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Carmelite Monks
Manliness and Manual Labor

The Carmelite Rule prescribes that all Carmelites do manual labor. The Rule says:

"You must give yourselves to work of some kind, so that the devil may always find you busy; no idleness on your part must give him a chance to pierce the defenses of your souls. In this respect you have both the teaching and the example of Saint Paul the Apostle, into whose mouth Christ put his own words. God made him preacher and teacher of faith and truth to the nations: with him as your leader you cannot go astray. We lived among you, he said, laboring and wary, toiling night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you; not because we had no power to do otherwise but so as to give you, in your own selves, an example you might imitate. For the charge we gave you when we were with you was this: that whoever is not willing to work should not be allowed to eat either. For we have heard that there are certain restless idlers among you. We charge people of this kind, and implore them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they earn their own bread by silent toil. This is the way of holiness and goodness: see that you follow it."

The Carmelite Monks embrace the fullness of the Rule and spend eight hours of their day in manual labor. The challenges of manual labor form the monk's soul in virtue and strength. As the Rule points out, the Carmelite must imitate St. Paul in "laboring and wary, toiling night and day" as an example for us, showing us that idleness leads to vice. Anyone who just prays in their cell all day, is not actually fulfilling the Rule and can become very imbalanced, which balance and virtue is the aim and goal of prayer.

The Carmelite Monks acknowledge and take seriously the modern vice of effeminacy that hinders young men from attaining to true holiness as men. Our Holy Father St. John of the Cross explains:

"From joy in the touch of soft things arise many more evils and more pernicious ones, which more quickly cause sense to overflow into spirit, and quench all spiritual strength and vigor. Hence arises the abominable vice of effeminacy, or the incentives thereto, according to the proportion of joy of this kind which is experienced. Hence luxury increases, the mind becomes effeminate and timid, and the senses grow soft and delicate and are predisposed to sin and evil." - Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 3, Ch. 25.

Manual labor within Carmel has always been the defense against effeminacy and the evils that break down a man's nature. A man is a person who is both body and soul. The body must be incorporated into who we are and not disdained. Work is important for a balance of one's temperament and the attainment of true virtue. Although it can be difficult, work is an essential part of the spiritual lives of Carmelites.

All Carmelite Monks are required to root out effeminacy from their characters, learning to take responsibility for themselves in attaining all the virtues of a true man.

St. Teresa of Jesus taught repeatedly the importance of work and community life for the test of virtue and real growth in the prayer life. Since it is so essential to the Carmelite spirit and spirituality she will be quoted at length. St. Teresa said in the Book of Foundations:

"Let there be no repining, but when obedience keeps you employed in exterior works, remember that even if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pitchers, aiding us both in body and soul.

I remember a monk's telling me that he had resolved and firmly made up his mind that he would never refuse anything which the Superior might require of him, whatever trouble it gave him. And one day he had been working so hard that he was quite done up and could hardly stand, and he was going to sit down and rest a little. It was already late. The Superior met him and told him to take the spade and go and dig in the garden. He kept silence, although it seemed hard to the flesh, because he did not know how he should get through it. He took the spade and was going into the garden by a path which I saw many years after he told me this; for I happened to be founding a house in that town. There our Lord appeared to him with the cross on His shoulders, so wearied and worn out that he very well could see his own fatigue was nothing in comparison of that.

I believe that it is because the devil sees there is no way which leads more quickly to the highest perfection than that of obedience, that he sets up in it so many distastes and difficulties under the color of good. Let this be carefully thought over, and it will be seen clearly that what I say is true. As to what constitutes the highest perfection; it is clear that it is not interior satisfaction, nor great raptures, nor visions, nor the spirit of prophecy, but it is the entire conformity of our will to the will of God, so that there is nothing which we see He desires which we do not also desire with our whole will, and we accept the bitter as cheerfully as the sweet, when we see it to be His Majesty's good pleasure. This seems exceedingly difficult not the mere doing God's will, but the taking pleasure in what is wholly and entirely contrary to our own natural wishes. And so indeed it is. But love, if it is perfect, has virtue to make us forget our own pleasure in the pleasure of pleasing one whom we love. And as a matter of fact so we find it; for when we see we are pleasing God, even the greatest sufferings become sweet to us: and those who have attained to this state love God thus amidst persecutions and dishonors and wrongs. This is so certain, and is so well known and plain, that I need not dwell on it."

St. Teresa wants her Carmelite Monks to be true men of virtue.

The Carmelite Monks' manual labor helps young men to discern their vocation. If young men despise manual labor, it is a good sign that they are not called to Carmel. With so much silence and solitude in Carmel, manual labor keeps a young man balanced in his nature. 8 hours of work, 8 hours of prayer and 8 hours of sleep provide a perfectly balanced lifestyle for monks to attain to holiness.

Men need a challenge. John Wayne explained it best when he said, "I define manhood simply: men should be tough, fair, and courageous, never petty, never looking for a fight, but never backing down from one either." When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When manual labor gets challenging, a true man rises to the challenge to win.

The Wyoming Rocky Mountains are a REAL wilderness with real life challenges. Life in the Wyoming Mountains demands manliness. The wilderness is not an amusement park. The local Wyoming men do not put up with whimpering boys. When difficulties arise, the true man grows to a greatness of spirit to rise to the occasion and conquer by virtue.

Chastity is impossible without working the body. Hard work keeps one from being idle so that he is not plagued by temptations against chastity. At the same time, a healthy body will be quiet during prayer. Hard work subjects the body to the soul and teaches it submission to the mind and heart that is seeking to please God.