To be an active contemplative, in the spirit of Elijah


Carmel is the natural retreat of the contemplative, says Blessed Titus Brandsma in his discourse on Carmelite Mysticism given during his visit to the United States in 1935 with the title "In The Spirit and Strength of Elijah."

Elijah’s strength lies in his prayer life, in his contemplative life. This defined his relationship with his God and as Carmelites, who has been given the privilege to be the “children of the great prophet,” our relationship with our God should be just as intimate.

Guided by Fr. Kees Waaijman, O.Carm. through a reflective discourse on this talk of Fr. Titus, I was made to realize that contemplation in action, is actually a practice of love for God and, as a Carmelite, our liturgical and contemplative life should also take inspiration from Elijah, our spiritual father.

As pointed out by Fr. Kees, in this talk of Titus he defined how we should live and practice our contemplative life, as opposed to a life that is defined by a set of liturgical standards and norms.

Titus said that “Our Order is not an Order of liturgical prayers” but even so, while we practice the liturgy defined by the Mother Church, we do it in such a way that contemplation holds a vital role.

He added: “St. Teresa, in her love for liturgical prayer, would so impregnate it with holy thoughts, that it, too, in a sense, would become contemplative prayer, prayer of active contemplation.”

And taking from this, Fr. Kees has been working on the meaning and the practice of liturgical prayer for a Carmelite, particularly for community prayers.

In this talk of Fr. Titus, Fr. Kees was able to extract three steps: the ideals or principles (double spirit), realization or grounding (life of prayer), and the exercise of prayer (school of prayer) itself.

For Titus, our model for prayer is Elijah, and as Elisha asked for the double spirit of Elijah, we too, as Carmelites, who are the privileged sons and daughters of Elijah, have the right to the double portion of Elijah's inheritance. But we have to act and to behave like the firstborn sons and daughters that we are, by following his example "as well as possible" and in keeping the noble traditions of the Order.

With this, the ideal for our life is to make our actions into contemplation itself, or as Kees would put it, contemplation in and as action.

Fr. Titus said, "So, the Carmelites must be contemplatives, who from their active life always return to the contemplative as to the higher and better part of their vocation."

In our very actions, there should be contemplation, there should be that constant remembrance of the Father, the lover, the bridegroom. That is to live in order to love, or to love in order to live.

And for this our contemplation should be a form of meditation, by this, he meant, "a harmonious union of the human exercise of virtue and the divine infusion of mystical life."

Titus best explains it: "Our institution must reflect his double spirit; the life of the exercise of virtue in individual or social activity, founded on a life of prayer, and the life of continual practise of meditation, crowned by active contemplation or prayer of simplicity and that other spirit unspeakably more exalted: the mystical, real experience of God, even in this life."

Our lives must continually reflect our intimacy with God. It must show our close relationship with Him, and for this to happen, our prayer life, our constant loving conversation with Him must be translated in our lives when we, consciously and, more importantly, unconsciously begin to live a virtuous life.

Virtue is part of us. The way we relate to people, the way we treat others, most especially our enemies, or those people who have hurt us, our actions, our behavior must reflect that of the Nazarean whose love for the Father, whose closeness and intimacy with the Father, has made Him into the very incarnation of love.

But, we should also consider what is happening in our lives and how we can incarnate these ideals.

Kees, basing on the talk of Titus, said that these ideals and principles could be grounded when we are constantly in the presence of God (as proposed by many of our holy brothers and sisters who went ahead of us, particularly Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection and Br. John of St. Samson); when we love solitude (which does not mean isolation from the world, of course); and when we become willing to be detached from the world, which is to be available to God, to be willing to sacrifice and to give up the pleasures and the comfort of this world, to be fully dependent and to have "absolute trust in God's Providence."

And so, with these pre-requisites, so to speak, Carmel, made flesh in us, should become a school of prayer with the practice of continual prayer (as our life itself becomes a prayer), when in communal prayer we sing praises to Him (which is another definition of being a prophet, as pointed out by Titus, citing the example of Saul), but more importantly, in our prayer of deep meditation and contemplation.

Carmel is a school of prayer, and in Elijah, who finds strength in prayer, Titus found his inspiration, Titus found an exemplar in a life of prayer.

In Elijah, and in Titus, we, as Carmelites, should also find the true meaning of being a contemplative, how to truly pray and how our prayer should reflect in our daily lives.

In prayer, we should find our strength.


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