It’s unlikely that those here celebrating Our Lady on our patronal feast have forgotten or let escape from their awareness the fact our Order is known for and takes its name from the PLACE of its origin. Granted, fully put, it is more than just a locale: the Order’s official title goes “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel” of course, but Carmel gets a proper mention in there.
And, so, we take pride of place (in a maybe twisted use of that phrase) from our origin site in the Holy Land on its beautiful promontory over the Mediterranean near Haifa, Israel.
OUR Lady, was the one welcomed from our beginnings onward as the protector of those who harken back to the Wadi on Carmel. She is all we could wish to have as patron and promotor of our ongoing life as an Order. She receives deservingly hyperdulia or that extra special degree of honor above saints like Dominic or Francis, both active in the era during the early years of the thirteenth century when we officially began. Their names each encapsulate the familiar monikers of their children: Francis for Franciscans and Dominic for the Dominicans, in interesting contrast to the official letters that designate their ecclesial families, viz., OFM and OP, respectively. Carmelites carry their birthplace in their name and their initials.
Beyond her inclusion in our title, for sure, we Carmelites cherish Mary as the crystallization of the ideal embraced by the original hermits present on the mount eight centuries ago: a contemplative soul given over to heeding the calls of the Lord and a special CALLing to attentiveness to Christ so close, so present to us. That contemplative attentiveness is demonstrated well by the First Reading in today’s liturgy with its scene showing an apparently strange exercise of Elijah’s servant scanning the waves below. He did it “seven times” in all, and we all are familiar with the significant meaning of the biblical number seven: fullness. Only, in this instance, it stands for unremitting, constant, unflagging attention as any and all contemplation is supposed to be.
Akin to a constancy of that kind is Mary’s own in today’s passage from John’s Gospel: she stuck it out, unfortunate to the bitter last moment so as to give at least some small measure of consolatory attentiveness to the cherished object of her contemplative gaze: this time no mere child but the Lord God‘s Suffering Servant intent on proving his constant compliance with the Father’s will for Him as the untiring exemplar of the reconciliation given to humankind by a truly forgiving Deity.
United to the human pathos of an aggrieved mother is her consent to the offering He was making: we do not hear the word in John’s narrative, but here on Calvary–the other famous, and fearful, peak in the Holy Land–she moans out her “Fiat”. Her children the Carmelites set out to do the same: early in their lives by profession they dedicate themselves to her contemplative Order, but—as I have been meaning to underscore—logically thereafter they give “unflagging” contemplative assent through the rest of their life by confronting that nada of self-sacrifice in their quest for its transforming todo.
Mount Carmel, especially known by the “Ascent of Mount Carmel” is the “mystical space” for imitation of Mary’s repeated faithfulness to her call. The importance of the Mount, therefore, is recognized in the Church, the Church writ large, but also in smaller, more localized settings. It does not sound triumphalistic to affirm that a lot of respect is conjured up by the word itself. People take notice when anyone refers to it in ways like this: “She gave up a promising career and went off to join a Carmel”.
This year’s reflection ought not to conclude without showing how the microcosm of Carmel goes on attracting crowds, and thus conjures fitting honor to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 2019 is, in fact, the 100th anniversary of a major event in the Holy Land. You see, while the largest procession there during any calendar year occurs on Palm Sunday from the Mount of Olives over into Jerusalem–and that makes so much sense—the second in size is not to be found in Jerusalem, nor from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, nor in Nazareth, nor near the Sea of Galilee, but up our own Mount Carmel. The return of the statue of Our Lady of the Scapular, holding in her arm Jesus and the scapular after the end of World War One from the place where it had been sheltered from bombardment in the safety of the city of Haifa, took the form of a procession from downtown Haifa up the long, steep road ascent to the top of the Western end of the promontory out over the Mediterranean Sea. Early on this procession was not so large, but over time it has morphed into the country’s most attended outdoors religious homage to the family of Jesus in the person of his Mother. Faithful Christians flock to it, but even the Patriarch travels to Haifa from Jerusalem to attend personally, not simply delegating his auxiliary bishop for Northern Israel; and they are joined by enthused leaders of other Catholic eastern rites.
You might have already heard about this fine display of Marian devotion, or know that it takes place annually on the first Sunday after Easter in imitation of the 1919 version, but is it rather fitting to take note of it on this day of all days in the year in mid-July so we can appreciate that special regard those Christian faithful with their pastors have for OUR “Lady of the Place” and for all that her place conjures up. We ought to take pride, we ought not to forget how much it takes devoted input on our part to keep the dream of those early hermits alive in our part of the Church, even if we do not see such a public, external show here where we live. It is enough to go on uttering–like Mary of Mount Carmel–our “Fiat” over time.