Thursday, July 16, 2020

Our Mother Mary and Mount Carmel

On this great day we honor our Mother Mary with particular emphasis on her special solicitude for those who share in the immense ecclesial charism of the Carmelite Order.

Beginning with hermits at Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, who dedicated themselves — like Elijah the prophet — to listening in faith for the “still small voice” of the Spirit of God, this charism blossomed in the Western Church during the Middle Ages and bore tremendous fruit in more recent times.

Under Mary’s special protection and care (she who pondered the mysteries of her Son in her heart), the Holy Spirit led the great Carmelites — Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and many others — to profound and genuine mystical experiences of God’s gratuitous love and a prophetic witness that continues to enrich the whole Church.

The charism of Carmel is shared in various ways: by professed religious men and women, lay ‘third order’ members, and (in the broadest and most accessible way) all who are devoted to the “brown scapular” — the small cloth squares worn under the shirt as a symbolic “link” to the Carmelite religious habit (i.e. the special garment they wear, which, according to a venerable tradition, was given to them by Mary with the promise of her protection and special help in attaining eternal life). 

The celebration of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" is a day of religious processions and festivals in many parts of the world, and I know that it was close to the hearts of my Italian immigrant ancestors. (My paternal grandfather, who I never knew in this life, was born on July 16, 1905, and one of his middle names was “Carmelo.” So Happy Birthday no. 115 to my father's father, my "Papa"! — I hope and pray that the whole family is celebrating this day with the Lord in eternal glory.) 

This is a joyful and colorful day for various peoples. To be clear: the many devotions to Mary in the Church are not superstitions (though, obviously, some people might have a superstitious attitude toward Mary and the saints, just as others might have a superstitious attitude about the Bible). Rather, they emerge from the vitality of Mary's very particular, very human ways of caring for the people who have been entrusted to her (who are each of us, and all of us).

The Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ our Savior reaches out to touch us physically, concretely, through many gifts she has given and inspired throughout the history of the Church. There are first of all her outstanding icons, some of which have long been regarded by the Christian people as miraculous in their origin or in other circumstances related to them; in certain cases (e.g. Guadalupe or the healings at Lourdes) popular traditions and contemporary accounts of Mary's presence and power remain inexplicable even after vigorous and careful scientific analysis. Mary is pervasively "present" in the Christian life, and has become intimate to a great spectrum of diverse peoples and cultures through a multitude of particular titles and iconographic styles that enable people all over the world to draw close to her and call her "our Mother."

Mary also enriches and give particular beauty and tenderness to Christian experience through the abundant fruits of her ongoing maternal care for all of God's children. We recognise this in the ancient hymns and liturgical services of the East (such as the Akathist or the Paraklesis), in the many religious communities specially dedicated to her (today we remember the Carmelites), in her “visitations” approved by the Church and established as places of pilgrimage for the Christian people (Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, and others), and in her many tokens of love and invitations to be united with her in prayer (the Rosary, the brown scapular and other scapulars related to different religious families, religious medals worn not out of superstition but in faith and love, etc).

Ultimately, it's a simple reality. If we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus, then we are the children of Mary. Her motherhood of all of us is the very special task entrusted to her along with the Person who is the Son of the Father, who takes our flesh in her womb, who is born of her in Bethlehem, and who dies on the Cross accompanied by her on the hill of Golgotha.

Having a mother, depending on a mother, flourishing and growing under the specific love and tenderness of a mother: these are fundamental human experiences even if they are often imperfect or broken in this fallen world. It is a wonderful fact, however, that God — in redeeming the world, calling us to be born again, and to grow to maturity in the Spirit as a new creation — has given us a redeemed motherhood through a Mother who will never fail us, who is always there for us, who already cares for us even if we don't realize it. Though, of course, she wants us to know her love. It means so much for our happiness, our confidence, the maturation of our humanity in Christ her Son. 

Mary is our Mother. She cares for us, accompanies us, clothes us, teaches us to pray, loves us, and carries us through trials so that we can attain the fullness of our destiny as God's children, as the little brothers and little sisters of Jesus.