Carmelite Spirituality and Its Application to Wider Christian Life


The following is an excerpt from De Institutione Monachorum a text that attempted to trace the lineage of the Carmelite family to monks living on Mount Carmel from the time of the Prophet Elijah.

from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valebek O. Carm

"There is a two-fold end. One end we are able to attain by our own efforts by the practice of virtue and with the aid of divine grace. It consists in offering God a holy heart free from all actual stain of sin. This end is reached when one is perfect and in Carith, that is, hidden in that charity about which the Wise man wrote: 'Charity covers a multitude of sins' (Prov 10:12). And because the Lord wished that Elias reach this end he told him: 'Hide in the torrent of Carith.' The other end of this life is bestowed on us as a pure gift of God. It consists in tasting somewhat in our hearts and experiencing in our minds, not only after death, but already in this life, the power of God's presence and the pleasantness of heavenly glory. This is to drink of the torrent of God's delights, and this is what was promised Elias by God with the words: "'There you will drink of the torrent.'

I quote this because, while it is from a classic of Carmelite spirituality, the words of this particular passage are universal. They don't speak so much as a method or a way of getting to the two ends as to what the ends are in themselves.

Simply spoken the author here says that there are two endplaces in prayer. We get to the one through our efforts aided by grace. But to the other we are summoned by the word of the King of Heaven. There is no way to merit this or to earn it through our works. It is grace freely given and not necessarily reserved for the few, though in actuality few actually attain it.

But I think the comparison here is useful. God's love is a torrent. Within its raging powerful stream, nothing that we have set up against Him can stand. Nothing of human construction could possibly endure the torrent of His love. To be exposed to it unprepared would be to be ripped apart.

This is one of the reasons careful preparation is so necessary. This is one of the reasons why all of the great saints seem to recommend some way of stripping oneself of all of the fragile human constructs of self. If, ultimately, we are to place ourselves in the way of God's love, it had better be in a streamlined way, with as little obstruction as possible. Even when we approach in this simplified way, the transition is tremendously difficult and painful to our human senses.

St. John of the Cross recommends detachment from all things as prepatory to this state. Others may recommend other ways of approach, although they all seem to amount to the same thing--become simple and single-hearted. We have powerful but simple means of accomplishing this task--Prayer, the sacraments, and surrendering our wills to His own.

A torrent will wash away and purify everything that cannot stand in His presence. It will prepare a person for living God's will in a way that will save souls, not only the soul of the person involved, but the souls of all those who can be touched in any way by the person. This is our great end--to participate actiively in the salvation of souls and to live in the torrent of God's love. These ends are intimately linked. We cannot live in the torrent of His love if we do not love those who are around us--and what is the point of love if it is not the desire to see each soul live eternal life in God?

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 14, 2004 7:36 AM.

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