The shield or seal of the Carmelite Order expresses much about the history of the Order. The scroll surrounding the shield is the motto of the Carmelites: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.” These are the words of the great Prophet of Mt. Carmel, Elias, whom
Carmelites call their spiritual Father. He spoke them after having challenged the 450 false prophets of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel which proved to them that the Lord God of Israel is God alone and there is no other God before Him. (2 Kings 18) “If the Lord be God follow Him...” This zealous mission to recall Israel to the worship of the true God is also symbolized by the arm holding the fiery sword.
Inside the shield is the Mount of Carmel. The Cross distinguishes this shield as being that of the Discalced Carmelites, the new branch of the illustrious Order of Carmel founded by St. Teresa of Jesus in 1562 with the foundation of the Monastery of St. Joseph in Avila, Spain. The star in the midst of the mountain symbolizes the prophetic age of the Order which is from St. Elias to St. John the Baptist. The star to the right of the Cross represents the Eastern era of the Carmel from St. John the Baptist to St. Berthold and the star to the left of the Cross represents the spread of Carmel to the West from St. Berthold to our own day and until the end of the world.
The twelve stars above the shield signify devotion to the Mother of God to whom the Order of Carmel has always been singularly devoted. The woman of the Apocolypse with the moon beneath her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head was the woman Our Father St. Elias saw in the foot shaped cloudlet rising out of the stormy sea. The Prophet Elias gathered together his disciples to honor the Virgin who was to bring forth the Messias and the Order which he founded was modeled upon her virtues. The virtues of the humble maiden at Nazareth as well as in the Cenacle are the virtues which the Carmelite is called to imitate in order to be of service to the Church and in the salvation of souls. The twelve stars also symbolize the twelve points of the Rule of Carmel.
The branch of Carmel, called the Discalced Carmelites, was founded in 1562 by Our Holy Mother St. Teresa of Jesus. She simply wanted to repair the outrages that were being committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus by living a life of total devotedness to Him. By bringing together other women desirous of living an austere life of prayer and penance for the salvation of souls she hoped to frustrate the devil’s plan of division in the Church. She didn’t envision that her reform would become so widespread -- first throughout Spain, but then also throughout the world. In the Way of Perfection she gives expression to her ardent desire: “All my longing was and still is that since He has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones. As a result I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live here do the same. Alas, my heart is breaking to see the destruction of so many souls. I know that for those who are already lost there is no remedy, but I wish not to see more ruined every day. O my daughters in Jesus Christ! help me to entreat our Lord herein; it is for this object you are united here. This is your vocation; these are to be your employments, these your desires, hither your tears; this you must without ceasing ask of God. No, no, my sisters, it is not for worldly things that you are here...”
Our Holy Mother wanted, through her monastery of St. Joseph in Avila, to return to the primitive Rule of the Order which had been somewhat mitigated due to the ravages of the Black Death in the 15th century. She understood the need for solitude and silence as a requirement for an intense life of prayer and not being able to live in total solitude on a mountain like the first hermits, she created something similar in her monasteries by the rules of enclosure. The complete separation from all things created, from relations and human interests; this isolation from the vain distractions of the world, established by means of the grates and the high walls of the enclosure, is for the soul a principle of peace and happiness. Our Holy Mother arranged the cloister in accordance with the holy and venerable laws already in force in the Church and those updated according to the the decrees of the Council of Trent. Besides prayer and contemplation, she preserved the eremitical spirit, solitude and silence, absolute poverty, austerity and penance. Her writings include
The Way of Perfection, The Life
The Book of the Foundations
The Interior Castle
Her companion in establishing the Spirit of the Reform throughout the Order was St. John of the Cross, whom we refer to as Our Holy Father. He, along with Fr. Antonio de Heredia, began the Reform amongst the Friars just as Our Holy Mother St. Teresa had done amongst the Nuns. He also aided Our Holy Mother in giving spiritual direction to the Nuns. Always faithful to Our Holy Mother and the spirit she wished to instill in the newly founded monasteries, he braved persecution from the other Friars who were not favorable to the Reform. Throughout all he suffered for the advancement of the Discalced Carmelites, he attained close union with God and described his experiences in a series of poems which he later explained in prose for the benefit of his spiritual family. Both St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila have been elevated to the rank of Doctors of the Church. Though St. John of the Cross was associated with the city of Avila through his connection with Our Holy Mother St. Teresa, he is not the same person as John of Avila.
The Order of Discalced Carmelites boasts of many holy men and women, only a few of whom are canonized or beatified. Of the ones more well known, there are St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face (the Little Flower), St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. Teresa Margaret (Redi), St. Raphael of St. Joseph (Kalinowski), Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified (the Little Arab), the 16 Martyrs of Compiegne, St. Maravillas of Jesus, and St. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes.