With a growing interest in the Carmelite saints and traditions, I learned there were groups of Lay Carmelites in the Atlanta area, where I was working in the fall of 2015. I found online the name of a representative of the Holy Family Lay Carmelite Community, associated with Holy Family Catholic Church in Marietta, GA. One phone call was all it took, and I was extended a warm, compelling invitation to attend a community meeting the following month.
At my first monthly meeting, we started with Mass and morning prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours), followed by a friendly exchange and fellowship among community members. The meeting agenda included reading and reflecting on the gospel in the form of Lectio Divina, followed by a guided discussion of assigned readings related to the history, saints and traditions of Carmel. Discussions were lively, and I came away feeling my spiritual batteries were recharged, so to speak, energized by the interactive experience.
After several months of participating in community meetings, I prayerfully decided to begin the formation process. I was assigned a formation leader who would moderate group sessions, each month, to study Carmelite history, traditions, and the charism or spiritual focus. Receiving required approval of the Pastor from my home parish of Most Holy Trinity in Augusta, my journey to Carmel began in earnest.
The Carmelite tradition has roots extending back to the 1200’s, when a small group of men, mostly from Europe, travelled as pilgrims to the Holy Land. These pilgrims founded a hermit community along the slopes and in the caves of Mt. Carmel. This was the same mountain which Elijah the Prophet, as recorded in the Old Testament, inhabited centuries before Christ, and whose prayer, solitude and intense experience of God’s living presence became an inspiration and way of life for the hermits. Mt. Carmel also became a place of honor to Mary, the Mother of God, in whose name a chapel was constructed. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has been the patroness of Carmelites through the centuries, strengthening our allegiance to Jesus, which is at the heart and purpose of life in Carmel.
The Rule of Carmel, known as The Rule of St. Albert, provided the hermits a needed structure conducive to the routine of silence, prayer, and community. This was necessary to develop a contemplative heart, where the hermit, in silent prayer and contemplation, could experience Jesus on a deeper level. The rule continues to provide a reliable framework for faithful Carmelite living.
The principle of vacare Deo, which from Latin, means literally being empty for God, was indispensable to making the Carmelite open and available to God’s direction. The simple, prayerful, albeit difficult life of the hermits, practicing vacare Deo, became an ideal, embodying the walk to Carmel, which remained with the Carmelites after the migration of hermits from Mt. Carmel to Europe in the 1300’s, and continues as a core element of life as a Carmelite today.
Among the hermits living at Mt. Carmel were many lay men, meaning men not ordained as priests. There has always been a strong affinity to Carmelite spirituality among lay people. While Carmel is known for friars, nuns, sisters, and hermits, the number of Lay Carmelites, designated as Third Order Lay Carmelites, is by far the largest branch of the Carmel family. For me, a lay vocation in Carmel, with daily prayer and contemplation, helping direct my work in serving God and neighbor, for the sake of helping bring others to know the love and mercy of Christ, has a special appeal.
After a year of formation and study, in addition to daily Mass when possible, private prayer and reading of the Liturgy of the Hours, all the while becoming an active member of my Marietta group, I was ceremonially received into the Holy Family Lay Carmelite Community in the spring of 2017. I was invested with the large ceremonial brown scapular, which signifies my desire to begin to learn what would be my daily commitment according to the charism of the Carmelites, which includes prayer, community and service. Carmelites strive to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ with a pure heart and a clean conscience. The example of the devotion of the puritas cordis, or pure heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, always directing us to her Son, is our guide, as embroidered on the brown scapular.
As a Third Order Lay Carmelite, my life and actions must reflect the gospel values and the teachings of the Catholic Church, finding expression in prayer, contemplation, the Eucharist, community fellowship, and service.
Have a Blessed Week!
Next week: A call to holiness – preparing to take my temporary profession of promises as a Lay Carmelite
For more information, see laycarmelitespcm.org/generalinfo.php