The Beauty of Carmel, a compilation of lectures and essays written and delivered by Blessed Titus Brandsma in the United States of America, was introduced to me in 2018 by one of my brothers in initial formation. It may sound funny, but actually I was so fascinated to get hold of a copy of the book because it was the first time for me to encounter the thoughts and writings of Bl. Titus Brandsma himself. Previously, I only saw books and some essays written by other people about Bl. Titus but never had I encountered anything written by the man himself until that day when a brother advised me to read it. It is not a new published book, neither a voluminous work. In fact, it is pocket sized and it can actually be read in just one sitting.
I wanted to talk about this book because a particular statement in one of the articles significantly struck me after reading it. Bl. Titus was talking about the prophet Elijah in this article and he wrote that the prophet is a contemplative individual, however God called him many times from his contemplation to active life and his place in the history of Israel is as one of its most untiring laborers (TBC, 26). Moreover, Bl. Titus noted that the prophet Elijah, after doing an active work in the name of God, always returned to the solitude of the life of contemplation. Abiit autem inde in montem Carmeli (He went on to Mount Carmel). So, Bl. Titus reminds the Carmelites that they must be contemplatives like their spiritual father, Elijah, who, from their active life, always return to the contemplative as to the higher and better part of their vocation. (TBC, 26).
Reflecting on what Bl. Titus remarked made me assess the way I live my Carmelite vocation as a simple professed friar for more than four years now. Within my initial formation in Carmel, I live in a community who works and prays together, I went through sessions about Carmelite life and spirituality, I have read books about Carmelite saints and other holy men and women of the Order, I have my on-going studies in theology at the present, and I underwent series of immersions and pastoral works. Yet, the words of Bl. Titus Brandsma reminding us, Filipino Carmelites, to always return to the contemplative are like flaming arrows piercing my heart. His reminder is challenging me to always find the essence of what I have learned in the formation, the essence of my daily experiences, and the essence of my heart’s desire as I continue to aspire to become a Carmelite. But, it seems that what Bl. Titus is saying in his article made him guilty of compartmentalizing the active and contemplative life of the Carmelites.
We have been taught in initial formation that our active life in the midst of the people is contemplation. It means that we are already contemplating the face of God while doing service to the poor and marginalized, while living together in community, and while doing works for justice, peace, and integrity of creation. Moreover, solitude and silence can be experienced even in the midst of a noisy and chaotic environment because both are states of consciousness regardless of place and circumstance. Both can be attained as long as a person has inner peace and calmness due to resolved issues and a full acceptance of oneself. All of these are true, and in fact, Bl. Titus would likewise agree with all of these.
Bl. Titus, however, is not differentiating active life from the contemplative, rather he is only reminding us, Carmelites, that contemplation is the heart of our charism and our pursuit of seeking God in prayer, fraternity, and service must be the priority above all. There is no compartmentalization between work and contemplation --that is one can contemplate God either while working or in the fruits of his or her work. Bl. Titus is only reminding us that our work, albeit it is for the glory of the Lord, can also become a hindrance to contemplation themselves. Apostolates and ministries can become means for competition, avenues for self glorification, personal career, and even opportunities to escape from facing other pressing issues. There is danger when the active life dominates our contemplative life. We may lose the core of our Carmelite vocation.
Chapter ten of the Rule of St. Albert states: Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty. Bl. Titus, in the same book, also pointed out the necessity of this chapter from our Rule in understanding about the emphasis of contemplation in our Carmelite vocation. The conjunction word “unless” in the condition unless attending to some other duty indicates that time and space is significantly needed in the practice of contemplation even if the Carmelites are called to work for the Kingdom of God. “Other duty” is referring not only to the works within the community but also includes the apostolates, ministries, other works of justice and peace for the poor and marginalized, and the care for the earth. Unless the Carmelites are in their active ministries, each one is to stay in his cell contemplating the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers.
Bl. Titus, basing from the spirituality of prophet Elijah and the Rule of St. Albert, remains to challenge me and all Filipino Carmelites today to never set aside having ample time and space for silence and solitude. Indeed, one can contemplate while working but others do not have the capacity to do so. It takes mastery and total self discipline to experience work as contemplation. Nevertheless, our Carmelite ancestors never failed to teach and remind the younger generation of Carmelites to always practice silence and solitude as means for contemplation. Indeed God is everywhere and He is within each one of us, yet human work can sometimes deviate us from seeking God within and outside. Many factors can hinder us from being faithful in our allegiance to Jesus Christ. Sometimes the active life of the Carmelites can also be that hindrance, therefore, there is always an invitation to go back to silence and solitude after a long day’s work, to climb our own Mount Carmel, and joyfully contemplate the loving presence of God in the silence of our souls.
Br. Joiezl Fern Piñon, O.Carm.