A charism is a gift from God to the Church for the world. With regard to a Religious Order, the term refers to the gift which God gives to an individual or group to inspire the founding of a new religious family within the Church. This gift is handed down through the centuries and enriched by all who are called to live it. The charism of each religious family is the particular way in which its members are called to follow Christ. Since all Christians follow Christ, the charisms will have many elements in common, but the way in which these elements are emphasized gives each religious group its unique feel. All religious families have been asked by the Church to rediscover their original founding charism and make it come alive in each culture and in every age.
This Rule of St. Albert and the experience of the Carmelites as they sought to be faithful to it in various circumstances gave definitive shape to the charism. We can say that there are several elements which make up the Carmelite charism. Firstly, and most importantly, it is a way of following Christ with total dedication. Carmelites do this by seeking to form contemplative communities at the service of God's people in whose midst they live. Prayer (contemplation), Community (fraternity), and Service (works) are therefore essential values for all Carmelites.
The heart of the Carmelite charism is prayer and contemplation. The quality of our prayer determines the quality of the community life and the quality of the service which is offered to others. The goal of the Carmelite life is union with God. We seek to live in God's presence and consent to God's will for us. This involves us in listening to God who speaks to us in many ways and especially in the words of Scripture. Prayer is the way we relate to God and as we grow in friendship with Christ our prayer will tend to become more and more simple. The relationship with Christ will change us, impelling us to move out of the prison of selfishness towards the bright daylight of pure love for God and our fellow men and women. We are called to embark on a journey of faith whereby we are gradually stripped of all that is not God so that we can put on Christ. We do all we can to respond to God's initiative in calling us but we are very aware that in the end only God can change our hearts and so we learn to wait patiently for the coming of God to us. As we follow Christ along this path of trust in God, we are inspired by the example and virtues of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Prophet Elijah.
Prayer and contemplation for the Carmelite are not private matters between the individual and God but are to be shared with others since the charism is given for the whole world. Therefore, there is an emphasis in the Order on the ministry of teaching prayer and giving spiritual direction. The Carmelite is aware that the transformation of the human heart by God may be hidden from most eyes but has far reaching consequences for our world. The way of prayer is mysterious and goes beyond our normal human categories. Prayer opens us to the Ultimate Mystery.
Carmelites seek to form communities where each person feels accepted and valued not for what he can do but simply because he is. This kind of community is in itself a witness that the love of Christ can break down the barriers which human beings set up and that it is possible for people of different backgrounds and nationalities to live together in peace and harmony. Carmelites are also aware of being part of an international fraternity which is present in many parts of the world
The hermits were forced to leave their home on Mount Carmel and settle in Europe. There they changed their style of life from hermits to friars. The major difference is that friars are called to serve the People of God in some active apostolate. Some Religious Congregations were founded for a specific work but the Carmelite Order tries simply to respond to the needs of the Church and the world which differ according to time and place. So, many friars work in parishes, schools, universities, retreat centers, prisons, hospitals etc. The kind of service which each individual friar is involved in will depend on the needs of the people in whose midst he lives and his own particular talents.
The Lay Carmelite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an association mainly of laypersons. Its members, responding to a special call of God, freely and deliberately commit themselves "to live in the following of Jesus Christ" according to the charism, traditions and spirit of Carmel under the authority of the Prior General of the Carmelite Order. The members, though not in Religious Life, choose to live out their baptismal commitment according to the spirit of the Carmelite Order. Members are brothers and sisters of the Carmelite Family and sharers in the same call to holiness and in the same mission of the Carmelite Order. Within their state in life, Lay Carmelites seek to live in the presence of God twenty-four hours a day. In fact, the entire Carmelite family, in its task of living out its consecration to Christ, seeks to live in the presence of the living and true God who, in the person of Christ, lives in our midst. Taking their inspiration from the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, following the examples of the hermits of old, and modeling Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our mother, the Lay Carmelite is part of a family that seeks divine intimacy with God.
Lay Carmelites, imbued with the spirit of the Order, try to live its charism in a silent listening to the Word, making their whole life a prayer by allowing themselves to be caught up by the Spirit for the wonderful works that God accomplishes and which require their commitment and worthwhile contribution. According to the constant tradition of Carmel, they are to cultivate in the greatest degree possible prayer in all its forms: mental prayer and aspirational prayer, as well as the traditional practices. Above all they should learn from the Mother of God how to praise the Lord and to rejoice in God their Savior in their ordinary daily life. Being a Lay Carmelite is not just a devotion added to life; it is a way of life; it is a vocation.
The makeup of the Carmelite crest appeared for the first time towards the end of the 15th century, in 1499, on the cover of a book about the life of St. Albert, Carmelite. The design there is that of a "vexillum", (an ensign, a standard, a flag). This changed as time went on until it became the coat of arms, as we now know it. There never has been an official explanation of the crest but there are various interpretations. In what follows we will present the most plausible interpretation in accordance with the most recent documents of the Order.
The shield consists of five distinguishing features:
A mountain painted in brown with rounded sides and its tip reaching to the sky refers to Mount Carmel, the Carmelites' place of origin. Mount Carmel is situated in Haifa in Israel. In the 9th century BC the prophet Elijah lived there. In the same place, towards the end of the 12th century some hermits, inspired by the memory of Elijah, gathered there with a desire "to live a life in allegiance of Jesus Christ". (Carmelite Rule no.2).
Three stars each with five points, one colored silver at the centre of the mountain, and the other two colored gold placed symmetrically in the heavens, colored white, on either side of the mountain. The lower star represents Carmelites still on the way to the top of Mount Carmel, while the other two stars higher up represent Carmelites who have ended their journey "by reaching the top of the holy Mountain". (Carmelite Missal, 1980, Opening Prayer on the Solemnity of the Bl. Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel).
The crown of gold represents the Kingdom of God. He is the Sovereign Lord of Carmel. Carmelites, indeed, endeavor to serve God faithfully with a pure heart and a stout conscience (cf. Carmelite Rule no. 2). They see their vocation as a calling "to implant and strengthen the Kingdom of Christ in souls and to spread it to the four corners of the earth" (Carmelite Constitutions no. 5). In offering this service to God, Carmelites take their inspiration from Elijah the Prophet and Mary the Virgin. (cf. Carmelite Constitutions no. 25)
An arm and a hand bearing a fiery sword and a banner bearing a biblical text
The Elijan origin of the Order is symbolized by the arm of Elijah holding the fiery sword and the banner bearing the words "Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum" (I am on fire with zeal for the Lord God of hosts [I Kg 19:10]). The hand and the sword, moreover, are an indication of the fiery passion which Elijah had for the one true and absolute God whose word "burned like a torch" (Eccl. 48:1). For Carmelites Elijah is "the solitary prophet who nurtured his thirst for the one and only God, and lived in his presence" (Carmelite Constitutions no. 26). Like him, they carry "the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God" (Carmelite Rule no. 19)