The Discalced Carmelite Family is a religious Order in the Roman Catholic Church. We, the members, trace our roots back to the ancient hermits on Mount Carmel, Israel, in the thirteenth century. Like them, we try to follow Christ with special emphasis on Scripture and prayer. In this we take Mary as our model. This way of life was reinterpreted for us in the sixteenth century by St Teresa of Avila with the help of St John of the Cross. That is why we are sometimes today referred to as “Teresian Carmelites”.
Discalced Carmelite Friars
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‘A Carmelite is someone who looked at the face of the Crucified one, who has seen Him offering Himself as a victim for us; pondering on this tremendous vision of Christ’s love he has understood the love burning within him and has longed to give himself to Him.’
(Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity – Discalced Carmelite)
Prayer is the source of the Carmelite’s life. We cannot live without it. Through it we deepen our friendship with God and find his loving presence within ourselves and in the world. It is the very vocation of a Carmelite to bear witness to a life of prayer. A special part of our prayer is time spent with God in silence. Come and explore the Carmelite way of life.
The Carmelite Order over the years has had to adopt and adapt to new ways of living. Having its roots in crusader Holy Land, the very rule of life, dating to 1205, is a unique expression of this new way of living and reforming – it differs from most other rules of life. The “Rule of Life” is considered to be more a commentary, a letter, rather than a “rule” to be followed. Commenting on the lived experience of the hermits who desired to live in the solitude of Mt. Carmel, Albert, then Patriarch of Jerusalem, understood, by observing their lives firsthand, the essential nature of this life; it was one of prayer and creative fidelity to Christ.
As the years progressed and the Carmelite Order grew, Europe presented other challenges that called for reform, if, they were to sustain their way of living. Not until 1560 did any successful reform apply itself to the Order in such a universal manner. Teresa of Avila, met with other sisters of her community and the topic of renewing the sense of the eremitical life was discussed. No sooner had it been discussed when in 1562, Teresa, took off her sandals and crossed over the threshold of a new foundation and established a reform movement within the Order. This symbolic act and Teresa’s own understanding provided a name for this reform movement – the Discalced (shoeless) Carmelites. Struggles for survival would see the Discalced Carmelite Order become its own distinct entity which has remained so to the present day.
A Carmelite is a person who has accepted a particular way of living their life to follow Christ. So our spirituality is essentially Christian. Being someone who has responded to the belief that God called, interrupted our way of living to indirectly point us towards an alternative way than the one we where following: experiencing and living this way of a Carmelite, centres on encountering God personally through a life dedicated to prayer. Prayer, the sacramental life and teaching of the Church, exist to help us experience this personal God. In this way God is perceived as not only the beginning but also the middle and end of our journey as a Christian.
Throughout our contemplative life, as Carmelite, experiencing God brings in its wake the ongoing tension of knowing and unknowing what one knows to prevent our settling in for anything less than God. We look constantly for inspiration from the communion of saints in people like Our Lady. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, three doctors of the Church, offer particular insight into our way of following Christ. As John of the Cross put so clearly:
“in order to experience and know God, we must look to experience and know what we do not yet experience and know of God”
This sums up our understanding of our vocation as Carmelite - a person who does not settle for less than encountering God.
With the maturity to learn that a vocation develops as a person adjusts and adapts ever more readily to the impact of God and life, we understand that associated with this call, is profoundly the carrying of the cross of Christ. Life will demand this from us. As we look to live a life in friendship with Christ we interpret the way of reconciliation – i.e. the power of the Cross – to permeate the mystery of Christ’s love revealed in the practice of prayer. Christ’s way of embracing the negativity of misunderstanding, rejection, dejection, abandonment, loneliness was able to transform these, because of his relationship with God as Father. To a Carmelite the conversation with Christ in prayer befriends him and invites us to deepen our experience of God by becoming more sensitive to the dimensions of life God wishes to permeate with his love. We perceive our life of prayer as one that seeks to prevent ourselves from losing the sense of hope in our own journey towards God. It is no easy task because we wrestle with our human nature constantly in need of assistance from the Holy Spirit. It is a life worth living as it is ever hope filled and is a sign that points always towards communion with God encountered in prayer.
The shield of a religious community usually symbolically expresses some key insights into the understanding of their charism. This is particularly true of the Carmelite Shield.
The centre of the shield is a mountain, which symbolises both the actual mountain, Mt Carmel in Israel where the Order was born, but it also, and more importantly, symbolises the soul's union with God through prayer and contemplation. The process of this union with God is looked at, especially by St John of the Cross, as climbing the mountain of the Lord.
On top of the mountain is a cross, symbolising the person of Jesus Christ and His saving death on the Cross for us. The Cross is in the centre of the shield, symbolising our need to centre all that we are and all that we do on the person of Jesus Himself.
There are also three stars on the shield. The lowest star, directly below the Cross, represents Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel. She is symbolically represented at the heart of Carmel and, in her role as Mother of God, is the one from whom the Cross, i.e. the Lord Jesus came forth, hence the Cross rising from her star. The two stars adjacent to the Cross represent the earliest patriarchs of the Order, St Elijah and St Elisha, the pre-Christian founders of Carmel.
The crown with its twelve stars also represents Mary, calling to mind St John’s glorious vision of her in Revelations as crowned with 12 stars.
The arm and the fiery sword represent Elijah who, in his great burning zeal for the Lord, called down fire from Heaven.
The inscription is the Latin translation of Elijah’s words in 1st Kings; “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.”
So the Carmelite lives centred on Christ, under the Queenship of Mary, inspired by and with the zeal of Elijah and Elisha.
After extensive refurbishment, the Oxford Retreat Centre is now open again for retreats and courses, as it approaches its Golden Jubilee.
Address: Carmelite Priory, Boars Hill, Oxford, OX1 5HB
Telephone: 01865 730 183
Tabor is a small ecumenical retreat house in the north-west of England and home to a community of Carmelite friars.
Address: Tabor Carmelite Retreat House, 169 Sharoe Green Lane, Fulwood, Preston PR2 8HE
Telephone: 01772 717 122