A CALL TO BLESSEDNESS
By Ruel Santos, TOCarm
Regional Coordinator - Bulacan
A CALL TO BLESSEDNESS
By Ruel Santos, TOCarm
Regional Coordinator - Bulacan
“The fundamental bond between the tertiary and Carmel is profession. The commitment is made explicit in some form of promise, or otherwise in keeping our ancient custom, by the profession of vows of obedience and chastity according to the obligations of one’s state.”1
The above passage from the Rule of the Carmelite Third Order speaks about what a lay Carmelite promises during his/her profession. It is the promise of obedience and chastity. Though the promise of poverty is not explicitly stated in the Rule, it is otherwise implied because it is a result of the promises and the means to fulfill it as we shall see later.
THE PROMISE OF CHASTITY
The promise of chastity reinforces the commitment to love God above all else, and to love others with the love God has for them. In this promise the lay Carmelite seeks the freedom to love God and neighbor unselfishly, giving witness to the divine intimacy promised by the beatitude ‘blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God’ (Mat. 5:8). It is a commitment to Christian love in its personal and social dimensions in order to create authentic community in the world.2
Chastity is one part of purity of heart. In Chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus has something to say regarding the purity of intention and motives: “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see. Otherwise expect no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, for example, do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets like hypocrites looking for applause. You can be sure of this much, they are already repaid. In giving alms you are not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” If one takes into consideration the criticisms made by Jesus against the Pharisees, it is about their failure to be pure of heart in their motives, which means to do all for the sake of God without self-interest. In order to obtain chastity, poverty, and obedience, it is necessary to have the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love for these are the basis for all other virtues. Poverty and obedience is easily obtained through chastity and a pure heart helps us in practicing spiritual poverty.
THE PROMISE OF SPIRITUAL POVERTY
By the promise of poverty, the lay Carmelite expresses the desire to live in accordance with the Gospel and its values. In evangelical poverty, there is a wealth of generosity, self denial, and interior liberty and a dependence on Him who ‘though rich, yet for our sake, became poor’ (2 Co. 8:9), and ‘who emptied Himself’ (Phil. 2:7), to be at the service of his brothers and sisters.3
This promise of poverty does not necessarily mean being poor materially or that we give up all of our material goods. It is against common sense since we are living in the world as seculars. This promise about poverty of spirit and the virtuous use of our material goods, talents and abilities are governed by our knowledge that all we have are gifts of God and are not ours to own. Out of God’s own do we give. St. Albert of Jerusalem has written that we must “live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ,” thus we need to look at the Gospel, the life and teaching of Jesus to see what is meant by evangelical poverty.
In 2 Cor. 8:10-15, St. Paul wrote: “I am about to give you some advice on this matter of rich and poor…the willingness to give should be in accord with one’s means, not going beyond them. The relief of others ought not to impoverish you; there should be certain equality. Your plenty at the present time should supply their need so that their surplus may one day supply your need, with equality as a result. It is written,’ He who gathered much had no excess and he who gathered little had no lack.’” The apostle is talking about generous giving and in the previous verses of the same chapter, he says of the churches in Macedonia that “in the midst of sever trial their overflowing joy and deep poverty have produced an abundant generosity.” One of the virtues of poverty is that it allows the lay Carmelite to have the “interior liberty” to be generous. The Gospel has so many teaching on poverty and wealth and before we look into it, we must remember that wealth covers more than money and material possessions. Our Statutes clearly indicate that it covers our time and talent as well.
Let us look into the Gospel of Luke regarding the teachings of Jesus about poverty and wealth. Chapter 12 of the Lucan gospel is mostly about trusting in God rather than possessions. Verses 13-21 tell about the parable of the rich fool. He trusted more in his possessions when he accumulated a vast wealth and later God said to him, “‘You fool! This very night your life shall be required of you. To whom will all these pile-up wealth of your go?’ This is the lot of those who pile up riches instead of becoming rich before God.” Later in verses 22-34, we will find some of our favorite sayings. These verses teaches us not to be worried or anxious and later in the end it says: wherever you treasure lies, there your heart will be. In this chapter ofLuke, Jesus tells us seven times not to be afraid or to worry. It is primarily about putting one’s trust in a loving God, so that we won’t be anxious and can be generous with everything God gives us.
Chapter 16 of the same book is about the right use of money. It starts with the parable of the crafty steward who wrote off the debts of his master’s debtors in order to gain favor with them because he knew his service will be terminated. In verse 11 it says: so if you have not been trustworthy in handling filthy money, who could entrust you with true wealth? In verse 13: no servant can serve two masters. Either he does not like the one and is fond of the other, or he regards one highly and the other with contempt. You cannot give yourself both to God and to money. Here we have again the necessity of being single-hearted, pure in heart.
On Luke 19:11-26, it tells about the parable of the ten talents. The moral of the story is: “everyone who has will be given more; but from him who has not will be taken away.” As we say about many things in life like muscles, brains, and skills: “Use it or lose it!”
Chapter 21 of Luke is about the widow’s mite. Here Jesus observes the generosity of the poor widow wherein he said “for all gave an offering from their plenty, but she instead, out of her poverty, gave everything she had to live on.”
The last chapter that we will consider is Chapter 18 of the gospel of Luke. This is about Jesus and the rich man (verses 18-30). Here the problem does not lie in riches but being attached to it.
Dependence on God liberates us from anxiety and worry. Knowing that God is the giver of all, free us to be generous with what he has given. Our promise of poverty frees us to be at the service of God and our brothers and sisters in our families, our work, society, and in the Church.
Evangelical poverty recognizes personal limitations and surrenders them to God with confidence in his goodness and fidelity.4 In the things that we do, it is the motive, the love, the heart that counts just like the widow who gave up her few coins. A single hearted person who has set God as his treasure will see God everywhere and be able to live out evangelical poverty generously.
THE PROMISE OF OBEDIENCE
Obedience is not the most popular word. Sadly, even in the Third Order this is unpopular. Only lay Carmelites who are transformed know that the promise of obedience brings great blessings. Obedience is the greatest of all sacrifices because it entails the person to sacrifice his will to that of the will of God. Obedience is a virtue that unites man to God, making him submissive to the divine will as manifested by God or to His representatives.5
The promise of obedience is a pledge to live open to the will of God, ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:8) imitating Christ who accepted the Father’s will and was ‘obedient unto death, death on a cross’ (Ph 2:8). The promise of obedience is an exercise of faith leading to the search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and our own personal life. For this reason, the lay Carmelite freely cooperates with those who have the responsibility for guiding the community and the Order in discerning and accepting God’s ways: the community’s council, the national, the prior provincial, and the general.6
Our promise of obedience to the will of God is based on imitating the obedience of Jesus to the will of God the Father. Obedience is a learned virtue as stated in Hebrews 5:8-10. Obedience is learned through trust in those we obey that is why obedience is an exercise of faith.
Sadly, there are leaders in lay Carmelite communities who have a distorted understanding of obedience. Externally they obey the directives coming from the National Council but internally they grumble against their superior. As the Desert Fathers of the early Church taught, that is not obedience but rather malice. Although the Third Order takes on the corporate model of governance, the implementation of the Rule of Life and Statutes does not follow that model because it is an Order. In the corporate or business world, there is what we call compromise, a win-win situation wherein both parties look for a common ground so that everybody will be happy. But in the spiritual world, this is not applicable because it concerns our salvation. Those who enter Carmel are required to practice heroic fidelity to the Rule; meaning, there can be no compromises. Local leaders who wants to create precedent, insisting a case-to-case basis are misguided because if we follow the same rule and have the same profession, the rule should not be longer for the other nor shorter to another. Local leaders who are trying to please erring TOC members advocating that it is unjust for a professed TOC member to leave the Order and return as an aspirant if he/she did not pass the preliminary criteria for evaluation and comparing it to a grade 6 student returning to grade 1 is using a wrong comparison because a final professed is not higher than a temporary professed neither both are higher than a novice. Why is this so? Because profession is a commitment and not a status. It is not an educational level but rather it is a call to Christian maturity. These leaders who see profession as a hierarchy are quite mistaken. The hierarchy model maybe true in the governance of communities because novices has only a passive voice during elections but in the general view, it is not applicable. Local leaders who insist that such an act is an injustice to person are blinded because they do not see a greater injustice: the injustice to the Church and to the Order.
Death entered into the world because of one sin. The ancestral sin (or original sin) is brought about by disobedience. The first man in order to please his partner and not to cause her sorrow disobeyed the one and only commandment that God gave to them.
In looking at the promise of poverty in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus commands us not to be worried or anxious because we can trust a loving God. Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered and endured, he learned it through knowing and experiencing that perfect obedience brought him perfect peace and union with the Father, even when what he had to go through was painful. He learned it through love. Obedience brings the blessing of true freedom, the freedom from slavery to sin, and freedom for intimacy and union with God in his service. The blessing of obedience is complete joy in friendship with Jesus.
Unfortunately in local communities, obedience to the rule only brings sorrow to some. The reason for this is resistance. The more one resist, the more it is painful. St. Catherine of Siena in her “Treatise on Obedience” describes an obedient and disobedient member of an Order.
"The obedient man does not wish to fulfill his obedience in his own way, or to choose his time or place, but prefers the way of his order and of his superior. All this the truly and perfectly obedient man does without pain and weariness of mind. What makes war on obedience? Injuries? No, for the obedient man is patient, patience being the sister of obedience. The weight of the observances of the order? No, for obedience causes him to fulfill them. Does the weight of obedience give him pain? No, for he has trampled on his own will, and does not care to examine or judge the will of his superior, for with the light of faith he sees My will in him, believing truly that My clemency causes him to command according to the needs of his subject’s salvation. Is he disgusted and angry at having to perform the humble duties of the order or to endure the mockeries, reproofs, jibes, and insults which are often cast at him, or to be held at little worth? No, for he has conceived love for self-contempt and self-hatred. Wherefore he rejoices with patience, exulting with delight and joy in the company of his spouse, true obedience, for the only thing which saddens him is to see Me, his Creator, offended. His conversation is with those who truly fear Me, and if he should converse with those who are separated from My Will, it is not in order to conform himself to their sins, but to draw them out of their misery, for through the brotherly love which he has in his heart towards them he would like to give them the good which he possesses, seeing that more glory and praise would be given to My name by many observing aright their order than by him doing so alone.
Contrariwise, a wicked disobedient man dwells in the ship of a religious order with so much pain to himself and others, that in this life he tastes the earnest of hell, he remains always in sadness and confusion of mind, tormented by the sting of conscience, with hatred of his order and superior, insupportable to himself. What a terrible thing it is, My daughter, to see one who has once taken the key of obedience of a religious order, living in disobedience, to which he has made himself a slave, for of disobedience he has made his mistress with her companion impatience, nourished by pride, and his own pleasure, which pride (as has been said) issues from self-love. For him everything is the contrary to what it would be for the obedient man. For how can this wretch be in any other state than suffering, for he is deprived of charity, he is obliged by force to incline the neck of his own will, and pride keeps it erect, all his desires are in discord with the will of the order. The order commands obedience, and he loves disobedience; the order commands voluntary poverty, and he avoids it, possessing and acquiring riches; the order commands continence and purity, and he desires lewdness. By transgressing these three vows, My daughter, a religious comes to ruin, and falls into so many miseries, that his aspect is no longer that of a religious but of an incarnate devil, as in another place I related to you at greater length. I will, however, tell you something now of their delusion, and of the fruit which they obtained by disobedience to the commendation and exhortation of obedience. This wretched man is deluded by his self-love, because the eye of his intellect is fixed, with a dead faith, on pleasing his self-will, and on things of the world. He left the world in body, but remained there in his affections, and becauseobedience seems wearisome to him he wishes to disobey in order to avoid weariness; whereby he arrives at the greatest weariness of all, for he is obliged to obey either by force or by love, and it would have been better and less wearisome to have obeyed by love than without it. Oh! how deluded he is, and no one else deceives him but himself. Wishing to please himself he only gives himself displeasure, for the actions which he will have to do, through the obedience imposed on him, do not please him. He wishes to enjoy delights and make this life his eternity, but the order wishes him to be a pilgrim, and continually proves it to him; for when he is in a nice pleasant resting place, where he would like to remain for the pleasures and delights he finds there, he is transferred elsewhere, and the change gives him pain, for his will was active against his obedience, and yet he is obliged to endure the discipline and labors of the order, and thus remains in continual torment. See, therefore, how he deludes himself; for, wishing to fly pain, he on the contrary falls into it, for his blindness does not let him know the road of true obedience, which is a road of truth founded by the obedient Lamb, My only-begotten Son, who removed pain from it, so that he walks by the road of lies, believing that he will find delight there, but finding on the contrary pain and bitterness. Who is his guide? Self-love that is his own passion for disobedience. Such a man thinks like a fool to navigate this tempestuous sea, with the strength of his own arms, trusting in his own miserable knowledge, and will not navigate it in the arms of his order, and of his superior. Such a one is indeed in the ship of the order in body, and not in mind; he has quitted it in desire, not observing the regulations or customs of the order, nor the three vows which he promised to observe at the time of his profession; he swims in the tempestuous sea, tossed to and fro by contrary winds, fastened only to the ship by his clothes, wearing the religious habit on his body but not on his heart. Such a one is no friar, but a masquerader, a man only in appearance. His life is lower than an animal’s, and he does not see that he labors more swimming with his arms, than the good religious in the ship, or that he is in danger of eternal death; clothes should be suddenly torn from the ship, which will happen at the moment of death, he will have no remedy. No, he does not see, for he has darkened his light with the cloud of self-love, whence has come his disobedience, which prevents him seeing his misery, wherefore he miserably deceives himself.7
In the scripture we could see that the apostles learned well their lessons from Jesus. They learned the blessings of purity of heart, of poverty, and of obedience. Hebrew 11:8 speaks of Abraham’s obedience of faith. St. James tells us to be “doers of the Word and not just hearers.”
As Lay Carmelites, we can render obedience to the Church’s teaching, to our community, the council, the national, the prior provincial, and the general trusting that the Holy Spirit has approved them and guides them. In so doing, we are rendering obedience to the will of God. Hebrews 13:17 instructs us: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are concerned for your souls and are accountable for them. Let this be a joy for them rather than a burden, which would be of no advantage for you.”
Faith and trust in God are the necessary prerequisites for obedience. Obedience frees us for friendship, intimacy, and union with God through Christ. Obedience makes us citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven where God’s will is done perfectly and therein lies all our joy and peace. The virtue of chastity is dependent on becoming single hearted in our love of God and the desire to will only what God wills. Thus, it is also dependent on the poverty of spirit. Living out the promise of poverty also depends on poverty of spirit by putting all our trust in a loving and caring God.
In order for us to fulfill the promises we made at our profession, it requires sacrifice and detachment. Our success depends totally on attachment to God in Christ Jesus. It entails a continual transformation and conversion. In the end, we will be blessed and find that this is the way to perfection.
TOC Rule #12
2 OCDS Constitutions
“Obedience” by Fr. Marie Eugene, OCD. I Am The Daughter of the Church.
“Treatise on Obedience,” St. Catherine of Siena in “Dialogues”