“Haec Via sancta est et bona”
Remarks on the theme of the General Chapter 2019
Anastasia di Gerusalemme
Carmelite Monastery, Ravenna
The General Chapter 2019 invites all members of our Carmelite Family to linger in a dynamic, deep, involving and lively reflection, which at the same time would enter in a close dialog with the concrete life of everyone. Through the theme chosen for its celebration, the General Chapter really becomes an elected instrument of listening and confrontation, of checking and new decision: “You are my witnesses (Is 43: 10); from one generation to the next: called to be faithful to our Carmelite charism”, are living words, that ask from each one of us to enter in a careful and frank dialogue with them and with the emerging topics, in particular following the three outlines given by the Preparatory Commission to our attention and consideration, that is: tradition, witness and challenge.
Urged by the inspired words of the theme of the General Chapter, I really wanted to listen to them carefully and to meditate them in my heart in the light of the Carmelite Rule, trying to put in dialog the suggested themes with Albert’s text, its symbols, its attendances, its open channels to the realities of nowadays’ life.
Tradition: desire for a different beauty
Bending with attentive and loving heart on the text of our Vitae Formula, very soon we find ourselves in front of the humble and holding movement of the tradition, that is of the delivery of something precious and vital. Tradition, in fact, is not a set of principles to be learned by heart and to be repeated during the years, nor is a system of thought to be acquired no matter what, but rather is the vital movement of the careful and conscious passing over of a precious treasure: we could say of the breath of life itself, of the substance which gives you the possibility to feel alive and at your turn a life giver.
This is what we can see become concrete on the humble and strong lines of our Vitae Formula, where Albert writes in this way to his sons, the hermits of Mount Carmel: “quia requiritis a nobis ut tradamus vobis vitae formulam” (R 3). The verb tradere, that we find here, shining between the verb requiro, as beautiful and brilliant, and the substantive, to us so much dear, vitae formula, helps us to get in touch with the vital, existential reality of the tradition, the transmission.
Our text helps us understand that the tradition flows from a request, from a desire and gushes from a very strong relationship of closeness, elapsing between the father and his sons, in this case the Patriarch Albert and his beloved sons, the hermits.
Moreover we find out that the object of this tradition – transmission is a Formula, that is a little Form, an image: a little project or pattern, according to the different meanings of this term, that we can catch through the nuances of the Latin language.
So we can very well say, without fearing of going astray, that Albert is transmitting a beauty, letting it go through his hands, his interiority, to that of the sons, the hermits.
Formula: the forms, the precious and beautiful nuances of life, as he says in the first lines of the Rule. This concept and image is then even more enriched at the closing of the text, where he uses the expression, even more charming, conversationis formula (R 24), that is the beauty of conversation, of relationship, of dialogue and behavior.
All this really puts us in front of a living reality, that breathes and has a beating heart, a heart which desires, a heart in search and that longs for, a heart that gets involved into relationship. Life to life transmits Albert, life for the sake of life! And we are so much fortunate, so much graced to be called to take part in this movement, in this encounter. And this is not a movement - encounter closed in itself, coming to its end only in two simple passages, immediately concluded. The text of our Rule puts in front of our eyes a real chain of transmission, traditio, whose central ring is, sure, Albert in his relationship of paternity towards his sons hermits, towards each one of us, but the chain develops backwards and onward, in a movement of life beginning from far away and reaching out towards today and towards the future.
If we look backwards, there we find the Church, our most beloved Mother, Hierosolymitana Ecclesia (R 1), coming forth immediately, humble and beautiful as a bride at her wedding, from Albert’s pen and if we go one step more backwards, there we meet the Sancti patres (R 11), who have set and transmitted the rules of the liturgical prayer. But, if we push even further, we cannot but run into the primary figure, into the vital principle for us Carmelites, that is the prophet Elijah, represented, in this case, by the Fons and the Mons (iuxta Fontem in Monte Carmeli), symbolic places, by which we, as the first hermits, have been fascinated in an irresistible way (R 1). So this is the race of the traditio of life, coming to meet us from very far away, without getting tired, without running out: Albert, the Church of Jerusalem, the holy Fathers and our prophet Elijah.
A run so much filled with life that is not able to stop and goes on therefore, from one stage to the other, from generation to generation. From Albert to the hermits and, among them, in particular to the Prior B. (R 1 and 22) and then on to him, who would be elected after him. But not only this! In fact, already in the text of the Vitae Formula appear the subsequent rings of our chain of grace, of irrevocable gift, made up of all those who, from those first moments of our history, would come close to the place, to the experience of the original group of Carmelite brothers. Albert describes them with the marvelous term venienti ad locum (R 9). Brothers and sisters on the move, in search; pushed by their heart to set forth into journey, going out of their homes, in order to reach that precise place, so much precious, so beautiful, that is Mount Carmel, where the Carmelites, brothers hermits, dwell.
What could be offered and transmitted to these people who come to us, to these venienti, if not the beauty of our Vitae Formula or conversationis Formula? What else could they expect from us?
We shall therefore thank the preparatory Commission for the General Chapter, that is helping us to open to this beauty so bright, which we can find, hidden into the path of the Carmelite tradition, a passing on of life, still wanting to enter in dialogue and contact with each one of us. And opening up in this way, we want to wish to ourselves that we might find out that, through God’s grace, is still well alive, still burning up, the desire for a different Beauty, the secret Beauty of existence, that is always to be longed and looked for, that must be begged from Him who is the origin, the spring itself of Beauty.
May this desire still pass on from us to our brothers and sisters that we meet on our path, as the most precious, the most true transmission, the most true traditio!
Witness: looking beyond the door
Connected with the theme of tradition is that of witness, of testimony; they complement each other, give sense and recall one another.
The slogan chosen to accompany the General Chapter 2019 is built up on a biblical quotation from the prophet Isaiah, who puts on God’s mouth, talking to his people, these words: “You are my witnesses” (Is 43, 10). We know that in biblical language the witness is one who states what he has seen and heard; he has knowledge of first hand, direct, of an event and therefore he is able to testify.
The witness, ‘ed in Hebrew, is he who sees and sees directly, in a clear and attentive way; he sees with his own eyes and hears and catches the words of a story. ‘Ed comes from the verbal root ‘ud, meaning to repeat, to come back on the same things, going around; this is the persistent movement of he who is sure of what is doing, of what is declaring. It‘s very interesting to stop on a particular that the wisdom of the Jewish tradition reading the Torah conveys to us; in fact the masters underline that the word ‘ed , witness, stands out in a very strong way from one of the most beloved biblical passages for Israel and for all those who love Scriptures, no matter to which people they belong to and namely the so called Shema‘, Deuteronomy 6: 4 ff. It comes to be that the most ancient Torah manuscripts have this passage written with two letters in larger characters and these two letters are the ‘ayin , final letter of the word Shema‘ Israel and the dalet, final letter of the last word of the passage, that is echad, one. ‘Ayin and dalet, united, form the word ‘ed, witness.
The witness is called to give the only one necessary and essential testimony, that of the oneness of God, that of the faith in one only and unique God, the God of Israel.
How much we can see here, in this mission, the presence of our prophet Elijah! He is the witness for excellence! He, who really has eyes and ears suited and used to the meeting, the relationship with God, the unique Lord of Israel!
Yes, the two letters building up the word witness, that is the ‘ayin and the dalet, bring in themselves the grace of the glance, of the eye, of listening, of word. ‘Ayin means precisely eye and dalet is the door, the open door of the word, davar.
Witness is, then, being able to watch, to look at something with a piercing, a contemplative eye, beyond the door, out of the door. This is what John announces in his first letter, when he writes: “That what we have seen and heard (that is what we are witnesses of) we proclaim also to you” (1 Jo 1: 3).
But it is a message on the move, a message that runs together with life. It’s not a matter of empty words, merely repeated; they are glances, listening, so deep that they become actions.
We can see it very well also in the text of our Vitae Formula, at least in two wonderful passages, that cannot but fill us with wonder. Let’s try, now, to meet them, in order to see and understand what really is witness in the spirit of Carmel.
When someone reaches the place where the brothers of Carmel live and gets closed to the entrance, introitum, and asks to get in, the prior is called to go out of his cell, of his personal and private space, in order to run towards the person who has just arrived; occurrat, so writes Albert (R 9). It is the running, the living movement for the encounter, for welcoming the other person, for the witness. And it is from this first movement, from this exit towards that everything else then proceeds, develops and becomes concrete.
In the same way, also at the closing of the text of the Vitae Formula, we find, under the veil of Albert’s words, this same dynamic of grace, of hospitality, that becomes witness. If there is something extra, something more, a supererogation, a gift of overabundance, in the life of the brother of Carmel, it is precisely here, in this same movement of going out towards, of authentic encountering with the other, the brother or the sister, who comes and asks, begs, we can say, life. In the image of the Lord who is coming back (R 24), Albert focuses and repeats, with the most fine wisdom, the evangelic parable of the good Samaritan, who, having seen the wounded brother along the way, goes to meet him, welcomes him, or better, he concretely picks him up and takes him with him, till the inn, where it is possible to take care of him. This is the inn of the hospitable and merciful love, where what is extra is offered.
This kind of witness is offered to Carmel as a lifestyle, as a commitment on the path of life, a commitment for the personal growth until the full maturity of man in Christ.
We, sons and daughters of Carmel, are, indeed, men and women of stability, called to remain, to inhabit in a conscious way the locum of our existence, but, at the same time, we are strongly called to the movement, to the going out, to an habitual and familiar attendance of the road, of the journey. It is here, in fact, that we can meet our brother, our sister, we can enter in touch and relationship, we can really give witness to that Beauty, which we have been made able to see and to hear.
Challenge: the journey of encounter
Here we can find the most authentic, burning and insistent challenge. We can catch it if we go through the last part of the Vitae Formula with attention, from chapter 18 on, where Albert gives us an interesting interpretation of the experience of life, of Christ’s disciples journey on earth.
Albert seems wanting to tell us that there is a struggle, a fatigue preceding all others; there is a challenge anticipating any other possible challenge that we might have to face along the path of our life and this first, primary challenge is our life itself! Albert recalls a passage from the Book of Job and reminds us that man’s life on earth is a temptation, that is a test, a trial going down to the depth of our being (R 18). Yes, man’s life, so as it is, forms for each one of us the big challenge to face, day after day. And plus, within this frame, immediately comes out the adversary, the devil, the inimicus, throwing traps. We are still at chapter 18 of the Vitae Formula, which constitutes a synthesis of awareness, of extreme and clear concreteness, realism.
It is not so useful to concentrate immediately on the challenges coming from outside, on the changing social conditions typical of each era, because these come always after the primary and essential challenges, pushing up from inside, from the depths of our being.
It’s true; Albert doesn’t spare us and reminds that exist also persecutions for those wanting to live piously in Christ, but they come always after, in addition, as a necessary fulfilment for the fullness of our faith and of our relationship with Christ, chosen, loved as our Lord and Master.
In front of this situation our father Albert offers us a possible indication and direction of journey, or, if we want, indication for our fight and this is the armor of God. A series of warlike images, following each other recalling the text of Ephesians 6, confirm us that, in any case, we have to take the field for battle, for conquering our own existence.
In particular Albert’s attention falls on the theme of the Presence. It is necessary for us to be inhabited! “God’s word abides abundantly in you!” (R 19).
And this Presence must be preserved, visited, loved and kept as the most dear, precious thing that we might have, living in our soul and in our life. Again here is lined out the character of the challenge, of the struggle: the devil must not find a intrandi aditum, a way in, to our souls (R 20), but he must find us constantly occupied. That is, inhabited, filled beforehand. There must not be idleness, says Albert, but instead action, work. Here he repeats six times in a row the term opus, the verb operare, to work (R 20 and 21).
But what action, what work is he talking about? This is the answer that the Carmelite is called to give to the challenges of life, of the world, of the different situations: we could call it the Opus Dei of Carmel and we could draw it as a path, an open way to walk on, step after step. Haec via sancta est et bona!, Albert writes and adds: Ambulate in ea! (R 20).
We, sons and daughters of Carmel, are called to be walkers, itinerants! We cannot remain inside, just stuck there, where we find ourselves today. We must run, run towards, run beforehand!
The challenge, for us, is also waiting; waiting for the Lord who comes back! This is the way in which Albert presents us Jesus and gives Him to us as a wedding gift, as a treasure and announces Him with these words, filled and shining with hope: “Ipse Dominus, cum redierit, reddet ei” (R 24).
Surely, the Lord comes back! He, the first itinerant and hiker, the first walker, wants us to be on journey with Him, always awake along the path, the Via sancta et bona, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, the path of our common life, of our everyday life. It is here that takes place the real meeting, it is here that the real wedding of humanity and maturity are celebrated: the embracing with the brother, with the sister, like us wounded and needing, like us in search of God’s face.
The challenge is, then, to have the courage to go out and put ourselves on journey, simply, on the road. There we will meet the Lord and we will experience his Mercy, bind over us and picking us up; we will be accompanied to the inn of his Father, where we will find rest, abundant mercy. There we will feel known, loved forever.