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The Rule of the Carmelite Community of Apostolic Hermits
The Carmelite Community of Apostolic Hermits is an institute of Diocesan Rite in accordance with Canon 594 of the Code of Canon Law and without prejudice to Canon 586 is under the special care of the Bishop of Killala.
Prologue: Charism and Mission Statements
The Carmelite Community of Apostolic Hermits is a community of vowed men and women, Roman Catholic in practice and ecumenical in outreach, with roots in the Carmelite contemplative tradition. Taking seriously God’s command, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46), and Christ’s declaration “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), we aspire to create a vital environment characterized by solitude, simplicity and beauty, where community thrives, love is nurtured, prayer flourishes, and the whole person can be transformed.
Our primary mission is prayer. We offer our lives as witness to the gospel and in intercession for the world. In that spirit, we maintain retreat centers, publish, preach, teach and engage in ecumenical outreach to help create a contemplative atmosphere where, by grace, God’s presence in our lives may be realized.
I. The Goal of Our Lives
- Transformation in Christ
We have one single reason for everything we do, and that reason is Christ. Our goal is the transformation that leads to realized union with Christ, and through him, participation in the Trinitarian love life. We have come to the hermitage because we have experienced the love of God and want to respond by giving our lives to that Love. The only way to respond to the Absolute is absolutely.
“This is transformation in the three Persons in power and wisdom and love, and thus the soul is like God through this transformation. He created her in his image and likeness that she might attain such resemblance.”
— St. John of the Cross, SC 39.4
- Human Atmosphere
The community strives to create an atmosphere in which people can become transformed by being so fully human that they participate in divine life. “God became man so that man might become divine.” We become transformed into Christ by living life fully and adventurously, loving the people around us, immersing ourselves in the beauty of the world, and developing our gifts, but above all when we allow ourselves through our sufferings to be crucified with him, and wait for God himself to raise us from the dead.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
— Mt. 16:24-25
“If (one) resolutely submits to the carrying of his cross, if he decidedly wants to find and endure trial in all things for God, he will discover in all of them great relief and sweetness.”
— St. John of the Cross (Ascent II 7,7)
Because being one with Christ is our sanctity, becoming one with Him our happiness on earth, the love of the Cross in no way contradicts being a joyful child of God. Helping Christ carry his cross fills one with a strong and pure joy.”
— St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Hidden Life, 93)
II. Carmelite Roots
- Rule of St. Albert
Our lives are rooted in the Primitive Carmelite spirit of the Rule of St. Albert, and in the teachings of the great Carmelite mystics, especially St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus.
- Our Patrons
We honor Mary as our patroness, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. “Our Lady is for Carmelites not only the Mother of Christ and their own mother. She also represents the soul’s essential attitude before God. She is a soul athirst for God, longing for God, hoping for God. . . Mary is the hidden sanctuary in which the Spouse is united with the bride, the desert that flowers at the breath of God.”
— Paul Marie of the Cross, Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition, 29-30
We acknowledge Elijah as our spiritual father, who was drawn by Love into solitude on Mt. Carmel, and then driven by love to share the fruits of his contemplative life, confront the power of evil, and be a counter-cultural leaven in the society in which he lived. He bore witness to a God who is wholly Other, who demands conversion and faithfulness.
- Desert Experience
The heart of the CCAH life is the desert experience. “I will espouse you, lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart”.
— Hosea 2:16
Our life cannot be judged by its apparent accomplishments, but only by its depth, by the degree to which we penetrate into and through the Dark Nights and are transformed into love by the ascent of Mt. Carmel.[The Carmelite strives] “to realize in oneself the climate of the original desert, and after withdrawing into this interior solitude, to hold oneself in the presence of the living God.”
- Consciousness of God
Prayer is the raison d’etre of our contemplative life. It is the highest human act, an end in itself. It is not a technique that can be taught, but it erupts among people who prepare the way for God’s initiative through meditation and the practice of virtue. Our overall effort is to create a lively human atmosphere of prayer so that we are deeply and enduringly affected by a contagion of prayer rather than a program of prayer. We must not be prayer-conscious but God-conscious. St. Anthony of the Desert said: “We pray best when we don’t even know we are praying.”
This consciousness of God should suffuse our lives. We engage daily in periods of prayer when we take time to do nothing but be in the presence of God. During work we are engaged in occupational prayer, which teaches us that everything in the world is a sign of God. Contemplation puts us in touch intuitively and lovingly with the truth. It helps us develop wisdom, a God’s eye view of reality.
- Friendship with God
This consciousness leads us to a deep relationship with God that may be spousal, as it was for Teresa and John of the Cross, but will always be marked by a sense of the personal and loving care that Christ has for each one of us. It is the intimate personal relationship with Christ as our friend and companion that transforms our hearts and our minds into Christ.
“Mental prayer is nothing other than an intimate sharing; it means taking time frequently to be alone with the one whom we know loves us.”
— St. Teresa of Jesus (Interior Castle V.8.5)
- Solidarity with All Creatures
Our prayer places us in solidarity with all creatures. It is intercessory, willing to bear the burdens of the world. It is a participation with the unending prayer of Christ saying to the Father, ‘Thy will be done.”
We take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, which we renew every year on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
- Purpose of vows
The purpose of the vows is for us to become transformed into Christ by imitating his poverty, chastity and obedience. God has made a covenant with his people, and His steadfast love endures forever. If fidelity is the nature of God, and if we are created in his image, then we must imitate his fidelity by being faithful to Him and to one another.
“The highest form of prayer obviously does not consist in interior delights or in great raptures or in visions, or in the spirit of prophecy, but in having our will so much in conformity with God’s will that there is nothing we know that he wills that we do not want with all our desire, and in accepting the bitter as happily as we do the delightful when we know that His Majesty desires it.”
— Foundations, 5,10
The goal of poverty is to imitate the detachment of Christ, who emptied himself in order to become like us.
Poverty means “no fuss,” about our work, our prayer, our success or possessions. Poverty is not destitution. We do not imitate the poor of the past but of the present. We have what we need to fulfill our vocation, whatever will heighten our human life so that we work, pray and love better as a result of the few amenities that enable us to fulfill our calling. As Christ taught St. Teresa of Jesus, we ‘should not renounce anything that awakens love’ because love is better than poverty.
Our hermitages do not belong to individuals. They are equipped to serve the needs of the occupant, without luxuries, and nothing is a possession. Everything is a gift for the time being, including tools, equipment and vehicles.
Our habit is our main clothing. We have enough other simple clothing for work and play.
We have no personal money. At final profession, hermits dispose of all their money or give it to the community, and all of their needs are provided for by the community.
The goal of chastity is to love with an undivided heart; participating in Christ’s own chastity whose entire physical and spiritual being was devoted to receiving from his father and giving through the spirit. In Carmel our love is often described as spousal and intimate.
“Jesus is my only love. He is the only one who can enable me to love the world with his love.”
— St. Therese of the Child Jesus
Purity of Heart means to will one thing. It applies not only to sexual desire, but will and intellect as well. Our vow of chastity includes emotional and intellectual chastity.
By not marrying and abstaining from the most intimate expression of human love, the celibate becomes a living sign of the limits of interpersonal relationships and of the centrality of the inner sanctum that no human being may violate. This renunciation of romantic and exclusive expressions of love does not eliminate, but rather heightens our sexuality, which at its root is sacred and humanizing, and leads us to desire the fullness of life in an eternal, altruistic, divinely initiated and redemptive love.
The goal of obedience is to unite our wills with God’s will.
Obedience literally means to listen. Obedience is self-actualizing surrender. It means freedom from the narrow-minded willfulness that deafens us to the commands of God. It implies a swift and cheerful willingness to act on what we hear. It requires mature interdependence, and counters obsequious dependence and selfish autonomy.
“Obedience is in my opinion the quickest or best means for reaching this most happy state. The reason is that since we are by no means the lords of our own will in such a way that we can employ it purely and simply in God, obedience is the true path for subjecting it to reason.”
— Foundations 5, 11
“God desires the least degree of obedience and submissiveness more than all those services you think of rendering him.
— St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, 13
Dialogue is encouraged for important discussions relating to both obedience and charity. It requires listening deeply for the workings of the Spirit in community, discerning together the truth in the convergence of varying ideas. The fraternal life is a privileged place in which to discern and accept God’s will and to walk together with one mind and heart. It is particularly important for people who are inclined to conformity to speak their mind to the community.
V. Solitude and Community
God rarely calls a man or woman to complete solitude. Love needs to be tested, and community is the arena in which we prove our love of God by loving one another. Solitude can create the illusion of deep inner transformation when in fact it may simply be an escape from the trials and sanctifying responsibilities of community life. Together, we overcome the pitfalls of solitude as well as overcome the practical difficulties of living in the wilderness. We avoid the degree of organization needed for a large community, yet maintain simple structures which enable us to be hermits without hindering one another.
- Men and Women
Since we honor Mary and Elijah as the patrons of Carmel, and St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa as our spiritual mentors, we recognize and celebrate the contributions of both men and women to our communal life. The complementarity of men and women in community, (as exemplified in Luke 8:1-3) helps us all to become more human and therefore more sanctified.
- Consolation and Crucible
Community life is both a consolation and a crucible. We need wise and faithful friends who hold us to our commitment during the difficult process of purification. The creativity and mirth that erupt from healthy friendships are a boon for the entire community, but friendships must never become possessive or exclusive.
Interpersonal friction can be sources of growth and grace. Occasional fraternal correction is necessary in community life. If someone thinks another has erred, ordinarily he should speak first with the offender. Should it prove necessary, he should refer the matter to the prior.
“All must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.”
— Way of Perfection, 4, 7
“You have not come to the monastery for any other reason than to be worked and tried in virtue. . .you are like the stone which must be chiseled and fashioned before being used in the building. Thus you should understand that those who are in the monastery are craftsmen placed there by God to mortify you by working and chiseling at you.”
— Counsels to a Religious, 3
- Hospitality and Care
Love is the essence of our life. We are always hospitable, no matter how eremitical our life is. Keeping love alive means meeting, evoking and celebrating each other, and caring for our land and animals.
VI. Rule of Life
Because we are hermits living in community, we have both a communal and a personal rule of life. We follow our communal schedule on days when we are working or playing together, and when we are in solitude, we follow our personal rule. Every person in the community must be disciplined enough to use time well in solitude, and generous enough to forgo solitude for the sake of the community.
At all times, the guardian of solitude is silence. Everything in community life and work should be organized in such a way that silence is celebrated. A silent atmosphere pervades the hermitage except when we are celebrating together. We preserve silence in our chapels, and as much as possible in our library and community rooms.
- Essential Practices
Each hermit spends a minimum of two hours each day in prayer. This includes the Divine Office, celebration of Mass, and meditative reading that enhances prayer. In addition, we do at least one additional hour of spiritual reading as a preparation for prayer. During days and weeks of solitude, the amount of time for prayer increases.
We pray Lauds communally every morning and Vespers every evening except during times of solitude, when we pray the hours silently and solitarily. We recite the psalms together rather than chant them and enjoy a period of silence after the reading before concluding the Office. As well as the readings from the Divine Office, we use readings from a reading book that has been compiled by the community with passages from a variety of sources that help pass on the spirit of our charism.
When a priest is in residence, we have daily Mass together except on days of solitude and on Saturdays.
We must begin and end the day prayerfully. We rise early in the morning and immediately say a morning offering. In the evening, we pray compline in solitude before sleep, beginning with a brief examination of conscience.
Our rhythm of prayer is deliberately uncluttered so that we may penetrate the depths of meaning contained in these few events. Additional devotions are not imposed on the entire community. We do not encourage liturgical accretions that may detract from the inexhaustible meaning of the Holy Eucharist, Divine Office, Benediction, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Angelus.
- The Order of the Day
The Prior is responsible for creating the communal horarium, but it must include the essential practices. Usually, mornings are devoted to study or quiet work, and afternoons are given to the service of the community, often in manual labor. Variations in the horarium may be necessary or suitable for certain feast days or during certain seasons.
- Personal Rule of Life
In addition, each hermit has a personal rule of life, which includes the elements given under Rule of Life. It also includes time for exercise, study, work, creative endeavors, and adventure. Each person in formation creates their own rule with the guidance and approval of the formation director, and is accountable for following it. Finally professed hermits should have a rule of life that has been approved by the prior, and are also accountable for following it.
- Desert Day
One day a week is designated a ‘Desert Day’, during which nothing is scheduled, not even communal prayer. All business of the hermitage stops, as much as possible. Each hermit is encouraged to rest, pray longer and more deeply, adventure freely in the environs of the hermitage and in the realm of ideas, through reading and writing.
- Weeks of Solitude
One week each month is designated a ‘Week of Solitude,’ usually beginning on Sunday evening and ending the following Saturday at compline. During these weeks, there is no communal schedule, and we live in a spirit of deep silence and leisure. We structure the week according to our personal rule of life and duties in the community, working in silence, but being available to the needs of the community. We take extended solitude time during Lent and Advent. In addition, hermits who have been professed for more than twenty years may be given permission to spend longer stretches of time in solitude if the needs of the community allow it.
Sunday is unique. It is the Sabbath, a ‘sanctuary in time,’ during which we pray and play, celebrating the resurrection, and the fact that the Kingdom—eternity—has already begun. Preparation for the Sabbath begins on Saturday morning when everyone in the community, including leaders, shares the weekly chores. It begins with the lighting of Sabbath lights and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Saturday night, and continues with the celebration of Mass and a communal meal on Sunday morning.
- Design of the Hermitage
Ideally, our monasteries should be built in wilderness areas. They should at least be in scenic rural areas where it is possible for community members and retreatants to immerse themselves in the sounds, sights and smells of nature.
Poverty demands that our hermitages be simple. But they must also be beautiful; they should be uncluttered, create a non-fuss atmosphere, convey the tranquility of order and awaken love. As far as possible, the hermitage should be built to be energy-efficient, mindful of the importance of taking care of our planet.
a. Separate Hermitages
Each hermit must live alone, in a separate hermitage, except during emergencies or for reasons of hospitality. Each hermitage should have ample distance from the others to ensure privacy. It should be small and simple yet large enough and adequately equipped to help the hermit live a balanced life of work, prayer and solitude.
The chapel is the heart of the hermitage and must be conducive to both liturgical and solitary prayer. It should be in harmony with the simplicity of the wilderness, but convey something of the sacredness and splendor of God.
An ample and well-rounded library is vital, including room for archives.
d. Special Facilities
Special facilities shall be provided as needed for the sick and for those who require special spaces or materials in order to fulfill their duties without sacrificing their solitude. These may include offices, workshops, art studios, gardens, and greenhouses.
e. Appropriate Technology
We welcome appropriate technology in the hermitage, but exercise constant vigilance to avoid compromising our fundamental poverty and simplicity. Appropriate technology includes any tools, equipment, and supplies that help us fulfill both our apostolic commitment, while being ecologically responsible. It excludes luxury and mere convenience.
VII. Christian Humanism
- Human and Whole
We must strive to become whole persons, activating all our human potentialities, learning to be at home in many worlds. We root our lives as apostolic hermits in the primitive Carmelite spirit of the Rule of St. Albert and the poetic spirit of the great Celtic hermits.
We begin our spiritual life by making it as human as possible, by making every moment count and every act matter, whether we are building a house, planting a garden, or celebrating Mass. Our whole life is our spiritual life.
- Leisure and Learning
Our life should be lived in leisure, which is not the absence of work. It is a personal, passionate, presence, characterized by stillness, recollection, and receptivity even in the midst of hard work and heavy responsibility. Without it, we cannot receive inspiration or vision.
We are a school in the most real sense of the word, for like the original Greek schools (schole meaning leisure), our goal is the non-utilitarian but most human action of contemplation. Towards that end, we encourage the study of Scripture, philosophy and theology, the classics, and the best contemporary and spiritual books. Our model for the intellectual life is Christ. His intelligence served his primary end: love. But we cannot love what we do not know. ‘Learning is a great help for shedding light upon every matter’.
— Way, St. Teresa
Our contemplative vocation requires that we be aware of the needs of the world, so we also need some social, economic, political and historical awareness. Those who choose to may keep up with local and international news, but always in moderation.
One of the fruits of leisure is creativity. Our ongoing formation includes the celebration of the arts: myth, poetry, music and visual arts, along with the appreciation of nature. We encourage everyone in the community to develop their creative talents for the glory of God and the service of the community.
- Election of Prior
Each person must recognize and commit himself to the person who is elected leader. (“First of all you must have a prior.” The Rule of St. Albert). The prior is elected for a three year term, and may be reelected once.
- Responsibilities of Prior
a. The prior is first in responsibility for things all hermits are responsible for:
Keeping love alive in the community — love of God, love of one another
Recognizing and encouraging the gifts of each member of the community
Listening to God and to the community
Keeping life in the community balanced between prayer, work, and play
Serving the community, including doing some manual labor
Following the Rule and norms, with special responsibility for seeing that they are observed by all in the community
b. The prior is responsible for communication and organization within the community.
c. The prior is in charge of the horarium and assigning all jobs. He or she has final say, after consultation with finally professed hermits, on decisions affecting the whole community: apostolic work, building projects, large expenditures.
IX. Admission of Candidates
Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’ The fullness of life in Christ should be a candidate’s first aspiration, and he should desire to embrace our vowed life in a spirit of wonder, gratitude and adventure. The spirit of our community is more readily caught than taught. The aspirant starts with an intuition that our unique expression of the Carmelite charism will lead him/her to Christ, and agrees to the hard work of deeper discernment, and the long process of formation.
- Application for Admission
After spending at least three months and up to one year as a work retreatant, a candidate can formally apply for admission to the community. He or she will get a psychological evaluation, and then the permanently professed members of the community will decide whether to accept the application. No one may stay at the hermitage for more than one year without applying for candidacy. Candidates should not be older than 35, must be Roman Catholic or taking steps to join the Church, and should have a third level education.
- Novitiate and Temporary Vows
After the application is accepted, candidates begin the official year of novitiate. They will receive a habit with a light scapular. Novices take first vows for one year, and may renew vows for three more years.
- Final Vows
Four years after first vows, candidates take final vows and receive a brown scapular if they and the community agree it is time. Final vows must be taken by six years after the end of the novitiate year. A two-thirds majority of the professed members of the community must approve a candidate before final vows are taken.
- Dismissal of Candidates
Candidates who have not taken vows are free to leave at any time, and the community may ask them to leave at any time. Those in temporary vows are free to leave when the vows have expired, and the community, by a fifty one percent vote, may ask them to leave at that time. If someone in temporary vows wants to leave before the vows have expired, he or she can get the permission of the prior to do that. Those who have taken final vows cannot be dismissed without the agreement of two thirds of the professed members of the community and the permission of the bishop, and cannot leave without the permission of the bishop.
Life itself is the best formation director. Our regular rhythm of solitude, silence, study and prayer is a powerful tool of monastic and contemplative formation. Formation is a responsibility of each member of the community, aware of the influence they have on each other.
- Formation Director
The formation director, chosen by the prior and assisted by others both inside and outside of the community, has special responsibility for new members.
Candidates meet formally three times a month with the formation director. They read assigned materials, answer questions in writing, and discuss these with formation directors.
- Formation Topics
a. Formation for transformation: spirituality, the virtues, living a rule of life
b. CCAH charism and rule
c. Carmelite foundations—including prayer
d. Desert and Natural Foundations, including psychology
e. The Vowed Life
f. Scripture, Christ
g. Theology — Catholicism, Church, doctrine
XI. Ongoing Formation
- Formation in Virtue
Because we spend so much time in solitude, members of the community are particularly responsible for their own growth toward transformation. This is done first through the constant practice of virtue in everyday life. We also strive to encourage and inspire one another, so that we can learn to love God, others and creation with the very love of God.
“It is very important that we understand how much the practice of these three things helps us to possess inwardly and outwardly the peace our Lord recommended so highly to us. The first of these is love for one another; the second is detachment from all created things; the third is true humility, which, even though I speak of it last, is the main practice and embraces all the others.”
“Love is never idle, and a failure to grow would be a very bad sign.”
— IC V:4
- Retreat and Review
All professed members of the community should make a one week solitary retreat each year. In addition, at least one outside speaker should be invited to come to the community every year. Once a year, preferably just before Lent, the prior should lead the community in a review of the year, considering especially how well the rule is being kept. Hermits are encouraged to form small groups for book discussions or lectio divina, but this should be voluntary.
All members of the community are encouraged to have spiritual directors from outside of the community.
XII. Apostolic Hermits
We are apostolic hermits. The word apostle means ‘one who is sent by the Spirit’. We are sent into the desert and we are occasionally called back into the cities in order to help put contemplation on the roads of the world. We are concerned with the root cause of the crises of the world, and we believe that contemplation is the only way to make permanent changes in our society. No matter how urgent the needs of the Church, we commit ourselves to prayer as the most radical and effective service we can give the Church.
Our most visible apostolate is to serve people who make retreats at our hermitages. Our hospitality should be warm and deep, but characterized by respect for retreatants’ solitude. We need to resist the temptation to escape the trials of solitude by spending inordinate amounts of time with guests.
“I trust that, rather than living in some utopia, you will find ways to create ‘alternative space’, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive. . .They should increasingly be the leaven for a society inspired by the Gospel, a ‘city on a hill’ which testifies to the truth and the power of Jesus’ words.”
— Pope Francis
- Prophetic and Countercultural
We are called to be a prophetic and countercultural witness in our society, but we do that mainly through the way that we live our lives. We write and preach, but as much as possible, we spread the Gospel through media that allow us to reach out to society while staying at home.
‘I am counting on you to ‘wake up the world’ since the distinct sign of consecrated life is prophecy. . .Prophets receive from God the ability to scrutinize the times in which they live and to interpret events: they are like sentinels who keep watch in the night and sense the coming of the dawn.”
— Pope Francis
- Work Outside the Hermitage
Three months is the maximum time a hermit may spend working outside the hermitage during the course of a year, never all at once. We must discern whether we are sent into the apostolate by the Holy Spirit or driven by our own needs. The apostolate must be subordinated to and overflow from a deep interior transformation in Christ.
- Planetary Responsibility
We reverence the earth, and strive to make our hermitage a model for planetary responsibility, through the architecture of our buildings, the balance and simplicity of our lifestyle, and our contemplative attitudes towards food, consumer goods, the rhythms of nature and her resources.