Friday, March 24, 2006

By Natividad Santos, TOCarm
Regional Coordinator for NCR North Metro

Fr. Henri Nouwen’s book entitled “Can You Drink the Cup?” inspired me to explore on how we live the Lay Carmelite life. When Jesus asked James and John,” Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” I was spiritually challenged. We are the modern James and Johns who wish to imitate and follow Him.

What is this cup He is referring to? What is in our cups? What is it all about? The cup represents the life we are living which is a life of allegiance to Christ in a contemplative attitude which fashions and supports our prayer, fraternity and service. Have we lived what we are called to live? Let us HOLD our cups and critically analyze what we are going to drink. Let us look at our life as lay Carmelites.

Our cups contain both joys and sorrows. What a joy to belong to an Order which has produced great Saints - with wide influence, with charisms proven over centuries, in various cultures and traditions, offering a high standard of Christian living and a sure way to reach holiness. What a joy to be associated with the Order of Carmel thru our promises and to share in the spiritual benefits of the Order. We have led a well regulated life, have deepened our prayer life, have developed virtues and have performed spiritual exercises and good works. We are very determined not to offend God. God, in return, gives us consolations. Such display of exterior conduct and good works has won for us public esteem and respect.

But why is it that many of us find difficulty in fulfilling our promise of obedience and purity of heart? Do we really understand our Rule of Life? How many of us comply with memos and directives without arguing or complaining? How many recognize, listen to and obey their superiors, whom God as placed in their position as His representatives and in whom we must see Christ, despite their defects & limitations? How many are interested in Carmelite ministries? How many neglect their obligations because of a disproportionate concern for family and health? How many refuse fraternal correction? How many enter into compromises or cover-ups in order not to disrupt the “peace” or create divisions or simply to be popular? Do we have superiors who do not think, speak and act like Christ? And how many of us really consider each other as brothers and sisters, including those beyond the confines of our community? When subjected to fraternal correction, disciplinary action and even exhortation, some of us become defiant and insistent of our own ways and beliefs.

Why are these happening? Spiritual progress has not yet stabilized. Our evil inclinations have not been mortified. Our exterior lives have deceived us. Our lives have been a mixture of virtues and pride, of sanctity and illusions. Unlike St. Paul who groans at his human misery, some of us do not see ours and do not want others to point them to us. St.Teresa has this to say, “It is of no use offering them an advice…. They consider they have acted in a highly virtuous way, as I have said and they wish others to think so too… Well, I cannot find, and have never found any way of comforting such people except to express great sorrow at their trouble, which, when, I see them so miserable, I really do feel. It is useless to argue with them for they brood over their woes and make up their minds that they are suffering for God’s sake, and thus, never really understand that it is all due to their imperfections.”

Are we like the young man in the Gospel who have conscientiously kept the Ten Commandments and have desired perfection, but when faced with the requirements of the Master, hesitated and sadly went away? How many of us when faced with the exigencies of perfection come to a halt or turn back? But many among us live beyond this stage and have developed fortitude in spite of grave trials. How I wish I am one of them!
Whether our Carmelite life is wholesome or not, after a thorough reflection, we lift our cups to our community without shame and claim them as our very own. We are gathered by Christ into communities of love and trust, not of safe shelter or cozy cliques. Called by the same Lord, we are given the grace to cross the bridges of individual differences that separate us. We become free to listen and pay attention to each other. Lifting our cups involve sharing of life experiences to let others know what is in our cup. If our Carmelite life is well-ordered, it becomes life for others, encouraging and inspiring them to move forwards. If we incur difficulties and failures, we do not hide our shame and guilt. We discover that others think as we think and feel as we feel, for they, too, have their own difficulties and failures, thus, the community becomes a venue for confession, correction, affirmation, support and celebration. Community members are encouraged to lift up their own cups. We would discover the deepest longings for friendship and companionship. We would feel the strong communal cravings to reach full union with God, not verbalized before and probably not thought of. As a result, we would find courage to correct each other fraternally. Like the model community of Mary and Elizabeth, we desire and wait together for each others’ spiritual progress, nurture what has been started and expect with hope and trust the fulfilment of our perfection as God Himself desires..

Now, we are to DRINK our cups completely. This means living the authentic Carmelite life. How do we go about it? In silence, we confront ourselves. Let us not listen to the deafening voice of darkness that speaks of pride, avarice & sensuality. Instead, let us listen to the soft; gentle voice of the Spirit that speaks of selfless love, humility and complete surrender that is likened to the soft, murmuring voice heard by Elijah at Mt. Horeb. It will tell us how we have lived and how we should live. Led by the Spirit, we will be able to acknowledge our own lives without fear and not in secrecy.

To our Community, we express how the eyes of our souls were opened to the truth of ourselves as well as to the truth of God. These are words of blessings that reveal that no one is less blessed than us. Together, we listen attentively to the promptings of the Spirit, Who unites us as a community of faith. Thus, all of us are able to keep the flame of our vocation alive and to take it seriously so that we can live courageously in this world not threatened by the dark forces and trustful of Someone Who is our refuge and protector.

To complete the DRINKING of our cup, let us do what we are called to do and not want to do. Do we have a thorough knowledge of Christ whom we profess to imitate? How can we lead if we do not know the right and proper WAY; how can we teach if we do not know the whole truth TRUTH, and how can we serve if we do not possess abundant LIFE? Let us study wholeheartedly our RULE of life to guide us in our spiritual journey. Let us know, understand and practice Carmelite spirituality, otherwise, our spirituality becomes a dead formula written on a crumpled paper with a fast fading ink or like the fruit made of plastic, good for decoration but not for nourishment. Let us tame our senses and mortify our souls. Our lives must be focused, joyful and well-oriented, geared towards a deeper and closer union with God, for the sake of WHOM, self-denial is a joy and self- surrender a victory to the brave, to the courageous and to the committed lay Carmelite.

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