Today is the Feast Day of St. Albert of Jerusalem, who gave the Carmelite Order a Rule of Life between the year 1206-1214. In 1205, Albert was appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem and a little later nominated Papal Legate for the ecclesiastical province of Jerusalem. He arrived in Palestine early in 1206 and lived in Acre because, at that time, Jerusalem was occupied by the Saracens. In Palestine, Albert was involved in various peace initiatives, not only among Christians but also between the Christians and non-Christians. During his stay in Acre he gathered together the hermits on Mount Carmel and gave them a Rule. This written code of conduct would enable the monks who were living in the contemplative spirit of Elijah on Mt. Carmel to eventually become a mendicant order as they were forced to flee their homeland and move closer to Western European cities. It is the shortest Rule of all religious orders and based primarily on the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
The spirit of the order stresses living a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ "pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of the Master" (no.2) This entails the following:
- Seeking the Face of God in contemplation and in every present moment
- Living as brothers and sisters in a spirit of charity
- Meditating on the law of the Lord day and night and to "pray without ceasing" as St. Paul exhorts us
- Praying together or alone several times a day
- Celebrating the Eucharist daily, is possible
- Doing manual work, if possible
- Purifying oneself of every trace of evil
- Embracing a spirit of poverty, materially and spiritually, placing all in common
- Loving the Church and all people
- Discern and accept the Divine Will of God in faith and carry it out in life
This links in well with the Parable of the Merciless Servant as told by Jesus to Peter in today's Gospel of Matthew. In it, Jesus stresses the absolute importance of forgiveness that one must freely give to one another without measure and repeatedly. He suggests that one must forgive seven times seventy denoting full perfection in time.
The servant who cannot pay his debts, in a 17th-century
French painting by Claude Vignon
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
"Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.'
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
'Pay back what you owe.'
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?'
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."
The unforgiving servant choking the man who owes
him money; an Italian 17th-century painting by Domenico Fetti
In our quieter moments of prayer and solitude, it can seem easy to offer oneself to God and pledge our fidelity and willingness to lay down our lives for Him, as St. Peter promised just prior to Our Lord's Passion. Although his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak, and he failed to submit himself to that promise out of fear. It can be romantic to tell ourselves that we are uniting our sufferings to Christ for souls, and experience a great desire for souls. But I have found that the greatest test is within my own home, life, and vocation. If I cannot fully forgive and die to myself and my pride as a grain of wheat falls to the ground and perishes, how can I possibly be efficacious for the salvation of other souls?
The Carmelite Rule tells us that we must live in community in a spirit of charity, which includes forgiveness seven times seventy. It is easy to excuse a stranger and have compassion and longings for their souls. It is harder, I would argue, to live day in and day out with one another human being, being hyper-aware of each other's faults, and still extend charity, love, forgiveness, prayer. My final analysis is this - the Rule of the Carmelite starts at the hearth of one's home, whether it be in family or community life. We must always carry before us that Our Lord has forgiven each one of us more times that we can remember or deserve. Jesus has paid the entire debit for us and shown us mercy and compassion "while we were still enemies'. So we must do the same for one another. If we do not, we risk erecting spiritual and physical blockages within our selves and find ourselves unable to heal and be one with Christ. Forgiveness and mercy leads to pure freedom and sanctity on our path to union. Let us not forget that we are debtors and must extend the alms of mercy to all others in our lives ad continuum. So be it. Amen.