The beginning of the Teresian family within Carmel, and the meaning of its vocation in the Church, are bound up closely with the development of the spiritual life of Saint Teresa of Avila and with her charism. In particular, it grew out of the mystical graces which compelled her to renew Carmel. Her intent was that it should be entirely directed toward prayer and contemplation of the things of God and that all would observe the evangelical counsels, as set forth in the “primitive” Rule, in a small, sisterly community that would be founded on solitude, prayer, and strict poverty (Life, chapters 32-36).
St. Teresa’s mystical experiences led her to gradually fathom and, as it were, interiorize the life of the Church – so much so that if their prayers, their sacrifices and their life are not at the service of the Church, they do not fulfill the purpose for which God brought them together (Way of Perfection chapters 1,2, and 3:10; Life 32:6).
The full measure of the vocation of the Teresian Carmel is the fruit of the experience by which Holy Mother was gradually enlightened about the mystery of the members still waiting to be united to the Mystical Body of Christ. This experience led her to turn her gaze on the immense field of the missions (Foundations 1:7).
In the light of these new prospects for the Church, the Apostolic spirit of the Saint came to full flower, and her heart conceived the purpose of spreading the family of the first Discalced Carmelite friars. The friars were to be partakers in the same spirit so that they might help the nuns to live their common vocation and themselves serve the Church through prayer and their apostolic action (Foundations 2:4-5).
As she carried out her work, she intended faithfully to secure the continuity of Carmel. She renewed its filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel (Life 32:11; 36:6; 39:26; Way of Perfection 3:5; 13:3; Interior Castle 1:2; 12:3; 3:1,3; Foundations 14:5; 16:5). She handed on to her family the heritage of communion she lived with those biblical forerunners, the prophets and the great fathers of Carmel. She gave new vigor to the observance of the “primitive” Rule (Life 36:26; Foundations 14:5; 27:11; Way of Perfection 3:5; 4:1-2), and gave that observance a new apostolic ardor.
She wanted a particular style of life to characterize everything. She set forth asceticism and mortification as expression of a deeper theological life at the service of the Church (Way of Perfection 10:5; Interior Castle 7:4,5). She proposed a magnanimous observance and a cordial sisterly lifestyle that made it a joy to live together as the family of God (Life 36:29; Way of Perfection 41:6-8; Foundations 13:5 and 18:5-7). She promoted the dignity of the person, friendship among the sisters, and communion among the various monasteries (Interior Castle 1:1; Way of Perfection 4:7).
Divine Providence gave St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross as an associate, and led him to share in her spirit (Foundations 3:17; 10:4; 13:1,4,5). He, in turn, acknowledged Saint Teresa as the mother of he renewed Carmel (Canticle A 12:6) and ascribed to her the charism God grants to Founders (Flame of Living Love A 2:8-11).
Both “laid, as it were, the foundations of this Order” (Paul VI, letter to Carmeli Montis in Acta OCD 10, 1965, p. 98). They recorded their doctrine and experience and shared them through their writings which speak especially about the deepest communion with God and the way that leads there. Over and above being personal gifts from our saints, their experiences are graces granted to the Order and form part of the charism which every Discalced Carmelite nun ought to live.
The vocation of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns is a gift of the Spirit. Through it, they are called to a “hidden union with God” in friendship with Christ, in familiarity with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in an existence in which prayer and immolation blend into a great love for the Church.
Therefore, in virtue of their vocation, they are called to contemplation in prayer and in life (Life 8:5; Way of Perfection 20:5-6; 28:2-3). Their commitment to continuous prayer is sustained by faith, by hope, and above all, by divine charity. In that way they are enabled to reach the fullness of life in Christ with pure hearts (Interior Castle 5:2,4-6). Through such prayer, they prepare themselves for ever more lavish gifts of the Spirit.
The very nature of the Teresian charism demands that the life of prayer of a Discalced Carmelite and the consecration of all her energies be directed toward the salvation of souls (Way of Perfection 1:2, 5:3,10).
True to the ideal of their Holy Mother, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns live their contemplative ecclesial life in an atmosphere that integrates, on the one hand, solitude and silence (Way of Perfection 4:9; 13:6), with a sisterly communion of life, on the other. They live in a family which is set up like the little “College of Christ” (Way of Perfection Esc 20:1), centered on love for the Lord, and ruled by sisterly charity (Way of Perfection 4:7) and generous evangelical self-denial (Way of Perfection 10:1,5).
(from the Carmelite “Rule & Constitutions,” approved by the Apostolic See in 1991)