We, the Carmelite Seculars, together with the Friars and Nuns, comprise the Order of Discalced Carmelites. We are one Order with the same charism according to our state of life. We are one family with the same spiritual possessions, the same call to holiness, and the same apostolic mission.
The members of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites are faithful members of the Church, called to live “in allegiance to Jesus Christ” through “friendship with the One we know loves us” and in service to the Church. Under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the biblical tradition of the prophet Elijah and inspired by the teachings of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross, they seek to deepen their Christian commitment received in baptism. (Constitutions I no.3)
The vocation of the Secular Carmelite is contemplative, lay, and apostolic. It is lay in that the secular is called to live in the world in the proper family or in a single state of life and called to form communities with other seculars who have the same Carmelite vocation. The vocation to be a Carmelite deepens and directs the call to personal sanctity which becomes the means to exercise an apostolic service in the world.
The Carmelite story spans centuries and reaches around the world, but it has its beginnings on Mount Carmel in Palestine.
The original Carmelites began to live on Mount Carmel in the middle of the 12th century, probably in 1155. They were former crusaders, nobles, and pilgrims, both clerics and laymen. Tired of war, they withdrew to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land near the city of Haifa, embraced the hermit lifestyle and devoted themselves to prayer and meditation on the Word of God. They built a chapel in the midst of their hermitages and dedicated it to Our Lady. Soon they were known as the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or simply Carmelites.
There was not one charismatic person who could be called the founder of the Order.
In 1209, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Albert of Vercelli composed a rule of life for them, and in 1226, Pope Honorius III gave official confirmation for the rule. That is the point of origin of the Carmelite Order. Called the Rule of St. Albert, it defines the Carmelite ideal as living “a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ, pure in heart and steadfast in conscience.”
From 1220, the lack of security in the Holy Land caused the Carmelites to migrate to Europe, establishing themselves in Cyprus, Sicily, France, and England.
Adapting to Pope Innocent IV’s new demands for religious life, the Rule was mitigated in 1247. When the Carmelites came to Europe later in the 13th century, they adapted their lifestyle to the mendicant movement so that they could live in cities and minister to the needs of the people. Nonetheless, they never lost sight of the contemplative dimension of their lives even in the midst of a busy and turbulent world. It was not until the 2nd Council of Lyons that they were officially considered as mendicants together with the Dominicans, Franciscans, and the Hermits of Saint Augustine.
Looking for signs of identity, they turned to the prophet Elijah for their inspiration and ideal. Elijah was called Dux et pater Carmelitarum – the leader and father of Carmelites.
At the same time, the early Carmelites had a deep and instinctive devotion to the Blessed Virgin as they contended that Mary’s life is the perfect Christian expression of the prophetic vocation. Mary is their mother.
From late medieval times, the Carmelites who wished to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ were characterized by contemplation, the foundation of Carmelite life, and apostolate; prayer together with meditation, recollection, and silence; asceticism which implies sobriety of life; poverty which implies humility and dependence on others.
The ensuing years were characterized by a vast breakdown in monastic discipline and infidelity to the original aspirations of the prophetic vocation. For almost a century and a half, the Carmelites tried to preserve the nature of the original vocation and struggled to overcome the new burdens placed upon them by the mitigation. But their efforts were largely unsuccessful because in addition to the Order’s own disintegration in that age of confusion and moral decay, it had the formidable hurdle of an approved and legal concession to the spirit of decline.
The Carmelite Order fell with the Church and in a matter of decades, the Order was completely eradicated in the Protestant territories.
Carmel’s already staggering problems were thus compounded immeasurably by the Protestant Reformation. In one gigantic blow, almost half of the Order suddenly disappeared. Some of the men fled to other provinces in the Catholic countries and others defected to the new Protestantism in its various forms and remained to work as clandestine missionary priests in their own countries.
In 1524, there was a call for “universal reform in the Order.” In 1548, the priors were again urged to maintain religious observance of the law in all things which pertain to the reformation of the Order and the regular life.
In 1562, St. Teresa of Avila (known as St. Teresa of Jesus), a Spanish Carmelite nun, sought to restore the emphasis on contemplative life, first among the nuns, then later among the friars. She was ably assisted by St. John of the Cross. Together, they established a vibrant new family from within Carmel, dedicated to a single-minded search for God in prayer at the service of the Church. Since they wore sandals, the footwear of the poor, they were popularly known as barefoot or Discalced Carmelites. The nuns led an enclosed contemplative life of prayer and sacrifice for the needs of the Church. The friars shared their spirit and life of prayer, but added to it the care of souls in a varied ministry, particularly in helping others develop a strong relationship with God through personal prayer.
Fundamental elements of the vocation of Secular Teresian Carmelites:
Following Jesus as members of the Secular Order is expressed by the promise to strive for evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience and through the Beatitudes. This promise which is a pledge to pursue personal holiness necessarily carries with it a commitment to serving the Church in faithfulness to the Teresian Carmelite charism.
St. Teresa of Avila, also called St. Teresa of Jesus, was a prominent Spanish Roman Catholic saint of the 16th century. She was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and a major figure of the Counter Reformation, a period of Catholic revival initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation during the mid-16th century. She laid the foundation for the Discalced Carmelites along with St. John of the Cross. She was canonized 40 years after her death and subsequently named the first woman Doctor of the Church.
St. Teresa of Avila was born as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, in Gotarrendura, Ávila, Crown of Castile (present-day Spain) on March 28, 1515. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, had three children from a previous marriage. The family was wealthy, but Alonso de Cepeda’s father had been a converso or secret Jew during the Inquisition. Thus, the family lacked the social status of people with racially “pure” backgrounds. Teresa’s mother Beatriz de Ahumada bore ten children and died in childbirth when Teresa was 13.
Teresa’s parents were strict and devout Christians. The untimely death of her mother intensified her devotion towards God and religion as she instinctively turned to the Virgin Mary for comfort. She later entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila and became a nun.
The environment at the convent was not at all conducive to pursuits in the spiritual life. There was lack of harmony among the nuns of about 200, who had to attend to a lot of visitors. Thus, Teresa, who was unable to concentrate on her prayer life, was disappointed that the convent did not help at all in her spiritual progress.
In early 1560, she became acquainted with the Franciscan priest St. Peter of Alcantara who became her spiritual guide and counselor. Encouraged by him, she was resolved to found a reformed Carmelite convent.
She was helped in her objective by Guimara de Ulloa, a wealthy friend who supplied the funds. Teresa also spent years convincing Spanish Jewish converts to follow Christianity.
In 1562, she established a new monastery named St. Joseph’s (San José). Initially, the monastery was plagued by financial issues and poverty, but she worked hard over the next few years to establish new foundations of her Order.
Between 1567 and 1571, she established several reform convents at Medina del Campo, Malagón, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes. She was also given the permission to set up two monasteries for friars who wished to adopt the reforms.
St. Teresa of Avila spent a great deal of time in solitude contemplating God.
Teresa is considered one of the foremost writers on mental prayer. In 1580, she wrote the “Castillo Interior/ Las Moradas” (“Interior Castle/ The Mansions”), her best known literary work in which she describes the various stages of spiritual growth and development leading to contemplation. Her other famous work is “The Way of Perfection” (“Camino de Perfección”) in which she leads others along the way to union with God through prayer, silence, and meditation.
St. Teresa of Avila remained active throughout her life. Even when she was into her sixties, she continued founding reformed convents that returned to the original rule of life, a simple and austere form of monasticism founded in silence and solitude, that had received papal approval in the 12th century. Despite her declining health, she founded convents in northern Andalusia, Palencia, Soria, and Burgos toward the end of her life. She established a total of 17 foundations for nuns and two monasteries for friars.
Teresa died in Alba de Tormes, Spain on October 4, 1582. The next day, the Gregorian calendar took effect, changing the date of her death to October 15 which the Catholic Church celebrates as her feast day. Pope Paul V declared Teresa blessed on April 24, 1614. In 1617, the Spanish Parliament proclaimed her the Patroness of Spain. She was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. In 1970, Teresa was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church for her writings stand out as outstanding guides to spirituality.
She occupies a unique position among the writers of mystical theology. Her writings on prayer stem from her personal experiences, thereby manifesting considerable insight and analytical gifts. Her definitions of prayer are used in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Teresa states: “Contemplative prayer (oración mental), in my opinion, is nothing other than a close sharing between friends. It means frequently taking time to be alone with Him whom we know loves us.”
On April 15, 2021, at the 50th Anniversary of the proclamation of St. Teresa of Jesus as a Doctor of the Church, Pope Francis said that prayer made St. Teresa an exceptional, creative, and innovative woman and that her boldness, creativity, and excellence as a reformer are the fruit of the interior presence of the Lord.
St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Carmelite friar, is best known for reforming the Carmelite Order together with St. Teresa of Avila and for writing the classic spiritual treatise “The Dark Night of the Soul.”
Honored as a Doctor of the Church since 1926, he is sometimes called the “Mystical Doctor,” as a tribute to the depth of his teaching on the soul’s union with God.
John de Yepes, the youngest child of parents in the silk-weaving trade, was born in Fontiveros near Avila, Spain on June 24, 1542. Since his father Gonzalo died at a relatively young age, his mother Catalina struggled to provide for the family. As a student, John had academic success in his early years. He worked as an apprentice in a hospital for the poor and continued his studies at a Jesuit college in the town of Medina del Campo.
After discerning a calling to monastic life, John entered the Carmelite Order in 1563. He had been practicing severe physical asceticism even before joining the Carmelites and got permission to live according to their original rule of life which stressed solitude, silence, poverty, work, and contemplative prayer. John, who was ordained a priest in 1567 after studying in Salamanca, considered transferring to the more austere Carthusian order rather than remaining with the Carmelites.
Before he could take such a step, however, he met the Carmelite nun later canonized as St. Teresa of Avila. Born in 1515, Teresa joined the Order in 1535, regarding consecrated religious life as the most secure road to salvation. Since that time, she made remarkable spiritual progress and during the 1560s, she worked on the Carmelites’ return to the strict observance of their original way of life. She convinced John not to leave the Order but to work for its reform.
Changing his religious name from John of St. Matthias to John of the Cross, the Carmelite friar began the reform in November 1568, accompanied by two other friars. For a time, John was in charge of the new recruits to the Discalced Carmelites, the name adopted by the reformed group since they wore sandals rather than ordinary shoes as a sign of poverty. He also spent five years as the confessor at a monastery in Avila led by St. Teresa.
The reform movement, which grew quickly, met with severe opposition that jeopardized its future during the 1570s. Early in December 1577, during a dispute over John’s assignment within the Order, opponents of the strict observance seized and imprisoned him in a tiny cell. His ordeal, which lasted nine months, included regular public floggings along with other harsh punishments. Yet it was during this very period that he composed the Spiritual Canticle.
John escaped from prison in August 1578, after which he resumed the work of founding and directing Discalced Carmelite communities. Over the course of a decade, he set out his spiritual teachings in works such as “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” “The Spiritual Canticle,” “The Living Flame of Love,” and “The Dark Night of the Soul.” But intrigue within the order eventually cost him his leadership position, and his last years were marked by illness along with further mistreatment.
St. John of the Cross died in the early hours of December 14, 1591, nine years after St. Teresa of Avila’s death in October 1582. Suspicion, mistreatment, and humiliation had characterized much of his time in religious life, but these trials brought him to union with God. Accordingly, his writings stress the need to practice love, humility, and detachment, being held back by nothing and likewise holding nothing back, and to love God above all things.
Only near the end of his life had St. John’s monastic superior recognized his wisdom and holiness. Though he had suffered unjustly for years, this situation was reversed soon after his death. He was beatified in 1675, canonized in 1726, and named a Doctor of the Church in the 20th century by Pope Pius XI.
In his Apostolic Letter on the occasion of the 4th centenary of the death of St. John of the Cross, Pope John Paul II states, “St. John of the Cross is known as a man of letters and a poet of the Castilian language. He is an artist and humanist. He is a man of deep mystical experiences. He is a theologian and spiritual exegete. He is a spiritual master and director of consciences. As a master or guide on the journey of faith, he brings light, through his example and doctrine, to all those who seek to experience God through contemplation and through self-sacrificing service to their brothers and sisters.”
St. John of the Cross’ writings, as stressed by Pope John Paul II, is living faith – the guide of the Christian, his only light in the dark nights of trial, an ardent flame fed by the Spirit.
Therese Martin was the last of nine children born to Louis and Zelie Martin in Alencon, France on January 2, 1873. However, only five of these children lived to reach adulthood. Precocious and sensitive, Therese needed much attention. Her mother died when she was four years old. Surrounded by the affection of her father and sisters, she received a formation that was demanding yet full of tenderness. She had a spirit that wanted everything.
At the age of 14, on Christmas Eve in 1886, Therese had a conversion that transformed her life. From then on, her powerful energy and sensitive spirit were turned toward love, instead of keeping herself happy. At 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux to give her whole life to God. She took the religious name Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Living a hidden and simple life of prayer, she was gifted with great intimacy with God. Through sickness and dark nights of doubt and fear, she remained faithful to God, rooted in His merciful love. After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897 at the age of 24. Her last words were the story of her life: “My God, I love You!”
The world came to know Therese through her autobiography, “Story of a Soul.” She described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood.” She lived each day with an unshakable confidence in God’s love. “What matters in life,” she wrote, “is not great deeds, but great love.” Therese lived and taught a spirituality of attending to everyone and everything well and with love. She believed that just as a child becomes enamored with what is before her, we should also have a childlike focus and totally attentive love. Therese’s spirituality is of doing the ordinary with extraordinary love.
She loved flowers and saw herself as the “little flower of Jesus,” who gave glory to God by just being her beautiful little self among all the other flowers in God’s garden. Because of this beautiful analogy, the title “Little Flower” remained with St. Therese.
Her inspiration and powerful presence from heaven touched many people very quickly. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925.
“My mission – to make God loved – will begin after my death,” she said. “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.” Roses have been described and experienced as Saint Therese’s signature. Countless millions, touched by her intercession, imitate her message of the “little way.” She has been acclaimed “the greatest saint of modern times.” In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a Doctor of the Church – the only Doctor of his pontificate – as a tribute to the powerful way her spirituality has influenced people all over the world.
Many institutes of consecrated life and ecclesial movements chose St. Therese as their patron and teacher, taking their inspiration from her spiritual doctrine. Cathedrals, basilicas, shrines and churches throughout the world were built under the patronage of St. Therese of Lisieux. The Catholic Church venerates her in the various Eastern and Western rites. Many of the faithful have experienced the power of her intercession. Many of those called to the priestly ministry or the consecrated life, especially in the missions and cloister, attribute the divine grace of their vocation to her intercession and example.
The parents of St. Therese, Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin, were beatified on October 19, 2008 and canonized on October 18, 2015 by Pope Francis.
The Pope stated in his homily, “The holy spouses practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters among whom was St. Therese of the Child Jesus.” They were the first-ever married couple to be canonized in the same ceremony.
Edith Stein or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was born in Breslau, Germany on October 12, 1891, of Jewish parents, Siegried Stein and Auguste Courant. The youngest of eleven children, she became an atheist during her adolescent years although her parents were practicing Jews.
A critical thinker and a gifted scholar, Edith studied philology and philosophy at the universities of Breslau and Goettingen. Her studies were temporarily discontinued due to the outbreak of World War I. During the War, she offered her assistance to alleviate the suffering and tragedies of the war. In 1915, she became a nursing assistant and worked in a Red Cross hospital for the prevention of infectious diseases.
Following World War I, she resumed her studies at the University of Freiburg and was awarded a doctorate in philosophy Summa Cum Laude at age 25. She later became the assistant and colleague of Professor Husserl, the famous founder of phenomenology, a field of philosophy, who greatly appreciated her brilliant mind.
Edith searched for the truth and finally found it in the Catholic Church, initially through her study of the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila and the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. She was baptized in the Church on January 1, 1922.
Following her conversion, Edith gave up her assistantship with Husserl to teach at a Dominican girls’ school in Speyer(1922–32) where she translated St. Thomas Aquinas’ De veritate (“On Truth”) and familiarized herself with Roman Catholic philosophy. She became a famous author and philosopher, and spent her days writing, translating, teaching, and lecturing. She was forced to quit her job due to an imperative made by the Nazi government which required an “Aryan certificate” for civil servants.
She entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery St. Maria vom Frieden (Our Lady of Peace) in Cologne-Lindenthal in October 1933 and received the religious habit of the Order as a novice in April 1934, at the age of 43, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (“Teresa Blessed of the Cross”) after the mystic St. Teresa of Jesus who had inspired her conversion. In 1938, she and her sister Rosa, also a convert and an extern Sister of the monastery, were sent to the Carmelite monastery in the Netherlands for their protection and safety.
There she completed her metaphysical work Endliches und ewiges Sein (“Finite and Eternal Being”), an attempt to synthesize the diverse philosophies of Aquinas and Husserl. Other philosophical and spiritual works followed. In 1938, with the growing Nazi threat, she was transferred to the Carmelite convent at Echt in the Netherlands, where it was thought she would be safe from persecution. There she wrote her important treatise Studie über Joannes a Cruce: Kreuzeswissenschaft (1950; The Science of the Cross), a phenomenological study of St. John of the Cross.
On August 2, 1942, Edith was taken from her monastery and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz. The conditions in the box cars were so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four-day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and was cremated at the age of 51 on August 9, 1942. Despite the fact that Edith was annihilated by the satanic evil of genocide, the witness of her life stands strong as a blazing light in the midst of evil, darkness, and suffering.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II at Cologne on May 1, 1987 and canonized in Rome on October 11, 1998. Her feast day is on August 9.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Élisabeth Catez, was born in France on July 18,1880. The stubborn little girl who often demanded her way, had inherited the military spirit of her ancestors. Her father Capt. Joseph Catez had a successful military career in the French army, receiving the Legion of Honour in 1881.
Elizabeth’s outbursts of anger increased after the early death of her father. In the spring of 1891, when she was almost 11 years old, Elizabeth made her First Communion. She was profoundly affected by her reception of Christ in the Eucharist. Her mother Marie Rolland later testified, “From that day and afterwards, there were no more fits of anger.”
As she was waiting to enter her beloved Carmel, Elizabeth lived the life of a typical young, active Catholic laywoman of her time. She sang in two choirs in her parish, helped prepare children for their First Communion, and animated a type of day care for the children of those who worked in the local factory.
The personality of this energetic young woman blossomed from her earlier years. She was also a very gifted musician who could have made a career with her talent. From the age of seven, she studied music at the Conservatory of Dijon, winning several prizes for her skill at the piano.
Elizabeth entered the Carmel of Dijon at Flavignerot on August 2, 1901. There she was home. She received the name of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity and made her profession on the Feast of Epiphany in 1902.
For Elizabeth, the Trinity is an interpersonal and dynamic mystery: the Father beholding the Son in the fire of the Holy Spirit, and that the loving gaze of the Father shines within our hearts until God contemplates the likeness of his Son in the soul. Through the creative action of the Holy Spirit, the more the soul accepts the Father’s gaze of love, the more it is transformed into the likeness of the Word made flesh. Tradition calls this loving awareness and silent surrender to the gaze of the Father mental prayer or contemplation. Through this prayer, we gain access to our true home, the dwelling place of love for which we are created. Such prayer not only sets the soul apart and makes it holy, but it glorifies the Father and even extends the saving work of Christ in the world. She called this “the praise of Glory” and understood this to be her great vocation. (Lilles, 1998)
It included the call to share in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, to be able to say like St. Paul, “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1,24), and Sister Elizabeth had to accept suffering.
In early 1906, it was noticed that Sister Elizabeth had become very weak. She made a retreat to prepare for the ‘Eternal Retreat’. The young Carmelite suffered for months from Addison’s Disease, a malady of the kidneys which at that time was incurable. As a result of this illness, Elizabeth suffered great fatigue, inability to digest food, intense abdominal pains, and great thirst.
During the last week of her life, Sister Elizabeth’s stomach was very ulcerated, and yet she made frequent and lengthy visits to the Blessed Sacrament. On October 31, 1906, she received the last rites. On November 1, she made her confession and received Holy Communion for the last time. Elizabeth’s last audible words before her death were, “I am going to Light, to Love, to Life.”
She died on November 9, 1906, at the age of 26, after having lived in Carmel for only five years. From her sick bed, Elizabeth wrote to a fellow Carmelite, “I think that in Heaven, my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and transform them into Himself.”
When Pope John Paul beatified her on November 25, 1984, he presented her to the Church as one “who led a life hidden with Christ in God.” Pope Francis approved her canonization on March 3, 2016. She was canonized on October 16, 2016.