This article was written by Cheryl Hadley, a Secular Carmelite. living in Charlotte, North Carolina. As someone living the Carmelite spirituality, we’ve asked Cheryl to to share her wisdom and insight with our readers.
This continues from a previous post, Our Lady of Mount Carmel: The Legacy of Elijah.
Carmelites: Living Like Elijah
Many faithful men went to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land to live as hermits in imitation of the Prophet Elijah. Over time a community developed informally. By the 1200’s this group desired to order their lives around a structured rule. At the direction of St. Albert, then Patriarch of Jerusalem, they were given a formal Rule of Life.
They lived in general solitude as they prayed and fasted, but they built a church and came together for prayer during the day. They named the church after Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. It is said to be the first church named after the Mother of God.
The heritage of the Carmelites reaches back to that time, and so does the Brown Scapular given to St. Simon Stock by the Blessed Mother. Mary gave the scapular to St. Simon during a time of great challenge and difficulty.
She made specific promises to the faithful who wear her Brown Scapular and live a life of grace. This sacramental has been a special treasure of the Church throughout the ages.
The Saints of Carmel
- St. Teresa of Avila reformed the Order during the rise of Protestantism and despite the challenges of her time. St. Teresa is Foundress and Holy Mother of the Discalced Carmelites, as her reformed Order is called. She is the first of the three women Doctors of the Church. Her writings on prayer and union with God, her intimacy with Jesus, and her interior life of mystical experiences are great gifts to the Church, and her Order flourishes actively today all around the world.
- St. John of the Cross’ mystical theology led to a richer understanding of prayer, suffering and transcendence through Christ. His deep life of prayer and intense love for Christ are evident in all his works. The Dark Night of the Soul is one of his most famous works. He was an accomplished writer, poet, artist and mystic who suffered greatly for the faith and was even imprisoned. One fruit of his persecution was a more intense and passionate love of Christ, expressed in the beautiful poetry and writings of his imprisonment, which inspire us today. He partnered with St. Teresa to found the Discalced Carmelites.
- St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, is the third and most recent woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church. Her Little Way is a theology based on doing small things with great love. She is arguably the most beloved modern saint and her teachings and writings are timeless lessons on how to love God with one’s whole heart in the simple pattern of the everyday, and how to suffer in Him, with Him, and through Him in great love. Her book The Story of a Soul is a reminder to us that it is the “little way” we each offer to Christ and to others that keeps the Kingdom of God flourishing on earth.
- Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, is best known for her writings on the Indwelling of the Holy Trinity present in each of us. She expounds on the Holy Trinity with mystical love and rich understanding. It was her wish that souls understand that God is present to them from within, and that they come to know Him by silencing themselves in order to recognize Him there, within the depths of their heart. She desired for souls to know the divine life within them. Her beautiful writings and her life are a testimony to others praising God in His glory for the gift of this Trinitarian presence.
- St. Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was a brilliant philosopher and writer. Well educated, she influenced many in the intellectual and philosophical circles in Germany in her lifetime, and her influence still lives on today. A German Jew, she converted to Catholicism and entered the Carmelite Order. She was arrested by the Nazis and martyred in Auschwitz. As an inspiration for all Christians whose eternal heritage is the Cross, she offered her life for her own people.
- St. Teresa of the Andes is a role model for youth in the Church. Influenced by the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity and St. Therese of Lisieux, she became a Carmelite at age 19. She had a particularly strong devotion to the Holy Eucharist and was the first Chilean to be declared a saint. God was her infinite joy and she told others she would spend her life in love, suffering and offering for the salvation of souls. She died 11 months later after contracting typhus and suffering greatly for souls.
These holy men and women of Carmel all shared a life of interior union with God through prayer. They bear witness to His great love for us in the world. Like all Carmelites, they lived under the spiritual motherhood and patronage of Mary, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Mary’s way of life is for the Carmelite, a model of being conformed to Christ. Mary is Mother of the Carmelite Order. Her feast day is celebrated on July 16th.
So the Carmelite heart is a heart for us all, and the Carmelite way of perfection is an invitation to all Catholics living in the world today.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!
This article has been updated and was originally published in July 2012. © The Catholic Company