Discalced Carmelite Friars

Semi Province of St. Therese

Carmelite Spirituality

Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be with Him who we know loves us. In order that love be true and friendship endure, the wills of the friends must be in accord.

— St. Teresa of Jesus

This definition of prayer by St. Teresa of Jesus contains within it the nucleus of Carmelite Spirituality.

Click on the tabs below to learn more.

Prayer as friendship with God

Stacks Image 4975
For St. Teresa, friendship serves as a paradigm for our relationship with God. Jesus Christ is our faithful, loving friend. Prayer is more about building and enjoying a relationship with God than it is about reciting words or fulfilling a duty. In learning to pray, St. Teresa teaches: It is important, not to think much, but to love much. Therefore, in prayer, do what moves you to love. Similarly, St. John of the Cross’ primary goal is to lead us to union with God , that is, to an intimate relationship with God. Carmelites see the intimate union with Jesus that was lived by the Blessed Virgin Mary as the model of this friendship with God.

Friendship with God as a Conformity to God's Will

Stacks Image 4984
You are my friends if you do what I command you, states Jesus in the Gospel. As stated above, St.Teresa realizes that to live as a true friend of Jesus, one must live according to his will, as expressed in his commandments. In order that love be true and friendship endure, the wills of the friends must be in accord. Carmelites see the Blessed Virgin Mary as the model of one who always lived in conformity to God’s will. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.

Centrality of Scripture

Stacks Image 4987
The Carmelite Rule exhorts all Carmelites to Meditate upon the Law of the Lord day and night. The Word of God is the food that nourishes prayer. The Word of God proclaimed in the Liturgy, as well as this Word pondered in silent prayer (lectio divina) constitutes a key element in the life of prayer. Carmelites see in the Blessed Virgin Mary the model of one who pondered in her heart the Word of God.

Centrality of the Humanity of Christ

Stacks Image 4990
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. These words from the Gospel of St. John proclaim the Good News about Jesus, that he is truly Emmanuel, “God with us.” St. Teresa of Avila called herself “Teresa of Jesus” in order to show the centrality of Jesus, true God and true man, in her life. In her spiritual treatise, The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa writes:

Whoever lives in the presence of so good a friend and excellent a leader as is Jesus Christ can endure all things. Christ helps us and strengthens us and never fails; he is a true friend. And I see clearly that God desires that if we are going to please him and receive his great favors this must come about through the most sacred humanity of Christ, in whom he takes his delight. Many, many times I perceived this through experience.

St. John of the Cross offers the following counsel to those who seek holiness:

First, have a habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds by bringing your life into conformity with His. You must then study His life in order to know how to imitate Him and behave in all events as He would.

Carmelites also honor Mary as the Mother of God, the one from whom Jesus received his human nature.

The Practice of Virtue as a Foundation of a Life of Prayer

Stacks Image 4996
St. Teresa of Jesus teaches that if our prayer is to be genuine, it must go hand in hand with the practice of virtue. Love of neighbor, humility, and freedom from attachment to material goods are virtues that help to establish a person in the peace of Christ. This peace of Christ is the environment in which our relationship with him, our life of prayer, will flourish. Our relationship with God in Christ is inseparable from our relationships with people and things. The two go hand in hand. Jesus commands us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

St. John of the Cross emphasizes the centrality of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love in our relationship with God. He states: Faith is comparable to the feet by which one journeys to God, and love is like one’s guide.

The purpose of prayer is the birth of good works

Stacks Image 4999
This is the reason for prayer… the birth always of good works, good works. With these words, St. Teresa teaches us that authentic prayer always bears the fruit of an active charity. She adds: Let us…be occupied in prayer not for the sake of our enjoyment but so as to have this strength to serve.

Similarly, St. John of the Cross emphasizes the virtue of charity as the fruit of prayer and the sign of the authenticity of one’s relationship with Christ. He states: In the evening, you will be examined in love. Therefore, learn to love God as He desires to be loved, and forget your own way of acting.

These, then, are a few central characteristics of the Carmelite approach to spirituality. For more articles on Carmelite spirituality, especially as interpreted by St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, visit the website of The Apostolate of the Little Flower, the bi-monthly magazine of spirituality published by the Discalced Carmelite Friars of the Oklahoma Province of St. Thérèse.