Heaven on Earth: Our Life in Carmel
As cloistered Carmelite Nuns we seek union with God within the heaven of our souls, aiming at nothing less than the perfection of charity and contemplation through an ever-deepening faith. Our Holy Mother Saint Teresa of Jesus, foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, wanted the Divine Indwelling—the presence of the Blessed Trinity in the baptized soul by sanctifying grace—to be the wellspring of our prayer life, and she urged us to allow nothing else to reign in our hearts.
Our union with God is not only for our own sanctification, but to gain an overflow of grace for the entire Church, and for priests in particular. The proven means given us by the Church to attain this goal are: the Primitive Rule of St. Albert written for the first hermits on Mount Carmel, and our Constitutions composed by St. Teresa, which stress the evangelical counsels, unceasing prayer, detachment and humility.
The Saint desired that her daughters live occupied in praying for those “who are the defenders of the Church and preachers and learned men who defend her.” This is the Teresian ideal and the contribution of Our Holy Mother to the Church of God, because the kind of life she establishes and the virtues she proposes have an end that is eminently apostolic. St. Teresa earnestly wrote to her nuns, “O my sisters in Christ, help me to implore this of Our Lord! That is why He has brought you here; this is your vocation, these must be your concerns, these must be your desires, these your tears, these your petitions.” We observe in our monastery the Constitutions of St. Teresa of Jesus of 1581, updated in 1990 and approved by St. John Paul II. These Constitutions and the Rule of St. Albert govern our daily lives in a balanced order of prayer, work, solitude and community.
“Contemplation of the divine mysteries and assiduous union with God in prayer is not only the first and foremost duty of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, but it constitutes the very essence of their vocation.”
“You shall all assemble in the refectory to take in common the food which shall be given to you, while hearing some part of the Holy Scriptures read. They shall fast every day, except Sunday, from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in September….until the Feast of the Resurrection. They shall never eat meat, except through necessity.”
“…Carmelites are called to participate in the obligation and in the supreme honor of praising God in the name of the Church. They are obliged to celebrate the entire Divine Office every day in choir. Let the mind be in accord with the voice, so that their praise may be the intimate expression of their union with Christ and with His Church. ”
“They should help themselves by the work of their hands, as St. Paul did, for the Lord will provide what is necessary. The Apostle recommends silence, since he commands us to observe it while working.
The nuns are not to engage in very elaborate work of such a nature as to absorb the mind and hinder the spirit of recollection.”
“Carmelite Nuns, by special vocation… are led to the solitude of the cloister so as to remain entirely consecrated to contemplation. The enclosure wall should be high, within which there shall be ample ground so that the Religious may build some hermitages, to which they may retire for prayer.”
“After dinner and supper the Mother Prioress may permit all the Sisters to speak together of whatever they please, but their conversation must always be that of good religious, and they must all have their work. The Religious are not to cultivate particular friendships, but all should love one another. This mutual and general love is most important.”
“The public witness to be rendered by Carmelite Nuns to Christ and to the Church entails a total separation from the world; thus, monasteries of Carmelites must observe Papal enclosure. The law of enclosure derives from a demand or profound need for solitude and retirement, in order to create a sort of oasis of prayer, of fraternal love, of spiritual striving and of interior and exterior freedom, so as to be able to attain with greater ease to that fullness of divine intimacy on behalf of the Mystical Body of Christ.”
“Let all the Sisters enter deeply into the spirit of the Sacred Liturgy. The nuns are to pay the greatest homage to the Most Holy Eucharist. They are to adore Him as the summit and source of their entire consecrated life. They are to visit the Blessed Sacrament frequently.”
“That occasions for breaking silence by being together may be avoided, there shall never be a common workroom. To accustom oneself to solitude is a great help for prayer, and since prayer must be the foundation of this house, it is necessary for us to learn to like whatever helps us most in it.”
“The most holy Virgin Mary, incomparable model for all souls leading a contemplative life, is especially so for Carmelites. The Church has always considered Carmel as an Order dedicated in a particular way to the love and service of the Immaculate Mother of God. Without love for Mary, Carmel ceases to be Carmel. As true daughters of the Virgin, the Carmelite Nuns will honor their Most Holy Mother.”
“They are to observe faithfully the time prescribed for spiritual reading. The Prioress should provide the Sisters with good books, for such reading is not less necessary for the nourishment of the soul than food is for the body. Sacred Scripture and the writings of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross must constitute the main source of their formation and their spiritual life. The writings of St. Therese, the Fathers of the Church and of the Saints, commentaries on Sacred Scripture and Liturgy, histories of the Church and of the Order, and others will help the nuns deepen their interior life and their Carmelite spirituality.”
“Community life, by which all Carmelite Nuns are united to Christ as in a special family, becomes a mutual support for all. In this way each Carmelite monastery will be a little dwelling of God, an abode of His glory, where the mystery of the Church should be lived in its fullness, in that austere and joyful way characteristic of the Teresian heritage. The Prioress should try to be loved so that she may be obeyed. Let the nuns strive to have only one heart and one soul, honoring each other as true sisters. Let humility and obedience shine out from them all .”
“The Carmelite, with undivided heart, gives herself totally to Christ in the Church. Saint Teresa reminds them constantly of their glorious title of spouses of Jesus Christ. They should guard their heart so that they may be able to enjoy their beloved Spouse, Who is the treasure hidden in the field of their soul. In Him, they will live profoundly united to their brothers and sisters.”
Back to top.