The Carmelite Order developed in the 13th century from a single community of hermits on Mt. Carmel in Israel. Their life was centered on God, meditating on the word of the Lord and watching in prayer. They honored the prophet Elijah as their spiritual father. Their simple chapel was dedicated to Mary. From this lay community of hermits developed the ancient Order of Carmelites which eventually migrated to Europe.

St. Teresa of Avila statue
St. Teresa of Avila – This statue depicts her as Doctor of the Church and is located in the main conference hall of the center for Carmelite Studies in Avila, Spain.

In the 16th century, a Spanish Carmelite nun, known to us as St. Teresa of Avila, was assisted by another great Carmelite, St. John of the Cross, to establish a completely new branch of the Carmelite Order, the Discalced Carmelites. “Discalced” comes from a Latin word meaning “unshod”, and they were so called because the most distinctive thing about their appearance was the fact that, as a sign of their more austere way of life, they wore the rope sandals of the poor in place of leather shoes. The Discalced Carmelites, both nuns and friars, aspired to a more ascetic and contemplative form of life in keeping with the spirit of the original thirteenth century rule.

Thus there are two branches of the Carmelite family–the Ancient Observance (O.Carm.) and the Discalced (OCD). Each branch has its own Secular Order.

St. John of the Cross statue
St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. This statue is located in the little town in Spain where he was born.

Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites, as its Rule states, “welcomes those of the faithful who, by special vocation, undertake to live in the world an evangelical life of fraternal communion imbued with spirit of contemplative prayer, in imitation of the Virgin Mary, and animated with apostolic zeal according to the example and the teaching of the Carmelite saints.” The Discalced Carmelite Secular Order is a canonically approved branch of the entire Discalced Carmelite family and has its own guidelines of life, called Norms, different from that of the nuns or friars. “A member of the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Teresa of Jesus is a practicing member of the Catholic Church who, under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and inspired by Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross, makes the commitment to the Order to seek the face of God for the sake of the Church and the world.”

Relics of St. Theresa of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, as venerated in the Carmel in Lisieux, France
Relics of St. Theresa of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, as venerated in the Carmel in Lisieux, France.

Fr. Aloysius Deeney, OCD, instructed: “As Secular Carmelites, we share the same charism as the Friars and Sisters, the same traditions, the same call to holiness and the same apostolic mission. What is unique about the vocation of a Secular is that we live the Carmelite charism not in a monastic community but ‘in the world’: we are lay people (or diocesan clergy). Whether we are young adults, middle-aged or elderly; married, widowed or living a single life, we live our faith and Carmelite vocation in the midst of and through that present situation. In our families, in our work and professional lives, in parishes, in school parent’s groups, in nursing homes, in the supermarket, on trains and buses, wherever we are, as prayerful people, living in awareness of God’s presence, we bring this presence into all these situations and so bring this presence to others. Carmelite spirituality is not so much about doing certain things but rather about being a certain kind of person and so it affects every aspect of our lives, and every relationship or interaction we have with others. In such ways we contribute to the Order the benefits proper to our secular state of life. Source

Here is a great photo Carmelites from all three branches of the Order of Discalced Carmelites: friars, nuns and seculars. They were all on pilgrimage in Spain and happened to meet up in Medina del Campo where St. Teresa of Avila is entombed. It is rare to have members of all three branches of the Order together as the nuns live in cloister. This pilgrimage was an occasion for some German OCD nuns to mix with others in this way. At this unplanned gathering, many kisses and hugs were shared with great affection among the brothers and sisters of Carmel. God is good and loving. Praise His Holy Name!
Here is a great photo of Carmelites from all three branches of the Order of Discalced Carmelites: friars, nuns and seculars. They were all on pilgrimage in Spain and happened to meet up in Medina del Campo where St. Teresa of Avila is entombed. It is rare to have members of all three branches of the Order together as the nuns live in cloister. This pilgrimage was an occasion for some German OCD nuns to mix with others (mostly Americans) in this way. At this unplanned gathering, many kisses and hugs were shared with great affection among the brothers and sisters of Carmel. God is good and loving. Praise His Holy Name!

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