The Promises.

Committing our lives to God through the promise “to live in the spirit of the Evangelical Counsels and the Beatitudes” doesn’t add anything to our baptism – it’s the way to live them fully.

We are baptised into Christ as prophet, priest and king. We can link these three roles with the Evangelical Counsels and also with the theological virtues which are the core of Carmelite teaching.

  • Prophets listen to God, accepting that the One who speaks has a call on them and they respond to it. This is the essence of obedience cf Samuel responding to God’s call, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” True prophets act according to what they have heard, like Elijah. They don’t deny their personal responsibility but exercise response-ability to the One who addresses them & calls them to relationship. They live in and on faith; obedience only makes sense in the context of trust & faith in the one who calls.
  • Priests typically offer to God what he has first given us – they return to God in thanksgiving what has been received from him “all things come from you & of your own do we give you”. In the old Eucharistic Prayer 3 we prayed that Christ our priest would “make us an everlasting gift to you”. In this way priests live in a spirit of poverty because they live in acceptance that all is for their use but nothing for their possession. Ultimately they then realise & accept that their own lives do not belong to them – they are gifts from God made to be gifts to him, and so have nothing of their own. They live like the anawim, the little, powerless ones who await all from God. So they live in and on hope.
  • Kings exercise rule – our only kingdom is ourselves – we can be masters of ourselves or slaves of our passions, emotions needs etc – in John of the Cross’s term, our inordinate, disordered desires. Kingship is therefore related to chastity in its widest sense. What do I lust after or crave? Where is my heart set? Chastity isn’t just about sex, though obviously it includes it, but involves everything that purifies my desire so that it is focussed on God alone & eschews ego-tripping, egocentricity, exploiting others & the world, looking for opportunities for self-gratification rather than self-giving. So clearly it is linked with love. 

The more I think about this the more I find here the main elements of Carmelite spirituality – it is a way of living our baptism not of making demands on us over and above this. The promises help us to become full human beings as images of God – living on the gifts we are given in baptism i.e. the theological virtues, faith, hope & love.  We are not left to live it on our own, with only natural means, we are given all we need by God if we are prepared to live on them by accepting purification.

Another angle is one I’ve borrowed from another Order’s thoughts for its oblates:-

  •  In the spirit of Chastity, we seek to love and serve God and our neighbour through an ever-deepening union with Christ. Normally for those who are married fidelity to one particular person and a deepening mutual commitment will bear fruit in all relationships.
  •  In the spirit of Simplicity, we respond to the loving generosity of God by renouncing the spirit of possessiveness, living as simply as we can, seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
  •  In the spirit of Obedience, we endeavour to surrender our will to God in love, sharing Christ’s free obedience to the Father. By a constant loving attention to the Holy Spirit, and through the encounter with Christ in others, we open ourselves to discover what God is asking of us for the healing of society, as he makes all things new.

By Heather Ward Nottingham group