in Christifideles Laici is fine for everybody else, but “We are Carmelites and are different. We do not have to do what everybody else has to do because we pray.” Bad formation based on bad information.
This academic or intellectual basis is very important and has been sadly missing in many groups of the Secular Order. It is not a question of “being an intellectual” in order to be a Secular. It is a question of being intelligent in the pursuit of the truth about God, about oneself, about prayer, about the Order and about the Church. Obedience has long been associated with the intellect and the virtue of faith. Obedience means openness to hearing (ob + audire in Latin). Is a radical attitude of the person to move beyond what that person knows. Education also comes from Latin (Ex + ducere to lead out of). Saint Teresa describes the person of the third mansions as almost stuck and unable to move. One of the characteristics of this person, permanently in the third mansions, is that they want to teach everybody else. They know it all. In reality they are disobedient and uneducable. That is, they are closed and unable to learn.
I have spent a lot of time on this aspect because of its importance for the advancement of the Secular Order.
The fourth element of the description is “who
makes the commitment to the Order”.
There are so many committed Catholics who are devoted to Mary and even
experts in Saint Teresa,
It is not the spirituality, nor the study, nor the devotion to Mary. Simply put, the Secular Carmelite is moved to commit himself or herself to the Order and to the Church. This commitment, in the form of the Promises, is an ecclesial event and an event of the Order in addition to being an event in the life of the person who makes the Promises. In a certain sense, remembering always the person’s context of family, work and responsibilities that are involved in his/her life, the person who commits him/herself, becomes characterized as a Carmelite.
As I said, it is an ecclesial event and an event of the Order. It is for this reason that the Church and the Order have the essential say in union with the candidate in accepting and approving the commitment of the person. It is also for this reason that the Church and the Order give the conditions and set the terms for the content of the Promises. A person may want to commit him/herself to certain things, daily meditation or the divine office for example. But the Church, through the Order establishes the basic and broad lines of understanding with regards to this commitment.
The Secular belongs to
It is because the Promises are the means by which one becomes a Secular Order member that formation for the Promises is so important – formation and on-going formation. In most formation programs that I have seen or that we have in the Generalate, the Promises seem to me rather summarily presented, almost as a minor point. And I have seen no programme at all focusing on on-going formation in the Promises. The only possible point of on-going formation is the formation for the vows, but that is limited to those who make vows.
An important aspect to this commitment is the commitment to the community. A person who wishes to be a member of the OCDS must be able to form community, be a part of a group that is dedicated to a common goal, show interest in the other members, be supportive in the pursuit of a life of prayer and be able to receive the support of others. This applies even to those persons who for various reasons cannot actively participate in a community. In the formation of the future of the community, this social characteristic is one that should develop. There are many people who are introverted and quiet but who are still quite sociable and capable of forming communities. And there are many people who are quite extroverted and at the same time incapable of forming community. In this question it is necessary to use common sense. Answer the question: “What will this person help the community to be in ten years?”
There is also the question of people who belong
to other movements - for example the New Chatecumemate,
Focolare, Marian Movement of Priests, Charismatic
Renewal. If a person’s involvement in
other movements does not interfere with that person’s commitment to Carmel and
that person does not introduce elements that are not compatible with OCDS
spirituality to the community, then there is generally no problem. It is when the person distracts the community
from its own purpose and style of spiritual life that problems begin. Sometimes there are people so confused that
they come to
The most important point is that the person must choose the Secular Order and that commitment ought to be more important than other movements or groups.
This commitment to the Church through
The fifth element of the description is “to seek the face of God”. This element expresses the content of the Promises. I could rephrase this element in various ways, “to pray”, “to meditate”, “to live the spiritual life”. I have chosen this one because it is Scriptural and expresses the nature of contemplation – a wondering observation of God’s word and work in order to know, love and serve Him. The contemplative aspect of Carmelite life focuses on God, recognizing always that contemplation is a gift of God, not an acquisition as a result of putting in sufficient time. This is the commitment to personal holiness. The OCDS wants to see God, wants to know God and recognizes that prayer and meditation now take on a greater importance. The Promises are a commitment to a new way of life in which “allegiance to Jesus Christ” marks the person and the way this person lives.
The personal life of the Secular Carmelite becomes contemplative. The style of life changes with the growth in the virtues that accompany the growth in the spirit. It is impossible to live a life of prayer, meditation, and study without changing. This new style of life enhances all the rest of life. The majority of Secular Order members who are married, and those with families, experience that the commitment to the OCDS life enriches their marital and familial commitment. Men and women OCD Seculars who work experience a new moral commitment to justice in the work place. Those who are single, widowed or separated find in this commitment to holiness a source of grace and strength to live their lives with dedication and purpose. This is the direct result of seeking the face of God.
Is the essence of
I am sanctified by the practice of the virtues, which is the direct result of a life of prayerful searching for God’s will in my life. This is the Carmelite secret – prayer does not make us holy. Prayer is the essential element in Christian (Carmelite) holiness because it is the frequent contact necessary to remain faithful to God. This contact allows God to do His will in my life which then announces to the whole world God’s presence and goodness. Without the contact of prayer I cannot know God, and God cannot be known to others.
To seek the face of God requires an unbelievable amount of discipline in the classic and original sense of the word – disciple, one who learns. I must recognize that I am forever a student. Never do I become a master. I am always surprised by what God does in the world. God is forever a mystery. The clues to God’s existence always interest me. I find them in the events of life, single, widowed, married, family, work, and retirement. But they only become recognizable and clear through prayer, observing from the heart. The call to holiness is a burning desire in the heart and mind of the one called to the Secular Order. It is a commitment that the Secular must make. The Secular is drawn to prayer, finding in prayer a home and an identity.
This prayer, this pursuit of holiness, this encounter with the Lord makes the Secular more part of the Church. And, as a more committed member of the Church, the Secular’s life is more ecclesial. As the life of prayer grows it produces more fruit in the person’s personal life (the growth of virtue) and in the person’s ecclesial life (apostolate.)
This leads me to the sixth element of the description “for the sake of the Church and the world.” This is the newest development in the understanding of the place of the Secular in the Order and in the Church. This is the result of the development in the theology of the Church on the role of laypersons in the Church, and applying that theology to the Order. Beginning with the Second Vatican Council’s document On the Apostolate of the Laity, and its fruition with the Synods on the Laity in 1986 and the Consecrated Life in 1996 (Christifideles Laici and Vita Consecrata) the Church has constantly underlined the need for a further commitment of the laity to her needs and the needs of the world. Saint Teresa had the conviction that the only proof of prayer was growth in virtue and that the necessary fruit of the life of prayer was the birth of good works.
At times I hear a Secular say: “The only
apostolate of the Secular is prayer.”
The word that makes that statement false is “only”. A prayerful and obedient attitude toward the
documents of the Church makes it clear that the role of the layperson within
the Church has changed. The Rule of Life
talked about the need of each Secular to have an individual apostolate. What Christifideles
Laici highlights is the importance of all
associations in the Church, and the OCDS is an association in the Church, to
develop group apostolate. Many Seculars,
when they hear the mention of group apostolate, think that I am talking about
the entire community being involved in something that takes up hours each
day. That is not at all what “group
apostolate” means. Paragraph 30 of Christifideles Laici gives the
basic principles of “ecclesiality” for associations
and lists the fruits of these principles.
The first fruit listed is a renewed desire for prayer, meditation,
contemplation, and the sacramental life.
These are things “right down
Each community ought to answer the question as a
community “What can we do to share with others what we have received by
We, as Carmelites, can help to clean up the mess
by making known what we know. It is not
an option. It is a responsibility. As I
As I said at the beginning, it is not any one
element that discerns the person who has the vocation to
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