We are in the years 1100. Traveling was an extremely risky venture, especially journeying in the Middle East. However many still wanted to visit the Holy Land. Bandits on the way, the threat of the Muslims, sickness or simple fatigue would mean death for many a pilgrim. Some even made their testament before they left. But still they went. The simple idea of walking on the same ground as Jesus Christ did, always fascinated many. It still fascinates me!
Some of these adventurers were so captivated by what they saw when they arrived there, that they decided to stay behind. They settled on the fertile promontory of hills of what today we call Mount Carmel, adjacent to Haifa, north of Israel.
Mount Carmel was always known for its verdant beauty. It is always green and fresh even in the dry months of summer. It also has a certain biblical charm. The prophet Elijah made his epic battle with the prophets of Baal on this site.
These pioneers felt that God was calling them to live a life of solitude and penance on these hills. They built huts, they utilized caves, they lived a very simple frugal life alternating manual work and prayer. They were called Carmelites.
There they developed a love for Mary, the silent One. They even built a small chapel dedicated it to our Lady. They piously believed that when she was on earth, Mary used to come and spend time in prayer on this Mount!
They realized that living a life of prayer with Mary as their companion can make life an oasis of peace. Our passions subdued, the noise within us quieted, we can enjoy an intimate relationship with the One who always loves us.
However, external events soon overtook them and … nearly squashed their dreams. The Saracens started another advance into the Holy Land, killing anyone in their way. By 1235, it was obvious that the Turks would soon be in complete control. The hermits decided to relocate to Europe. It was the right decision. Mount Carmel was taken and destroyed by the Turks in 1291
But bustling Europe was different from the solitude and tranquility of Mount Carmel. These hermits felt lost and disorientated. They started losing their drive. They had to modify their whole style of life — from desert to city, from hermit to friar.
Adaptation and flexibility do not come out easily. Besides, many Bishops were rather skeptical about these Middle East itinerants. Novelty always arouses suspicion.
So many of them started losing hope. Discouragement crept in and quite a good number of them foresaw a graceful death of the whole Order!
But God wanted them to survive.
In the little town of Aylesford, about forty miles from London, lived a very holy Carmelite. His name was Simon Stock. He was the leader of the Carmelites. He tried hard to give a basic thrust to this ‘new’ religious family. But it was not easy.
Then something happened. A woman intervened. We do not know the details. Mary apparently appeared to Father Simon holding a scapular in her hand. “This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall be saved” she told him.
The Carmelites started seeing in the scapular a sign of a special and dedicated protection. An emblem of salvation. A shield in time of danger. A great favor.
This image of Mary clothing us speaks of motherhood. A mother clothes her children. And she enjoys doing it.
Let’s be real. It is good to have a mother. Yet even a good mother is limited. A mother dies. A mother cannot help us in our real problems of sadness, depression, loneliness. My mother loves me immensely but she lives thousands and thousands of miles away from me.
This is why we all need a different mother. Some one who can follow us closely in our steps. Day by day encouraging us. Sustaining us. And so we are never alone.
There is a small village in Germany which holds a passion play every ten years. All the inhabitants of the village take part in this play. There is one moving scene when Jesus is about to leave Nazareth and his mom, to start his mission of announcing the Gospel. He is now an adult, thirty years old. He thanks his mom and asks her whether he can make this departure easier in any way. She looks at him and simply tells him, ‘Yes, son, you can. I want a favor from you. Please let me be near you when you are suffering.’
Powerful statement. Powerful practicality. What she told Him, she tells to us. Let us ‘take her into our home’. Life will be different.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.