Friday, September 03, 2010

What's a Carmelite?

More on the Carmelite-Cowboy Mountain project.
Controversy surrounded the Teresian reform all over Spain in the early days.  Whenever St. Teresa set out to establish a new foundation lawsuits were filed right and left, and she was roundly denounced to the local bishop, the governor, and at least once, to the Inquisition.  "When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials."  I doubt the obstacles the Carmelite monks in Wyoming are facing are as bad as all of that - and if it is - good for them - it just might be the right sign it is God's will.  (BTW - St. Teresa never referred to her opponents as liberals and anti-Catholics - instead she recognized it was the devil who tried to block the establishment of houses of prayer.  These days Catholics seem to prefer to demonize people, rather than acknowledge the other.)
Canonically, Carmelite men are not monks - they are friars.
I was told that when I was in the OCD novitiate.  The Fathers did not want any mix up - they were not nuns and they were suspicious of men who wanted to live like nuns.  John of the Cross, who desired to be a Carthusian, was persuaded by Teresa to join her in the reform.  He reformed the friars.  Friars are mendicants - like the Franciscans, Dominicans, Servites, etc..  They may live in monasteries or convents, and live the contemplative life, but they also have outside ministries - they are not monks.  Canonically established Carmelite men engage in an active apostolate and mission work.  Carmel, California was named by Carmelite missionaries in honor of Our lady of Mt. Carmel before Bl. Fr, Serra arrived.
In the OCD (Discalced Carmelite) tradition - especially in Spain - strict contemplative monasteries existed and were called deserts - they were established as houses of recollection for the spiritual renewal of the friars.  For the most part, the personnel rotated and did not take up permanent abode in these refuges.  Thus we see, the strictly hermetical tradition was not the regular observance for Carmelite men.  It is believed even the first hermits on Mt. Carmel exercised some sort of an active apostolate.
The Carmelite Monks in Wyoming are not attached to either canonically established Carmelite Orders - OCD or O.Carm..  They are an innovation in Carmelite spirituality - which is likely why they call themselves Carmelite Monks.  Obviously they have the permission of their bishop to observe the life they do.  That could change of course, at the discretion of the bishop and the need of the local Church. 
The prior in Wyoming began his religious life in the archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, at the Carmel of the Blessed Virgin.  Fr. Daniel studied for the priesthood and was ordained in this place.  At some point, possibly in order to secure their way of life and avoid outside assignments by the local ordinary, the prior of the hermitage here in Minnesota incorporated into the O. Carm. or Carmelites of the Primitive Observance.  (Students of the Teresian reform sometimes harbor a few of the old prejudices against the O.Carm., but in reality, there is not a great deal of difference between the O.Carm. and the OCD of today.)
That said, it is my understanding this may have sparked Fr. Daniel's move back to Wyoming to establish a  more strictly observant hermitage.  (I could have been misinformed on that point however - so don't hold me to it.)  From what I see on the video, their observance is very much based upon that of strictly enclosed OCD nuns, while their new direction - the proposed monumental monastic project, seems more Carthusian than Carmelite - but I'm only making an educated observation here - I have no direct knowledge of their constitutions.  Regardless of outside opinion, the group is approved by their local ordinary and it is a legitimate community and in good standing in the Church.
As a new religious group following a Carmelite rule, the innovation of strict enclosure for men may be very appealing to a select set of guys seeking monastic life.  If I was younger, I would certainly be attracted to the Wyoming group.  It is what I was looking for as a young man when I entered the OCD Fathers - which is why they had to explain to me, "We are NOT monks, nor are we like the nuns."  In fact - the authentic Carmelite vocation is essentially communal - both for the men and women.
Just a comment:  I have to say that some Catholics seem eager to approve and promote anything that looks traditional, and jump to conclusions and condemn anyone who questions ventures such as the proposed mega-complex in Wyoming.  Some of the comments on Fr. Z's post on the Mystic Monks demonstrate what I am saying. 
That's all on this matter.  Talk amongst yourselves.

Discalced Carmelite Fathers
Carmelite Hermit Communities (O. Carm.)
Carmelites Worldwide
Carmelite Website - O. Carm.
Carmelite Monks


  1. if you don't support the cofee making monks you hate tradition, and if you hate tradition you hate america. Why do yo hate america, Terry?! Why?

  2. Anonymous1:43 PM

    I think getting things straight, making distinctions, having clarity and so forth about anything, including these matters is important.

    That being said, sometimes I think this is a major distraction and waste of time. It's been the saints that have stressed that we can love God--and should--everywhere and in all things that appeal to me and that seem to have point one straight.

    There are so many paths, so many groups and congregrations, so many ways and means to follow God apparently. I wonder how much time is spent in seeking out that path and getting involved in all of the various clarifications and nuances over this and that about any of these paths--or them all taken together--rather than simply getting on with the business of loving God and others.

    I find this complexity and conflict overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.

    What happened to the peaceful simplicity that so many saints have spoken of?

    The Way of Divine Love by Sr. Josefa Menendez is an example:

    "Leave yourself in My hands, Josefa. I will use you as seems best to Me. What of your littleness and weakness ... no matter. ... All I ask of you is to love and console Me. I want you to know how dearly My Heart loves you, how great are the riches it contains, and you must be like soft wax that I may mould you to My liking."

    If the formal paths or ways of following Christ established by the Church, such as to be a friar or a monk or a friar-monk or whatever help the individual to foster this, then I can understand the concern over making sure one knows what one is about. But otherwise, I simply don't get the time spent on this.

  3. Great post, Terry!
    I think Anonymous brings up some very good points about over-analyzing and missing the forest for the trees.
    The one thing that keeps coming to my mind is that if you are fund raising, especially in the millions of dollars, you need to be accountable in all ways.
    A new community MUST undergo all kinds of trials, betrayals, persecutions, misunderstanding...because that is the "way of the Lord, Crucified" and it "tests the metal" and makes things clearer and purer.
    Criticism and critique are not being uncharitable (unless you are making accusations against individuals or rash judgments).
    The faithful who give their hard-earned money, time and attention to any enterprise deserve the respect and charity of being "completely transparent" by those seeking financial assistance.
    We have had TOO many examples lately of money-grubbing, narcissistic sexual perv hucksters...(Maciel?)...that doesn't mean everyone is in this category; but the faithful have the right to know and understand what exactly they are supporting.

  4. I was okay Kat before Levi left Bristol Palin - then I just snapped.

  5. Good explaination Terry--thanks for posting.


  6. "St. Teresa never referred to her opponents as liberals and anti-Catholics"
    But, you are not demonizing any of for demonizing...right?

  7. "St. Teresa never referred to her opponents as liberals and anti-Catholics"
    But, you are not demonizing any of us for demonizing...right? Whew. Glad we got that straight.

  8. Maria, et al:
    You have a right to know and understand what you are supporting;
    it's not that every Catholic enterprise (esp. those that are traditional) is suspect.
    But there have been those who "milk" the millions out of people who have no clue to what is going on; and even in "pontifical" institutes.
    That's a sin against justice and religion: your hard earned $ deserves to be placed in the correct mission of the Church.
    The LC have gotten millions, maybe billions, from unsuspecting laity who have the funds to support religious communities/apostolates.
    That is just a damnable sin; when funds are used for the opulent lifestyles of the "upper class" in religious communities/organizations or to fund things that have no future, just the "ideals" of a few;
    believe me...I am all for philanthropy; but just be careful that your money goes to authentic works of the Church, and not somebody's pipe-dream.


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