It is very difficult to put into words what a charism is as it is a gift of the Holy Spirit which is given to individuals and communities and for the benefit of everyone. When the Holy Spirit gives, he gives big. It’s like one of those fireworks that sail into the sky and mushroom out like a hot air balloon and millions of shreds of coloured light fall into the darkness.
You have seen one of these fireworks and you can picture it as I speak. Isn’t it splendid as you picture it in your mind and wonder at it. If you haven’t seen it doesn’t the description fall far short of the reality.
So with a charism, it is almost impossible to describe as it is so splendid.
The charism of the Carmelite order is prayer. You might say sure we all have to pray. Yes and we all have to feed the poor, care for the sick etc. by virtue of our Christian calling, but it is given to different people and religious congregations to live and witness to the different charisms of the Spirit in a particular and very pronounced way.
The Carmelite Charism is prayer. Carmelites are asked to be people of deep prayer, to always be in a state of prayer. We withdraw to our Monasteries to be quiet to hear the still small voice of the Lord within us and to allow the Holy Spirit to draw us within to where the Blessed Trinity dwells in communion with each other.
During his life on earth Jesus withdrew to lonely places to pray to his Father, to praise and glorify him and to ask for all the needs of his disciples. When the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray he gave them what we now call the Our Father. We can presume that that was his prayer.
So it is in imitation of Jesus and at his invitation that we withdraw to quiet places to pray. We praise and thank God for all his goodness, we intercede for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a feast when we celebrate the love that God has for all of us. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. Jesus came so that we could approach God without fear but with reverence and love. The Scripture passage from St Paul to the Ephesians: Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.
Filled with the utter fullness of God – God wants to give himself utterly and totally to us. Prayer puts us in touch with that reality and with God.
St Teresa talks to us Carmelites and indeed to everyone a great deal about prayer. She explains that there are many ways of prayer, indeed there are as many ways of prayer as there are pray-ers. She explains that prayer is a loving conversation with one whom we know loves us. And she admonishes: when you speak to God just make sure your mind isn’t elsewhere.
Carmelites go about their daily tasks in a spirit and attitude of prayer, always remembering that whatever we are at God is present in each moment. St Teresa tells us that God walks among the pots and pans, that he is with us in all the little mundane things we do as well as the great.
We honour our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and take her as our model, constantly pondering the word of God in our hearts.
The charism shines through the people to whom it is given. It is caught not taught. The fidelity to constant prayer of the older members of the Community, lived freely and joyfully, flowing from their love for God and neighbour gives inspiration to the younger members and so it is passed on from generation to generation.
Of course Carmelites are asked to share the charism of prayer by providing places of prayer like this beautiful Church, can you imagine over the years the amount of prayer that has been offered by all who come here and the amount of solace that has been found in that prayer.
We are also expected to encourage people to pray and to find the solace they need in their daily lives by regular prayer.
I would like to finish with a prayer.
Serene Light, shining in the depth of my being
Draw me to yourself, draw me past the snares of the senses,
Out of the mazes of the mind, free me from symbols,
from words that I may discover the Signified.
the Word unspoken in the darkness
that veils the ground of my being.
Sr Teresa O.C.D.
Roebuck Carmel, Dublin.
This is the text of a talk given at Clarendon Street Church on the Feast of the Sacred Heart 2015