The Carmelite Family has grown and developed greatly in recent years with many new members and new groups. New ways of understanding the relationships between the different components within the Family are emerging.
Despite the decline in religious observance, it has often been said that there is a great thirst for spirituality around the world. This takes many paths but certainly many people seem to be fascinated by the Carmelite way. This puts a lot of pressure on us. It is not sufficient to be a good parish priest or a good physics teacher but the people expect us to know something of the spiritual journey, not only theoretically but also from our own experience. Lay people are becoming more knowledgeable about Carmelite spirituality and some desire to live it in new ways. All of this puts pressure on the friars and perhaps disturbs our comfortable life. What is our reaction to lay Carmelites? Can we see the hand of God present in some way through them?
Justice and peace
As a contemplative fraternity at the service of God's people, we take to heart the words of Vita Consecrata that the Christ encountered in contemplation is the same who lives and suffers in the poor.5 The same number speaks of the option for the poor as being inherent in the very structure of love lived in Christ.
All of Christ's disciples are held to this option, but those who wish to follow the Lord more closely, imitating his attitudes, cannot but feel involved in a very special way. The sincerity of their response to Christ's love will lead them to live a life of poverty and to embrace the cause of the poor.
The Provinces and Commissariats of the Order have been very generous in their support of many projects. However each one of us has to look at his or her life before God and ask whether he / she sees Christ in the poor as well as in prayer.
‘‘Those who love God, the Father of all, cannot fail to love their fellow human beings, whom they recognise as brothers and sisters. Precisely for this reason, they cannot remain indifferent to the fact that many men and women do not know the full manifestation of God’s love in Christ. The result, in obedience to Christ's commandment, is the missionary drive ad gentes."
The Order has always had a missionary thrust and Carmelites have preached the Gospel and planted the Order in many new lands. However, clearly a change is developing in the Church and the Order. There are far fewer young men coming forward in the older Provinces while there are many in the developing nations. How are we going to handle this changing reality? How is the Order going to continue to be missionary with far fewer vocations? How is each one of us going to carry out our task of teaching others to obey everything that Christ has taught us? We teach first of all by the example of our lives. What do our lives say to people?
When I look towards the future, I am full of hope. The Order will surely be different but, as Cardinal Newman said, "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often"7. Our task is to be faithful to our vocation and to try to read the signs of the times, i.e. to discern what God is saying to us from the heart of the world. We can only do that effectively if we have a contemplative heart.