Monday, August 14, 2006

The Weekend-secular Carmelites

Usually something really exciting or really intersting happens to us over the weekend. But this weekend, was an exception (although we did find a good home for the lone surviving puppy-that is EXCITING-believe me.)

Saturday morning was rainy. I spent a few hours finishing up the syllabae for the courses I am teaching this fall. Our neighbor came by to invite us to pick more figs. The boys will have to do it without me today because of Saturday's rain. I spent some time teaching a couple young ladies how to drive a manual transmission. I guess that was exciting at times too!

Secular Carmelites

Sunday after Mass, Mrs. Curley and I attended the Discalced Carmelite study group. (Oh yes, Fr. O'Holohan is back from vacationing in Ireland-and we are glad to have him back!) We are learning about Carmelite spirituality. Some questions came up...

One thing that was said was that Carmelites shouldn't be working soup kitchens. This certainly brought up some discussion as to whether this applies to secular Carmelites and how to reconcil this with the Gospel. I don't know the answer-especially as I am not an expert on Carmelites, but I surmise that it is something like this:

1. There are many different charisms in the Church;
2. Everyone has a unique vocation and is called to some sort of apostolate;
3. Every apostolate must have a prayer life as its basis;

With these premises, let's take some examples; NB all examples assume a prayer life of some meditation, the rosary, daily Mass whenever possible, frequent confession, etc.

A. Bobbi does pro-life work. She does sidewalk counciling on Saturday mornings outside abortion clinics. She volunteers at the local crisis pregnancy center and is the pro-life coordinator for her parish. She works as a nurse in the local nursing home. While she believes her vocation is to work in the pro-life area, and this is where she spends 90% of her 'apostolic time', she also donates food or clothing to the St. Vincent dePaul Society when they are doing a drive and has volunteered in a soup kitchen when her called up and they were short workers. However, her focus is on pro-life work.

B. Josh works with the poor. He works in a soup kitchen every Wednesday afternoon. He heads up his parish St. Vincent dePaul Society. He leads a coat drive every winter for the homeless etc., etc. He also meets once a month with friends to say a rosary to end abortion, writes an occasional letter to his congressman to try to convince him to be a pro-life legislator, and gives money to the crisis pregnancy center every Christmas-yet he spends 90% of his 'apostolic time' (for want of a better term) feeding and clothing the poor.

C. Billy is a secular Carmelite. He spends 90% of his 'apostolic time' in prayer. Prayer is his apostolate. He also donates money to pro-life causes, fills in at the soup kitchen if there is a shortage of workers, writes his congressman, etc. -after all, he is a lay man living in the world. But his apostolate is primarily that of prayer. The time that Bobbi spends on sidewalk on Saturday mornings outside the abortion clinic, and the time Josh spends Wednesday afternoon in the soup kitchen, Billy spends in prayer.

Do I have this right? We are all called to a deep prayer life (to be contemplatives in the world, let's say) but are also called to build up God's kingdom with the talents and unique vocation to which we are called as the laity. Any particular person cannot do everything-yet there is so much work to do. (I just selected a few examples above.) The laity have a different vocation than the cloistered-yet even here, any one person can't do everything, but must follow his unique call to a unique apostolate-one of which may be an apostolate of prayer...

What say y'all?


Mama T said...

I think you are right, and that it is true that some have an apostolate to prayer. It's just a hard apostolate to see on the outside, which makes them a target of judgement from outsiders who don't see their work.

That said, I think if one has an apostolate of prayer, you need to be very sure that that is true, and that you are being faithful to your apostolate. Because there is no external place or necessary start time, etc. it can be one of those dangerous things that can be put off "'til later." The other apostolates have external times/places/things to do. It seems an apostolate of prayer would take a great deal of self-discipline.

It is also true that in the world we make much of "busy-ness" and "doing something." The world, and many of us sinful folk in it (me being primary!), sometimes look at prayer as the "easy way" when in reality, it is any thing BUT that.

And it's hard to remember, when you're lugging chairs to set up for another dinner or meeting (which I am always doing--my charism is service) and sweat is running down your back, to be kind to those who have come out of the air-conditioned church after praying the rosary.......

GFvonB said...

I think you miss the point. Holy Mother Church has developed many different Spiritualities over the ages. These Spritualities are not trivial personal choices like choosing chocolate over vanilla at the local Baskin Robins. They are a pattern for living a holistic Catholic life. If one feels called to a specific Spirituality, one should fully embrace it, lest one suffer severe cognitive dissonance and spiritual retardation. One needs only look at the myriad failed Orders (and not just those that have recently imploded) to see that whenever the specific charisms, routines, works, etc. that are part of a specific Spirituality are abandoned, modified, or compromised, Spiritual death soon follows.

JCurley said...

Dear gfvonb: I don't see where you think I miss the point. A vocation is not a trivial personal choice-it is God's calling which we discover through prayer. (The apostolate one does is part of that-and again needs to be the fruit of prayer.)

I agree if one is called to a specific Spirituality, then one should fully embrace it. (Not to do so, you risk much-maybe your soul.)

If you're disagreeing with mama T, I don't where either.

Anyway, thanks for the comments as always.

GFvonB said...

Perhaps I am reading your post wrong, and if so I apologize. It seems, however, that you take umbrage at the statement that "Carmelites shouldn't be working soup kitchens," and my reading seems to be reinforced by your Example C. I was attempting to point out that Corporal Works of Mercy of that type -- though obviously laudable -- are not traditionally part of the Carmelite Spirituality. The Carmelite Spirituality is deeply contemplative, as opposed to (for example) the Franciscan, which is radically active. Laymen who are called to a Spirituality should attempt as much as is possible in their state of life to imitate the entire life of the Religious who exemplify that Spirituality because again, a Spirituality is a holistic thing, it is something that should govern and order your entire Spiritual life. So, as I mentioned above, when one tries to mix a contemplative Spirituality with active work(s) the result is often internal conflict and a disordered spiritual life. The great ruin of the female contemplative Orders in the West in the last half Century is perhaps the greatest example of this (not that they didn't have other problems as well).

JCurley said...

gfvonb: I think you misread me-because you are basically rewording my thoughts-I just asked whether I was correct in my thinking. You seem to agree.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

Finally, something I feel like I can weigh in on in a significant way.

According to our superiors in Darien and to the teaching of the order this is absolutely incorrect, particularly item C. According to the Prior Provincial and the Provinical Delagate for the T. O. Carm. the apostolate of prayer alone is the right and proper apostolate of the cloistered members of the order.

The unique charism and identity of the secular Carmelite is that he or she treads the delicate balance of bringing the contemplative life into the secular world. To do so, one must interact with that world. Yes, we are dedicated to prayer, but we are also dedicated as all Catholics must be to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Our identity in Carmel should not be conflated with the identities of the religious of Carmel. It is distinct, and it is critical because we are living examples of how Martha and Mary can be one.

We should never consider a secular person's primary apostolate as that of prayer. Rather it is that of being a contemplative in a secular world and serving that world. The point of prayer is always the dynamism to action which results from it. Unlike the cloistered brothers and sisters, Seculars are in the unique position of being able to carry the fruit of their contemplation to completion in the world. It is an exact balance of prayer and action. Your example C seems correct in that Billy doesn't refuse activity--but it seems incorrect in the thought underlying it according to the teaching we are receiving.

That said, there have always been subtle differences between O.Carm and Discalced. I would just want to hear what you are hearing locally from the Prior General or the Prior Provincial.

And ultimtately, I think your conclusion is absolutely correct. We are different parts, but we are all one body.

Thank you for posting this thought-provoking piece and my apologies for arriving so late to the party.



Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Curley--

Boy did I start that last post off wrong. Pardon me. I meant that the "apostolate of prayer" part was wrong in emphasis not in substance. That is, when it is used as an excuse NOT to do other things.

Please pardon me--fuzzy head today.



JCurley said...

Mr. Riddle-thanks for weighing in. We are just starting out. We are looking for a 2nd professed member-only have one now.

I think the group needs clarification on this point. It was a little unclear or hesistantly discussed by the professed on Sunday.

I'm sure it will come up again so we can understand the role and spirituality better-after all, isn't this what the study group is trying to learn?


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Curley,

Please forgive me for speaking so brashly and out of turn. I hope the second post somewhat diffused the stridency of the first. It's just that this had come up quite recently and it was quite passionately denounced by our Provincial Delegate. He did not deny the centrality of prayer in the lives of the lay Carmelites, but rather the question of prayer as an "apostolate" which he noted as the right and due of the cloistered religious.

And, as I noted, I think the point is emphasis. If one says one's apostolate is prayer, but one serves one's parish, the poor of the area, an those in need of spiritual help and companionship, then one is living the life of the Lay Carmelite regardless of the language used. It is when one uses the notion of an "apostolate of prayer" to deny the necessity for active participation in the mission of the Church that there is a problem. The centrality of prayer is necessary to infuse and inform ALL activities and from this centrality of prayer should come the ability and the desire to serve others. I think here particularly of St. Thèrése and her desire to "spend her heaven doing good on Earth," and her desire to leave the relative comfort of Lisieux for the Carmel of Hanoi. Even though she was living entirely the Apostolate of prayer, that apostolate so informed and infused her life that she had the overwhelming desire to serve others.

I think our Provincial Delegate was warning us against the creeping danger of a kind of quietism that can come with a certain attitude.

So once again, I ask you pardon and respectfully submit this tempering of previous comments so that it might better reflect my original intent. (It really helps if one reads more carefully what is written rather than what one thinks is written.)



JCurley said...

No need to apologize. I think the group at our parish is very confused by the issue as you can see I am too. As a matter of fact I posted it hoping you would come by and tell me what you thought.

Originally the statement was made at our meeting that "Carmelites don't work in soup kitchens". Then they backed off from the statement when it met resistance. I didn't know if they backed off because it was put too strongly or because the idea met resistance.

I think I have a better handle on it now. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Consider the following re: Lay Carmelties and other Third Orders...

There is an inherent conflict between religious and lay vocations.

In its essence a religious vocation calls for a life of withdrawal from the world in order to serve God. Conversely, the lay faithful are called to serve God in the middle of the world.

Withdrawing from one's state of life (i.e., a father or mother, a husband or wife, a business professional or a home-maker, etc.) in order to serve God seems contradictory. The lay faithful are called precisely to practice the Presence of God within their state.

A mother does not leave her infant child to go into solitude to pray. Caring for the infant, changing the infant's diaper, etc., are that mother's prayer. The business professional does not leave an important sales meeting to pray. Rather, he offers that sales meeting to God and in so doing turns it into prayer.

A husband and wife tend to each other's needs and their relationship, too, is a form of prayer. Clearly, lay faithful can spend time in the solitude of prayer and participate in the Sacramentla life of the Church, but they do so without withdrawing from their lay vocations. The lay faithful, in effect, live a contemplative life as do the religious, but they do so in the middle of the world.

Please refer to Catechism of the Catholic Church 897-898 for more on the unique role of the lay vocation.