ABOUT THE CARMELITES
— A Historical Overview —
Founded in 1971 as a prayer group, the Teresian Carmelites were birthed through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement. At a time when society was imbued with a rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit was encountered. Immersed within the gifts of the Holy Spirit—physical, emotional and spiritual healing were commonplace. Discernment, speaking in tongues and other spiritual phenomena were attracting countless numbers. However, distinct to this maturing “prayer group” was the inclination toward personal interior communion and intimacy with God.
Dedicated to communal prayer, meditation, fasting and sacrifice, the group of dedicated men and women quickly grew in number, while some aspired to live in community. In the late 70’s, the prayer group established a “House of Prayer”. Seeking intimacy with God rather than emphasizing the “gifts of God”, the emerging community provided a spiritual oasis in the ‘city desert’ for those seeking an inclusive, quiet and reflective place of prayer and meditation. Desiring to cultivate greater faith and trust in God, a mendicant (living on donations) lifestyle was adopted. Identifying with the early Christian community—they relied on Divine Providence for all necessities.
Interiorly longing for a more personal and intimate relationship with God, spirituality was the underlying anchor uniting the prayer group on their communal Christian journey. Recognizing the similarities between the Carmelite Order and the prayer group, the fundamental and distinguishing difference between the two was the male/female inclusivity as members and leadership.
Growing more closely to the Carmelite identity and spirituality, the community formally established their name as the Teresian Carmelites, while approaching the Carmelite Order for formal affiliation. With permission from the Carmelite General Definitor of Rome, those living as consecrated members within the community-house began to wear the traditional brown Carmelite habit.
New Forms of consecrated life similar to the Teresian Carmelites were simultaneously and globally forming within the Catholic and Christian Churches. Some were communities of men and women, whiles others retained the traditional communities of men or women respectively. Common to the developing communities, was the “Universal Call to Holiness”, lived in community, seeking mutual support in their personal dedication to God in relation to others.
The Second Vatican Counsel (1962-1965 – a formal gathering of cardinals and bishops to renew the Roman Catholic Church to a modern timeline and perspective) began a new dawn for the Catholic Church. Religious communities experienced liberation from austere practices and uniformity—to uncharted expressions of Religious Life. Understanding the “Universal Call to Holiness”, Pope John Paul II began referring to “Religious” (previously referring exclusively to men and women living in established religious communities) as “Consecrated” (an inclusive expression referring to ALL men and women who have dedicated their life to God). Evident change provided opportunity for new expressions of Gospel living, drawing vocations away from traditional Religious Life and into New Forms of Consecrated life. “Lay Communities” and “Movements” spontaneously appeared, becoming international phenomena of the Holy Spirit. Eventually the Catholic Church embraced and incorporated the New Forms of consecrated life into the age-old structure of the Catholic Church.
Established within the newly evolving Catholic Church and culture, the Teresian Carmelites’ merged established traditions (e.g., traditional habit, communal prayer and living) with the unfolding changes in the spirit of the Second Vatican Counsel. Influenced by tradition’s wisdom and society’s search for greater meaning and purpose, the community’s leadership sought opportunities to serve the needs of the lay community.
Time, innovation and a renewing Church provided greater opportunities for the laity to participate in position of ministries once exclusively dominated by clergy and consecrated members of Religious Institutes. Vatican II’s universal call to holiness crossed clerical barriers to include “all” baptized members of the Church. More “Lay Communities” and “Movements” grew in number, while membership within Religious Institutes dwindled.
Adjusting to the progression and movement of the Holy Spirit within the Church, the Teresian Carmelites began further transformation. Some members felt drawn to a contemplative and/or cloistered life, some embraced the secular life, while others remained as consecrated lay members living the communal life—ended an old “story” to begin a new “story”.