Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites


The Saint Joseph Community in San Diego, California

Our congregation was canonically established and dedicated to Saint Joseph on December 12, 1955 in the Chapel of the Carmel of the Trinity Monastery, San Diego, California.

Carmelite History

The Carmelite Order developed from a single community of hermits, who lived on Mount Carmel in Palestine in the early days of the thirteenth century. The Crusades had freed the Holy Land from Moslem hands and Christian pilgrims were free to visit the places of the Bible. Many of these hermits had been chaplains for the Christian armies from Western Europe.

ImageFollowing the example of the prophet Elijah, a holy and solitary man closely associated with Mount Carmel in the Bible, this small group of pilgrims, merchants, crusaders and soldiers were seeking to live a simple and solitary life in allegiance to Jesus Christ with the special patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This community of Western European Christians, called the Brothers of the Most Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel, was given the Carmelite Rule of Life by St. Albert, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, between 1206 and 1214 AD. The Rule was approved by Pope Honorius III on January 30, 1226.

Due to developing hostilities from the Saracens in the Holy Land, around 1239 AD the hermits began migrating from Mount Carmel to begin establishing communities in various parts of Europe. In 1247 their rule of life now solemnly confirmed by the Holy See, was adapted to meet the needs of an Order spreading throughout Christendom. In the course of the second half of the thirteenth century, circumstances conspired to lead the Carmelites ever further from their hermit origins, and they finally became a mendicant order, though their old way of life was not forgotten and never completely died out as it was ever present to them in their Rule. The mendicant Orders sought to live a spirituality and exercise an apostolate that grew out of the community life they now lived.

Reform of the Carmelite Order

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In 1562, 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 it is that today there are two branches of the Carmelite family; the Ancient Observance (O. Carm.) and the Discalced (O.C.D.). In addition to those called to the priesthood or those called to the religious orders or congregations, each branch has its own Secular Order.

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About Secular Orders

For many centuries there have been lay people and also some diocesan priests, who have felt drawn to associate themselves with a religious order. The monastic orders admit such men and women as Oblates, while the mendicant orders, following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, have instituted what are known today as "Secular Orders." The members of these secular orders are men and women, who wish to develop their spiritual life by a closer association with the spirituality of the religious order to which they are attracted. They may be married or single, but must be fully practicing the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites, as its Constitution states, welcomes those of the faithful who, by special vocation, undertake to live in the world an evangelic life of fraternal communion imbued by the 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. Perhaps the best known of the Carmelite saints is St. Therese of Lisieux, the "Little Flower," who died in 1897.

The Rule of Saint Albert

Secular Order Carmelites conduct their lives according to the Rule of St. Albert, the original expression of spirituality of Carmel, which was written for the lay people who gathered on Mount Carmel. The following principles of that Rule guide Carmelite life:

  • Living in allegiance to Jesus Christ;
  • Being diligent in meditating on the law of the Lord;
  • Giving time to spiritual reading;
  • Participating in the Church's Liturgy, both the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours;
  • Being concerned with the needs and the good of others in the community;
  • Arming themselves with the practice of the virtues, as they live an intense life of faith, hope and charity;
  • Seeking interior silence and solitude in their life of prayer;
  • Using prudent discretion in all that they do.

The Brown Scapular

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For centuries, devotion to Mary through the wearing of the Brown Scapular has been the cornerstone of the Discalced Carmelite Order's dedication to Mary and to a life of prayer lived in imitation of Mary. Carmelites wear the Brown Scapular as a reminder of our Blessed Mother's love, prayers and protection. Tradition tells us that the Scapular was presented by Mary to the English Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock, in 1251, as a sign of Mary's special love and protection for all Carmelites.

On the 750 th anniversary of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Pope John Paul II wrote to the entire Carmelite Family. He noted that two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: (1) the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life's journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; and (2) the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a "habit," which is a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The Scapular becomes a sign of the "covenant" and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful: translating Jesus' gift on the Cross of his Mother to John, and through him to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our Spiritual Mother.

ImageOur devotion to Mary, our Spiritual Mother, is woven with prayer into our daily lives as we attend Mass and receive Holy Communion frequently and practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. As members of the Carmelite family we share in the blessings bestowed on Carmel and share in the prayers of all the Carmelites throughout the world.

Being a Carmelite is not a spiritual pastime, it is a spiritual responsibility. The Teresian Carmelite charism is inspired by the Holy Spirit for building up of the Church, to the well-being of humanity and to the needs of the world. We are called to be an instrument leading to holiness in the Church, through fostering and promoting a more intimate unity between the everyday life of its members and their faith. We are guided by The Beatitudes in fulfilling our Promise to seek only the ways of God as we live our lives in His service.

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