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SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE (Jn 17:21)

ELEVEN YEARS OF O.CARM - O.C.D. DIALOGUE AND COLLABORATION

Circular letter of the Superiors General
Fr Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm Fr Camilo Maccise, O.C.D.
Rome 2003
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Carmel,

1. A year into Fr Joseph Chalmers' second term leading the Order of Carmelites and only a few months from the end of Fr Camilo Maccise's period of service as Superior General of the Teresian Carmelites, we would both like to send you this letter to celebrate and to thank God for the journey our two General Councils have made together in the search for dialogue and co-operation and also to reflect on this process.

Co-operation Requested by the Church

2. Vita Consecrata, following the line of Vatican II, (1) invites the superiors of Religious Institutes to engage in a constant dialogue "in order to promote mutual understanding, which is the necessary precondition for effective cooperation, especially in pastoral matters." (2) At the same time this encourages "fraternal spiritual relations and mutual cooperation among different Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life" starting with fidelity to their own charism. (3) Guided by these teachings of the Church and conscious that inter-congregational dialogue and cooperation are signs of the times, we have tried to be open to the ways of the Spirit. A further reason is our common roots: "fix your eyes always on the ancestry from which we come, those holy prophets." (4) "Let us keep before us our true founders, those holy fathers from whom we descend, for we know that by means of that path of poverty and humility they now enjoy God." (5)

Origins and Development

After various preliminary discussions, the first meeting of the two General Councils took place on 6th December 1991. This was a truly historic date. It was a fraternal and simple meeting. In the first part of our combined meeting, there were presentations on both sides of personnel and of their activities at the service of their respective orders. Then there was an exchange of experiences in the fields of vocations, formation, the 'new evangelisation' and the commitment to peace and justice. The meal that followed with the whole Curia community of the Discalced furthered the fraternal atmosphere that had been created. It was decided to continue these contacts in order to have a deeper appreciation of the various common concerns and to create better channels of cooperation and exchange, always respecting the identity and autonomy of each order. Finally, it was also agreed to hold two meetings a year: in May in the O.Carm. Curia and in December in the O.C.D. Curia.

So began this journey of growing closer and cooperating which already existed between orders and religious congregations of different origins, but now nourished by sharing the same roots and sustained by a common trunk, such as the orders of the Franciscan family. We have persevered on this journey for eleven years, despite some occasional difficulties. In drawing up a balance sheet of what we have achieved, we would like to give you some idea of what we have shared together and indicate to you some ways forward for our future relations and common efforts.

I

REJOICE IN YOUR HOPE (Rm 12:12)

The Work of Charity

4. Before the beginning of dialogue and cooperation at the level of the General Councils, in various parts of the world, such as Spain, the United States and the Philippines, there had already been common initiatives and good fraternal relations at a local or provincial level. In other regions, by contrast, mutual prejudices made the task of coming together and exchanging ideas all the harder. Now even these problems have been overcome and the positive aspects of our relations have increased.

5. In our exchanges and dialogues we have always set out from the conviction that we are different Orders but that we have common roots at Elijah's spring on Mount Carmel. Ever since the beginning of the Teresian re-foundation we have travelled by different roads but always trying to live the values of Carmelite spirituality. Our intention was always to deepen what we hold in common and to respect that which distinguishes us.

As we said in our joint letter Passing through the Holy Door, written to mark the Great Jubilee of the year 2000:

"There are doors through which we cannot pass with complete liberty and sincerity: they constitute our history, the past and the present relationship between Carmelites of the Ancient Observance and Teresian Carmelites. Cultural and national sensitivity can influence relationships between provinces; differing spiritual traditions and ascetic sensitivities can temper relations between groups of monasteries; sometimes simple prejudices and shut minds can affect the way individuals feel towards each other. We must engage in a liberating re-evaluation of certian tense historical moments and episodes that displayed little authenticity or communion. We are called to give witness to a dialogue of peace and mutual, humble, sincere pardon; we are called to give witness to a new season of fraternity accepting our differences and living together. The various forms of dialogue, sharing and planning which we have experienced together over the last ten years must continue, and yield more fruit; it must involve all our people and all our institutions. Greater dialogue and sharing will always begin at the level of fraternal life in the local community. It can and should involve those lay people who wish to share the spirituality and mission of Carmel in a deeper manner" (6).

Forward in Faith and Trust

6. Despite some difficulties, with resolution we decided to continue on the journey begun. Enlightened by experience and the teachings of Saint Paul in relation to his ministry, we accepted responsibility for this mission in these earthen vessels and, with the help of God and each other's support, we tried not to be discouraged but to live by what the Apostle says when he exhorts the community in Rome: "Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of spirit. If you have hope this will make you cheerful. Do not give up if trials come; and keep on praying" (Rm 12: 9-12). We were also encouraged by the widespread support for our common efforts from the majority of the members of both our orders.

Occasions for Cooperation

7. We 'rejoiced in our hope' in an active and responsible way. For this reason, from the beginning, we tried to create at least some occasions for cooperation and exchange. Two mixed O.Carm. and O.C.D. commissions were appointed. One was for spirituality and the other dealt with formation. We decided to exchange programmes and initiatives and to invite each other to the International Congresses organised by the two orders. In this way the forthcoming Carmelite Dictionary came about. Meetings of formators and those in formation were also arranged by the two orders. An international Mariological Meeting has just been held and an O.Carm-O.C.D. Psychology Seminar to examine together the relationship between psychology and spirituality. In all the International Meetings of one order there has always been the presence of the other branch. The two General Councils decided that for Latin America there should be a joint theological commission (seven members from each order) to reflect on Carmelite spirituality topics of relevance to Latin America. The commission has met annually for the last eight years and has published several books as a result of their reflection on how to incarnate Carmel's spirituality in Latin America and how to present our saints in a language that would be intelligible in the social, cultural and ecclesial framework of these countries.

To mark various celebrations and anniversaries in one or other of the orders, we have published joint letters prepared with the assistance of the two Councils and signed by the two Generals. The two Generals have also invited each other to take part for one day in their respective General Chapters by giving a reflection and presiding at the celebration of the Eucharist. Similarly, on more than one occasion, one or other of the Superiors has led a course or given a conference at an Extraordinary Definitory or various regional meetings.

II

REMEMBER THE LONG WAY  GOD LED YOU (Dt 8:2)

8. In the last three years we have held two important meetings: the first on Mount Carmel (1999) and the second in Aylesford (England, 2001). On both occasions the two General Councils lived together for a week. We reflected together and became aware of our origins, the role of Mary in Carmel and the various ways in which the two branches live these elements of Carmelite spirituality.

Recalling the History of our Origins

9. The meeting on Mount Carmel took place at the end of the O.C.D. Extraordinary Definitory in October 1999. For a week we prayed together, we visited biblical sites guided by a book written by four Teresian Carmelites: Praying in the Holy Land. We also reflected on the origins of the Order and its Rule. We recalled Elijah, the model who inspired the first Carmelites who in the twelfth century began to live in this place and who received from Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Rule or formula vitae. We visited the ruins of Wadi-es-Siah and we recalled the eremitic/cenobitic lifestyle of "those holy fathers". We meditated on the fundamental values of the Rule, seen as they are today from various social, cultural and ecclesial perspectives. They are like different windows helping us discover in all their entirety the Rule's richness and relevance in meeting the new challenges to the inculturation of our Carmelite lifestyle. In this way, we discovered the value and significance of the experiences of those who had gone before us.

10. We also became aware that the proposal to live the evangelical life, presented quite simply and coherently in the Rule, is centred on Jesus Christ and on ecclesial communion. We saw how it offers a way of life structured around the person: God (prayer), others (communal acts) and self (an interior life of personal prayer). We noted that each of the two orders has a particular approach to the Rule based on various experiences of their vocation over the centuries. For example, the experiences of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross and the manner in which they interpreted the Rule are necessarily taken for granted by the Teresian Carmelites in a special way. In the spirit of a plurality of readings and re-readings of the Rule, Teresa and John are welcomed and have an influence on all Carmelites, who see in these figures the mature fruit of Carmel. These were days of grace when we also looked realistically at the circumstances and some of the practical details of our relationship.

11. We recalled the order's passage from the East to the West and its capacity to adapt to a mendicant style, without forgetting its original contemplative and eremitical values. We also discovered in our past a certain falling away, continual reform movements before and after Teresa and John, and finally the 'refoundation' accomplished by them. This was in creative fidelity to the roots of Carmel, but opening them up to new horizons to meet the challenges of their day. They began with an experience and expressed it in their writings which enlightened this new path. Their influence was not confined to the new order but also extended to the ancient branch and to the whole of Christian spirituality.

With Mary, the Mother of Jesus

12. A year and a half later the two councils came together for another week-long meeting. This time it was in Aylesford (England), a place linked with the event of the Carmelite scapular. There the experience of living together was centred, above all, on the preparation of a joint letter from the two Superiors General, With Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to mark the seven hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Scapular. The deep Marian devotion among Carmelites appeared as a strong common element between the two orders. We tried to open a dialogue between our Marian heritage and the challenges presented by today's Church and world. We emphasised that Mary is seen in Carmel as Mother, Patron, Sister and Model. We presented the Scapular as a sign of commitment and we invited all the members of the two orders, friars, nuns, sisters, laity and associated Congregations, to continue celebrating the Carmelite Marian year, which ended in St Peter's Square on 12th September 2001 when the Pope crowned the statue of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel.

These two meetings helped us to remember what God has done for Carmel throughout its history and they spur us on to proclaim our common historical 'credo', much in the same way as the people of Israel proclaimed their beliefs (See Dt 26:5-9).

III

FORGETTING THE THINGS OF THE PAST  LET US LOOK AHEAD
(See Ph 3:13)

A Positive Overall Result

13. In the most recent meeting between the two Councils held in 2002, we looked at the overall outcome of the journey we had undertaken together in our dialogue and cooperation. We looked at what had been achieved so far and that which remains to be done. A year ago a new six-year term began for the Carmelite Order; in a few months a six-year term will be ending for the Teresian Carmel.

Faced with these various perspectives, we reaffirm in as much as it depends on us, that we wish to continue on ahead, deepening our fraternity and cooperation. The conflicts and tensions of history must be left behind in order to open us to the future "where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things." (7)

In this examination of what has been accomplished, it is clear that we have increased the levels of communication and cooperation. Furthermore, in both orders there has been a decrease in prejudice and an increase in national and regional cooperation. We undertake to promote this increase in common initiatives, such as the Carmelite Institute in the United States and others which have grown up here and there.

New Challenges

14. Along with the Church and consecrated life in general, we have to face up to the challenges presented by a changing reality. For this reason, in the near future there will have to be more space given to enquiry and reflection at the level of the General Councils. We have to ask ourselves how today we can live and pass on the great values we hold in common in both orders: meditating 'day and night' on the word of God; living in obsequio Jesu Christi; witnessing to and handing on a solid spirituality with biblical roots; renewing and making relevant Marian devotion so that it is more biblical, more anthropological, more liturgical and more ecumenical. Together we can discern paths for inter-religious dialogue and for giving a response from our spirituality to the search for the sacred and to the nostalgia there is for God. In line with Our Lord Jesus Christ's experience of God, we too are called to make a commitment to justice and to peace arising from a preferential option for the poor, as "a seal of Gospel authenticity and a catalyst for permanent conversion in the consecrated life" (8). We will have to examine the possibility of general initiatives in the future with cooperation and mutual respect for our respective identities. An openness to cooperation with the wider Carmelite family around the world: friars, nuns, laity and affiliated institutes will have an ever-increasing effect on placing at the service of evangelisation our Carmelite charism and spirituality, which God has given for the benefit of all our brothers and sisters. This must be done at all levels: from that of popular piety to theological and inter-disciplinary reflection, as well as from the mission field to the lecture room.

Unity in Diversity

15. In finishing this reflection we have shared with you, dear brothers and sisters, we would like to note what has been clear to both General Councils from the beginning, but which many have not understood or have not wanted to understand. We are referring to certain necessary presuppositions for our dialogue and cooperation to have a solid basis and for the proper identity of each order to be maintained.

We have never desired, nor even discussed, the juridical amalgamation of the two orders. We believe that diversity is a great treasure for the two orders. With esteem for our respective independence and areas of activity, without confusion or ambiguities, we have only desired to be open to the call of the Spirit as seen in the signs of the times and in the invitation of the Church to communion and cooperation between the two institutes: "Fraternal spiritual relations and mutual cooperation among different Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are sustained and nourished by the sense of ecclesial communion. Those who are united by a common commitment to the following of Christ and are inspired by the same Spirit cannot fail to manifest visibly, as branches of the one Vine, the fullness of the Gospel of love." (9)

In their recent instruction, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life makes the same call to communion, inviting all the orders in the Church to discover their common Gospel roots, striving for the greater gift, charity. (10) This is even more important when the two Institutes in question have common roots, as in our case.

Conclusion: Open to the Spirit
In the Discernment of the Faith

16. Brothers and sisters, before the General Chapter of the Teresian Carmelites, we wanted to share with you the experience of this journey we have made over the last eleven years. If communion and fraternity are signs of the Spirit's presence, we can assure you that He has been present among us. Where the Spirit will take us from now on we know not, but we are sure that He will be leading the way. "The wind blows where it will, you hear its voice, but you know not whence it comes nor where it goes. So too everything born of the Spirit" (Jn 3:8).

We have a firm hope that the dialogue begun between the two orders will continue at all levels. This will help all Carmelites to deepen their knowledge of our history and spirituality for the benefit of the whole Church. We have tried to respond to the challenges of the present moment. It will fall to new generations to discern the direction of the Spirit in faith.

In his Apostolic Letter at the end of the Jubilee Year, John Paul II encouraged living a spirit of communion in the Church and indicated some strategies that might help:

"A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a 'gift for me'. A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to 'make room' for our brothers and sisters, bearing 'each other's burdens' (Ga 6:2)" (11).

May the "grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (See 2Co 13:13).

Rome, Christmas 2002 - New Year 2003
 

Fr Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm. (Prior General)     -    Fr Camilo Maccise O.C.D. (Superior General)


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1. See PC 23
2. Vita Consecrata 50
3. Ib. 52
4. Foundations 29:33
5. Id 14:4
6. Passing through the Holy Door: 31; See Vita Consecrata: 54
7. Vita Consecrata: 110
8. Vita Consecrata: 82
9. Vita Consecrata: 52
10. Starting afresh from Christ: 30
11. Novo Millennio Ineunte: 43
 

     
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