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Christopher Felix Bezzina

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As participants of the 2014 European Lay Carmelite Congress, the Maltese delegation was invited to share some insights stemming from our own lived experience in Malta. Rather than giving a statistical perspective or outlining the various activities carried out, we thought it benefited more that the delegates heard a number of values that mark the Maltese Lay Carmelites beliefs and attitudes. There were moments where we rocked a bit the boat, but in doing so it served as a reality check. In the end, our contribution went down well with many of the participants.

Identity and Mission

Each Carmelite priory is situated in a different neighbourhood, and consequently, it must be sensitive to the particular societal blends that mark that location. While the Carmelite spirituality is to be lived in whichever place we are inhabiting, the form how it is lived and maintained is truly in relation to the immediate context of that particular community. Being sensitive to the context already reveals our identity and mission. The Liturgical duties might be fairly similar in Mdina or Figura however, the pastoral/apostolic mission takes a different form as the needs are totally varied. If any organised activity doesn’t take into consideration the population of the immediate context then such action becomes a vacuum rather than an empty space ready to be filled.

The house of the Friars

Much of the sharing and concerns expressed by our delegate friends were genuine and real, but something caught our attention. The way how the future of Europe’s Lay Carmelites was discussed sounded like a political movement within a top-down hierarchical organisation, or a non-government organisation with a set of abiding principles, and very concerned with achieving a set of goals. It felt like, “You either fit within these goals or you are not part of us.” It is true that boundaries and directions are important in any community, however, at its core, the Lay Carmelites are participating around the house of the Friars. Any Priory is a home, and that involves a different perspective rather than just functioning in a top-down hierarchical movement. A home requires a family. A home is about being found. We reminded everyone that in general people are tired to fit into systems and are craving for home. Such urgent need calls us to be more grounded, open and ready to view ourselves and others not through the world’s lens of productivity but as humans.

Close to the periphery

There is a tendency that when we focus on goals we miss an essential Carmelite spiritual characteristic: to be close to those are at the periphery of society. These include not only people who might be materially poor but includes many who are experiencing a sense of loss or pain in their lives or are marginalised by society. If our attention is only to meet goals then our attitude would be tainted with pride. Anything we do is about fixing people. On the contrary what is truly Carmelite, is a spirit of empathy. When we listen to people’s stories we achieve more as we are simply making available a safe space for sharing and companionship. It is only with such attitude that then we can hope that Carmelite spirituality might resonate something in others.

Detachment – Simplicity – Hidden

Call it vanity, but there is a tendency that when we focus too much on action we run the risk of being vane. Whatever has to be done becomes more about us rather than the other or Other. Is it so hard to simply do what needs to be done without entering into the vanity of owning it? As Carmelites we are to be detached, simple and hidden in our mission. Failure to live these fundamental spiritual gifts that the Carmelite Saints teach us there is the risk of being too much concerned with producing ‘fruits’. In reality that should never be our concern as that is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility. What we are to be concerned about is to create empty safe spaces for people to participate and share in the life of the priory. Sharing of experiences and genuine communion only occurs when expectations are destroyed, and the other is seen for one’s own sake. Is it this not the beauty of Carmelite spirituality?

This article has originally appeared first on the “Il-Karmelu”

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