A Contemporary Statement of the Teresian Charism
by the Carmelite Communities Associated
We are Christians
We have been baptized into Christ, sealed by his Spirit, and joined to his body the
Church where we share the heritage of children who dare to say: Our Father.
We are Carmelites
We believe that each of us is called by Christ to follow him in a life of apostolic love
by searching the depths of divine intimacy in solitary prayer. To guide us we have taken the
Rule of Carmel as it has come down to us from St. Teresa. For from within the ancient
Carmelite tradition imaged in the figures of Elijah and the Virgin Mary, Teresa, daughter
and doctor of the Church, evolved a distinctive style of contemplative life and a spirit of
prayer infused with her own remarkable sense of the Risen Christ and the Church. We in
our time have recognized in the Teresian Carmel the substance of our own desires. In
Christ’s name, therefore, we have gathered to live a life of prayer in the light of Carmel’s
Rule quickened by Teresa’s spirit. We set forth here our way of life for ourselves and for all
who would know us better.
The Spirit within presses us to pray always and our Rule counsels us to continual
meditation in silence and solitude. Thus we ordinarily seek to be alone and to preserve
about us an atmosphere of gentle silence so as to give ourselves to an ever deepening
communion with the Lord. Our solitude is a desert of time and space for uncluttered
attention to him; our silence, a climate of peace for listening. One penetrates the other and
together they make up the environment of prayer. Yet neither is stranger to struggle and
dread. Rather they engender a fertile starkness of inner freedom and presence, awesome
with the overshadowing of the divine and alive with the experience of all that is human. It
is this aloneness we seek for ourselves and accord to one another with simplicity and
Each Sister has her own room apart. Our room is for us a place both sacred and familiar,
a desert where we are at home. We reserve two hours each day for solitary prayer, but the
same spirit of prayer overflows into the hours of reading, study and work, gracing each as
we take it up with a quality of unhurried attention and esteem. This spirit of prayer and
leisure, nurtured in solitude but all-pervasive, gives to the successive moments of our life a
Within the contemplative wholeness of our life, there are certain times when we
exchange the presence of solitude for the presence of community. The Rule we follow
indicates these times.
We are a community of faith and when we meet for worship, it is to break the Bread of
God’s Word and the Bread of his Life. Our celebration of the Eucharist is the source and
summit of Christ’s life in us and of our shared life in him. For when we eat the bread and
drink the cup of this Paschal Sacrifice, we are created and renewed as disciples who live the
dying and rising of the Lord and who by their love for one another proclaim the presence of
the Kingdom. Daily in the Eucharist Christ calls forth from us the deepest personal response,
only to transform this gift of ourselves into a communion of life.
The liturgy of the hours creates a setting for the Eucharist and continues Church’s
ceaseless worship. For with her, in union of heart and mind, we extend the memorial of
the Paschal Mystery to the hours and seasons of the liturgical year savoring the psalms and
scriptures in greater fullness. With God’s Word in our hearts and this praise on our lips, we
pray together the liturgical hours, gathering the prayer of God’s people into our own. Thus
quietly and imperceptibly, the Word of God effective in our midst continues the Eucharistic
work of creative and redeeming love. How we do not know, except that the ground itself
brings forth fruit.
Again, we meet regularly as a community to discuss our affairs and to explore the
meaning and direction of our life together. In this sacred time we break the bread of the
Spirit for one another, for we believe that the Spirit abides in each of us and quickens us as a
community. Thus we rely on one another for the openness of heart and mind so necessary
to fruitful dialog and for a willingness to share the responsibility of creating a quality of
human arid religious life befitting us as children of God.
Finally, we come together for the common meal and for a time of informal recreation.
There is a sacredness about this time, too, for we reserve it to be together believing that our
communion of life is strengthened when we. break the bread of joy arid peace for one
Thus we are solitaries and we are community, without confusion or contradiction, for
Christ is the unity of our lives and presence to him the fulfillment of our desires Indeed as
the love of Christ lures us into the wilderness, so the love of Christ gathers us together. The
vacation to solitary prayer itself inclines us toward community as toward the visible
presence of its call to communion. There, too. do we find the strength of a tradition which
roots us in the Church and in support of a common life which frees us for prayer.
Yet we know that solitude, the secret chamber of a loving heart forgetful of self and
wholly taken up with the Lord, is an ideal. Our life is a moving towards it under the action
of God’s Spirit, working through our own efforts in part and in part through the refining
process of life. Likewise, the Gospel ideal of community stretches before us, for our
communion of life, wrought in the Eucharist, shares in the “already” and the “not yet” of
the Church’s own life, and like her we are continually called to attain the full stature of the
risen Christ. Daily we grow towards this ideal, as we take on the likeness of the Lord Jesus
who laid down his life for his friends, and are built up by the Spirit into a living temple of
the Lord, a sacrament of God’s redeeming love in the world. These two lofty and
compelling ideals mark our way as Carmelites, a way which is the Paschal journey of our
Christian life. Between fidelity to solitary prayer and commitment to creating a community
of love, our days move in a rhythm of creative tension, not without its stress and demands,
but sweetened always by a joyful gratitude for the abundance of life and the beauty of the
calling which is the portion of our heritage.
We are people who share the history and tradition of a long established, world-wide
religious family. Our story begins some 800 years ago with an original group of Christian
solitaries on Mt. Carmel. But the origins of our tradition recede into the penumbra of
meaning enveloping the figures of Elijah, the prophet, zealous proclaimer and champion of
the Divine Word, arid Mary, Mother of the Lord, its perfect beholder and disciple. Down
through the ages, men and women, stirred by the ideal they image, have found their
fulfillment in Carmel. Even today these men and women continue to enrich us with the
inspiration of their lives and the wisdom of their experience. Teresa of Jesus and John of the
Cross stand out among them, for they have passed on to us a rich doctrine of mystical
prayer which continues to shape our understanding of the Rule. Indeed, Teresa and John
are the principal exponents of the Carmelite tradition of prayer, not only for us, but for all
those men and women throughout the world whom we call our brothers and sisters in
We, in our turn, are impelled to hand on this tradition in a living way. And thus as we
receive new members into our communities, we all share the responsibility of incorporating
each one into the life and tradition we ourselves have received and cherish.
The quiet presence of Mary has accompanied Carmel in its long pilgrimage and goes
with us today. We know her as mother, sister and friend, she who is the virginal abode of
God’s Word. In secret she ponders the Word and in bringing forth Christ she becomes
Mother of the Church. From age to age she gives herself over to an untiring solicitude for
God s people as all generations call her blessed. Thus do we honor her as the grace-filled
woman of faith and look to her as the image of all to which we aspire.
We are Religious
We believe that the Spirit within bids us follow Christ as poor, chaste and obedient.
The Church summons us and to her we hold ourselves accountable. It is she who receives
the vows, which solemnly symbolize our assent to God’s call and ratify our desire to
consecrate ourselves, body and Spirit, to the Lord and to the service of his Church.
In choosing celibacy, we commit ourselves to a way of loving which binds us to Jesus
Christ and in him to his people, in all-inclusive, redeeming love, Jesus, whom we take as
Beloved, Friend and Companion for the Way, himself teaches us this love. We celebrate it in
the Eucharist and give it flesh and blood, day to day, in the mutual self-giving of our
community life. Centered in Christ and in community as in a source, celibacy frees us for
relatedness to the broader community as sister, neighbor and friend. Like every truly
human life, the celibate life is a Paschal journey with its own shadowed valleys and arid
places. But in the friendship of Jesus, in the simple shared affection of our small familial
communities and in the freedom for friendship within and beyond community, we are
gifted with an abundance of human fulfillment and a blessed foretaste of the resurrection.
In choosing poverty, we commit ourselves to a way of living which witnesses to the
Gospel amid the spiritual and material bounty of creation and undergirds our life of prayer.
The poverty of the desert magnifies the cry of the poor and the silence of love hears their
voice. It reaches to the heart of prayer as the familiar echo of its own nakedness of spirit to
shape our consciousness and inflame our caring for the plight of all who are needy, weak or
small. We are ordinary people committed to a life-style of Gospel simplicity. We work for
our living and hold our possessions in common, sharing them in the kindly spirit of concern
for personal need counseled by our Rule. Receiving all things as God’s gifts, w desire to
share them with gratitude and to consecrate the by use and non-use, in reverence,
responsibility and freedom. In all things we keep before us the example of the Lord Jesus
for whom poverty was the servant of love, for out of love he empties himself to make us
In choosing obedience, we commit ourselves to a way o fidelity to the Father’s will which
depends on a listening heart. The Lord Jesus went this way of obedience to glory and we
follow him. We believe that Father has said everything in Jesus Christ and that the Spirit
discloses the meaning of the Christ-mystery as it engages each of us personally and all of us
as a Community in our day to day living. It is our part to listen for the Spirit speaking in
each one of us, in the community, in the Church and in the signs of the times. Therefore, we
rely on one another for openness in the processes of communication by which we try to
discover God’s will for us and to do it.
With this understanding, the government of our communities is simply structured .We
choose a leader from among ourselves and together with her share the responsibility to
discernment, for making and supporting decisions, and for at that pertains to the peaceful
ordering of our everyday lives.
In professing our vows, we have said “yes’ to the Father’s gracious call to live out our
Baptismal grace according to the evangelical counsels. As people of the Church we are built
up and sustained by God’s love visible in the lives of Christians all about us; so also do we
believe that our life of celibacy, poverty and obedience manifests still another dimension of
God’s unfathomable love and graces the Body of Christ with its own unique gifts. Yet not as
though we had reached any perfection, but we press on hoping to lay hold of him who laid
hold of us and to hasten the day when God will be all in all.
We are people on the way, and therefore we appreciate the support of a disciplined life.
Our asceticism, however, is of a piece with our life itself. Its source is the Gospel call to a
change of heart, its shape is the shape of Christ’s good Cross, its direction is at the Spirit’s
breathing, and its work is to free us to live our vocation in wholeness and joy. Our tradition
teaches and our experience confirms the singular value of the daily renewed effort to
immerse ourselves in the Word of God through reading, meditation and study. Likewise
the asceticism of silence and solitude so fundamental to our life admits of endless
refinement in motivation, meaning and practice. There is also that more subtle dimension of
asceticism arising from the unchosen austerities inherent in work and community life, in
change, growth and aging, and in the fragility of the human condition itself. All these have
a prior claim on our attention and energies. But at the same time we value those disciplines
both old and new which heal, support and develop us in body, mind and spirit and dispose
us more fully for prayer and community living. Our care is to grow strong in the Lord,
guided by his Spirit who teaches us the ways of freedom and the measure of truth.
We are children of our time. We acknowledge its history, its culture, its greatness, its sin.
What we are by inheritance, we choose in love, for we believe that the God whose face we
seek comes to meet us in each unfolding moment of the human story. At the same time, we
believe that Carmel’s life of prayer is a vital part of the Christian response to the Gospel
imperative that we redeem the times. And so we have fashioned our life of prayer in ways
appropriate to itself yet new, in order to become within the local church and community a
more visible and accessible presence of the universal love to which we aspire. Whatsoever
things are just, noble gracious, and true, these we ponder and hold fast, while our lives
proclaim trial the Lord is near.
We walk in faith. Faith is the perennial wellspring of our life for we are centered on One
whom we love but do not see, and the principal apostolic fruitfulness of our prayer is the
unseen work of grace in the secret places of the human spirit. Moreover, we believe that our
life, though ordinary as ourselves, speaks of more than ourselves. For when we are present
in the neighborhoods and cities of the human community, we are a prophetic presence of
the Church pointing beyond ourselves to the very mystery of God and the fact of God’s
love. At the same time, like the prophets of old, we are free to move in those narrow places
on the frontiers of society and culture, to live and to speak the truth as we increasingly come
to see it. Faith is, of course, the substance of things unseen; we do not possess what we hope
for. But we know in whom we have believed and we are certain that he does not disappoint.
And so we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. His love impels us, and zeal for his reign consumes
like fire. Yet we go our way with a quiet heart, having a common care for unity and for the
peace which binds us together, praying continually in the power of the Holy Spirit, and
giving thanks to the Father whatever may come, always and everywhere.
October l5, 1979
Acknowledgement: The CCA acknowledges its gratitude to all those who at any time were
members of the Charter Task Force:
Sr Teresa Hahn, Chairperson, 1975 – 1976;
Sr Joan Bourne, Chairperson, 1977 – 1979;
Sr Claudette Blais, Sr Mary Paul Cutri,
Sr Constance Fitzgerald, Sr. Laureen Grady,
Sr Carolyn 0’Hara, Sr. Mary Roman,
Sr Mary Catharine Scanlan, Sr Vilma Seelaus,
Sr Carmen Womack