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89° Capitulum Generale Ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum
Avila 28th April 18th May 2003
Original text in Spanish
1. First of all I would like to thank you for your kindness in informing me of the celebration of the 89th Ordinary General Chapter of the Order of Discalced Carmelites which will take place in Avila from 28th April to 18th May this year. Close to these dates, I have the pleasure of sending you this message which comes together with cordial greetings for you and the Capitular Fathers, assuring them that my prayers keep them close spiritual company so that the light of the Holy Spirit may guide their discussion and discernment during the work of this Assembly.
The Discalced Carmelite Family, made up of friars, nuns and laity, is born from the one charism and is called to follow a common vocation, while respecting the autonomy and the specific character of each group. The topic selected for the Chapter Journeying with Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross: setting out from essentials emphasises the firm wish of the Order to remain faithful to their charism which, raised up by the Holy Spirit in a specific historical and ecclesial context has developed throughout the centuries and is destined to produce even today fruits of sanctity in the Church "for the general good" (1 Co 12: 7), replying to the challenges of the third millennium.
Your intention is "to set out" from the Gospel, discussing in depth the
values of consecrated life, from you own sources. You desired to have it
in Avila, a place which keeps alive the embers of the experience and
doctrine of St Teresa of Jesus and St John of the Cross. There I had the
opportunity to admire and venerate not only "the spiritual teachers of my
interior life, but also two luminous lighthouses of the Church" (Homily
in the Mass of St Teresa of Jesus, Avila, 1-XI-1982, 2).
2. The founding charism is better understood in light of the Gospel parable of the talents (cf Mt 25: 14-30), it comes then from the Lord's magnanimity and, together with others, forms part of the Church's treasure. According to the well-known parable, the "good and faithful servant" (Mt 2: 21,23) feels honoured by the confidence placed in him and uses his talents responsibly, obeying the wishes of his Lord, because he knows they belong to him and to him he must render account. He manifests his wisdom by sensibly administering the gift received, which is essential in all its dimensions, and deriving from it the greatest possible return.
The gifts of the Spirit are something live and dynamic, like the seed sown in the earth, "sprouts and grows" (Mk 4: 27) to the astonishment of its own cultivator. In reflecting on what is essential in your charism, it is worthwhile setting out from the already mature fruits. These then, according to the Gospel criterion, allow us to recognize the soundness of the tree producing them (cf Mt 7: 15-20). This method requires respect for the history of your own charism, which in every age has produced abundant and good fruit. For this reason, "fidelity to the founding charism" is also fidelity to your "subsequent spiritual heritage" (Vita consecrata, 36). In fact, so many consecrated persons down the centuries have left behind eloquent testimonies of holiness and have undertaken particularly generous and demanding works of evangelization and service (cf ibid., 35).
To you also, as to all other religious, I repeat that "You have not
only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great
history still to be accomplished" (ibid., 110). For this it is
necessary to make the effort to remove all that is an obstacle to the
growth of your charism. The best service that can be offered to the gift
received is purification of the heart through worthy fruits of conversion
(cf Mt 3: 8). "In fact the vocation of consecrated persons to
seek first the Kingdom of God is first and foremost a call to complete
conversion, in self-renunciation, in order to live fully for the Lord"
(Vita consecrata, 35). This is a continual task, as the Congregation
for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
emphasized, given the insidiousness of mediocrity in the spiritual life,
of the progressive taking on of middle class values and of a consumer
mentality, the eagerness for efficiency or lack of moderation in activism,
cannot be ignored (cf Instr. Starting afresh from Christ: 12).
3. To respond to the challenges of the present time, the Church emphasises the permanent "duty"of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel" (Gaudium et spes, 4). Thus in the invitation to follow the example of "the founders and foundresses who, in openness to the working of the Holy Spirit, successfully interpreted the signs of the times and responded wisely to new needs" (Vita consecrata: 9), it recommends consecrated persons to welcome in the deepest way possible the designs of Providence, guided "by supernatural discernment, which distinguishes what is of the Spirit from that which is contrary to him" (ibid.: 73).
The Spirit guides the faithful to Christ, who is the "complete truth" (Jn 16: 13). It is necessary, then, to pay attention to what Jesus said and did during his earthly life. Moving is the reply that He, sent by the Father to the poor, prisoners, the blind and the oppressed (cf Lc 4, 18), gave to the expectations of his time: he stayed for thirty years in a hidden life, in the silence of Nazareth. He began his public ministry with forty days in the desert, at the end of which he rejected the temptations of the evil one. Afterwards he kept his distance from the people of Nazareth, who thought themselves privileged by the miracles Jesus wrought (cf Lc 4: 23), before the people looking anxiously for him (cf Mk 1: 38) or the crowd who wanted to make him king: "he fled back to the hills alone" (Jn 6: 15). To the worries of humanity he replied as much with understanding as with refusal, but in every case with the firmness proper to being a "sign of contradiction" (Lk 2: 34).
Through the prophetic nature of consecrated life, you also, dear Discalced Brothers of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, ought to be attentive in discerning and prepared to reply to the expectations of the present moment, by sometimes coming down from the mountain to return to the byways of the world in order to continue serving the Kingdom of God (cf. Vita consecrata: 75), other times returning to solitude to keep vigil with the Lord in deserted places (cf. Mk 1: 45).
Setting out from essentials means to journey with Christ, with his Gospel read through the lens of your own charism. This is what the founders and foundresses did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Their experience must be preserved and, at the same time, deepened and developed with the same openness and docility to the inspiration of the Spirit. Thus, in this way, faithfulness to the original experience is safeguarded as well as the way to reply adequately to the changing demands of each historical age.
From this point of view is easily understood the pressing need to
"return to the Rule" (Vita consecrata, 37), which provides a map
for following Jesus, that is characterized by a specific charism
recognized by the Church. In their Rule, consecrated persons have a secure
criterion for searching to give witness by ways capable of replying to
today's needs, without losing view of the original inspiration (cf.
4. All of you, dear brothers, in embracing consecrated life have taken on "a journey of continual conversion, of exclusive dedication to the love of God and of your brothers and sisters" (ibid. 109). It is an option that is not supported just by human efforts, but above all by divine grace, which transform the heart and life. Humanity has a thirst for authentic witnesses of Christ. But, in order to be one, it is necessary to journey towards that holiness which has already flowered abundantly in your religious family. I am thinking of the men and women saints forged in Carmel and, particularly so, of the incalculable inheritance left to your Order and the whole Church by St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Jesus.
"To tend towards holiness: this is in summary the programme of every consecrated life" (ibid., 93); a journey that demands leaving behind everything for Christ to take part fully in his Paschal mystery. Growth of spiritual life must therefore have first place in the programme of Families of consecrated life. It is precisely the spiritual quality of the consecrated life which can inspire the men and women of our day, who themselves are thirsting for absolute values. (cf ibid.).
With affection I share these reflections and exhortations with all of your, dear members of the Chapter, and I invoke the pouring out of abundant gifts of the Spirit on your work, so that the Order of Discalced Carmelites continues on its way of dynamic fidelity to its proper vocation and mission.
May the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of Carmel with saints Teresa of
Jesus and John of the Cross obtain for you and for the whole Family of
Discalced Carmelites copious divine graces. In pledge of this I impart to
you from my heart the requested Apostolic Blessing.
Vatican, 21st April 2003.
Updated 28 apr 2003 - Page maintained by O.C.D. General House