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In everlasting bloom: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Flower of Carmel

In everlasting bloom: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Flower of Carmel

The statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel enshrined in the Minor Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New Manila, Quezon City. PHOTO FROM MT. CARMEL MINOR BASILICA

Msgr. Euly B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

July 14, 2022

Borongan City, Eastern Samar

“And blessed are you who believed, for the things that were spoken to you by the Lord will be accomplished” (Lk 1:45).

“Walking with the Blessed Virgin, the model of complete fidelity to the Lord, we will fear no obstacles or difficulties. Supported by her motherly intercession, like Elijah we will be able to fulfil our vocation as authentic “prophets” of the Gospel in our time.” —Pope St. John Paul II

Mountain of theophany

In the Philippines a mountain is often associated with rebellion. To say someone went to the mountains (“namundok”) almost amounts to saying he or she has joined the rebels who, for more than 50 years now, have been trying to bring the established order down. Curiously in the Scriptures someone drawn to a mountain is likely not a rebel but one of God’s loyal ones.

Scriptures often give us the picture of the faithful God who revals himself (in Greek, a ‘theophaneia’ or ‘appearance of God’) to one of his faithful ones on a mountain. Take Moses, for example. It is on Mount Horeb, called by Exodus “the mountain of God” that he encounters God by means of a “burning bush” that is never “consumed” (Ex 3:1-7). Here the Almighty introduces himself as the “God of your father: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:6), implying a relationship that covered generations at which God never wavered in his commitments despite the see-saw response from his people. Faithfulness of a few often contrasted with the betrayals by the many, mainly by way of worshipping pagan deities. Again the same faithful God of the Covenant calls Moses to another mountain—that of Sinai where he reveals his commandmemts, basically to guide his people in their struggle to likewise respond to him in fidelity (Ex 19:3-20:1-17).

Then another mountain comes to the fore—Mount Carmel. As the people of Israel are being seduced by the prophets of the pagan god Ba’al, the prophet Elijah challenges them there instead to make a decision for the God of their fathers or for Ba’al. Then the challenge is addressed to Ba’al’s prophets, making them agree to a spiritual contest: a simultaneous sacrifice with “no fire” used but only that which would come from God himself or from Baal responding (1 Kgs 18:19-23).

I have always felt that Mount Carmel also stands for places, events and situations in our lives that challenge us to confront our own insensitivity, blindness and apathy to God’s presence and self-manifestations to us. We too are being seduced by modern ba’als: money, technology, power, self- or ideology-worship and many things besides. The Church, like Elijah, must not hesitate to lead us to the truth of our constant relapses to affairs with the false gods or goddesses of our time.

Faith in the true God triumphs

Elijah on Mount Carmel shows that Ba’al, in not responding to tne rites and prayers of his own prophets, is a false god. In contrast, his prayers are answered decisively and powerfully, with the holocaust, the firewood, the stones, the dust and even the waters previously poured into the whole trench of the sacrifice being all consumered by a blazing fire (1 Kgs 18:38). Here the people of Israel again witness the truth of their faith in the God of the Covenant. “And when all the people had seen it, they fell upon their face, and they said: ‘The Lord himself is God! The Lord himself is God!’ (1 Kgs 18:39).

Mount Carmel in this sense is a perpetual monument to the truth that faith in the true God will never be in vain. Conversely, our fascinations and dalliances with profit or money, technology, power, prestige, pleasure, and any false deity, no matter how profitable for us in the materialistic and worldly sense, are all bound to fail in the long run. False gods never respond to our real and deepest needs and longings.

Mary brings Elijah’s faith to the greatest heights

If Elijah shows people that faith in the true God is never in vain, Mary, the Flower of Carmel or the “Flos Carmeli” demonstrates to us how that same faith must be lived. She is our witness to what our forebears taught us mostly by their own silent testimony: namely, that indeed believing means, first of all, hearing and listening. This Mary does to the Word of God as it is brought to her by an angel, even when she was at first “disturbed” by it (Lk 1:28-30). Enlightened “interiorly”, she further teaches us that believing means saying “Yes” to that Word, obeying that Word, no matter the consequences especially to ourselves. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your Word” (Lk 1:38). Here Mary shows us why she is not only the “physical” or “biological” mother of Jesus but, especially, that she is his foremost disciple. “My Mother and brethren are those who hear the Word of God and do it” (Lk 8:18). Mary’s receiving Jesus the Word into her womb also meant actually “pondering” and “treasuring” the message that his person, words, acts and events that he makes happen (Lk 2:8, 51) and following him in silent submission even if it meant, as it still does, suffering with him “at the foot of the Cross” (Jn 19:25).

When, like her, we choose in our struggles to listen to and obey God’s Word instead of ours or the world’s, Mary the Flower of Carmel also accompanies us as we bear our own crosses as a result of our following her Son, even to the “foot of our own crosses”. Her title as mother is not an empty claim. Countless other disciples of Jesus have experienced her presence accompanying and aiding them on the way laid out by her Son.

The Carmelite connection

There are claims that hermits already established themselves on Mount Carmel even before the coming of Jesus to give witness, among others, to the faith of Elijah. But it is in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century that the presence of Christian Catholic hermits on Mount Carmel is first recorded. These would later form the Carmelite Order which would also adopt the Blessed Virgin Mary as their patroness in whose honor they built a monastery and dedicated a chapel in 1263. The spread of the Carmelite Order especially in Europe despite the burning and killing of many of its original community by Muslim forces in 1291 is attributed to St. Simon Stock (1247-1265). Not only surviving but also flourishing, the order was finally recognized in 1274 in the Council of Lyon. It was yet another testament to the triumph of faith.

Initially addressed as “Lady of the Place”, “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” in time became the more formal title used to call the Blessed Virgin both as the patroness of the Carmelite Order and the model of faith that Christians invoke to have recourse to her maternal help towards salvation, theirs and mankind’s.

The brown scapular and the challenge of Carmel

The Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Mount Carmel is said to have appeared in 1251 to St. Simon Stock, then Father General of the Carmelite Order. It is said that she handed him a brown scapular with the words: “Receive, My beloved son, this habit of thy order: this shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire …. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.” Since then the wearing of the Brown Scapular has spread. It, however, appears to be confined to devotees that are being largely marginalized for wearing a scapular largely misunderstood or seen as a religious talisman.

In this regard it is worth recalling the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “The scapular is essentially a habit which evokes the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this life and in the passage to the fullness of eternal glory.”

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