GENERAL CHAPTER OF THE BROTHERS OF OUR
BLESSED LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL 2019
Once upon a time a Trappist nun was asked about the community she lived with and she responded: “I would not have
chosen to live with these women, but God has chosen them to live with me”. In the eight hundred years of our Carmelite existence, God has chosen many holy and sometimes not-so-holy people to live together “in allegiance to Jesus Christ.” We are part of that long story – and the story continues.
The choice comes firstly from the Lord God. “I have chosen you.” In this moment of history, in the on-going saga of our existence as a religious Order, we stop, once again at chapter time, to reflect, to evaluate, to discern, to contextualise, to locate ourselves and our mission in this twenty-first century of the Lord.
Often when reflecting on our way of life, reference is made to the early Christian community of Jerusalem (Acts 2:44-47). Constantly, while recalling this foundational text of Christian community life, we are invited to return to the sources of our way of life in community and the wells we draw from to satisfy the deepest desires within us. Back in 1971, the spiritual writer Thomas Spidlik, S.J. wrote beautifully about this early community:
“From the beginning, they were conscious of being God’s new prophets, called to populate the earth and to point the human race towards the ‘last times’. Their way of life was scandalous. Individualism was banned; their life was communal; private property, in many cases, disappeared; they proclaimed the News of Salvation with a joyful simplicity of witness, rejoicing in the persecutions they underwent for the sake of Jesus, and forgiving their enemies…. That group lived by the teaching of love. Everything was subordinated to love between fellow Christians and their love for everyone. Listening to the Word, the use of money, the breaking of the Bread, the creation of ministers, visits between Christians and their going out in mission, everything, every decision had love as its paradigm. It was in this way that Christians began to create the face of the Church. ‘Made’ by the Church they ‘made’ the Church”.
The coming together of the members was and is an act of love for the Living God, and thus, our chapter is in every way more than juridical for it is about openness to the Spirit of that love moving over the assembly of our present reality. The official formation document of the Order (RIVC) begins precisely with this theme of love:
God ‘loved us first’ and he called us to participate in the communion of the Trinity. We recognize his call in the experience of his love. Moved by the Spirit, we listen to the Word of Christ, who is the Way that leads to Life. In his footsteps, entrusting ourselves to God’s compassionate love, we set out on the journey to the summit of Mount Carmel, the place where we encounter God and are transformed in him.
Our Constitutions tell us that a General Chapter is “the principal sign of the unity of our Order, in all its diversity. It is the fraternal gathering in which we reflect together, in community, to strengthen our faithfulness to the Gospel and to our charism, and our sensitivity to the needs of time and place. By means of the General Chapter, the entire Order, allowing itself to be guided by the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, seeks to know the will of God at a particular moment in history, so that we may best serve the Church”.
The theme chosen for the 2019 General Chapter is: “You are my witnesses (Is 43:10); from one generation to the next: called to be faithful to our Carmelite charism.” This theme offers a continuity with the last General Chapter and the General Congregation in Fatima in 2016. Its essence is drawn from article 21 of the 1995 Constitutions. It relates to our service in the midst of the people and underlines three main ideas for the Chapter to consider with regard to the challenges that face us in the years ahead: faithfulness to our Carmelite charism; continuity with the generations past who heard the same call; and the challenge to give witness to present and future generations. As Con 21 indicates there has to be an openness and a willingness to listen to the world “ready both to meet life’s challenges and to give an authentic evangelical response based on our charism.” The prophet Isaiah (43:10) says “you are my witnesses”, my chosen servants, understanding and knowing that “I am the Lord”.
This theme underlines three specific topics to be addressed: our TRADITION, the WITNESS our lives give to the world and the CHALLENGE before us now as we move forward into the next six years. Each community is asked to reflect on this theme and these three elements. Below are presented some thoughts to evoke dialogue and discussion, personally, in communities and in provinces.
Perhaps it is time now, in year of our Lord, 2019, as we gather to celebrate the sources of our inspiration to hear once again the Lord God say to us as he did to Elijah: “Why are you here?” Our calling to Carmel is God’s choice but it is also ours in how we choose to respond! There will be a number of choices to be made during the chapter, especially with regard to modifications of the 1995 Constitutions, these must flow from the fundamental and initial responses made in our religious calling. Present choices are built on a continuity of choices made by us and by previous generations right back throughout the story of Carmel.
We need to give time in our communities to discuss the implications for our chapter theme, so that the chapter delegates are aware of these thoughts and feeling across the world. By having at least three community meetings, enriched by personal prayer and reflection, can we move forward so as to find a pattern or model of how we might live our Carmelite way of life today – one that is authentically faithful to our tradition – so that the gift which is Carmel may witness to the world we live in and that we are truly ‘a contemplative fraternity in the midst of the people’?
Lord, you have chosen and called
each one of us into the land of Carmel
to be witnesses of your love from one generation to the next.
In you we put our trust, knowing that with the prophet Elijah
we can acclaim that the Lord is the true God,
seeking the face of this living God in the heart of the world.
Let the Spirit of your love guide us into your future,
so that even as in earliest days by the spring on Mount Carmel,
the brothers and sisters of the Order may once again
be renewed in truthful living and in their mission.
In solidarity with the Carmelite family,
we ask that our forthcoming General Chapter,
under the protection of the Mother of God,
may be blessed through faithfulness to your Gospel,
giving an authentic evangelical response to our call
in the midst of your people. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
FIRST MEETING – OUR TRADITION:
“From generation to generation….”
“I will sing forever of your mercies, O Lord, from generation to generation my mouth will announce your truth” (Ps 89:1)
FOR OUR CONSIDERATION:
We have a wealth of written testimony and documentation since the extraordinary post-conciliar chapter of 1968. This is the fruit of many of our twentieth and twenty-first century scholars who have opened up for us the richness of the charism, its history and spirituality drawn from the past eight hundred years. It has enriched our lives, our formation and our genuine pride in who we are. Our present experience has been, and continues to be, nourished with the meaning of our history. Our values, the interpretation of these and our dialogue with them, enrich our story today. Bringing into focus again, the great classical texts of our tradition, the foundational text of our Rule, and the way in which over these past decades we have come to interpret these through our present way of life. Do we really know our Rule, Constitutions, Ratio, and so on? Yes, we might say, but in community do we hear the key essentials spelled out for us in a common setting, leading to a life together that is directed to the common good?
It might be helpful to recall that the great assemblies of Israel, the early Christian community, the liturgical assemblies of today’s Church, place the proclamation of the Word at the heart of its reality. Previous generations of Carmelites have read our texts in common. These are texts pertaining to our identity – but also texts that can challenge our way of life today. Tradition is not traditionalism, but a rich source of wisdom that nourished our great witnesses, our saints, leading to lives that gave witness to their generation and also to ours. It is of particular importance regarding the serious task of formation and on-going formation.
Yet, faithfulness to the charism has to be more than documents or words, it has to have a lived and a visible reality, if we are to be truly authentic witnesses to the world we now live in!
Article 21 of the Constitutions, from which our chapter theme is drawn, states:
“As a contemplative brotherhood, we seek the face of God also in the heart of the world. We believe that God has established his dwelling place among his people, and for this reason, the Carmelite brotherhood knows itself to be a living part of the Church and of history - an open fraternity, able to listen to the world it lives in, and willing to be questioned by it; ready both to meet life’s challenges and to give an authentic evangelical response based on our own charism”.
In the light of this long tradition, we might ask ourselves some personal questions: are we authentically a contemplative brotherhood and if so in what way? If our response is somewhat negative, then what stands in our way? Why is it that in a number of cases is it not seen to work and some lose heart along the way?
Again, we wonder are we an “open” fraternity, “able” and willing to listen; to face the challenges of today and then give “an authentic evangelical response based on our charism”. Are we too inward looking (self-referential) without the awareness of what way and how the lives of people around us have moved on? More than structures or documents, this chapter has to enable us to give an evangelical response to others – and, at the same time, challenge us to find concrete ways of living our response that in a credible way promotes our mission today – as the General Congregation in Fatima put it “more by our lives than by our words.” In the light of all of this, might we strive to describe what “Carmelites living in allegiance to Jesus Christ” could look like for our brothers and sisters in the twenty-first century?
SEEKING A RESPONSE:
- How often do we, as communities of faith, share with one another that which we give assent to in our documentation?
- When was the last time we evaluated our Carmelite life and ministry in the light of our fundamental Order documents (Rule, Constitutions, Ratio….)?
- Is there a real gap between our theoretical identity and the actual lived reality, and how would we bridge that gap?
TWO TEXTS TO TAKE NOTE OF:
“We are aware that we are rich in tradition and theological models. But perhaps we need to revitalize our mystical journeys which, in practice, serve to transmit to others the wealth of Carmel and ‘the beauty of having seen the Lord.’ The Carmelite in the midst of the world is at the service of the cultivation of God’s garden, Carmel, creating sacred places, mystical spaces where God can shine”.
“To enter into the Carmelite experience is to become part of an ongoing story. It is to enter into a long human, spiritual, ecclesial and apostolic tradition which has been tested by time. Although there is a need to reread, re-interpret and deepen our understanding of this tradition, this does not mean that we must start from scratch. This work of continuous revision provides individuals with many opportunities to make their own contributions, with their specific gifts, thereby enriching, developing and renewing the life of the Order”.
SECOND MEETING - OUR WITNESS
“Faithful to our Carmelite charism”
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8)
FOR OUR CONSIDERATION:
Pope Francis, when asked by the Union of Superiors General what is desired from consecrated life today, responded with one word – witness! This corresponds fully with the mission of the Church from earliest times as evidenced by the Acts of the Apostles. Who is a witness? What does a witness do? How do we identify ourselves as witnesses?
Religious life ought to promote growth in the Church by way of attraction. The Church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world.
Moving on is costly, it is easier to stay doing what we have always done and the way we have always done it – new wine for new wineskins!
Perhaps the first great witness of the Gospel period is John the Baptist. He points to the presence of the one among us. A witness has some vital truth to proclaim and support it with the evidence of an authentic way of acting.
To use a contemporary mode of speaking, ‘Carmel’ is a brand name for contemplation and holiness. In what way is this true today? We are called to “wake up the world”, yet, sometimes, it might be necessary to begin by “waking up ourselves”. There are two aspects of growth regarding what is required for witness, often seen in the term “creative fidelity”; faithfulness to our identity and life-giving creativity in giving witness to the world. There is in the term “creative fidelity” a balance to be struck. Who we are has been formed throughout the generations and given identity in the mendicant tradition. We might reflect, as communities, on the fact that we are “minors” the little ones rather than people seeking clerical status within a hierarchically structured Church.
As friars, we must take responsibility for who we are. Others in today’s world, often guided by a political paradigm, by global finances, secular media, see the same world we see but with different eyes. We have to go beyond this worldliness, while not denying the great intellectual and scientific advances made in our time. It is suggested that the mendicant might view from the periphery, from the contemplative gaze upon the world but with a contemplative heart. Another perspective might be, where are our mystics in this twenty-first century? “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his sovereignty is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3).
SEEKING A RESPONSE:
What might our witness, as Carmelites of the twenty-first century, be today?
What must we let go of in order to follow authentically today in the footsteps of our ancestors?
What price are we willing to pay so that our very brotherhood is itself a witness?
TWO TEXTS TO TAKE NOTE OF:
The Lord declares.
You are my witnesses,
you are my servants chosen by me
to know me
and put your trust in me
and understand that I am the Lord.
Before me no god existed,
nor will there be any after me (Is. 43: 10).
“Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events; they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn. Prophets know God and they know the men and women who are their brothers and sisters. They are able to discern and denounce the evil of sin and injustice. Because they are free, they are beholden to no one but God, and they have no interest other than God. Prophets tend to be on the side of the poor and powerless, for they know that God himself is on their side”.
THIRD MEETING - THE CHALLENGE
“An authentic evangelical response” (CON 21)
“Your faithfulness endures to all generations” (Ps 119:90)
FOR OUR CONSIDERATION:
Firstly, we must remember that it is an “evangelical” response we are invited to give. To be authentic is indeed a great challenge and in the context of the present reality of today’s world, it embraces words like, honesty, transparency, humility, sincerity. These are issues that face a Church that is under the microscope of a not always friendly world these days. Somehow, the Gospel phrase is coming true, “there is nothing hidden, that will not be revealed….” We might see this as a threat or a crisis. The word ‘crisis’ might be understood in the Greek sense of the word krisis meaning a call to judgement or decision. The challenge will be to walk the path of truth. Problems that concern some parts of the world today and are indeed scandalous, will in time be seen more globally. Healing wounds created by ministers of the Gospel is part of the challenge before us. Genuine community life, not guest-houses from which ‘I’ do my ministry requires communities that work together, having a viable number of members present for common exercises, have to be our goal now. This is true for the new world provinces just as much for the old world.
We will make decisions next September that will have consequences, but this is normal and could be difficult to face. Our age is greatly enhanced by documents like Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato si’, Amoris laetitia, Gaudete et exsultate and so on….
Think of the young man asked by the Lord to leave everything and follow him…. It was a step too far for he was attached to that which did not give him freedom. We are called to something more:
The truth of human life is that we are called to the highest realities and yet often have inclinations that lead us to the lowest. We desire to become divine yet sometimes we allow ourselves to become dehumanized…. The best protection against such a decline is to be aware of its possibility…. Humility is truth, and truthful living is most aided by a realistic attitude to ourselves and to others.
In a very real sense, the Incarnation must teach us to be experts in humanity, enriched by the wisdom of the ages.
Over the past few years we have seen the statistics, the demographics, the analysis and the projects. Allowing our Rule’s wisdom to guide us beyond the immediate stress, the slavery of constant busyness, the addiction of social media, might well be countered by words like, “stay in your own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at your prayers…”. From this pondering will come the ‘evangelical’ response. Surely, our sister, Mary, learnt this and was fruitful in the service of the Lord. Her own words are clear, “He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:47).
SEEKING A RESPONSE:
- As faithful Carmelites, how do we commit ourselves to the future in humble service of the Kingdom of God?
- What is the greatest challenge that your community/province faces in today’s world?
- What will we hope for from this coming chapter, that will guide us into the future, not letting anyone rob us of the joy of the Gospel?
TWO TEXTS TO TAKE NOTE OF:
“Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for: “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn 5:44). It is a subtle way of seeking one’s “own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:21). It takes on many forms, depending on the kinds of persons and groups into which it seeps. Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral” [Evangelii gaudium, 93].
“Like the prophet Jonah, we are constantly tempted to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations. We can resist leaving behind a familiar and easy way of doing things. Yet the challenges involved can be like the storm, the whale, the worm that dried the gourd plant, or the wind and sun that burned Jonah’s head. For us, as for him, they can serve to bring us back to the God of tenderness, who invites us to set out ever anew on our journey. God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Jn 1:14). So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find him there; indeed, he is already there. Jesus is already there, in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, in their troubles and in their profound desolation. He is already there” (Pope Francis, Gaudete et exsultate, 134-135).
Evangelii Gaudium ends with a prayer, part of which we might make our own, as we prepare for another part of the ongoing story, from generation to generation, of God’s love for us in Carmel:
The Preparatory Commission
Fr. Edison Tinambunan (Indo), President
Fr. Richard Byrne (Hib), Secretary
Fr. Claudemir Rozin (Par)
Fr. Boniface Kimondolo (Ken)
Fr. Luca Sciarelli (Ita)
Communication may be sent to:
General Chapter 2019
Via Giovanni Lanza, 138
Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
 Prologue, Breviario Patristico, 1971 [ed. Italiano]; Patristic Breviary, 1992 [English edition].
 RIVC 1.
 Con 255.
 Letter of convocation of the 2019 General Chapter.
 Final message, General Congregation 2011, Analecta, 62, 2, page 424.
 RIVC, 26.
 Pope Francis, Meeting with 120 generals of religious orders, 29th November 2013.
 Pope Francis (2014), Apostolic letter to all consecrated people on the occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life, §2)
 Casey, Michael, OCSO (1999), Truthful Living, pages 35-36.
 Carmelite Rule, 10.