O Me of Little Faith

It’s time for another morsel from my upcoming Pocket Guide to Sainthood (Jossey-Bass, 2009). There were (and are) a whole lot of different religious orders, all of which have produced their share of interesting saints. These include Benedictines, Franciscans, Cistercians, and Dominicans.

One of my favorite orders is the Carmelite order. Not because they have a delicious-sounding name. But because there was a huge schism in the Carmelite order about 500 years ago about whether or not going barefoot was an act of deeper holiness than wearing shoes. As someone who would spend my life in flip-flops if it were socially acceptable, this is intriguing to me (flip-flops would have been a middle ground between the two factions, so I like to think I would have been a real peacemaker on this issue). Anyway, here’s the Carmelites entry from the glossary chapter.


A member of the religious order founded in the 12th century on Mount Carmel in Israel. Its founder may have been St. Bertold, a former Crusader who got disillusioned with crusading after he had a vision in which Jesus was less than delighted by all the forced conversions. But Bertold’s connection to the order’s founding is only traditional. When asked about their founder, early Carmelites would attribute the order’s origins to Elijah or the Virgin Mary, which was so not very helpful. Even today, no one really knows where the Carmelites came from. Except Jesus, and apparently he has declined comment.

Officially, the Carmelite order is known as the Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its monks and nuns are strongly devoted to Mary and focus on contemplative (and occasionally mystical) prayer. Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, there were a succession of reforms among Carmelite communities that involved a level of piety tied very closely to whether its nuns or monks could wear shoes. Calced Carmelites wore shoes. Discalced Carmelites went barefoot. The turf wars were brutal.

Please use it in a sentence:
People grew less convinced about Jessica’s desire to become a Carmelite nun when she revealed that the discalced Carmelites were her preference because she loved pedicures, and that kind of life required a lot of them.

Not to be confused with:
Carmel-by-the-Sea, a Californian community of writers, poets, and painters, where you’ll find plenty of people walking around barefoot and having visions. But rarely is Jesus involved.

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