Fraternity in Carmel
1 Around the Word and the Eucharist
Fraternity cannot be taken for granted. It is a continual risk that enjoys happy moments, periods of great drive and energy and, at times, moments of morbid introversion, difficulties and crises. Because of this it needs a solid theological foundation which animates it and allows it to express itself with ever greater vitality.
This foundation is provided by the Word of God and the Eucharist; that is to say, by the Word being heard and "made flesh", by the Word being meditated upon, celebrated and put into practice. We are not dealing here with the simple observing of a formality, but with recognising in the Word and the Eucharist, their characteristic of "event" that gives substance, dynamism and shape to life.
The Carmelite Rule already points us in this direction. It presents us with an itinerary that is still valid for our times. By opening ourselves to this text and to some further intuitions by Carmelite authors, we cannot but discover the rhythm of a community that grows around the Word and the Eucharist.
1.1 Diligent personal listening to the Word
We are dealing here with lectio divina; the practice of prayerful listening to the Word of Scripture which leads to an ever more intimate communion with Christ and an ever more radical conversion in one's own life. Today this practice has returned to being a daily form of nourishment in our communities. There are many echoes of this too in the spiritual tradition of Carmel. For example John of the Cross advises; "Leave behind all the other things which you still have and limit yourself to only one which contains in itself all the rest: that is sanctified solitude accompanied by prayer and holy divine reading. Persevere in this by forgetting all other things". Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi compares the Word to Jacob's ladder which enables us to climb to the Father's "womb"; Thérèse of Lisieux, writing to Fr. Roulland communicates her experience of being a disciple of the Word in this way: "I close the book of the wise that breaks my head into little pieces and turns my heart dry and I take the Scriptures in hand. Then everything becomes clear to me; a simple word unlocks infinite horizons for my soul and perfection suddenly seems so easy".
1.2 Listening to the Word in community
In the context of the rule this listening takes place at the moment of the common table; nowadays, other forms involving greater participation and more conducive places are preferable. For example; a type of lectio divina based on the biblical readings of the Sunday and festive liturgies celebrated in the chapel or in another more appropriate place. We should not forget that Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi often liked to join up with her sisters on the vigils of Sundays and liturgical solemnities to meditate on the scripture readings. Nor should we forget the words of John of the Cross: that by ourselves we will never grasp the meaning of the Word of God that is speaking to us today; we need the company and the words of others. In John's opinion this is a theological necessity: "Moses felt encouraged because he was inspired by the hope that his brother Aaron would have comforted him with his advice. In fact it is a characteristic of the humble soul not to attempt to deal with God by oneself but to feel not totally satisfied without seeking the direction of human counsel. God wants it this way since He is in the midst of those gathering to understand the truth...".
1.3 The Liturgy of the Hours
Here the Word that is listened to on a personal and community level is made into community prayer; prayer that unites us as brothers, sons of the one Father. The spiritual tradition of Carmel likes to emphasise the doxology at the end of the psalms; Carmelites are called prophets because they sing the psalms and hymns accompanied by musical instruments. The praise becomes prophecy, an announcement of the new age of the Spirit. This praise becomes real living music for God because it is alive with the life of the Trinity and capable of "trinitarian" relationships, i.e., communitarian relationships.
1.4 Daily Eucharist
Here the Word, having been listened to and prayed about, becomes flesh and really is the existential "centre" of the community in the sense that it teaches the evangelical values of unity, of gift and of service. "It is here to call to creatures; and they are filled with this water, although in darkness, because it is night", sings John of the Cross contemplating the Eucharist as a mystical fount of unity for all. Elizabeth of the Trinity on the other hand contemplates the Eucharist as a sacrament of "receptivity"; communion with the body and blood of the Lord is more of a receiving than a giving; it is more a case of being assimilated by Him than us assimilating Him. Finally, Edith Stein teaches that "living in a eucharistic way means coming out of oneself, out from the narrowness of one’s own life and growing into the immensity of life in Christ". This life opens up to love without frontiers, a love of solidarity where no one is considered a stranger.
1.5 The community chapter
Here the Word, having been listened to and made flesh, is experienced existentially as the "guardian" of community life, looking after the spiritual welfare of individuals, and involves fraternal correction that is exercised with charity. Saint Paul says that the Word finds its fulfilment in agape (Rom 13:10). It is evident that in this important moment of community life the Word is efficacious in convoking, instructing, exhorting, discerning and illumining the concrete life of the brethren in their community way of life. When we deal with dialogue later on we will make some practical applications for the community chapter.