Prayer and Our Life
'Carmelite' and 'Prayer' are closely related because of their historical and
cultural background. The historical association of Mount Carmel with the
spirit of prayer is an accepted fact. We cannot find any better example than
our forefather Prophet Elija who combined in himself the very
characteristics of Mount Carmel that is beautiful, affluent, silent, strong,
contemplative and mystical. On these Mountain ranges he lived in the
presence of the Almighty and proved the power of the Living God on the day
of the great sacrifice. Then we find him yet bearing witness to the essence
of prayer on his flight to Mount Horeb. Cultural background is related to
the very nature of this mystic who was filled with zeal for the living God.
Prophet Elijah and his followers in mysterious ways and through unknown
historical circumstances have handed down the rich heritage of Carmelite
charism of prayer to those who desired to continue this holy tradition. The
primitive rule of our Order has a very important place for prayer and it
recommends each one of us "to stay in his cell or nearby, pondering the
Lord's law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending
to some other duty" (Constitutions p. 23). The cave of St. Elijah is
the archetype of our present cells or rooms.
Under the inspiration of our primitive rule our Constitutions no. 3f reads
that we are called "above all to lead a life of unceasing prayer in silence
and solitude, in accordance with the gospel admonition to watch and pray".
Our prayer is a call to embrace our whole life sustained by the Word of God
and sacred liturgy, through which we are led to deep intimacy with God (C
15c). This demands that our prayer life and our consecrated life be ardently
apostolic (C 15d). This is clearly spelt out in our charism, which is called
"contemplative and active" (C 15e).
Moreover, the emphasis given to "Liturgy" enriches the above charism of our
Order (C 56). This does not mean prayer is only limited to liturgical hours
but it is a deeper call to live our prayer in 'secret' and to pray 'always'
(C 63). Consequently we are to pray always making our whole life a prayer (C
Now we have an understanding of our charism of prayer that is essentially
rooted in our call.
Often in our reflections and talks we give more emphasis to the formal "two
hours" of prayer (C 64), which in fact if we read the text carefully is "a
means to fostering this life of prayer".
The Constitutions number 64 reads further thus: "Each community should
decide on the two hours best suited for this in its own particular
situation. During that time the whole community must ensure that all can
give themselves undisturbed to personal prayer. If for some valid reason
approved of by the superior a religious should be unable to be present at
community prayer, he should make up for this at some other time."
"There should be a concerted effort to devise and use the best ways and
means of fostering a spirit of prayer and promoting its practice, so that
our communities are seen to be truly praying communities" (C 69).
Our Constitutions n. 101 reads thus: "down the centuries our Order has
fulfilled this special mission (prayer and apostolate) in variety of ways,
by the spoken and written word. We must continue this and update our methods
so that we can more fully and successfully share with others the treasures
of our rich spiritual heritage. We should strive to be well grounded in
theology and Carmelite spirituality, and to equip ourselves both as
individuals and as communities for our mission of leading people to a
deeper knowledge and experience of intimacy with God". This is a call to
teach and share what we have experienced in our prayer.
In all these
texts of the Constitutions I gather four important elements for our further
Our life should be permeated
by the spirit of prayer
Our communities should be
witnesses to prayer
Our apostolic activity should
be the outcome of
We should be teachers of
daily "two hours" practice should be sustained by the constant spirit of
prayer that is lived everywhere, in any situation or circumstance. This in
fact makes a Carmelite true to the spirit of our forefathers.
The first point, which I consider a fundamental to our life, has to sustain
the other three subsequent points. Our life should be permeated by the
spirit of prayer is an invitation by both our holy parents St. Teresa of
Avila who says "the Lord walks among the pots and pans" (Foundations
5,viii); and St. John of the Cross recommends us to use our whole being "for
the sake of going to God" (Ascent III,24,vii). This is a fundamental
option we have made through our allegiance to our Order and charism.
When this is taken care of, naturally flows the second point, i.e., to make
our communities witnesses to prayer. It is normal that when the whole day is
lived in intense activity directing all our senses, feelings, emotions,
thoughts and imaginations to the Lord, then the "two hour" formal prayer
becomes desirable. Often the two hours become tedious because throughout the
day our whole person is either "result oriented for personal gain or
popularity" or our work is "done out of sheer duty, fear or with a mentality
'do for the do sake'". Consequently, either our prayer becomes totally a
bundle of distractions or it becomes veritably an agony in the chapel.
The third one flows from the previous two points. When one is living prayer
and witnessing prayer, he does not just remain a burden to the community.
The one who integrates well the above two dimensions of prayer, wishes to
contribute his share, either through work at home or through his ministry.
He loves the home and tries to love everyone contributing his share
positively for the joy and good of the community members. Apostolic activity
and/or work spring from the desire to serve the Church and the community.
Teaching prayer or becoming teachers of prayer is the last point for our
consideration. This mission is an offshoot of the previous three elements
lived and personalized. When we are living prayer, producing fruits of
prayer there is an instinctual tendency to perpetuate the seed of prayer by
teaching others the art of prayer. A Carmelite is born to sow the seed of
prayer in the minds and hearts of people through his expertise in this
All these four dimensions of our charism make us feel at home wherever we
are. When we are out we long to come back. When we are at home we long to
serve the people of God and the community through work, apostolic activity
and study. This in fact should be the goal of Carmelite prayer. A Carmelite
living prayer and experiencing its effects 24 hours a day will be able to
say with St. Paul:
"I have learnt this secret, so that anywhere, at any time,
I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or
too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that
Christ gives me" (Phil 4.12-13).
Let God bless us all in this holy venture of