Last night a dear friend asked me to tell him the story of an experience and a thousand feelings came to me as I locked into the unyielding pages a dream and an image.
The doors of the main chapel in Sassone are closed; inside, there are human shapes, dressed in brown, many of them, filling the rustic benches that shape the lower part of the chapel space, their bodies turned towards the altar, they keep a respectful silence at the beginning of the celebration to which they are called each day. The dim light that penetrates the darkness is enough to pick out the different shades in the habits that they wear like sheets of water in an earthy ocean. Then suddenly, something to attract the attention of the onlooker, something that breaks that image of uniformity, one, two, maybe three maybe even four shots of colour breaking away from the colour that seemed to be the only one. It’s hard for the onlooker to understand: Where did they come from? What are they doing here? Someone gives the answer, “they are not religious, they are lay people.”
There are many who, contemplating this image, are able at the same time to pick up one or two more features: the separation between religious and lay people in the Catholic Church, the strange customs of a group lost in the mists of time, or the intrusion of a few into a place that does not belong to them. Thanks be to God, a long time ago a young prince convinced me to look with the eyes of the heart, and ever since then my mental x-rays seem to find new meaning wherever I look. The proof of this is that as I looked at the scene that came before, all I could see was a family gathered for supper.
Then, in the General Audience with Pope Francis, that all the participants of the General Chapter went to in the middle of the week dedicated to the Carmelite Family, the Pope chose to talk about the Church as the mother who takes care of her children. As I mulled over the words of the Pontiff, I began to realise that if the Church is Mother of all Christians, and God is undoubtedly our Father, then the relationship between all their children cannot be other than a relationship of fraternity. Holding on to that model I began to try to understand the way that Christian, religious and lay, do see themselves, or should see themselves.
Leaving aside metaphors like big brother or little brother, or more committed brothers and less committed, I began to see a solution that I found satisfying and that for that reason I would like to share in this reflection.
Religious are the children who have made the commitment to work in the same fields where their father works, help him in what he has to do, and guarantee the survival of what in another age was known as the family responsibility.
Lay people are the children who leave home to look for their future in some other place and in some other occupation, cutting themselves away materially from the figure of the father, but always united with him because of the values that he gave them from the time they were very small.
I would like to extend this metaphor a little further in order to see its full potential, but what follows might be enough as a final thought: if the father needs other pairs of hands to harvest the fruit of the land, the children who left home (lay people) will be willing to take on the task: in the same way, if there are too many workers at home, some of the children who stayed at home will have to think about other ways to used their talents and abilities. Finally, I have to confess, as a lay person, that the welcome I received from my brothers in the house of the Father was as warm as all this image of family might make us think.
I have had a dream for a long time. It was that dream that gave me the opportunity to take part in this General Chapter. The dream began some three years ago, with the Pilgrimage of Hope (if you have not heard of it, be sure to ask), and this became stronger when the European Carmelite Youth Committee (ECYC) was set up and I was invited to be part of it. Ever since then I have been sharing my dream with seven other people, and now, after the Chapter, I know that that dream has reached the representatives of all the Carmelite provinces. I’m hoping too that through this article, even if I cannot get across to the reader all that I experienced, maybe I can arouse a desire to know more about it:
As a Christian and as a Carmelite, I dream of a Church and an Order in which young people have an important role. I mean, young people who are committed to their faith and charism, who know the real meaning, in theory and in practice, of these two terms and that precisely because of that want to include them in their lives and in their beliefs. I dream as well about a Church and an Order whose arms and hearts are open to young people, who will go out to meet them, get to know them, talk with them, and most of all, show that they are open to their new ideas and feelings, their concerns and the peculiar way that they relate to the world.
That is why the European Carmelite Youth Committee has dreamt about a project that will be set in motion next Summer, 2014, that will bring together youth leaders from the different provinces of Europe to train them and motivate them for their task. This is all about giving incentives for the work with young people in the different parts of Europe so that the net is spread wider, as it is already working in some countries, to form a European Carmelite Youth awareness. Now it is time for this dream to stop being a dream, this is the time for the Awakening (For more information on the Awakening project, visit the web page of the Carmelite Order or write to any member of the European Carmelite Youth Committee (ECYC).