The Carmelite Way: A Book Review
The Carmelite Way An Ancient Path for Today’s Pilgrim
Page for page, this is the best book around on Carmelite history and spirituality. The length and scope of The Carmeilte Way is perfect for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the tradition in a shorter format. This one quick read covers all the basics plus Fr. Welch’s psychological insights into how God detaches and divinizes us. He is an expert in Carmelite Spirituality and Human Development.
The history of Carmel and the major pillars of Carmel are succinctly covered in enough detail for the reader to see whichCarmelitesbest speak to their souls. Fiery temperaments will find similarities of temperament in Elijah and Nicholas the Frenchmen. Others will like the balance of Blessed John Soreth. The great women Carmelites St. Drs. Teresa and Therese challenge others to self- knowledge and trust . St. Dr. John of the Cross teaches us the Dark Nights are normal spiritual growth pains. Through the teaching of St. Teresa and Carl Jung, Welch tells us that contemplation is not about disengaging from life. Humility resulting loss of confidence andparalysis is a great evil to be avoided. Also, the mystical life does not circumvent normal human development, including ego development. Talk of ego annihilation is unbalanced and dangerous. Self- knowledge and self-acceptance are absolute prerequisites to self-forgetfulness.
While my favorite chapter isthe second on Nicholas the Frenchman and his plea to return to the desert, other readers would choose chapter eight on extraordinary religious experiences and how to respond to them. Because the end defines the journey, the key chapter for most people is the final one on desiring what God desires. Here is a great line from it: “Obviously some other criteria must be used to differentiate those who are living without a why from those of us who are living without a clue”. Welch is referring to Meister Eckhardt’s description of advance practicioners who “live without a why”. The proof of our growth is in concrete caring for others, i.e. the gift of self. A divinized person is one who is alive, integrated, and self-transcendent.
The Carmelite path is but one of many. Some find their way via St. Francis of Assisi or St. Dominic or St. Ignatius or a combination of teachers or a unique path with no label so far. That said, The Carmelite Way has universal appeal because it focuses on the end while minimizing the means to get to the end. Once we know to whom we are going, Christ, the angle of approach will be given us. Fr. John Welch has an outstanding economy of style that packs more Carmelite teaching into one short volume than any I have discovered so far.
Reviewed by Brother Thomas Crutcher
Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 1996