by Stanley Interrante, O.C.D.S.
Carmelite spirituality resonates within the core of my being. It has helped me to ask and answer life’s ultimate questions, simple yet all-important, given the current milieu of society. Where did we come from? What are we doing here? Where are we going?
Why are the answers to these questions so important? Their importance lies with the reality that they will largely determine how we live in this world, what our goals will be, and thus, what lies ahead now and in the future, in time and in eternity.
Careful observers of the current scene in the United States note a literary trend which seeks to popularize and propagate a sort of theoretical atheism expounded by such contemporary authors as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Though devoid of any real substance from the historical perspective, or observations not already refuted long ago, they nonetheless have an increasing appeal to many today.
Why, one may ask, is this trend becoming more evident in this period of our history? As in all of nature, I believe the answer lies with the fact that wherever there is an area of perceived weakness, there will always be those who seek to exploit that weakness.
Within the United States today, I believe this weakness lies in a generalized lack of spiritual discernment on the part of many, including Catholics, fed by a rampant secularism and a pervasive moral relativism. God is not welcomed in the public square and many today think each person can believe and practice whatever suits him or her at the time, rejecting the notion of an objective moral standard.
A powerful anecdote against this trend, especially with respect to the young, lies with a better catechesis as to the meaning and nature of a genuine spiritual life. There are so many competing so-called methodologies and schools of thought about it. Is it all so complicated?
In answer to this question, I highly recommend a wonderful book titled, The Practice of the Presence of God, which deals with the life of a simple Discalced Carmelite lay-brother, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. He lived in the seventeenth century. Brother Lawrence was the monastery cook and led a simple and ordinary life. Yet, his spiritual advice was sought out by many, including bishops. Though busy, he always focused on God’s presence within.
Dr. Gerald May in his forward to The Practice of the Presence of God, states, “At its core the spiritual life is very simple. Jesus told his disciples they needed to become like little children to enter the reign of heaven. Moses told the people of Israel that the Word was not far from them, that it was already in their mouths and hearts. Life with God, then, does not require great theological sophistication; it is for everyone. Nor is our spiritual life restricted to hallowed places and mountaintop moments. It is the simple essence of living, moving, and having our being in God in every present moment, wherever we find ourselves, whatever we are doing.”
In an age of increasing complexity, each of us, especially the laity, must seek to bring about a greater simplicity to our daily lives. Yes, we are all very busy, perhaps too busy. Can we honestly say that all that we do is essential, even necessary? Do we take time to evaluate this question?
If we want to grow in our spirituality, a fundamental and necessary ingredient to that growth is prayer. We must find time to pray. Prayer itself is not a complicated process. The second century father of the Church, Clement of Alexandria, stated “Prayer is conversation with God.”
Many ask today, “Where is God?” Our own St. Teresa of Jesus, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, stated in her autobiography, Life, “God is found among the pots and pans.” In other words, God is found in and through every aspect of our lives, including the most ordinary and humdrum circumstances of our daily existence.
Our Carmelite spirituality has at its essential core the charism of prayer, not only verbal, but especially mental and contemplative. How necessary this is today amidst the constant drumbeat of noise and distractions which results in a collective amnesia of all that pertains to our Creator. Give God some time, little though it may seem, and try to shut out the world for a little while.
In The Way of Perfection St. Teresa of Jesus tells us, “It has already been said that it is impossible to speak to God and to the world at the same time; yet this is just what we are trying to do when we say our prayers and at the same time are listening to the conversation of others or letting our thoughts wander on any matter that occurs to us, without making an effort to control them.”
To make room for God in our daily lives first requests that we recognize our own personal limitations. In essence, we must seek to grow in humility. Paragraph #2559 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church further states, “But when we pray, do not speak from the height of our pride and will, but out of the depths of a humble and contrite heart. He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that we do not know how to pray as we ought, are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. Man is a beggar before God.”
Yes, prayer itself is a gift from God, one that He will freely give to us if we humbly ask Him with sincerity and trust. Paragraph #2560 tells us “If you but knew the God. The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water; there Christ comes to meet every human being. It is He who first seeks us and asks for a drink. Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him.”
St. Teresa of Jesus tell us in her The Way of Perfection, “I cannot understand how humility exists, or can exist, without love or love without humility, and it is impossible for these two virtues to exist save where there is great detachment from all created things.” Perhaps the Lord is now going to help bring about that greater detachment from material things, painful though it may seem.
Our Carmelite charism of prayer and meditation is well-suited to help us discern what God is asking of each of us. We must not only speak; we must listen. God will not compete with the noise. We need the rejuvenation. That’s why Jesus Himself often went away to a quiet place to pray. But going away could be to one’s room for five minutes. Our quiet place can be anywhere, especially within our hearts and in our minds.
Our prayer life will not only deepen our faith. It will help deepen the faith of others within our homes and families and in doing so, we serve the Lord through them. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta has stated, “If you have faith, you will believe. If you believe, you will love. If you love, you will serve.”
That’s prayer in action, but we must do our part. It was St. Augustine who told us, “God provides the wind but man must raise the sails.”