Carmelite spirituality is known for contemplation and prayer, but less is said about the type of actions that are fitting for a person who follows the Carmelite way of perfection.
What I’m about to tell you may sound painfully unwitty at first, but stay with me for a moment: the type of actions that are fitting for Carmelites are good actions.
I know, I know. Everyone needs good actions, right? Yes, but people who spend a lot of time praying and striving to love God totally need to be reminded about actions, which must be loving and conform to God’s will if the person is actually loving God and conforming to his will. Refusing to love or conform to God’s will defeats the purpose of prayer.
St. Teresa of Avila recognized this need for good actions, and she mentioned it in her advice to the Carmelite nuns she addressed in The Interior Castle. This advice is relevant for anyone seeking salvation and spiritual perfection:
This is the reason for prayer, my daughters, the purpose of this spiritual marriage: the birth always of good works, good works. This is the true sign of a thing, or favor, being from God, as I have already told you. It benefits me little to be alone making acts of devotion to our Lord, proposing and promising to do wonders in His service, if I then go away and when the occasion offers itself do everything the opposite.1
Do you propose and promise to do wonders for God but then do the opposite when the occasion for works arises? If so, ask God for mercy and forgiveness, and pray that he will help you to love and conform your will to his.
If you recognize that your actions do not follow through with the wonders you propose and promise to God, then you recognize that you have work left to do on the path of salvation and perfection. This recognition indicates that you are in a position of humility, which is good since humility opens a person up to receiving what God gives (and what God gives is always good for our spiritual growth).
Don’t feel like you’re abnormal for having spiritual work left to do. Instead, thank God for having helped you recognize your sins, and take comfort in knowing that this path of humility is the path you need to be on in order to make spiritual progress.
What you don’t want to do is stop looking for sins and imperfections in yourself. If ever you recognize that you are feeling like you have nothing left to do to be saved or reach perfection, stop and pray for humility, and act according to humility by beseeching God to help you not offend him.
As a further act of humility, you could read the following words from a great saint—Teresa of Avila—whose humility, you can assure yourself, far surpasses your own:
The one among you who feels safest should fear more, for blessed is the man who fears the Lord, says David. May His Majesty protect us always. To beseech Him that we not offend Him is the greatest security we can have.2
A person who wholeheartedly beseeches God for help to not offend him has humility. If you turn to God, recognize your need for God in order to be saved, and ask God for mercy and everything you need to be saved and spiritually perfected, your humble recognition and beseeching will be your greatest security.
These acts of humble recognition and beseeching are good actions, which, as I mentioned above, are the type of actions that are fitting for a person who follows the Carmelite way of perfection.