IV.B. Fraternity

30. Solitude and fraternity

There is a way of understanding and living the contemplative life that is specifically Teresian. Friendship with God is personal, but in no way individualistic. One cannot live it alone. For this reason, the Teresian charism has a strong community dimension. In Teresa’s experience and teaching, the fraternity with its joys and labors is an indispensable help in realizing our vocation as friends of God.

31. Hermits in community [C 11]

In fact, while Teresa remains faithful to the ancient tradition of Carmel, reaffirming the importance of certain dimensions of the eremitical way of life (solitude, silence, detachment), she considers the experience of living in community equally essential. The balance between these two aspects of the contemplative life is fundamental to the Teresian Carmel, as is the tension between them, which enriches and purifies each other. Teresa wants her
daughters to be “not only nuns, but hermits” (W 13:6), “who rejoice solely in Christ, their Spouse” (L 36:29), and who look to the model of the first generation of hermits of Mount Carmel (cf. F 29:33; W 11:4; 5M 1:2). At the same time, she excludes a purely eremitical life for her nuns. The “style of fraternity” practiced in her communities, especially at times of recreation, is such an important element of their lives that Teresa wanted John of the
Cross to know and learn it as well. (cf. F 13:5).

32. Friends of God’s Friends

For Teresa, the relationship with people who are friends is a fundamental means of growing in one’s relationship with God, as she writes in a passage of the Way of Perfection: “They will tell you that it is not necessary, because it is enough to have God. But a good means to having God is to speak with His friends, for one always gains very much from this. I know through experience.” (W 7:4). From this perspective, it is not possible to separate the relationship with God from the relationship with God’s friends. Weakening the practice of relationship with our brother or sister weakens our life of communion with God, just as the loss or weakening of the eremitical dimension inevitably leads to a style of human relationship that is more worldly than evangelical, more proper to the flesh than to the Spirit. 

33. A family around Jesus [C 15e, 73]

The mystical experience of the closeness of Jesus and of his concrete humanity awakens in Teresa the need to give life to a new community capable of welcoming his presence on the model of the family of Nazareth (L 32:11), the house of Bethany (W 17:5) and of the apostolic college (W 27:6). It is a matter of building a family whose way of being and living is transformed by the presence of the Lord in their midst. Models of this life project are in a special way Mary and Joseph. The novelty of this intuition took centuries to be truly understood and assimilated. At the heart of it is not so much “regular observance” as a fabric of relationships with Jesus and with our brothers and sisters that transforms us and brings us together in unity.

34. Brothers of Mary [C 47, 127]

The name which identifies us in the Church is “Discalced Brothers of Mary”. We are “brothers,” and therefore fraternity is not an accessory but a substantial element. The majority of friars are also priests, and our service is largely ministerial. This can unconsciously lead to our identity as friars and Discalced Carmelites being overshadowed, or only considered as a condition for priestly ordination. Eventual ordination must be integrated into our religious identity. In this way it enriches it but does not replace it. We do not call ourselves “fathers”, that is, priests who live in fraternity, but brothers, and “discalced” brothers, that is, without other riches or resources to present to the world except that of our fraternity that unites us to Mary and to each other. Like fraternity, our relationship with Mary is not a particular aspect or devotion in Carmel but expresses the essence of our vocation. There is a kind
of mutual mirroring between Mary and the community. On the one hand, Mary is the image and model of the community, and on the other hand, the community is the image of Mary.

35. Building community life [C 86]

For religious life in the Teresian Carmel, building community is essential. If we want to be Carmelites, we must, first of all, be part of the same family. Strengthening community life is the condition for embarking on the contemplative journey of which Teresa speaks (W 4:4). Religious vows themselves acquire their full meaning in Carmel insofar as they promote fraternal life, based on welcoming others, sharing goods, and committing oneself to a common life purpose. We are a Teresian community when we are not together to do something else, but because being together for the love of Christ is a value in itself. Being a family is not a means to an end: it is an end in itself. This should also be an important criterion for discerning a vocation to the Teresian Carmel.

36. Community and individuality [C 72-73]

Community is a gathering of different persons, each with his own way of being and his individuality, not kept for himself but given to his brothers and sisters. Unity is not uniformity; it does not level out differences but brings them together in a fruitful and enriching tension. It would be very risky if the community were to ask each person to annul or disguise everything that makes him or her unique and different from others. It would be a community held together by law, not by love. Instead, the Teresian community is called to be the place where each member can experience God’s mercy by welcoming his or her brothers and sisters.

37. The community that helps one to grow [C 85, 137]

The community is the environment in which all encourage and correct each other to better respond to God’s love. Even before founding her communities, Teresa, with the small group of people with whom she shared her anxieties, wanted “to gather together some time to free each other from illusion and to speak about how we might mend our ways and please God more.” (L 16:7). This requires a person’s openness to fraternal relationships, in which the truth of our humanity, the level of maturity and the need to grow are laid bare. It is a matter of opening ourselves to the other with trust, of letting the other enter into our life and thus we become brothers and sisters. For the community to become an authentic place of personal growth, we must live humbly, walk in the truth, that is, become transparent before our brothers and sisters, show ourselves as we are, with our weaknesses and riches, and allow others to help us with patient and respectful love, in order to know ourselves and become reconciled with ourselves.

38. The Teresian community as a response to individualism

The relationship with one’s own self, made up of recollection, listening, and a progressive deepening of consciousness, is the opposite of the current “self-obsession,” in which ignorance of the truth of the person corresponds to an obsessive preoccupation with one’s own image, one’s own well-being and one’s own presumed self-realization. Opposite are also the outcomes of these two different ways of relating to oneself: on the one hand, openness to the community, on the other hand, locked in individualism. The Teresian community is a serious response to the unbridled individualism of today’s society which leads to living in isolation and causes growing dissatisfaction. We speak of the “monotheism of the self” as a characteristic trait of our time, in which everyone asks, “Who am I”? In the face of this, the Christian proposal would be to ask rather “for whom am I”, to which from a Carmelite
perspective we can add “with whom am I.”

39. Ecclesiology of communion [C 15e]

The Teresian community is, moreover, a privileged manifestation of the ecclesiology of Vatican II, based on synodality and the spirituality of communion. One of the tasks of the Carmelite charism today is to be a sign for the Church of the importance of communion, of living truly as the body of Christ, all
united to him and to one another. 

40. An organized community [C 37-38, 78-80]

Listening to the Word, inspired by the Spirit, leads to obedience to God with a full acceptance of his will, which is then translated into communal obedience. The organized community with its norms of life and the tasks assigned to each one is the concrete form of transcending one’s selfishness and living daily life in openness before God. In the community, the common search for the will of God is carried out through such means as obedience
to superiors, community meetings, review of life, fraternal correction, and recreation, all of which are to be recovered creatively in a manner appropriate to the sensibilities and conditions of our time.

41. The role of the superior [C 39,143]

The community is made up of brothers, and therefore of persons who are on the same level. It is a community of equals, but not a community without a leader. It needs a superior, a leader whose office is to care for the unity of the body and the growth of each member. The task of the superior is not simply to “coordinate” or “administer” the lives and activities of the members of the community so that they unfold in an orderly fashion. His primary task is to be a builder of peace, weaver of relationships, and animator of fraternal life. For this reason, it is fundamental that his relationship with everyone be one of love, in the spirit of Teresa who told the prioresses: “She should strive to be loved so that she may be obeyed.” (Constitutions 1567,
34 [XI,1]).

42. Communities small but not too small [C 129]

In contrast to her earlier experience of a large number of nuns in the monastery of the Incarnation, Teresa founded small communities. The aim was to live a true fraternal life, a real friendship among the nuns: “In this house all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, and all must be helped.” (W 4:7). For this reason, she indicated a maximum number of members for her communities of nuns (which has fluctuated between thirteen and twenty-one). However, in the present situation of our communities of friars, we see the opposite tendency, namely, an ever-decreasing number in the older provinces because of a decrease in vocations, and in the younger provinces because the prevailing criterion is pastoral needs. Therefore, each community, ensuring a sufficient number of members, must find adequate ways to express the essential community dimension of the charism not only juridically but also in reality.

43. One Order with three branches [C 8, 11, 103]

The Teresian Carmel expands throughout history in multiple and complementary forms of life. Its most natural and complete expression is found in the three branches of the Order: the nuns, the friars, and the seculars. All three live the same charism in different ways. The pluriform reality of the Carmelite family — which is also composed of religious and lay aggregated institutes— requires that we enter into a close relationship between nuns, friars and laity that makes their complementarity fruitful. Sharing among the members of the three branches is a source of mutual stimulation and new vitality. Moreover, the diversity of forms of life within the Teresian Carmel makes it possible to distinguish and highlight the specific ways in which each group
expresses the charism of friendship with God: the nuns in unceasing prayer and evangelical self-denial in the service of Christ and the Church, the friars in a mixed life of prayer and apostolate, and the laity in the commitment to family life and work. 

44. New relationships

A new way of relating and helping each other is needed among the three groups of the Order. Without feelings or attitudes of superiority on the part of anyone, each one should make available the riches of his or her life and be ready to welcome the witness and teaching that comes from the others to help one another in renewed fidelity to the vocation received. We know and want to be brothers and sisters to one another, equal in dignity and
complementary in charism and mission.