In this Year of Faith, we, the members of the two General Councils OCarm. and OCD, came on pilgrimage to Aylesford, England. This is a significant place for the entire Carmelite Family. In fact, in this place, where we are writing this message to you on the feast of St. Simon Stock, are the remains of the ancient Carmelite house which was founded in 1242 by some of the pilgrim-hermits from Mount Carmel. Their return to Europe from the Holy Land, their gradual move from an eremitical life to a mendicant one, their experience of God and above all, their humble and fraternal trust in Mary in a period of cultural crisis, were for us all a source of inspiration. They also gave us pause for thought in rethinking our mission for today’s world – the topic to which we devoted most of our working sessions. In these we were guided by Father Benito De Marchi, a Comboni Missionary.
At Aylesford we were the guests of the local community of OCarm. friars, to whom we wish to express our heartfelt thanks for their warm and attentive welcome. This was a time of prayer, of brotherhood, of meditation, during which we also experienced two significant ecumenical events. We celebrated First Vespers of Sunday with our Anglican brothers in the ancient cathedral of Rochester (founded in 604 ad). The second event was a meeting in Cambridge with Lord Rowan Williams, emeritus archbishop of Canterbury, a subtle theologian and very considerable expert in Carmelite spirituality and saints. These two meetings in prayer and theological reflection helped us to understand that mission today has to be carried out in close co-operation with other Christian groups, in a spirit of ecumenical openness.
From our pilgrimmage to the origins of Carmel in Europe has emerged the humble conviction that this epoch, characterised by globalisation, by mobility in all directions, by the eruption in our lives of the “other”, by the affirmation of the value of the “subject”and by the loss of a sense of God, requires a new missionary spirit. That is, it needs a heart which is more evangelical and less sure of itself. In fact what we wish to share with others is not the world views nor the attitudes of our old self, but a new humanity which the Father has given to us as a gift, through his Son who died and rose and which is constantly shaped by the Holy Spirit. In his much appreciated address to the Synod of Bishops in October 2012, Rowan Williams referring to Saint Edith Stein, called this new humanity “contemplative”.
Taking up this expression, with its typically Carmelite flavour, we tried to describe in our reflections a humanity which forgets itself, in silence and is free from the tiring search for personal satisfaction and from the claim to make others happy by imposing our ideas and projects on them. This new humanity, turned towards the Father, can see all people, and especially the poor, the marginalised and the suffering, with eyes full of compassion. This is a welcoming humanity, ready to undertake a continual pilgrimage together with women and men of our time in order to find the way that brings us more deeply into the heart of Trinitarian life.
It is impossible for us to imagine this new humanity without “freeing the charism for a new lease of life” (Benito De Marchi). That is, without freeing its contemplative and missionary potential from all shallowness, hubris and selfishness, which prevent it from seeing Trinitarian love and close inside a self-referential cycle.
On a more positive note, freeing the charism means experiencing the Trinitarian relations of the fraternal and community life more vividly. It means rediscovering evangelical joy and enjoying the taste of unity and simplicity which exist between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. In this way we can bear witness to them in every time and place, in every context where we are sent.
In all this Mary the Mother of God, and our Mother, accompanies us. For Carmelites she is a sublime model of humanity listening to the Word and of contemplating the living God. She is the supreme contemplative, who nonetheless approaches each one of us to be a pilgrim with us. She embraces us with her maternal and fraternal love and lights in our hearts the flame of love. Poor and humble, with the simple sign of the scapular she protects this flame in our fragile human bodies and changes it into burning passion for evangelisation and mission. Her discreet but eloquent presence in our life means that those who wear the scapular are called to commit themselves to loving their neighbour. In this sense the Virgin of Carmel has been called “Missionary to the people”. (Oscar Romero)
Dear brothers and sisters, we leave Aylesford with a renewed awareness of the gift of our vocation and of the mission that is connected to it. The Risen Lord invites us not to be afraid of the difficulties we will meet and not to be discouraged when faced with the inevitable trials and possible failures. There is in all of us, insignificant and poor as we are a stronger force which has conquered the world. It is the force of the Father’s love for us, the force of his Word and his Spirit which drives us towards the world and opens us to all those that the Lord puts in our path. Many women and men are waiting for us, expecting that the family of Carmel will show our God’s tenderness to them. May the Lord help us not to dash their hopes!