My apologies for such a lapse between posts, but I’m back!
This past Sunday, the Regina Pacis Secular Discalced Carmelite community, which I am preparing to make my First Promise in next year, welcomed seven new novices (who now have two years of formation to go before making their First Promise) and received the Definitive Promise of one member. May God be praised for these new callings within our community!
Fr. Sal, our Provincial Delegate, was the main celebrant and gave the homily. He spoke about Mary, who is the Mother of all of us but most especially of Carmelites and those who wear Her Scapular. He pointed out the various times in Her life that Mary used to practice her virtue and discern the will of God for her in her life: the visitation to Elizabeth, the birth of Christ in the stable, the finding of Jesus in the Temple, and of course the Passion and Death of Our Lord. He talked about how She learned to put aside Her human feelings and instead to trust in God’s plan and reach out to others. Throughout Her life, she perfected Her service to God and others and learned to put aside even selfless interest in her own needs and wants. After finding out that she would be pregnant with the Christ Child, she hastened to be with and serve Elizabeth instead of worrying about her own needs. She learned to put aside her anxiety about Her Son in the years following the finding in the Temple. And she put aside her own grief and pain on Calvary to comfort Her Son and the others that were with Her.
The primary title and attribution given to Mary in the Carmelite Order, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, stresses her contemplative, inner life and we use the quote in Scripture following the finding in the Temple, “And Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), as the anchor of our spirituality. Mary is our model of prayer and contemplation and also of the service which flows from this prayer. As a result of her prayer and spiritual life, Mary was other-centered, which is illustrated many times in Scripture. Always pondering the law of God helps us to better understand it and so carry it out. This is our calling as Carmelites and Mary’s life and service to Her Son serves as a blueprint to us in carrying out this calling. Her intercession and protection helps us on our journey.
The afternoon after the Carmelite celebration, I went to Mass with my family again in the Extraordinary Form (the Carmelite Mass had been in the Novus Ordo rite). The priest, Fr. Dupre, talked about the fleeting glory of the world (“Sic transit gloria mundi” “So passes the glory of the world”) and how insignificant things of the world are and that they are really only good insofar as they help us get to our ultimate goal, which is Heaven. In fact, he even talked about the Carmelites and quoted the Holy Father of our Order, St. John of the Cross, who said about things of the world simply, “Nada, nada, nada,” that is, “Nothing, nothing, nothing.” Mary also demonstrated this in her life, holding and esteeming nothing above God, even Her own Son. Yes, Mary was anxious when She couldn’t find Jesus for three days while He was in the Temple and She certainly felt acute pain and grief during His Passion. But during this time, She still loved and trusted in God above all else and She let Him have His way with Her life and its events. She recognized that Her ultimate goal was Heaven and that the pain She was feeling would not last.
Fr. Dupre also talked about how we should live our lives in accordance with this truth, that the glory of the world is fleeting, just as Mary did. He pointed out two distinct ways: monitoring our speech and love of neighbor, specifically of our enemies. Keeping watch over our tongue is very important, as words especially have the power to wound and cause grave injury to ourselves and others. St. Faustina notes in her Diary that “the soul will not attain sanctity if it does not keep watch over its tongue” and the Holy Mother of the Discalced Carmelite Order, St. Teresa of Avila, says in her Book of the Foundations of the Order, “…that you may not sin with the tongue, keep a careful ward and watch over yourselves in silence, which is the crown and adornment of justice, as well as its safeguard.” Our tongue is a weapon. It is up to us to either let it get carried away with the ways of the world and evil speech, or to use it to spread kindness and God’s love and mercy to others and safeguard our own virtue and strife for holiness by what we say.
Mary certainly took this instruction to watch over our tongue seriously, as there are very few occasions of Her speaking in Scripture, and when She does, She always directs Her speech toward God, praising Him and giving Him the credit for everything. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” from Her Fiat, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” from Her Magnificat, and of course “Do whatever He tells you,” Her last recorded words in Scripture during the Wedding at Cana. Her words were very measured and when She wasn’t speaking, She was contemplating the law of God and His will for Her revealed by the events unfolding in Her life. This prayer helped Her to carry out Her love for God and others in Her speech, outward appearance, and service.
Loving one’s enemies is another thing we can learn from Mary. It’s important to remember though that love is not primarily an emotion. It is an act of the will. I’m sure it took all of Mary’s strength and will to not condemn in Her heart and speech the Roman soldiers and executioners who beat, tortured, and killed Her only Son. Have you ever really thought about that? Again, this act of the will that She made to forgive their actions and not turn nasty and combative came from Her contemplation and pondering of God’s law and will for Her and Her Son in their lives. It helped Her to understand that God alone has the power to condemn and that the final victory and vengeance over evildoers is His alone. We can learn a great deal from reflecting on this point in Her life and asking Her intercession when we are struggling with our enemies.
Something to ask ourselves is how committed are we to following the will of God in our lives? Are we committed to it like Mary was? This was a point made by another priest, Fr. Paul, who is himself a Carmelite friar, at the Mass in our home parish for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Tuesday. The Gospel reading was the account of Jesus being told while He was preaching that His Mother, sisters, and brothers were there to see Him. In response, Jesus asks “Who are My mother and sisters and brothers?” He then goes on to explain that those who do the will of God are His mother and sisters and brothers. Judging by this, are we truly God’s mother, brothers and sisters? Mary was (both physically and spiritually). Her whole life was devoted to contemplating, learning about, and doing the will of God. If we truly want to say that we are sisters and brothers of Christ, we must look at Mary as our model and ask for Her intercession when we are struggling with doing God’s will or even discerning it. Studying Her life and actions can also help us.
God gave us Mary as a model in prayer and service and the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to teach us how to pray and contemplate His will. Let’s use this gift of our Mother to our advantage to help us get to Heaven.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!
*Yesterday, July 17, was the feast day of the martyrs of Compiegne, the 16 Discalced Carmelite nuns who were executed by guillotine during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. They went to the scaffold singing hymns and were until each of their last moments preparing to meet their Spouse. Their courage and willingness to die for their Faith and for the One they loved is something that we should all strive to imitate. Along with the intercession of these martyrs, Mary’s intercession can also help us with this. Although She was only called to the white martyrdom of watching Her Son die on the Cross, which still took an immense amount of courage, it’s not too hard to imagine that she would have readily laid down Her life physically for God because of Her love for Him. These nuns followed Mary’s example of laying down Her life for God, although She did it in a different way. Regardless, laying down one’s life for God consists of one thing: renouncing one’s own will in favor of the will of God, no matter where it may lead.
Blessed Teresa of Saint Augustine and companions, virgins and martyrs, pray for us!