Friday, July 15, 2011

Mary, Mt. Carmel, and the Church

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice, and shall flourish like the lily. It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise: the glory of Libanus is given to it: the beauty of Carmel, and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord and the beauty of our God.
(Is. 35:1-2)

Mount Carmel, on account of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and by abundant dew, is marked by its luxurious vegetation, aromatic plants, and wild flowers. Its beauty accounts for the meaning of its name: “the garden.” On this mountain the prophet St. Elijah lived, fasted, and prayed. On this mountain the Lord revealed himself to the prophet in a gentle voice. On this mountain, the prophet challenged the priests of Baal to a contest that would prove the God of Israel as the true God. This mountain is sacred to the Lord. It is a privileged place of encounter with the Lord. Even from olden times, Mount Carmel has attracted seekers of God to find him in prayer along its slopes. It is a beautiful garden conducive for this privileged encounter with God – the place where one can be still to know the He the Lord is God.

In a way, we can see that Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is like Mount Carmel. She is the garden enclosed spoken of in the Canticle of Canticles: “Hortus conclusus soror mea, sponsa, hortus conclusus, fons signatus" ("A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up.”) (4:12). She is the garden enclosed who is open only to her Divine Spouse who is the Holy Spirit. A beautiful garden she is so that men and women of the Spirit loved to apply to her the name mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah: Décor Carmeli – the Flower of Carmel, the Beauty of Carmel. Made beautiful by the fullness of grace which the Lord bestowed upon her at the first instant of her conception, Mary was the garden untouched – totally reserved for God alone. Her heart was the fitting dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, her womb for God the Son. Hers was the singular dignity of being God’s daughter, God’s spouse, and God’s mother. “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” – these words of St. Luke show Mary as the teacher of interiority, teacher of the things of the Spirit. She was already living out what her Son would later on teach: “When you pray, go to your room and close the door and pray to your Father in secret.” Mary does not only pray. She teaches us how to pray. Her greeting disposed Elizabeth for the reception of the Holy Spirit. After the Lord’s ascension, the disciples “gathered in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” Like Mount Carmel that disposes hermits to meet the Lord, Mary disposed the disciples to encounter the Holy Spirit.

In this way, Mary is the pattern, the image of the Church. Towards the end of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, Blessed John Paul pointed out “that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness.” (Novo Millenio Ineunte, 30.) He spoke of the high standard of ordinary Christian living which cannot settle for “a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity” (NMI, 31.). Training in holiness is an imperative. This training in holiness calls for “a Christian life that is distinguished above all in the art of prayer.” (NMI, 32.) Recognizing the widespread demand for spirituality despite widespread secularization, Blessed John Paul made reference to the great mystical traditions of the Church as our response to this demand. He mentioned in particular the legacies of the great Carmelites St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross. “Our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love’” (NMI, 33.).

And here is where Mount Carmel, Mary, and the Church meet: they all are genuine schools of prayer. And we are here, at the foot of Mount Carmel, sons and daughters of Our Lady, gathered as Church. We come here as disciples, as learners in the school of the Spirit. We repeat to the Lord the request made of him by his disciples: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” To this request comes the Lord’s response: “When you pray, go to your room and close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” Let us enter the inner room, the enclosed garden. Let us search for him. Let us seek his face. Let us climb the mountain of the Lord.

O Mary, Décor Carmeli, Beauty of Carmel, glory of Libanus, purest of lilies, mystic rose in the flowering gardens of the Church, pray for us.

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