The opening of the letter is addressed to the hermits “who live near the spring on Mt. Carmel.” This is a very important point. The Carmelite Rule is the only Rule in the Roman Catholic tradition that is addressed to a particular place. There is no mention of those who wish to follow a particular founder; only reference to a Brother B. as a leader of the brothers who first had written to St. Albert and to whom he is responding. Rather than being founded by an individual and Rule Giver, the Carmelites were founded according to a place and named accordingly: the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel.
There are no easy answers, and one may describe the eight centuries that have followed the Carmelite exile as the struggle to sort through these very things. How does one live the life and way of a hermit, gathered on the desert mountain, in the midst of a city? Can one even live this life beyond the walls of the cloister? This question is one that continues to be debated and about which many great saints have come down on both sides. This very fact that so many Carmelites have continued to struggle and discern this way of life, and for such a very long time, suggests to me that although founded in a very particular place, there is something far beyond that physical location to the Way of Life Albert prepared in the Carmelite Rule.
We ask the question: For whom is the Rule written? Millions have turned to Albert’s Rule and this way of life who long to live in allegiance to Christ. This desire to love and live in close, intimate proximity to our Lord, I believe, is the answer to the question. The Rule is written for those who long to live ‘in allegiance to Christ,” out of love and devotion, but it is not written to “all” who love and long to live this allegiance. As Albert writes, “Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forefathers laid down how everyone, whatever his station or the kind of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ. . . It is to me, however, that you have come for a rule of life.” What follows then is a basic and simple principle: the recognition that in Christ, there are many ways to live and follow the life that he set before us. Indeed, the many traditions and religious communities testify to this. There is not the Roman Rite alone in the Catholic Church, but a Ukrainian, Byzantine, Ethiopian, and an entire collection of Eastern Rites that are equal in worship and allegiance to Christ. There are Dominican friars, Franciscans, Benedictine monks, Cistercians, Augustinians, Daughters of Charity, Missionaries of the Precious Blood and countless other religious societies, orders and communities who have discovered a particular way of living in the footsteps and in union with Christ. Each of these communities have a special and unique charism. Some find their union in Christ most strongly in their extreme poverty, others in their work for social justice, others in preaching, others in studies, and still others through teaching or by evangelizing the Word. Yet in the midst of all these various ways, it was to Albert whom the brothers on Mt. Carmel chose to write, through his wisdom and according to his guidance that they found their life and greater love in Christ.
If the Rule is written for all those who love Christ and can commit themselves to this particular Way in pursuit of His love, then there is a way that the Carmelite Way of Life has meaning and can be translated, or adapted, to a more modern and contemporary way of life. While the mitigation of the Rule gave explicit permission to the brothers that “you may have as many asses and mules as you need,” it is not secluded to a place and time where owning a beast of burden is essential to life.
Beyond the cloisters and beyond the brothers and sisters of vowed consecrated life, this Way of Life has profound meaning and can be lived in the midst of the secular world. Of course, it should not be said that this Rule and Way of Life is suited to anyone who may casually pick up its pages and, from time-to-time, graze with the expectation of total fulfillment. As we have already seen, Albert also writes: “Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forefathers laid down how everyone, whatever his station or the kind of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ--how, pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of his Master. It is to me, however, that you have come for a rule of life in keeping with your avowed purpose, a rule you may hold fast to henceforward.”
For whom is the Rule written? For those who find in it a Way that is worth devoting their life to in the pursuit and desire to love and live a life of love in Christ. Beyond the cloisters and beyond the brothers and sisters of vowed consecrated life, this Way of Life has profound meaning and can be lived in the midst of the secular world--as the thousands of Third Order members and millions of Christian lives have witnessed to.