Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Her Universal Call

Today we celebrate Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who is a very big deal to me.  She is my favorite expression of the Blessed Mother, and I have at many times in my life recognized a very special call from her.

As particular as this may be to myself, the fact is that as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, our mother has a very special call to all of us.  Of course, she is the patroness of the Carmelite order, but she's much more than that.  There is a universal quality to her message. The most obvious evidence of this may be that the Brown Scapular, which is of course a gift of hers, is one of the most popular devotions in the Church.  All kinds of people from all kinds of spiritual backgrounds go about their days with the Scapular draped over their torsos.

Less well known, but perhaps more intriguing, is that Mary has chosen to invoke Mount Carmel in some of the other prominent messages she has given to the world.  It was on July 16th, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, that Mary made her final appearance at Lourdes.  When she made her final appearance to the three children of Fatima, Mary appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  It would appear that the message of Mount Carmel is one that the Virgin wants to leave us with.  What, then, is this message?

I can do no better than to quote, via Wikipedia, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, OCD, in saying that she offers us:

a special call to the interior life, which is preeminently a Marian life. Our Lady wants us to resemble her not only in our outward vesture but, far more, in heart and spirit. If we gaze into Mary's soul, we shall see that grace in her has flowered into a spiritual life of incalcuable wealth: a life of recollection, prayer, uninterrupted oblation to God, continual contact, and intimate union with him. Mary's soul is a sanctuary reserved for God alone, where no human creature has ever left its trace, where love and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind reign supreme. [...] Those who want to live their devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to the full must follow Mary into the depths of her interior life. Carmel is the symbol of the contemplative life, the life wholly dedicated to the quest for God, wholly orientated towards intimacy with God; and the one who has best realized this highest of ideals is Our Lady herself, 'Queen and Splendor of Carmel'."
This coming Sunday, we will hear the Gospel reading of Mary and Martha.  Upon receiving a visit from Jesus, Mary (not the Virgin Mary) sits at His feet and listens to Him, while Martha runs about trying to prepare her house for Him, to feed Him, to clean up, to serve Him.  As we know, Christ concludes this story by explaining that Mary had chosen better.  This is one of the most important Scriptural texts about the importance of prayer, and it is precisely this message that Our Lady of Mount Carmel gives us: listen to Jesus.

Interior prayer is that "one thing necessary" that Christ speaks to Martha about.  This does not of course exclude action, for Christ in fact commands action, but all of our action must stem from this life of interior prayer.  So many people want to serve Our Lord, and this is so laudable a choice.  Especially in this day and age, it is in many ways a heroic choice simply to serve the Lord.  However, so few people actually take the time to listen to Him so that they might actually know what He wishes them to do!  I cannot claim to be at all innocent of this.  I, like many, go about making great efforts to serve the Lord while in reality doing nothing more than what I assume He would want.  Ultimately, we are only asserting our own wills as the Lord's when we do this.

If we wish truly to serve the Lord and to do His will, then we must commit ourselves to a deep life of interior prayer.  For some, this is a call to enter into the interior life in a radical way, by joining a contemplative order or even perhaps ultimately entering the eremitical life.  For most of us, it means - at first - simply taking the time out of our days to engage in silent prayer for some period of time.  (Do not fear silent prayer - it is not at all complicated or difficult.  As a convert, I was very intimidated by the idea of mental prayer as it seemed like such a nebulous concept and I didn't quite know anything about it.  I will shortly post an explanation of how to get started with it for those who may feel the same way!)

Later, this should blossom into the great gift of recognizing one's living in the presence of God at all times.  This can sound frightening, challenging, necessitating greater sanctity than one feels he possesses, or even as though its "going overboard," but it is none of these things.  Each of these objections can be answered simply by pointing out that the Lord is everywhere and everything.  If God is what awaits us when we end this life and Heaven truly is the final goal of all people, how can it be suggested that living in constant relationship with Him now is somehow overzealous?  Those who do not wish to have God a part of every moment of their lives now will have a very difficult time when they find that He is all that there is in the life to come! Beyond that, if God is everywhere, then what difficulty can there be in allowing Him to be a part of each moment of our lives?

Fear not, for this goal is not one that is beyond you.  To live in His presence at all times simply means to recognize what is already a reality.  We do not need to bring God into our lives at every point, but rather simply open ourselves to seeing Him where He already is.  Once we begin to realize this it is and incredibly natural experience to live one's interior life at all times, turning to the Lord in our hearts for each and every moment and decision and letting Him direct every action.  It is well within our grasps, for this Our Lord calls us to and He grants willingly us by His abundant Grace - and of course! - we have Our Lady's constant loving  help at our sides.

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