CARMELITE SPIRITUALITY
OF ST. TERESA OF JESUS
AND ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS


Carmelite spirituality is meant to be lived and not merely studied. In fact when this spirituality enters the heart, where the intimate conversation with God happens, it becomes mental prayer. That is why it is important first to know what Carmelite spitituality is, and then live it in its fullness. This is the endeavor of the Carmelite Monks. On this page you will read about the spirituality of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus, and how the Carmelite Monks endeavor to apply it at every moment of every day.

The Carmelite Spirituality of St. John of the Cross - Introduction:

Our Holy Father St. John of the Cross sought to help souls find the narrow way that leads to heaven through the complete detachment of the soul from all creatures, in order to attain to a perfect love of God. He explained that God will lead a soul to Union with Him, if the soul cooperates in an emptying of all desires for anything that is contrary to God. The attaining of Union with God is primarily God's work, yet the soul can correspond with a joyful detachment from everything that is not God. When our souls are completely detached from everything but the love of God, God can take complete possession of our souls and unite them to Himself. This is our primary focus as Carmelite Monks, to love God above all things with the hope of being transformed in Him.

Continue the Carmelite Spirituality of St. John of the Cross - In Depth.

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The Carmelite Spirituality of St. Teresa of Jesus - Introduction:

Our Holy Mother St. Teresa of Jesus taught the importance of mental prayer and the practice of the highest virtues for attaining to the heights of the mystical life. She explained that we must have an intimate relationship with Christ, who loves us, through a daily conversation with Him. Over many years of daily mental prayer and the practice of virtue, a soul can be lead by the way of contemplation to the heights of Union with God. As Carmelite Monks, we strive to follow the many teachings St. Teresa left us on attaining to contemplation and an intimate Union with God.

St. Teresa's deepest conviction as a Carmelite was to imitate the way of life of the early hermits of the Order. She often said: "Let us remember our holy fathers of past days, the hermits whose lives we attempt to imitate. What sufferings they bore, what solitude, cold, thirst and hunger, what burning sun and heat! And yet they had no one to complain to except God." She also said to her daughters: "For the whole manner of life we are trying to live is making us, not only nuns, but hermits, like the holy fathers our predecessors." In the way of life instituted by Ss. Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross, we find the means necessary to live the pristine charism of those first hermits on Mount Carmel.

The Carmelite Spirituality of St. Teresa of Jesus - In Depth.

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Learn more about our spirituality here: Introduction to Carmelite spirituality and cloister.

Or read Carmelite saints books on spirituality: Carmelite saints writings and books.

 

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The Spirituality of St. John of the Cross - In Depth:

For Carmelite men, St. John of the Cross is especially important since he is the main Carmelite man raised up by the Church as an example of a soul in the state of union with God. While there are many cloistered nuns who have been canonized for their lofty spirituality, St. John of the Cross is the only man canonized with great spiritual writings. This is why he is especially dear to us as Carmelite monks.

In St. John of the Cross's eyes, Carmel was all about union of the soul with God. He said in the Ascent of Mount Carmel, "My principle is not to address all, but certain persons of our sacred order of Mount Carmel . . . to whom God is granting the favor of setting them on the road to this Mount." He addressed the Carmelites specifically in his writing because attaining to union with God was the primary focus of the Carmelite.

What is this union with God that is so fundamental to St. John of the Cross's spirituality? It is a complete dying to the old fallen self and living anew in perfect docility to God and His movements in the soul. St. John said in The Living Flame of Love, "Let it be known that what the soul calls death is all that goes to make up the old self . . . In this new life that the soul lives when it has arrived at the perfect union with God here being discussed, all the inclinations and activity of the [soul] . . . become divine. Since . . . the soul's operations are in God through its union with him, it lives the life of God." The soul in union is perfectly docile to grace, and so the soul is moved by God alone and not by its own desires or thinking. He explains, "For the soul, like a true daughter of God, is moved in all things by the Spirit of God." The will of the soul is lost in the will of God and the two become one by grace.

St John of the Cross explains that the soul in union with God has a greater effect on the mission of the Church simply by its love, than it ever it did before by its works. He says in The Dark Night of the Soul, "In the state of union, however, they will work great things in the spirit, even as grown men, and their works and faculties will then be Divine rather than human." He says in The Spiritual Canticle, "An instant of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together." An act of pure love from a soul in union with God, does more for the mission of the Church than all other works because it gives grace to those works and sustains them.

The path to the heights of the mystical life for St. John of the Cross is a difficult road full of abnegation and purgation. In The Ascent of Mount Carmel he speaks thus, "This perfection consists in voiding and stripping and purifying the soul of every desire." The soul must be purged of every desire that it clings to out of a disordered self love so that it can attain to this pure love of God. God Himself is the primary agent in this purgation that He gives through infused prayer, called contemplation. "It is clear that this dark contemplation is in the beginnings painful to the soul . . . by reason of the purgation of the imperfections of the soul which comes to pass through this contemplation." This purgation is called the Dark Night of the Soul, where first the senses of the person are purified and then later the spirit through an arid and difficult spiritual darkness. These two trials, the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the spirit, train the soul in the heroic virtues as it perseveres in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity amid great darkness and temptation against these virtues.

This is the road to sanctity that is very difficult, and therefore so praise worthy. But these trials are tempered by God who is very merciful. St. John of the Cross says, "Though these waters be dark, they are none the less waters, and therefore they cannot but refresh and fortify the soul." So God secretly feeds the soul, giving it the strength to endure any trial He gives it. This is not an experience of the wrath or justice of God but rather an experience of the soul's own weakness. In The Dark Night of the Soul he explains, "A thing of great wonder and pity it is that the soul's weakness and impurity should now be so great that, though the hand of God is of itself so light and gentle, the soul should now feel it to be so heavy . . . but only touches it, and that mercifully, since He does this in order to grant the soul favors and not to chastise it." In God's fatherly mercy, he purifies the soul of all sins and imperfections so that it is perfectly docile to the inspirations of God and worthy of direct entrance into heaven.

The fruit of this purgation is the immediate vision of God at death. He says in The Dark Night of the Soul, "These souls, who are few, enter not into Purgatory, since they have already been wholly purged by love." These blessed souls are, "The perfect, who now burn sweetly in God. For this sweet and delectable ardor is caused in them by the Holy Spirit by reason of the union which they have with God." For this reason St. John of the Cross calls this dark night of the soul a "happy chance" through which all blessings come to the soul.

The Carmelite spirituality of St. John of the Cross, therefore, is about this great journey to divine union up the steep Mount of Carmel. It is true love for God that drives a soul to persevere and attain to this union with God. "In the happy night, in secret, when none saw me, nor I beheld aught, without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart . . . Oh night that guided me, Oh night more lovely than the dawn, Oh night that joined Beloved with lover, lover transformed in the Beloved!"

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Learn more about our spirituality here: Introduction to Carmelite spirituality and cloister.

Or read Carmelite saints books on spirituality: Carmelite saints writings and books.

 

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The Carmelite Spirituality of St. Teresa of Jesus - In Depth:

For St. Teresa of Jesus, Carmelite spirituality was all about love of Christ, and consoling Him who is so offended by sin. She says in The Way of Perfection, "Indeed all I cared for then, as I do now, was that, as the enemies of God are so many and His friends so few, these latter might at least be good ones." This was the central theme and the reason for her prayer life, "that I might be able to bring some comfort to our Lord."

It was for this reason that St. Teresa sought to restore the primitive observance of the Rule of Carmel. She explained that, "My object in founding this house [is], namely, to restore the perfect observance of our Rule that had been mitigated elsewhere." By the living the Rule of Carmel with full vigor she knew she could most console Our Lord through perfect conformity to His will as laid out in the Rule. It was in the strict observance of the rule that she saw her sisters flourish in the virtues.

For St. Teresa, this was the whole purpose of the mystical life, to grow closer to Christ who would help uproot vice in the soul and plant the virtues. In turn the more virtuous a soul, the more God would answer his prayers. She said in her Life, "A beginner must look upon himself as making a garden, wherein our Lord may take His delight, but in a soil unfruitful, and abounding in weeds. His Majesty roots up the weeds, and has to plant good herbs." The purpose of these virtues being planted in the soul is simply to give pleasure to God. These virtues, "Shall send forth much fragrance, refreshing to our Lord, so that He may come often for His pleasure into this garden, and delight Himself in the midst of these virtues." As the soul grows spiritually, he would abide more continuously in his soul so as to make it a very pleasing dwelling place for God.

Thus, the part of the Carmelite Rule St. Teresa loved the most was where it exhorts Carmelites to pray always. She explained in The Way of Perfection, "The first chapter of our Rule bids us 'Pray without ceasing': we must obey this with the greatest perfection possible for it is our most important duty." This desire to pray without ceasing gave birth to a bigger and grander view of the soul. It is impossible to pray continuously unless there be a hidden world in the soul where a person can dwell perpetually because there are so many rooms and mansions created by Our Lord for us to abide in. Thus the perfect living of the Carmelite Rule lead her to the Carmelite Teresian spirituality of abiding with God in the interior castle.

So St. Teresa's greatest contribution to Carmelite spirituality was her writing of The Interior Castle. In it she explained the way to union with God through interior recollection in God's beautiful dwelling place, which is one's own soul. She described a soul, "as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions." She says that God has created the human soul so exalted that, "Nothing can be compared to the great beauty and capabilities of a soul" that is in the state of grace. She says, "The soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight." What an incredible image for us that motivates a Carmelite to dwell within this paradise with his loving and good God!

But she explains that to find God within this castle is the whole purpose of the spiritual life, since he resides in the inner most mansions. "In the center, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret discourse." So the soul must enter into this glorious castle, which is itself, and journey to the center of its soul where Christ dwells in the inmost hidden chambers. The path to the throne room where God dwells is traversed, through a Catholic sacramental life, by being conformed more to Christ and imitating His virtues.

St. Teresa says that the entrance into the castle is to convert from mortal sin through the sacraments. She explains that for persons engulfed in worldliness, "It is impossible for them to retire into their own hearts; accustomed as they are to be with reptiles and other creatures which live outside the castle." She exhorts them saying, "O souls, redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, take these things to heart; have mercy on yourselves . . . remove the darkness from the crystal of your souls." This is what Carmelites pray ardently for, that souls will realize their great dignity and make use of the sacraments to live in the state of grace.

From this beginning conversion St. Teresa explains that the soul has to enter into itself by way of mental prayer to go deeper into the mansions. She says, "In this part of the castle are found souls which have begun to practice prayer; they realize the importance of their not remaining in the first mansions." Entering deeper into the mansion requires greater conformity to the life of Christ. She says, "We should fix our eyes on Christ our only good, and on His saints; there we shall learn true humility, and our minds will be ennobled." And the closer one gets to the inner most mansions, the more Christ showers his graces on the soul. Since progress is all about being more conformed to Our Lord, it is obtained by love. "To make rapid progress and to reach the mansions we wish to enter, it is not so essential to think much as to love much." And this love, "does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a fervent determination to strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him." True love for God in this way is essential to the mystical life in the Teresian form. With this love the soul can make great progress through the first three mansions of the interior castle.

As the soul gets closer to the inner rooms and advances sspiritually, the prayer becomes supernaturally infused by God without the soul's own efforts. This contemplation is God's gift and so He, "gives when, how, and to whom He wills - the goods are His own, and His choice wrongs no one" since no one can attain to it by human means. This prayer that takes place in the fourth mansions she terms the "prayer of quiet." She explains that this prayer causes, "the greatest peace, calm, and sweetness in the inmost depths of our being . . . filling it to the brim, the delight overflows throughout all the mansions and faculties." This infused prayer causes a dilation of the heart wherein the soul can love God more in action and affection. These mysterious infused graces, "dilate and enlarge us internally, and benefit us in an inexplicable manner, nor does the soul itself understand what it receives." This prayer is infused divine wisdom which makes the soul grow in virtue like never before.

From here St. Teresa mentions the soul can enter the fifth mansions if he "does his best" to use the favors God gives for growth in the virtues. But she says, "if you would purchase this treasure of which we are speaking, God would have you keep nothing back, little or great. He will have it all. In proportion to what you know you have given will your reward be great or small." The fifth mansions are very close to the center of the mansions where God dwells in the soul. These mansions are all about union of the soul's will with God's will. The soul in these mansions may experience God drawing it into the center of its soul where it experiences His presence in a way that cannot be doubted and with no effort of the soul whatsoever. She calls this the "prayer of union." The soul must respond to such sublime gifts by striving for perfect love of his neighbor and perfect resignation to the will of God through obedience. The prayer of union completely changes the soul, enlarging its heart in tremendous a way. This soul is very advanced spiritually in these mansions.

St. Teresa's sixth mansions of the interior castle correspond to St. John of the Cross' dark night of the spirit. Here the soul undergoes great trials both interior and exterior so as to be completely purified to reach union with God. "How many troubles both interior and exterior must one suffer before entering the seventh mansions!" The soul here is purged in great darkness. She explains, "Such spiritual dryness ensues that the mind feels as if it never had thought of God nor ever will be able to do so. When men speak of Him, they seem to be talking of some person heard of long ago." Her experience is that of rejection by God, similar to what the souls in hell feel. This trial is given to the soul in order to eradicate its pride to the very core. She explains, "This great God wishes us to acknowledge His sovereignty and our own misery." The soul must simply trust in God and abandon itself hoping in His mercy.

At the entrance into the seventh mansions, the soul receives the mystical marriage with God. St. Teresa explains that God brings the soul into its deepest center permanently in a new and profound way. It experiences the perpetual presence of the most Holy Trinity. "The three Persons of the Blessed Trinity seem never to depart; it sees with certainty . . . that They dwell far within its center and depths." This is one of the most sublime aspects of Teresian Carmelite spirituality. A creature can come to such sublime experience of God within its most inward depths. Such is truly finding heaven in one's soul!

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Learn more about our spirituality here: Introduction to Carmelite spirituality and cloister.

Or read Carmelite saints books on spirituality: Carmelite saints writings and books.

 

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How the Carmelite Monks apply Carmelite spirituality daily:

The Carmelite Monks are dedicated to an enclosed atmosphere of contemplative prayer, which is conducive to growth in the spiritual life. Through hiddenness and solitude in the wilderness of the mountains, the Carmelite monks live away from the world for the sake of Carmelite missionary zeal. Our daily life of prayer is offered for the souls through out the entire world. We pray especially for priests and religious who are guiding souls in the world daily. Our masses are offered for the intentions of the faithful who are in need. Our priests are dedicated to studying the spiritual life, so that they are well informed when they are called to direct other monks who are progressing in the spiritual life. Through a very strong community life of fraternal charity and obedience, our monks as a community are dedicated to living the virtues with joy and humility.

What motivates out community to strive for union with God in a unique solitary way, is love for God, His Church and the people in world. Our monks are very personable people who love their families very much, but feel drawn to the hidden interior apostolate of prayer and interior mortification for the Church's mission. In an atmosphere of authentic study and prayer, the monks hope that through their fidelity to their vows, to the Carmelite Rule and their constitutions, they may attain to union with God for the sake of all.

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Learn more about our spirituality here: Introduction to Carmelite spirituality and cloister.

Or read Carmelite saints books on spirituality: Carmelite saints writings and books.


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