A formal commitment to the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience shapes the life of all religious orders in the Church. In addition, each order has a particular spiritual orientation, way of living and role or mission within the Church. This is described as its charism.
When St Teresa established her new monasteries she was seeking a return to the original charism of the hermits on Mt Carmel. However, she also contributed her own understanding of community life, prayer and service to the world. The specifically Teresian Carmelite charism has the following elements
Teresa knew that the task of loving our neighbour is central to the Christian life, and that this is best done in small communities. “All must be friends,” she wrote, “all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.
The first hermits had settled in a solitary place to seek God, and Teresa wanted to preserve this aspect of Carmel too. Carmelite nuns spend much of the day in silence; they work alone, and two hours of each day are given to solitary prayer, or as Teresa put it, “taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.
Teresa had spent many years struggling with different techniques for prayer, but she eventually came to understand it as friendship with Christ. Teresa taught her nuns to fix their hearts and minds on the person of Christ, becoming aware of his presence and his love for them. “I am not asking you to do anything more than look at Him” she told them.
Teresa wanted her nuns to develop an intense personal relationship with God, but she didn’t want them to become obsessed with themselves or their spiritual progress. For Teresa the purpose of prayer is that we should become more generous in our service of others. “This is the reason for prayer…” she wrote, “the birth always of good works.” As well as serving our immediate community, Teresa understood prayer as a service to the whole world; Carmelite nuns bring to God the needs of the world and the whole human family. At the same time, they bring to the world the good news of God’s love and mercy in Christ.