Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
1Kings 18:42b-45a; Psalm 14; Galatians 4:4-7; John 19:25-27
Given at Terenure College July 16, 2013, by John Keating, O.Carm., Councillor General.
One of our great historians in the Order has been seriously ill recently. Visiting him recently he made the following comment: “All my life I sought to draw near to the cross of Christ in his suffering. Now the Lord draws near to me in my suffering.” In these few words there is a life-long relationship with Christ that has come to fruition.
The liturgy for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel offers us only three short verses from the Gospel of John. Because they are so short, we might miss their powerful impact – not just on us but down through the centuries.
Just for a moment consider the contrast between, on the one hand, the scene of the passion with all the elements of violence, betrayal, bitterness, mockery, its total inhumanity. And, on the other hand, the humanity of a little group “near the cross” of Jesus: his mother, an aunt, a close friend, all huddled together close to this incredible scene of cruelty and death.
In the presence of this little group, in his last breath, Jesus pours out the Spirit. And by this Spirit a new family is born at the foot of the cross, a new human family, his family of faith. It is a scene about profound relationships.
Let me reflect on three words with you: mother, beauty and place.
This brief scene at the foot of the cross speaks to us of Jesus’ care for his mother and trust in his beloved friend. This little group is caught up not in a moment of terror but of love – in the loving sacrifice of Jesus and the love of the Son and the Father. This is not an impersonal moment but one of loving relationships.
The mother becomes the mother of a new son, a new reality, mother of a people of faith. John comes to represent all believers in this new family. We need to recall how her cousin Elizabeth praised Mary, not just as the biological mother, but as the “one who believed the word spoken to her would be fulfilled.” Mary kept faith from Calvary to Pentecost and beyond. Mary is with us, the family of Jesus, the community of faith – the Church.
The Gospel uses a little word “near” which, as we know, has a double meaning – we can be physically near some thing. I live in Rome near to the train station, which is, because of my many travels, very useful. The Gospel tells us that this little community was physically “near” the cross.
But we can also understand this little word “near” emotionally in terms of relationship. It places Mary near to us as individuals, as family, as community, and in the course of history as an Order. The Carmelite Order has always loved Mary. We feel that she is “near” to us. As early as 1252 papal documents referred to the group of hermits (now newly arrived in Europe calling themselves friars) from Mount Carmel as the “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel.” And by the fourteenth century were already celebrating a solemn commemoration of the Blessed Virgin in July. Some years ago, I asked a leading icon writer to prepare an icon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for the Carmelite Marian year. After she had studied all the photos of images of Our Lady of Mount Carmel she said, “I think the model of this icon has to be ‘Our Lady of tenderness’.” Mary is near and dear to us – the Mother of Carmel is a mother of deep tenderness.
What is this relationship? I would like to reflect briefly on just two images or words: beauty and place.
We love Mary as the beautiful one. To us she is the beauty of our lives. We live in a world where beauty is image, style, youthfulness and a product marketed and for marketing...... in some ways we are in an age of the cult of beauty.
Some writers refer Mary’s beauty as the “sinlessness” of her beauty. Sin is the real distorter of authentic and profound beauty.
Mary's transparent beauty derived not from any physical endowments but from her sinlessness – the pure heart of the woman. Despite the great works of art depicting her beauty, nothing can match the beauty of the love and fidelity of Mary that is found
- as she is present to the angel Gabriel,
- at the birth of her Son, at Cana in Galilee,
- at the foot of the Cross and in the upper room at Pentecost.
I think today's feast tells us that God knew what God was doing, preparing a place of beauty for his Son. It is a beauty of relationship, fidelity and love. “She is truly the beauty of our race – the beautiful flower of Carmel. So like all who are close to us we can take them for granted.” A feast like today invites us to remember that Mary is there with us, as mother and sister. This is something beautiful. One modern Carmelite, Carlos Mesters, wrote not so long ago, “it is like the earth under our feet – we don’t see it but it is that which hold us up”. The image of Mary in Carmel is often portrayed as a small group enfolded in the mantel, in the loving embrace of Mary.
As with all those we love, we give them a place – space in our lives. We may even wear something to remind us of them – a gift, a piece of jewellery, a bracelet. We keep their picture in our homes or even carry it with us. Everywhere I travel I find images of Mary in our convents and churches. Those associated with Mary carry her gift in the form of a piece of cloth – the Scapular – just to remind us of this Lady of Carmel. So we give her not just a physical place, but one in our deepest intimate moments, which we call prayer; in what we wear that indicates our personal relationship with her, in our churches and homes, even in the beautiful names we give our children – Mary or Carmel.
Today Mary has a place in our celebrations in Carmel, a place in this summer month of July.
May the Mother of Carmel be “near” to us, may she have a place in the hearts of all the family of Carmel.