The Philippine Carmelites and the gift of the Evangelical Counsels

The Carmelite way of living the evangelical counsels as declared in its rule of life (The Rule of St. Albert), constitution, and statutes is grounded on the very core of its mission, In obsequio Jesu Christi, “In Allegiance to Jesus Christ.”

It is through this allegiance to Jesus Christ that Carmelites are expected to be able to take up their crosses and follow Him (cf Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23) with a joyful heart. Following Him, would then mean doing as he did and thinking as he thought, for his way is perfect (cf Ps 18:30).

For a Carmelite the evangelical counsels “are a concrete and radical way of responding to the loving invitation of Christ to follow him as our model” (Ratio Institutionis Vitæ Carmelitanæ, Rome: 2013, n. 11) and this is lived by living its charism of fraternity, prayer, and service.

In his work for the Carmelite Directory for Spirituality, Quinn R. Conners, O.Carm. wrote, “Searching for the face of God in the context of community living and service of God’s people forms the locus and the process for living the evangelical counsels,” and “a life of prayer, lived in community and in service to others becomes the context for the living of the vows as religious.” (The Vows: A Call to Transformation, Horizons: Toward the Charism of Carmel, Australia: Carmelite Communications, 1999, p. 11).

Conners continues: “The vows, lived in the Carmelite context, should aid us in the process which ‘transforms us into God’s loving existence’.”

Obedience, reflected in one’s deeds

The only evangelical counsel that the primitive Rule of St. Albert (between 1206-1214) explicitly mentioned is obedience. It said:

“The first thing I require is for you to have a prior, one of yourselves, who is to be chosen for the office by common consent… each of the others must promise him obedience – of which, once promised, he must try to make his deeds the true reflection.” (Ch. 4)

Later on, Pope Innocent IV added the two other counsels by inserting the following phrase at the end of the same Chapter:

“And also chastity and the renunciation of ownership.”

This reflects the importance that the hermits of Mt. Carmel, as communicated to its lawmaker, placed on the virtue of obedience.

The Carmelite constitution further elaborated this virtue of obedience (nn 45-49), it says:

45 By means of religious obedience, genuinely observed in deeds, we surrender our will fully to God. Christ Jesus is the source and the reason of our obedience. He lived his freedom not in self-sufficiency and personal autonomy, but in obedience to the Father. Christ’s obedience was not only a commitment to do his Father’s works, it was also a faithfulness to humanity and to the salvation of all. Jesus obeyed because he loved his Father, and because he loved us, Jesus was wholly of God, and wholly for people. The only purpose of his life was to bring about the Kingdom of God, and to this goal he remained faithful unto death.
46 The Spirit of Jesus lives in us; we are not under the law, but under grace. Allowing the Spirit to guide us, we shall be taught to discern the will of God, and we shall be led to the complete truth.
For us today, following Christ in his obedience means listening together to the word of God, received and lived in the Church; learning to read the signs of the times in order to discern the will of God today, and fulfilling faithfully, day by day, whatever mission he entrusts to us.
This involves a constant and profound process of transformation in order to internalize the will of God, which is always creative and life-giving, so that we may not only freely choose to act in accordance with the divine commandments, but being purified we may adhere more and more fully to the God who loves us.
47 We commit ourselves to obey God’s will not only as individuals, but also as a community. It is in community that together we seek to know the will of God. We engage in this search in a spirit of mutual discipleship and co-responsibility, as we listen to and fulfill the Word of God, read in the light of the signs of the times and in keeping with the charism of the Order. In this way, we are brothers in obedience, side by side and together, we face the challenges of the Gospel and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
48 The Prior, conscious of the presence of Christ and of his Gospel at the heart of the community, shall place himself at the service of God’s will and at the service of his brethren, guiding them to mature and responsible obedience to Christ, through dialogue and timely discernment, while remaining firm in his authority to decide and to command what must be done. In the community, the Prior must be a stimulus to live out our charism; he must be a sign and a bond of unity. The brothers are to “hold their prior humbly in honour, thinking not so much of him as of Christ who placed him over [them].”
49 In grave cases, a major superior may impose a precept (praeceptum) on a member, by virtue of the vow of obedience. Such a precept shall be given in writing or in the presence of two witnesses.

And as mentioned in the Constitution (nn. 47-48), obedience for the Carmelites is dialogical, it is two way, as the Rule also explicitly defined the kind of leadership that a prior is to hold which is servant leadership, (RA, Ch. 22) and how the brothers are to show their respect to the prior, which is “in humble reverence” and with minds not on the prior as a person but on Christ “who has placed him over (the brothers)” (RA, Ch. 23).

And the RIVC, the formation manual of the Carmelites, states:

“The call to follow the Lord is realized obediently by attentive listening, by an openness to what God asks of us, leading to a radical journey based on the life and teaching of Jesus. Christ was obedient, even unto the Cross. He chose this lifestyle for himself, and he proposes it to his disciples in order that they may become less self-centered and more open to the gift of God, who conforms them to himself for the building of the Kingdom. Obedience is realized through a process of discernment and dialogue, and it finds its ultimate expression through our surrender in joy and pain.” (n. 12)

This is also contextualized through the Provincial Statute of the Philippine Carmelite Province of Blessed Titus Brandsma (Manila: 2014) which states:

“The evangelical counsel of obedience reminds us of the need for a new way of listening. The poor are in many ways teaching us a new approach to discerning God’s will in building community and to a more radical trust and faith in god imitating Jesus’ attachment to the Father. The closer we live with the poor, the more concretely we will be obedient to God’s will.” (Ch. 1, Art. 4)

Our provincial statute defines a clear and definite meaning on how to live in obedience, but on how to apply it, depends on our attitude towards different circumstances and on how we develop our capacity in terms of faithfulness to the Order and deep listening with each other. Being a religious now is our “LIFE" and not a profession or a career.

We all know that the basic meaning of obedience is “to listen”, to silence all noise within the self and to listen to what Jesus has to say. This is an essential part of being faithful. Faithfulness is also the essence of the relationship expressed in marriage between husband and wife, as well as in the relationship between parents and children and between friends. In short this is the way of submission because this is why we live and that is our life where we belong. In some way, the expression of faithfulness is not a question of being articulate in defining it, but of actual deeds, in the daily life of the family, of friends, in the community or in any group.

Poverty – Carmelites living for the other

Although poverty was a mere addendum made by Pope Innocent IV to the primitive Rule of St. Albert (cf RA Ch. 4), it has become an essential part in the lifestyle of every Carmelite as their way of living in obsequio Jesus Christi.

This also paved the way for a more meaningful and animated living out of the option for the poor, marginalized, oppressed, deprived, and exploited for many Carmelites, especially those who are expressly involved in the Justice, Peace, and Intergrity of Creation (JPIC) ministry.

As religious, our poverty is voluntary. It is a choice, which is vital in our following of Jesus Christ who lived poor – voluntarily and involuntarily.

Chapter 12 of the Carmelite Rule says:

“None of the brothers must lay claim to anything as his own, but you are to possess everything in common; and each is to receive from the prior – that is from the brother he appoints for the purpose – whatever befits his age and needs.”

For Carmelites, poverty is not just about living simply nor simply sharing what one has (definitely not just one’s extras), but it is more importantly about being in solidarity with those who are living in involuntary poverty, those who by circumstance are pushed into the margins or even outside the margins and deprived even of the most basic necessities.

By not possessing anything, we become readily available to be sent to missions, to be with the members of the flock who are of most need of our pastoral ministry.

The Carmelite Constitution extensively discussed how this evangelical counsel is to be lived (nn. 50-58), as follows:

50 Jesus Christ the poor man, was born and lived in lowliness. During his life on earth, he chose to be deprived of all worldly riches, power and prestige. He took the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are, and identified with the “little ones” and with the poor. He shared all of his life with his disciples; he shared his Father’s plans, his mission, his prayer. In this way, he became not only their master, but their friend and brother. On the cross, in keeping with the Father’s plan, Jesus experienced absolute nakedness and radical poverty. From the cross he gave himself up completely, for the sake of humanity. Rich though he was, Jesus became poor for us, so that, through his poverty, we might be made rich.
51 As they followed Jesus, the poor man, the early Christian communities, inspired by fraternal communion (koinonia), lived and pursued a sharing of all material and spiritual goods.
52 As we follow Jesus and take as our model the life of the primitive Church, we too wish to embrace willingly the gift of the evangelical counsel of poverty, by our vow to hold all things in common, and by declaring that no object belongs to any of us personally. We believe that all we have is a gift, and that all we have – all the spiritual, material, and cultural goods that are obtained by our labour – must be freely returned, in whatever way can best serve the good of the Church and of our Order, for the human and social development of all.

53 Poverty is a complex and ambiguous reality. When it is the absence of the necessary means for survival, resulting from injustice or personal and social sin, it is an evil. But it can also be a Gospel form of life adopted by those who trust in God alone, sharing all their possessions, identifying with the poor in a spirit of solidarity, renouncing all desire for dominion or self-sufficiency. In contemplation, we internalize the authentic attitude of poverty, which is a deep process of inner self-emptying through which we become less and less in control of our own activity and ideas, of our virtues and of our ambitions, as we open ourselves to God’s action. In this way, we become truly poor as Christ was poor, even to the point of not owning the poverty we have chosen in this process by which God’s love empties us.
54 Thus, we who freely chose poverty as our evangelical lifestyle feel called by the Gospel and by the Church to awaken people’s consciences to the problems of destitution, hunger and social injustice. We shall accomplish this purpose if – first and foremost – our own poverty witnesses to the human meaning of work as a means of sustaining life and as service to others; if we undertake to study and to understand the economic, social and moral causes of that poverty which stems from injustice; if we use our possessions with restraint and simplicity, making them available to others, even free of charge, in the service of the human and spiritual development of our fellow men and women; and finally, if we engage in healthy and balanced discernment with regard to the ways in which we are present among the people, choosing ways which foster the liberation and the integral development of human beings.
55 Hence, solemnly professed religious shall have no personal material possessions; whatever they receive shall belong to the house, to the Province, or to the Order, according to these Constitutions and the Provincial Statutes.
56 Without prejudice to the canonical validity of all that is set forth in article 55, in countries where civil law does not recognize the effect of solemn profession, members may perform certain juridical acts (donations, wills, etc.) in civil courts and with civil validity, in favour of the house, the Province, or the Order.
In those cases where civil law does not even recognize the house, the Province, or the Order as juridical persons, members may act, in civil courts, as if they were owners, but always without prejudice to the canonical validity of the laws set forth above.
57 In our use of material goods, it is our responsibility before God to observe faithfully the poverty which we have freely professed, keeping in mind that we make the vow of poverty in order to live a simple life, individually and within our communities, avoiding whatever might offend the sensibilities of the poor. Provincial Statutes shall decide what amount should be made available to each religious for his personal expenses, taking into account that needs may differ from one country to another. Rules concerning fasting and abstinence, set forth in article 40, should also encourage us to live simply and to help the poor.
58 Let us remember that in our time the best way to make manifest our vow of poverty is to faithfully fulfill the common law of work. Let us, therefore, embrace with enthusiasm the precept of the Rule, which invites us to work assiduously, for we know that by our toil we co-operate in God’s work of creation and, at the same time, develop our own personalities; by our active charity we assist our confreres, and all others; and we contribute to the good of the Order. Moreover, we perpetuate the dignity Jesus gave to work – for he never disdained manual labour – and we follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose life on earth was full of ordinary concerns and work.

And in the RIVC, this was interpreted as to actually live in freedom. It says:

“The Rule directs us to call nothing our own, but to have everything in common. The sharing that characterized the lifestyle of the early Christian community of Jerusalem is our ideal. We share our lives with our brothers in community. We put everything in common and the community provides for each of its members showing great care and concern for the needs of each. We share our gifts, our time and our energy with our community and with the people among whom we live and whom we are called to serve. To be poor means to be available and open for the needs of others.
“As contemplatives we learn to become ever more aware of our inherent poverty and nothingness. We stand before God empty-handed. He looks down on our lowliness and fills us with his gifts, in order that we may share them with others. We become poor as we come to acknowledge and accept our failures, our frailty and our sinfulness. God’s grace frees us from focusing on ourselves and on our needs, and enables us to live in true freedom, giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God and to others.” (n. 13)

And according to the Provincial Statute of the Carmelite Philippine Province:

“The evangelical counsel of poverty is our way of living simplicity of life and being at home with the poor and the marginalized sharing with their daily life insecurities, struggles, joys, and hopes.” (Ch. 1, Art. 3)

For this, in the Philippines, poverty is lived in our being with the poor. Our inserted communities, especially for our friars in initial formation, allows them to become readily available to communities in depressed areas while at the same time give them the opportunity to dialogue and understand the life of our brothers and sisters in the margins.

Immersions are a constant source of strength and at the same time an opportunity to revisit once commitment to be in the margins, to choose to be with the people. It is not merely about seeing the situation of our deprived, oppressed, marginalized, exploited, and poor brothers and sisters, but rather, it is about trying to be them, being them, experiencing their lives and making their difficulties, their anxieties, their griefs, and even their joys and their buntong hininga a part of our lives.

The pastoral ministries of the Order in the Philippines have given emphasis on serving the least. Our media ministry trains and encourages media workers to weave stories with the lens of the poor, while our academic institutions are open to become channels in bringing issues of the marginalized to the fore.

These are but some examples on how poverty is lived in the Carmelite Philippine Province, and to strengthen these ministries by making immersions or being with the poor a way of life inculcated into the culture of the Carmelite communities would be best in reinforcing our hope to follow the footsteps of Christ in poverty.

Chastity and the Carmelite

Celibate chastity, in the primitive Carmelite Rule was never mentioned as part of the vows of the Brothers who were living in the caves of Mt. Carmel. Scholars believe that such is a given in the following in Jesus’ footsteps which calls for a “focused pursuit of the kingdom of God, which the vow of chastity enables and witnesses.” (Conners, p. 26).

However, St. Albert of Jerusalem, the lawgiver of Carmel, did make mention of chastity in Chapter 19 of the Rule, written in the tradition of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which goes: “Your loins are to be girt with chastity…” (RA 19).

But in the mitigation of the Rule by Pope Innocent IV (ca 1247), there was already a mention of this evangelical counsel, but all too briefly, as follows:

“Each of the others must promise him obedience – of which, once promised, he must try to make his deeds the true reflection – and also chastity and the renunciation of ownership.”

The Carmelite Constitution, however, has several articles (nn. 59-63) devoted to this particular virtue, as follows:

59 The God of the Kingdom and the Kingdom of God are the essential points of reference and the universal framework for our celibate lives, and for all Christian existence. “Only God’s love can call us decisively to religious chastity. This love demands a fraternal charity so powerful that it will lead religious to live more deeply with their fellow men and women in the heart of Christ. The gift of self, to God and to others, will then be the source of profound peace.”
60 Christ Jesus, the chaste man, dedicated himself wholly to the cause of the Kingdom. He loved everyone, especially the “little ones” and the poor. His love was never possessive: it was liberating, totally dedicated to the service of his brothers and sisters. His life was limpid and the epiphany of the face of the Father.
61 As we follow Jesus in his chastity, our celibacy also takes on the quality of a full and total love for God and for every human being. Aware of God’s love, which stands over every individual, Carmelites must be continually transformed by this disinterested and unconditional divine love. Such internalization occurs through a process of continuous transformation of all our affectivity, so that we become truly chaste through full personal development. Through the power of such chaste and undivided love, our interpersonal relationships grow in truth and in transparency. In a world often torn by struggle and division, the one who is new and chaste in the Spirit is the epiphany and radiance of the liberation presence of our Lord.
62 Love lived out in celibacy has for us – as it had for Jesus – both mystical value and social or political value: it is at the same time the undivided love of God – the only Absolute who gives meaning to our existence – and a preferential, gratuitous and liberating love for the humble and the poor, in order that the values of the Kingdom of God – equality, solidarity, and dignity of the human person – may take root and spread throughout the human community.
63 The charism of consecrated chastity is a gift from God; but we know that we carry this gift in earthen vessels, that is in our weak and fragile humanity. For this reason, we feel the need to live according to values which promote a balanced and mature integration of our affectivity and of our capacity for a tenderness with evangelical attitudes, in a way that is coherent with our way of living.

If our celibate life, chosen for the Kingdom, is to be a suitable vehicle for our maturity as human beings and for our growth in faith, we need to be instructed, first of all in authentic brotherly love; in communication and community dialogue; and in the ability to love others not possessively, but appreciating them as persons. We must learn also the meaning of gift, of gratuitous service, and of straightforwardness in friendships.

Finally, we must come to understand silence as attentiveness to the Word, and Christian asceticism as that which purifies our feelings and re-establishes our authentic relationships with others, sharing in the Cross of Christ, who carried to the limit his selfless love for his Father and for his brothers and sisters.

The Philippine Carmelite provincial statute, also made mention of this evangelical counsel, saying that it “calls us to a life of faith and hope where God is the center of life. It invites us to a deeper risk-taking in fraternity, in fidelity and commitment. The strength of our chastity is being lived out in the openness and fraternal atmosphere of our communities and in our genuine pastoral attitude towards people in our ministries.” (Ch. 1, Art. 5)

The RIVC also defined chastity, as follows:

The Carmelite life in its mystical orientation is always focused on the loving union with God. Our model for this union is Jesus Christ himself. His love was truly chaste. He lived in a deep and intimate union with God whom he tenderly called “Abba”; at the same time he entered into close and also affective relationships with other men and women, disciples and friends. He was not afraid to share his life and love with them. He touched others in a tender and healing way and also allowed them to touch him lovingly. His relationships with god and people were chaste because he never became possessive, manipulative or exclusive – he simply accepted and loved the Other as the Other and he remained always free for the mission of his life that was greater than any particular relationship.

Therefore our chastity as Carmelite disciples of Jesus Christ means to allow the development and purification of our capacity for love in all its vital and affective dimensions including our sexuality so that we become more and more able to love god, other people and the whole of creation passionately in a respectful and non-possessive way. In a chaste lifestyle we do not escape the manifold challenges of love but we accept them as opportunities to grow in our relationships, with God, with the brothers and sisters in our communities and with all entrusted to our friendship and care. The more we let our hearts be transformed by the joys and pains of love, both human and divine, the more we will become open and ready for receiving the gift of union with God in contemplation – the heart of our vocation. (n. 14)

Chastity is our expression of love for God. Through celibate chastity, we are able to give ourselves wholly and fully to all who would be needing us – our attention, our ear, our shoulder. It is part of our pastoral ministry.

In the Philippine province of the Order of Carmelites, this is lived through non-exclusive intimacy, both among the brothers and also with those in the areas of pastoral ministry. We make ourselves available, we allow people to open themselves up to us, and at the same time we freely risk in giving ourselves to others.

The Carmelites in the Philippine Province have no qualms in making all part of the family. This is chastity, but perhaps what is needed is a more open discussion on efforts of becoming pure. In my experience with Eastern spiritualities that advocate celibacy even among married couples, the strength that allowed them to become faithful to this vow is the obvious and open effort that each member makes in becoming brahmacharya, celibate and faithful, purity, so to speak.

For us religious, it is enough to discuss that we take a vow of celibacy and the theology behind it, but if we really are serious about it, we should discuss it more deeply, study it, and make sincere efforts through practices that would put value on this virtue.

Purity for the sake of God’s kingdom, purity as our expression of love for God, purity as our way of loving others, this is celibate chastity in its purest form. (By Br. Joseph Roque, O.Carm., Vinson Luayon, O.Carm., and Ritche Salgado, O.Carm.)


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