The evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience are founded on the teaching and examples of Christ the Master. They are a gift of the Spirit to the Church. When religious profess them by means of public vows, they follow more closely the form of life which the Son of God chose for Himself and which His Mother embraced. And so they live for God alone, they love Him above all things, and they unite themselves in a special way to the Church and its mystery.
Called to live “in allegiance to Christ (cf 2 Cor 10:5) and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a good conscience,” the Discalced Carmelite Nuns make it their purpose to follow the evangelical counsels with utmost perfection (Way of Perfection 1:2, Life 35:2-4; 36:5). For that reason, their basic obligation is “to give themselves entirely and without reserve to Him Who is everything (Way of Perfection 8:1), to imitate Christ in everything by conforming their lives to His, while meditating on it in order to know how to imitate it (Ascent of Mount Carmel 1:13, Life 22:7).” They resolve from the start to follow the way of the cross, since it is the way of perfection in which the Lord walked (Life 15:13, 11:5; Way of Perfection 26:6).”
By means of the public and solemn profession of the evangelical counsels, they are consecrated to God through the mediation of the Church. By a new and special title, they are dedicated to His honor, to building up the Body of Christ, and to the salvation of the world.
This consecration stems from that of baptism. It is established in order to give plentiful development to the graces of baptism. It is a true wedding with Christ in a renewed covenant of love (Life 4:3; Way of Perfection Esc 38:1; Way 22:7-8), which shows forth the mystery of the Church as Bride and foretells the good things of the glory that is to come.
The love of God, poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), gives life to the evangelical counsels as we live them and directs them toward achieving that fullness of love for God and for our sisters and brothers toward which all of the rules and constitutions lead (Interior Castle 1:2,17). Sustained by the obligation of evangelical self-denial, the consecrated life serves to purify the heart, to liberate the spirit, to inflame charity, and to assure the fruitfulness of contemplative life in the Church: “As they grow in perfection, their praises will prove more pleasing, and their prayer will benefit their neighbor” (Interior Castle 7:4,15).
The Sisters imitate Christ in His virginity, in order to be holy in body and soul (cf 1 Cor 7:34). They profess by vow the evangelical counsel of chastity, which involves the obligation of perfect continence in celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 19:12).
Through consecrated chastity, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns witness to that love which always gives first place to Christ, their divine Spouse, Who gave His life for them. They must fix their hearts on Him, for they are called to live with Him and they receive every good thing from Him (Way of Perfection 2:2; 4:8; 7:8; 8:1; 13:2-5; 22:8; Life 22:7-8; 23:2; 28:3).
Consecrated chastity is a joyous manifestation of divine charity which enlarges the heart’s capacity to love, leaving it undivided and free, just as God wishes His brides to be free and attached only to Him. It inclines the heart to contemplate the things of God, because “the person who already has a pure heart, finds in all things a joyful and pleasing, chaste and pure, spiritual, happy and loving knowledge of God” (Ascent of Mount Carmel 3:26; 6).
Consecrated chastity, is a precious gift which the heavenly Father grants to some. It ought to be lived with humility and without presumption. It requires trust in the grace of God and a bond of friendship with Jesus Christ and with Mary. She is the faithful Virgin and the model of virginal consecration.
In order to share in the poverty of Christ, Who “rich though He was, made Himself poor to make us rich (2 Cor 8,9), the sisters will embrace by vow the evangelical counsel of poverty. It demands a life that is poor in fact and in spirit, hardworking, sober, and detached from earthly goods.
In the spirit of the evangelical beatitude, Holy Mother Teresa, contemplating Christ in His poverty, chose for herself and for her daughters “the treasures hidden in holy poverty,” and the weapons of holy poverty for fighting the good fight in a life of exemplary austerity (Life 35:3; Way of Perfection 2:5-8).
The choice of poverty, as a basic element of the Teresian Carmel (Life 35:4-6), demands detachment from earthly goods, humility and sobriety in the use of things, diligence in work, and trustful abandonment to Providence (Foundations 31:49).
The nuns are among the “Lord’s poor” who, like Mary, look to God for everything. In the spontaneity and simplicity of their sisterly relations and in their life style, they will advance in that liberty from exterior things which does not seek human sources of security; they will progress in that self-denial which prepares them for contemplative encounter with God (Ascent of Mount Carmel 2, 7, 5; Way of Perfection 2:5;16:2).
In imitation of Christ Who wanted to work with His own Hands in Nazareth, and in prescription to the Rule, the nuns submit themselves gladly to the common law of work. They will share the condition of the poor and earn by toil the necessities of life. They will place at the service of the sisters their energies and talents and keep in mind that labor is also a way to associate themselves with the redemptive work of Christ.
By professing with a vow the evangelical counsel of obedience, religious imitate Christ Who came in to the world in order to do the Will of the Father (John 4:34; 5:30) and Who made Himself obedient unto death on a cross (Phil 2:8).
Following His example, they offer to God the full dedication of their will as a self-sacrifice. They thereby unite themselves more intently to the salvific Will of the Father. The foundation of consecrated life is obedience, the sure way for clinging to the Will of God and for reaching perfection. The nuns will imitate their Spouse, Yahweh’s Servant, by making themselves slaves of God marked with the brand of the cross, so that they may be spiritually at the service of all their sisters and brothers in Christ, and more specifically, at the disposition of the entire community and of each one of the sisters (Interior Castle 7:4,8).
The sisters should regard their superiors as God’s representatives, and place all their resources of mind and will and all their gifts of nature and grace under the superior’s guidance and at the service of others. In that way they will do their part in building up together the Body of Christ according to God’s designs.
The practice of obedience conforms a person more and more to the mind of Christ. It becomes a stable theological bond to the Will of God (Way of Perfection 32:2,9-13; Interior Castle 5:3,4-6; 7:3,4). It finds its perfect model in Mary. For as God’s Handmaid, “She was never moved to act by a creature, but did everything moved by the Holy Spirit (Ascent of Mount Carmel 3:2,10; Meditation on the Song of Songs 6:7-8).
While obedience limits the scope of one’s individual choices, freely accepted, it leads to the total freedom of the children of God. Obedience is meant to be active and responsible. It asks the individual and her community to seek God’s Will through frank dialogue, conducted in a spirit of charity between the Prioress and the community. Dialogue does not limit the authority of the Prioress to decide and command what must be done, nor may it diminish the character of immolation and sacrifice which distinguishes obedience founded on the paschal mystery of Christ.
As true “daughters of the Church” the Discalced Carmelite Nuns will willingly receive everything that the Church proposes to them through the Magisterium and legitimate authority (Life 25:12; Way of Perfection 30:4), for they are happy to be bound to obey the Supreme Pontiff as their highest superior because they are also obliged to do so by the holy bond of obedience.
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns who follow the gospel path of Christ must conform themselves to His example and share in His mission of salvation. This means that they must renounce their very selves. Because Jesus has invited them to join His group of disciples, they accept His call to take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23). Since they are aware of their own sinfulness, they acknowledge their need for repentance which, to be true, requires that external practices be closely united to conversion of heart.
In order to practice evangelical self-denial, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns will take as their standard of life the exhortations on spiritual combat which are contained in the Rule and the doctrine of Our Holy Parents on renunciation and mortification. These are not to be understood as ends in themselves. Rather they are means which are necessary for expressing and sustaining a deeply theological life at the service of the Church (Way of Perfection 10:5; Ascent of Mount Carmel 2, 7, 5-11).
They should never forget that the reason Holy Mother organized the life of the new Carmels with “great rigor” (Way of Perfection 1:2) was to help the Church in its great need. And so, individually and as a community, they will lead a life of austerity and mortification. They will take courage from the example of Christ Himself: “Fix your gaze on the Crucified, and everything will become easy for you” (Interior Castle 7:4,8; Way of Perfection 12:1).
Their first concern will be to acquire the sovereign virtues of sisterly love, detachment and humility (Way of Perfection 10:3; 18:7-10). The first penitential practice which the Discalced Carmelite Nuns ought generously to renew every day and the one most fruitful for the Church and for themselves is what flows from their vocation: the self-denial and detachment imposed by living the evangelical counsels; the radical demands of a wholly contemplative life; the sacrifices imposed by always living, as a community, within the confines of the same monastery; the monotony of the regular observance and of monastic activities; and the burden of work. United and strengthened by sisterly love, they will carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) and everything will become sweeter, lighter and refreshing (Life 11:16; 36:29; Interior Castle 5:3,11-12; Way of Perfection 10:6).
They should also give an example of patience and proven virtue (Interior Castle 5:3,7) in affliction, like illness and old age, which are our common lot on earth. In this way they will conform themselves to Christ in His passion, for the sake of His Mystical Body (Col 1:24; Interior Castle 7:4).
(from the Carmelite “Rule & Constitutions,” approved by the Apostolic See in 1991)