January 12, 2011

A Catechesis on the Brown Scapular

The following catechesis was prepared in 2000 under the direction of the North American prior provincials of the Carmelite Order and the Order of Discalced Carmelites as the Carmelite Family prepared to celebrate the 750 anniversary of the Brown Scapular. The draft was prepared by Father Sam Anthony Morello, OCD and Father Patrick McMahon, O.Carm. and was then submitted to the Archdiocesan authorities in Washington DC for the imprimatur of the then archbishop, Cardinal James Hickey. After several minor modifications the imprimatur was granted. The following is the revised and approved text. It was published as part of The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Catechesis and Ritual.
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is best understood in the context of our Catholic faith. It offers us a rich spiritual tradition that honors Mary as the first and foremost of her Son’s disciples. This scapular is an outward sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sister, mother and queen. It offers an effective symbol of Mary’s protection to the Order of Carmel—its members, associates, and affiliates—as they strive to fulfill their vocation as defined by the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert: “to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ.”
While Christ alone has redeemed us, the Blessed Virgin Mary has always been seen by Catholics as a loving mother and protector. The Blessed Virgin has shown her patronage over the Order of Carmel from its earliest days. This patronage and protection came to be symbolized in the scapular, the essential part of the Carmelite habit.
Stories and legends abound in Carmelite tradition about the many ways in which the Mother of God has interceded for the Order, especially in critical moments of its history. Most enduring and popular of these traditions, blessed by the Church, concerns Mary’s promise to an early Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock, that anyone who remains faithful to the Carmelite vocation until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance. The Carmelite Order has been anxious to share this patronage and protection with those who are devoted to the Mother of God and so has extended both its habit (the scapular) and affiliation to the larger Church.
Private revelation can neither add to nor detract from the Church’s deposit of faith. Therefore, the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel echoes the promise of Divine Revelation: The one who holds out to the end is the one who will see salvation (Matthew 24:13), and Remain faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a reminder to its wearers of the saving grace which Christ gained upon the cross for all: All you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in him (Galatians 3:27). There is no salvation for anyone other than that won by Christ. The Sacraments mediate this saving grace to the faithful. The sacramentals, including the scapular, do not mediate this saving grace but prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows form the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. (CC 1670)
We see, therefore, that the Church clearly teaches that all grace, including that of final perseverance, is won for us by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. Simply wearing the Brown Scapular does not confer that same result.
What is the relationship of the Carmelite Order to the Brown Scapular?
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the habit of the Carmelite Order. For the religious members of the Order it takes the form of two long, undecorated panels of brown cloth joined at the shoulders and falling, one to the front and one to the back. For the laity it takes the form of a two smaller pieces of brown or dark cloth, preferably plain, joined over the shoulder by ribbons, and falling, one to the back, the other to the front. As the Order’s habit, the scapular signifies some degree of affiliation to the Carmelites.
Six practical ways of affiliation are recognized by the Carmelite Order:
  1. the religious men and women of the Order and aggregated institutes
  2. the Secular/Lay Order (Third Order)
  3. members of public associations and confraternities of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, such as active communities of the Scapular Confraternity.
  4. Those who have been invested in the scapular, practice the Order’s spirituality, and have been granted some association with the Order.
  5. Those who wear the scapular out of devotion, practice the Order’s spirituality, but who have no formal association to the Order.
  6. Those who are committed to practice the Marian characteristics of Carmelite Spirituality but use outward forms other than the Brown Scapular to express this devotion.
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the common habit of all branches of the Carmelite Family and a sign of unity of that family. For that reason the Scapular Confraternity and similar associations of the faithful centering around this sacramental belong not to any one branch of Carmel but to the entire Carmelite family. Thus, there is only one common public association of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
If a person wears the scapular, but has no formal association to the Order, does that person still gain the benefits associated with the scapular?
A person who wears the scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order has an affiliation, loose as it may be, to the Carmelite family and so shares in the graces traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. However, simply to wear the scapular without accepting the responsibilities attached to it would be to reduce this precious sacramental to the status of a charm or good-luck piece.
What is this Carmelite spirituality that one must practice in order to have an affiliation with the Carmelite Order?
The spirituality of the Carmelite Order is one of the preeminent spiritual traditions of the Catholic Church. It is difficult to reduce this spirituality to a few sentences. One who wears the scapular should certainly reflect upon the teachings of the great Carmelite saints, three of whom are doctors of the Church.
A few basic introductory principles of Carmelite spirituality would be—
  1. frequent participation in the Mass and reception of Holy Communion;
  2. frequent reading of and meditation on the Word of God in Sacred Scripture;
  3. the regular praying of at least part of the Liturgy of the Hours;
  4. imitation of and devotion to Mary, the woman of faith who hears the Word of God and puts it into practice;
  5. the practice of the virtues, notably charity, chastity (according to one’s state of life), and obedience to the will of God.
What is the official status of the Sabbatine Privilege?
Historical research has shown that the alleged fourteenth-century appearance of the Blessed Mother to Pope John XXII is without historical foundation. As a matter of fact, in the year 1613 the Holy See determined that the decree establishing the “Sabbatine Privilege” was unfounded and the Church admonished the Carmelite Order not to preach this doctrine. Unfortunately, the Order did not always comply with this directive of the Holy See.
At the time the Carmelites were instructed to stop mentioning the “Sabbatine Privilege” the Holy See acknowledged that the faithful may devoutly believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary by her continuous intercession, merciful prayers, merits, and special protection will assist the souls of deceased brothers and sisters and members of the confraternity, especially on Saturday, the day which the church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin.
Consistent with the Catholic tradition, such favors associated with the wearing of the Brown Scapular would be meaningless without the wearers living and dying in the state of grace, observing chastity according to their state in life, and living a life of prayer and penitence. The promises traditionally tied to the scapular offer us what the Second Vatican Council says about the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “By her maternal love, Mary cares for the brothers and sisters of her Son, who still make their earthly journey surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy fatherland.”
Who may invest people with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel?
According to the Rite for the Blessing and Enrollment in the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, approved by the Holy See in 1996, any priest or deacon has the faculties for blessing the scapular. A person given authority to act in the name of the order may receive people into the confraternity of the scapular. The official ritual provided by the Holy See makes no provision for someone other than a priest or deacon to bless the scapular.
Is it necessary to enroll people in the Scapular Confraternity for them to share in the spiritual benefits attached to the scapular?
No, those who wear the scapular out of devotion, practice the Order’s spirituality, yet who have no formal association to the Order share in a spiritual affiliation to the Carmelite Order. It gives them the assurances of the graces pertinent to this sacramental. Indiscriminate enrollment in the Scapular Confraternity or other such associations weakens the purpose and mission of those associations and should be avoided.
A valuable insight from the Ecclesiastical Censor
The Ecclesiastical Censor of the Archdiocese of Washington, upon reviewing this booklet, wrote the following comment which deserves inclusion in this catechetical section.
That the Scapular is a garment, a piece of clothing, does much to make this a beloved and meaningful sacramental. Clothing is, even today, a sign of parental love and care—even when the clothing is purchased at K-Mart. How much more in Jesus’ day when mothers carded the wool, spun the thread, wove the cloth and made the clothing! There is a sign value by the very nature of clothing that precedes even the scriptural examples form the Old and New Testaments. I think this helps to make the Scapular appealing to the faithful. Our earthly mother clothes us; our heavenly Mother clothes us. Without a word of explanation we know exactly what that means.
In the years since this catechesis was approved and published several other questions keep arising regarding the Brown Scapular. Here are some of the most common.
Did our Blessed Lady appear to Saint Simon Stock and give him the Brown Scapular?
The long-standing tradition of the Church has approved this vision as an acceptable cult but that does not authenticate it as a historical experience. In fact, one must be careful to speak of any vision as a historical experience in as that supernatural phenomena are a sort of intersection between time and eternity and as such have a unique relationship to history—which always is strictly limited to events that happen in time. The most one can say historically, for example, is that at such and such an hour on such and such a day this visionary had an experience of seeing this particular phenomenon. For example, one can say that on February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous had an experience in which she perceived the Blessed Virgin standing in a grotto at Lourdes. One can speak historically of the living visionary—Bernadette—and what Bernadette experienced on that given day. It is more difficult to speak historically of the Blessed Virgin appearing because the Blessed Virgin no longer lives in a historical state, but lives in eternity. Since her dormition, Mary is beyond the realm of history. It is therefore not possible to speak historically of her apparations. One can, however, certainly speak of her apparitions when one speaks in the realm of faith or mystical experience. This is an important distinction because we do not want to reduce our religious experience to the realm of the historically verifiable. Religious experience brings us to those places in our experience where we can glimpse beyond the finite—something that history has no business doing. Religious experience puts us in, what years ago one professor of mine called “a time that is no time and a place that is no place.” When we try to reduce our faith to the historical and verifiable we rob it of the eternal and transcendent. The question then, from a historical perspective, is not whether Mary appeared to Simon Stock and gave him the scapular, but rather did Simon Stock perceive the Mother of God bestowing this sign of her protection on him and his brothers in Carmel.
Well, after that long and metaphysical discourse, the answer still is “seemingly not.” There are huge problems with the story of Simon Stock and the scapular. Father Richard Copsey, O.Carm. wrote an outstanding article, astonishingly erudite actually, for the Journal of Ecclesiastical History on this question. There are several problems. The first is the historicity of Simon himself. The second is the account of the vision.
There are few surviving documents from the 13th century that record the history of the Carmelite Order. There is an ancient tradition that is not without documentation—albeit a fourteenth century necrology that seems to depend on an older but now vanished text—that there was a thirteenth century Prior General named Simon. This is also borne out by other fourteenth century references. There is also a story—preserved in Dominican, not Carmelite sources, of a prior on Mount Carmel by the name of Simon who met Jordan of Saxony during his ill-fated voyage to the Holy Land. And there is a tomb of one Carmelite named Simon in the Cathedral of Bordeaux, a tomb that once stood in the Carmelite Church of that city, which in the Middle Ages drew many pilgrims. It is to this last that the stories of the vision seem to be originally attached. This Simon, incidentally, would have been English and not French as Bordeaux was for most of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the possession of the Kings of England and its religious houses populated by English religious. Simon the prior of Mount Carmel, Simon the thirteenth-century General of the Order, and Simon buried at Bordeaux may have all been one and the same person. But then again they may have been three individuals. Or two of the three could have been the same person. We simply do not know enough about any one of the three Simons to make a judgment. Nor is there any reason to connect Simon from Mount Carmel, or even Simon the Prior General, with the scapular vision. A late fourteenth century tradition makes some link between Simon buried in Bordeaux with the vision, but this first connection with this tradition to the Scapular vision is a century and a half after the purported event—a long time for a tradition to be continuous without written documentation to support it.
This bring us to the second problem, and that problem is the account of the vision. No one seems to know about the vision until the very end of the fourteenth century—almost a century and a half after it supposedly happened. This is extremely problematic in establishing historical accuracy. Some argue that perhaps the stories were passed down verbally and only come to be written at the close of the fourteenth century. But there are people who should have known about them—if they were historical—that have no knowledge of the vision at all. The most prominent of these is a Carmelite friar named John Hornby. At a debate at the University of Cambridge in 1375 Hornby, attacked the Dominican John Stokes, precisely over the claims the Dominicans made for having received their habit from the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to Hornby, the Carmelites, ardent supporters of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, were far more worthy of Mary’s attention than the Dominicans. The Dominicans followed the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas who denied the Immaculate Conception. Hornby says that if the Dominicans had received their habit from the Blessed Virgin, they show her little gratitude. They are, he insists “her greatest enemies” because of their denial of her Immaculate Conception. Hornby testified in his debate with Stokes to a Dominican custom of having a picture or statute of the Blessed Virgin bestowing the Dominican Scapular on the Friars Preacher in each of their houses. He never mentions any such custom concerning the Carmelite scapular vision. In fact, there are no known pictures of Mary bestowing the scapular on Carmelites from this period or earlier. Moreover Hornby seems totally ignorant of any legends concerning his fellow Englishman, Simon Stock, having received the scapular from the Blessed Virgin in the previous century. This despite the fact that he was a member of the same province—the English Province—of the Order as Simon Stock, and that he was at Cambridge, less than a hundred miles from Aylesford, the alleged site of the vision.
Hornby is not the only one who is unfamiliar with the vision. The two fourteenth century sources we have for a thirteenth-century General named Simon—the necrology of the Carmelites of Florence compiled by Giovanni Bartoli c. 1374 and the catalogue of Priors General of the Order compiled by John Grossi, Prior General of the Avignon Obedience c. 1390 mention a Prior General named Simon, but give no mention of the scapular or a Vision of the Blessed Virgin. All in all, it is not possible to say that the stories of Simon Stock receiving the Scapular from the Blessed Virgin Mary are any older than the end of the fourteenth century, a century and a half after the vision supposedly took place. This presents significant problems to the historian for the claims that a thirteenth century Carmelite claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary and received the scapular from her.
The story of the vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Pope John XXII at Avignon conferring the Sabbatine Privilege of her promise to deliver from purgatory on the Saturday following death the souls of any who died in the scapular has been shown by scholars to be based on an inauthentic papal bull forged in Sicily in the first half of the fifteenth century. Thus the Sabbatine Vision and Privilege too are without any historical foundation. Moreover, in 1603 a book containing the privileges of the Carmelite Order, including the Sabbatine privilege, was condemned by the Portuguese Inquisition. Six years later all books mentioning the Sabbatine privilege were put on the Index of Forbidden Books in Portugal. An appeal to Rome ended when the Roman authorities supported the Inquisition’s ban. The Carmelites were forbidden to preach the Sabbatine privilege—a prohibition they did not always honor—although the faithful were to be allowed to believe, with certain conditions, “that the Blessed Virgin by her continuous intercession, merciful prayers, merits and special protection will assist the souls of deceased brothers and members of the confraternity (of the Scapular), especially on Saturday, the day which the church dedicates to the Blessed Virgin.”
These visions then cannot be seen as historical events. That does not mean that they are without meaning. The belief in the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary over the Order of Carmel and its members is and has always been strong—from the first days of the Order. The scapular serves as a visible reminder of that protection despite its probable commonplace origins.
Well, what about the various statements of the Popes over the centuries about the scapular. Don’t they prove the historicity of the vision?
Frankly, no. Over the years many popes have encouraged the wearing of the Brown Scapular. Some –such as Gregory XIII, Clement VII, Pope Saint Pius V, Pope Saint Pius X, and Pope John Paul II—have repeated the stories and legends concerning Saint Simon Stock or the Sabbatine Privilege. No one has ever claimed that these statements enjoy the privilege of infallibility. They do not meet the criterion which the First Vatican Council set down for papal statements to be infallible. The statements should be considered doctrinally sound, but that doesn’t mean that they are historically accurate. Papal infallibility pertains to faith (doctrine) and morals, it does not extend to history or to the sciences. No Catholic would dispute that the scapular disposes its wearers to grace, including—hopefully—the grace of final perseverance, but we cannot say that Our Lady made any promises to Saint Simon Stock or to Pope John XXII regarding this sacramental.
Can a lay person enroll you in the scapular?
In the 1960’s the Carmelite Order sought from the Holy See permission for certain designated lay persons to enroll other members of the faithful in the Scapular Confraternity permission was granted for the Prior General of the Carmelite Order to grant this permission to certain people and under certain conditions. It was meant primarily for mission countries where so much of the pastoral work of the Church is done by Lay and Religious catechists. For a very short time, this faculty was being extended to certain lay collaborators of the Carmelites. But this permission has not been granted for many years now. There were many abuses. Some Carmelite priests thought that they could give this permission on their own authority and delegated lay people to enroll others in the Scapular Confraternity. Even some priests who were not Carmelites began authorizing others to enroll members. It became a bit of a mess. As a result this permission has not been granted for many years now. Any lay person claiming to have this faculty should be able to produce a letter from the Prior General of the Order or from one of the Priors Provincial showing that they had in fact received this authority. Of course, by current legislation, any priest or deacon has the faculty to bless scapulars and enroll the faithful in the Scapular Confraternity. The privilege of blessing scapulars has always belonged exclusively to those who have a right to confer liturgical blessings—i.e. those in the Orders of Bishop, Priest, or Deacon.
Well, what about the Blue Army—don’t they have the right to enroll people in the Scapular Confraternity?
As I said, any priest or deacon—and of course any bishop—can enroll the faithful in the Confraternity under the current legislation. Clergy acting for the Blue Army or other organizations like it can therefore enroll the faithful, but the Blue Army itself cannot grant this privilege nor can they authorize others to enroll.
Well, what is the Scapular Confraternity?
This is a key element of the problem with enrolling people indiscriminately in the Scapular. In the Middle Ages, clergy and Religious Orders often organized the faithful into confraternities—brotherhoods or sisterhoods—to help them lead a more spiritual life. Some of these confraternities performed charitable works—the famous confraternity of the Miserecordia in Florence was organized eight centuries ago to care for the sick and still runs the cities ambulance service! Other confraternities were organized as penitential brotherhoods or, more rarely, sisterhoods. They often held processions in which they went through the streets barefoot and half naked, carrying crosses, scourging themselves, and even wearing crowns of thorns. Still other confraternities—the most common type—were laudesi or praise-singers. They would meet for devotional services in the church, in which they would sing an office of hymns in the vernacular language and listen to a sermon. These confraternities were very important in the Middle Ages and many continued up until the French Revolution. A few even survive today. In fact, the various confraternities that organize the famous Holy Week Processions in Seville and other Spanish cities can often trace their origins back to these medieval confraternities.
The Mendicant Orders—Franciscans, Augustinians, Carmelites, and Dominicans—saw great value in these Confraternities. The confraternities were ways of associating the laity in the mission and ministry of their Orders. Of course the Mendicants all had their Third Orders where the laity actually became members of the Order, but not all those who wished to associate with the Orders wanted to, or were able to, make this level of commitment. The Confraternities were a way of incorporating the faithful into an affiliation to the Orders without giving them full membership. The members of the various Confraternities would meet regularly at the Church of the Order to which they were affiliated for prayers. At their meetings, they often wore a habit—most Confraternities had a habit of some sort—that was similar to the habit of the Religious Order to which they were affiliated. They would say their prayers together and receive pious instruction from the friars. They had certain rights to participate in processions and ceremonies in the friars’ churches. They usually had certain rights about being buried in the church as well, or having the friars assist at their funerals.
Most Carmelite Churches in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries would have had one or more confraternities that met there. Because of their affiliation to the Order, the members would have worn a habit similar to that of the friars. Often they wore the white cloak that marked the Carmelites as the Whitefriars—the cloak would have given them the most immediate identification. As the stories of Simon Stock’s vision and promises made to the Carmelites began to spread at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the scapular became desired badge of affiliation to the Order. The Confraternity members would have met regularly, participated in devotions together, and had a sense of identity with one another and identification with the Order.
In the eighteenth century, under the influence of the Enlightenment, many of the religious orders, including the Carmelites, were suppressed in various places in Europe. While the religious were banished, the Confraternities were often able to continue. Indeed, they often took responsibility for the churches where they met, churches that had once belonged to the various orders. Without the religious directing them, the Confraternities achieved a certain independent identity. The suppressions of Religious Orders were even more widespread after the French Revolution—and well into the nineteenth century. The Carmelites were wiped out France and all be ceased to exist in Germany, the Netherlands, and the Austrian empire. They were suppressed for several decades in Spain and Portugal. But, again, the Confraternities often continued to exist, repeating the prayers and rituals they had long practiced but without the living spirituality of the Order. The confraternities often began to spread on their own—forming new chapters. The various Carmelite confraternities practiced a devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel and usually maintained certain traditional Carmelite disciplines—such as abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays—along with Fridays of course.
Confraternities were a uniquely European phenomenon and never caught on much in the United States and Canada, though they spread—and even thrived—in Latin America. Nevertheless, among immigrant peoples in North America, the memory of the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Scapular often survived and devotion to Our Lady and the Scapular remained popular. When the Carmelites came to North America, they were often asked to enroll people in the Confraternity. The only problem is that very few actual chapters of the Confraternity were organized. People were enrolled in an organization that existed more in theory than in practice. Their names were written down and submitted to the Order, but they themselves were given little or no instruction in what was expected of them as confraternity members. There were no meetings for them to attend, no formation in Carmelite spirituality, no community to support them. As more and more non-Carmelite priests began seeking faculties to enroll people in the Scapular Confraternity this situation only became worse. Then as the practice spread of enrolling all children at the time of their first communion, the situation became hopeless. People were being “enrolled” left and right, but no records were being kept and the entire meaning of the Confraternity of the Scapular had been lost. Today there is not even an attempt to keep records of enrollment much less to provide the experience of actual confraternities in which people are guided in the spirituality of the Carmelite tradition. The scapular has all but lost its ties to the Carmelite Order and is one of the most abused sacramentals in the Church. In many ways only the Carmelites themselves are to blame for this as they allowed the devotion to spread without taking responsibility for it. In the nineteen forties and fifties they even encouraged wild stories and unfounded legends to popularize a devotion that had been gutted of its original meaning.
In the end, when all is said and done, the scapular is the Carmelite habit. Carmelite tradition declares, not so much from a vision as from the living faith of the men and women of Carmel over eight centuries, that we—the Carmelites—enjoy a special protection by the Mother of God as a sign of her love for us and her appreciation of our trust and confidence in her and our devotion to however as our model for living a life of allegiance to her Son. We Carmelites are willing—even anxious—to share this protection and favor that Mary shows us as we are anxious to share the trust and confidence we place in her and our devotion to her. A visible sign of our sharing this protection and this devotion is the scapular. It is the Carmelite Order—not the Blessed Virgin—who gives the scapular to the faithful and invites the faithful to share our charism in expectation of the graces won by Christ and bestowed on Carmel and its members through the intercession of the Mother of God. The Graces are bestowed on the Family of Carmel; the scapular is a sign of belonging in some way and to some varying degree to the family of Carmel.
The Carmelite Order—in both its observances—should seriously look at reviving the Scapular Confraternity and reorganizing it in actual chapters under the guidance of the Carmelite family to spread an authentic devotion to the Mother of God as it is expressed in our Carmelite tradition. To this end, the Order should seek to revoke permission for any but Carmelite Religious to enroll the faithful in the Confraternity and enroll only those who are committed to actual and active membership in a confraternity. Of course, one does not have to be a member of the Confraternity to wear the Brown Scapular—any member of the faithful can wear it, and to the extent that it expresses an authentic devotion to the Mother of God, any member of the faithful can expect to share in the graces and benefits to which such sacramentals dispose us.
Does the Brown scapular have to be wool?
It did at one time, it no longer does. Few Carmelite Religious use pure wool for their habits, including their scapulars, anymore because of the expense and the impracticality.
I saw a scapular without a picture of Our Lady on it. Is this authentic?
Actually, the most authentic form for the scapular is simply two pieces of undecorated brown cloth joined by ribbons for over the shoulders. The scapular of the Carmelite Religious is either totally devoid of decoration or has only a very small cross embroidered in white or red. The custom of decorating the scapular for the laity with elaborate embroidery or pictures began in the eighteenth century and has destroyed the visible (i.e. sacramental) link between the scapular of the Religious and the scapular worn by the faithful. Moreover, people confuse the picture for the scapular which is actually the pieces of cloth to which the pictures are sewn. It is better to have scapulars without decoration or with only a small cross.
What about the Scapular medal?
The Scapular medal can be worn in place of the cloth scapular for good reason but is not the preferred form—precisely because the sacramental link—the visible link—with the cloth panels of the Carmelite habit has been lost.

January 11, 2011

Welcome to Carmel...

The Spirit of Carmel Is for Everyone
At our conception, God infuses each one of us with a spark from the living flame of His own divinity, a gift of self. Through this divine sharing, we are destined to become like God. We will never be God, but as adopted children, we will all share His riches.
"We are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16). "In making these gifts, He has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the divine nature" (2 Pt. 1:4).
Although everyone carries this divine life within, the degree of awareness varies. The practice of this awareness, living in the presence of God, and the determination to follow a way of life which would foster the growth of the treasure entrusted to us are the basis of Carmelite spirituality. Mary, the living tabernacle, carried Christ physically within her womb; we emulate her spiritually: "Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Who is in you since you received Him from God" (1 Co. 6:19).
When the Christ-in-us has developed into our unique reflection of Him, it is born into eternal life. The progress of each soul during its lifetime is determined by its response to the love of God.
The spark is fed and nurtured by the sacraments, especially frequent reception of Holy Eucharist, by practicing the virtues, and by prayer. Through daily prayer, our friendship with Christ ripens into love. As spiritual love deepens and is purified, the soul is gradually transformed into the likeness (having the same qualities) of God Himself, and participates in the actual life and love relationship of the Trinity. "If anyone loves Me he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come to him, and make Our home with him" (Jn. 14:23).
The Bible and the saints have referred to this indwelling as "spiritual marriage" in an attempt to describe the powerful, transforming love that God has for each individual soul. We are all called to a close relationship with God in love, a divine intimacy, some through a particular vocation such as the religious life or the secular orders. Through our vocation we strive to follow the traditions of our parent order, living a life of prayer for the good of the Church.
In Heaven we will all be contemplatives, and we are all called in this life to some degree of contemplation. The saints were those who achieved the highest stages of transforming union within their lifetime. These states are completely dependent upon the grace of God, the soul remaining receptive and passively cooperative as He completes His work with no interference.
But in the early stages, a certain amount of effort from us is required. "You must understand that this recollection is not something supernatural, but that it is something we can desire and achieve ourselves with the help of God -for without this help we can do nothing" (
Way of Perfection 29,4). "All the harm comes from not truly understanding that He is near, but in imagining Him as far away" (Way of Perfection 29,5).
It is very significant for our spiritual life that Jesus always asked for some small effort from His followers before He performed His miracles. The blind man was told to wash in the pool before he could see, the loaves and fishes had to be brought to Jesus before He fed the multitude, and at Cana, the earthen vessels had to be filled with water, which was turned into wine. God does not transform the world or individual souls through miracles alone. He expects our cooperation. He only asks for works that are possible for everyone-small deeds done with great love. The very simplicity of the deed itself is part of our humbling experience. We are made fully aware that it is not our insignificant actions, but the power of God that is at work in us and in the world.
To be filled with clear water, our earthen vessels must first be hollowed out and emptied through prayer, suffering, and practicing the virtues. We then wait lovingly in the presence of God till, with a glance, He turns the water of our tears into the wine of His love. "Lord you have kept the best wine till now" (Jn. 2:10).
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so even if it is determined within the course of your formation period that you do not have a vocation to the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order, any progress, even the beginning steps on your lifetime journey to union with divine love, is of infinite value. "The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’. Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come’. Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free" (Rv. 17).
The Carmelite Charism
The charisms of the various religious orders were entrusted by God to their respective founders after He had prepared them spiritually to receive these graces for the good of the Church and all mankind. These saints were like the founders of dynasties, leaving a spiritual inheritance to be used through the centuries by those who followed. The members of these religious families are enabled in a special way, through their vocation, to draw on these inheritances; but in a larger sense, through the Church the charisms and graces, as well as the examples and teaching of all of the saints, belong to
everyone. "We are all His children" (Acts 17:28).
The spirits of the religious orders are like fine perfumes. They all have a delightful fragrance, but there is a difference, even though subtle. They all reflect something of the beauty, richness, and diversity of God, just as individual souls do. To recognize the spirit of Carmel, it is necessary to immerse yourself in its heritage and traditions, its saints and their writings. When this distinctive essence is absorbed interiorly, the individual soul then lives the ancient traditions in its own unique way, re-interpreted for today's world, just as the writings of the saints of Carmel have been translated recently for greater understanding. A French philosopher has cautioned: "If you don't live the way that you believe, then you will begin to believe the way that you live."
Carmel Is the Desert
Inner restlessness is part of the human condition. "Our hearts were made for Thee, 0 Lord, and they will be restless until they rest in Thee" (St. Augustine). When our body gives us a warning signal we do something about it. When Christ signals us from within, we should give Him our attention. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" (Rv. 3:20).
The Spirit within us yearns to return to its source, our Father. Many people are confused by these inner longings and try to escape through constant noise and activity. In today’s world, suicide has even become a frequent means of escape. People often do not realize that their anguish is in the spirit, and that the death of the body will not eliminate their suffering, because the spirit, like God, is infinite. Some people hope that another person will alleviate their longing, and may enter marriage expecting more from their partner than they should, blaming their partner when the inner restlessness returns. But the deepest part of our selves is reserved for God alone. "Even at home, I am homesick" (Chesterton).
Carmel teaches us not to run from these stirrings, but rather to go into the "desert" and face them. A desert place is where we leave all nonessentials behind and spend time in silence and solitude with our divine friend within. Through daily meditation, our friendship with Christ develops into love. All love relationships, if they are to grow, need time devoted entirely to each other. "That is why I am going to lure her. I will allure her. I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. . . . I will make a covenant. I will espouse you to Me forever. I will espouse you in love and mercy. I will espouse you in fidelity and you shall know [experience] the Lord" (Ho. 2:16). "Be still, and know *experience+ that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).
We then strive to carry the spirit of the desert, the interior silence and solitude, the sense of the presence of God, throughout our busy days. Carmel does not emphasize one apostolate, but embraces all apostolates, God’s love now influencing all of our activities. "When the active works rise from this, interior root, they become lovely and very fragrant flowers for they proceed from this tree of God’s love and are done for Him alone, without any self-interest. The fragrance from these flowers spreads to the benefit of many" (St. Teresa,
Meditations on the Song of Songs, 7.3).
Carmel is a way of life that fosters an ever-increasing awareness of being united with God in the depths of our being while leading ordinary lives in the world. The Holy Family at Nazareth is the perfect model. Carmel is a way of spirituality that is possible for people in every walk of life. "See, I am doing a new. deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it? Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness, paths in the wilds" (Is. 43:19). "They have found pardon in the wilderness.... I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my affection for you" (Jer. 31:2).

Carmel is solitude but it is also community. The Trinity was the first community. Mary, the first Christian, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, together with the Apostles who had been filled with the Spirit, drew others into the community of the early Church. The Spirit moves within a community. "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20). "By this love you have for one another, everyone will know you are My disciples" (Jn. 13:34).
Carmel Is Prophetic
A prophet means a witness. The Prophet Elijah was aware of the divine life within him and his life was a witness to this living God: "The Lord of Hosts lives, before Whose face I stand" (3 K. 17:1). "The message ‘My life is consecrated to the glory of God’ has in fact become the characteristic of our tradition and of our spiritual attitude. Furthermore, the prophetic spirit belongs to the spirit of Carmel, that is, Carmel bears witness without compromise to the transcendence of God. This is in fact the real meaning of ‘prophetic’. In the truest sense, Carmel is prophetic because it stands for the super-eminence of the life of intimacy with God and in this sense we can consider St. Elijah as our patron and model" (Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D,
A History of the Teresian Carmel).
Before his encounter with God, Elijah had to first experience fully the depths of his weakness and helplessness as part of the purification process. It is one thing to admit our weakness with our intellect; it is another thing entirely to experience it. Elijah was a man like ourselves and became ready to give up. Hiding in fear he cried to God: "Yahweh, I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors" (1 K. 19:4).
Our weakness draws God to us just as a helpless infant draws the attention of all of the adults around him. The parent runs to the child most in need. When we are aware of our nothingness and emptiness, we are ready to admit our need of God and to be filled by Him. Elijah waited for God in silence and solitude. "He went into the cave and spent the night in it.... And after the fire came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak" (1 K. 19:9-12).
The Spirit of Carmel moves down through the Old Testament into the New Testament, in the person of John the Baptist. In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, it is written: "Know that I am going to send you Elijah the Prophet before My day comes."
When questioned about this by His disciples, Jesus answered: "True, Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already [the Spirit of Carmel] and they did not recognize him. The disciples understood then that He had been speaking of John the Baptist" (Mt. 17:12).
"With the spirit and power of Elijah, he *John the Baptist+ will go before Him to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for Him" (Lk. 1:17).

John the Baptist lived the Spirit of Carmel in the desert as a hermit. Through his asceticism and prayer, in silence and solitude, he was gradually prepared for his encounter with Christ. It was his spiritual preparation that enabled John to recognize Christ, for God comes to us in ordinary ways. "John was a lamp alight and shining" (Jn. 5:35). Through John’s light we are able to see God approaching in human form, when the rest of the crowd saw only a man like themselves.
"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire" (Mt. 3:12). As the Spirit of Carmel had to come before Christ in the person of John the Baptist, it comes to each soul to help prepare the way interiorly for His coming. By increasing our spiritual awareness, it helps us to recognize Him in ourselves, others, and the ordinary events of our lives. The behavior of the people described in the Gospels is repeated through the centuries. Human beings are still the same. At different stages in our lives we see ourselves as sinners like Dismas or Mary Magdalen, doubters like Thomas, denying Christ as Peter did, and fearful and weak like the Apostles. But we are also the strengthened Apostles, the repentant sinners like Mary, as we sit at the Master’s feet gazing in living contemplation. We agonize with Jesus in the garden, fall many times beneath our burdens, and die to ourselves, to be united with Him in love. Through this transforming union we are brought to fullness of life and our divine potential-the joy and power of the Resurrection. As fire transforms into itself everything that it touches, we become living flames of love.
After his interior preparation, John received the grace of spiritual marriage. "The bride *the soul] is only for the Bridegroom [Christ] and yet the Bridegroom’s friend, *John+ who stands there and listens, is glad when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. This same joy I feel, and now it is complete" (Jn. 3:29). "My Beloved is mine and I am His" (Sg. 2:16).
Carmel Is a School of Prayer
"When you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father Who is in that secret place" (Mt. 6:6). "Make your home in Me as I make Mine in you" (Jn. 15:4). The Teresian Carmelite way of prayer stresses interior communion, an intimate friendship with "Him by Whom we know we are loved." St. Teresa of Avila writes in her
Way of Perfection: "I would like to know a way of explaining how this holy fellowship with our Companion, the Saint of saints, may be experienced without any hindrance to the solitude enjoyed between the soul and its Spouse when the soul desires to enter this paradise within itself, to be with its God and close the door to all the world" (29, 4).
Friends and acquaintances often engage in a lot of "small talk", but when two people have a deep love for each other, it is enough to just be together in silence, sensing the other’s presence. There is no need for words because there are no words. "The love of silence leads to the silence of love" (Elizabeth of the Trinity).
"I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was BURNING WITH LOVE. I understood it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES ... IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL! Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: 0 Jesus, my Love ... my vocation, at last I have found it ... MY VOCATION IS LOVE!" (St. Thérèse of Lisieux in
Story of a Soul trans. Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D, p. 194).
The world of the spirit is not bound by the laws of time or space any more than it is bound by the law of gravity. The saints were like time travelers who, through the vehicle of God’s grace, moved through time into eternity and returned to chart spiritual directions for those who were to journey after them. Like our earthly travels, no two trips are alike. The road is the same, and the landmarks are the same, but the experiences along the way are different for each soul.
It is reassuring to know that we have the teachings and traditions of the Church, and the ancient heritage of Carmel, to keep us on the right path, for God often draws us to Himself in "a cloud of unknowing," and asks us to take the first steps to Him in faith. Many souls are searching for a deeper spirituality, but are not clear in their minds how God is leading them. It is a lifetime journey, and He reveals His plans one step at a time. If we learn to "listen with our hearts" we gradually come to know God’s will for us. In silent, expectant waiting, we try to learn God’s plan, not convince Him of ours. "Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet like a child in its mother’s arms" (Ps. 131:2). "I sleep but my heart watches" (Sg. 5:2).
Some people give up daily meditation because they "do not get anything out of it." Real love is giving, not getting. We give God the gift of our time daily, unconditionally, to do with as He wishes. "I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on" (Mk. 12:43).
We are all busy and our time is precious. Something valuable to us is the only thing worth offering to God, so we give from "the little that we have to live on." We should not fit into our spare time like a hobby, but must rearrange our pi ties. "The important thing is not to think much but to love much"
(Interior Castle IV, 1, 7).
Carmel is Simple
"I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 18:3). Children are accepting; they do not judge by outward appearances. In fact, they do not judge. They are free spirits unencumbered by possessions. They are not concerned about their age, or impressing the neighbors. Adults, to save time, learned how to do two or three things simultaneously, being adept at such things as drinking a cup of coffee, smoke cigarette, and talking on the phone, while keeping one eye on the TV. Children are completely absorbed in one thing time, able to live fully in the present moment. They arena contemplatives, watching for hours as clouds drift across sky and change shapes, or as ants carry grains of sand for anthill. Children are not worried that they may be "wasting time."

They are able to enjoy simple things, and have a sense of wonder at the beauty of creation. As writers reflect some of themselves in their books the world reflects its Creator. St. Francis of Assisi, in his Canticle to the Sun, felt that he was one with nature because he was one with God. St. John of the Cross sensed the presence of God all around him, and moved by it: "My Beloved is the mountains, And lonely we valleys, Strange islands, And resounding rivers, The whistling of love-stirring breezes, The tranquil night at the time of the rising dawn, Silent music, Sounding solitude, The supper refreshes, and deepens love" (Spiritual Canticle, in the
Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D, and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D.). "The poetry mysticism of St. John of the Cross are dedicated not only to a personal God, but to His sensible presence, perceptible to each of us. This presence animates the entire world created for man" (Edith Stein, by Henry Bordeaux).
Children’s treasures are simple, a colored leaf or pretty rock, but children would give their most valued possession to one they love, for the nature of love is to give. They are not concerned that they are picking "only weeds," but bring buttercups and dandelions to their mother who treasures them. Children love God without first presenting information to the intellect for a rational explanation. Bishop Sheen once said that we will never reach God with the intellect, for there are boundaries to our knowledge, but love, like God, is infinite. Love goes beyond itself; it transcends. It is a force that propels our hearts toward God. At the sight of his risen Lord on the shore, the Apostle Peter, under an impulse of love, threw himself into the water, he was so impatient to reach Him. "The heart rears wings bolder and bolder, And hurls for Him, 0 half hurls earth for Him off under his feet" (Gerard Manley Hopkins).
Some people are afraid to let other people get close to them, are afraid to get involved. To care is to make us vulnerable, to risk getting hurt. But like David facing Goliath, we must be trusting enough to lay aside our armor of defensiveness. At a Carmelite Congress, Fr. Anthony Morello O.C.D told us in one of his conferences: "If you cannot be intimate with another human being, you cannot be intimate with God."
The saints were able to highlight points of the Gospels, thus bringing them into focus for the rest of us. St. Thérése emphasized the "little way of spiritual childhood." She reminded us, like St. Teresa of Avila before her, that God does not ask for great works from us, but only for great love. "Let the little ones come to me, it is -to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs" (Mt. 19:14).
Children have a sense of humor. Humor comes from the same root word as humility. Proud people are not able to laugh at themselves, or the humor of their situation. While attending a retreat at Peterborough, N.H., we were told by Fr. Brian Hennigan, O.C.D: "Laughter is for those who are free, not imprisoned by institutions or conventions. The martyrs were the great humorists, the clowns." "Here we are, fools for the sake of Christ" (1 Co. 4:10). "The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God" (1 Co. 3:18).
In the business world we may need certain qualities, but they must be left behind as we come before God like trusting children, letting the little child in each of us lead us to the Father. "The calf and lion cub feed together, and a little child shall lead them" (Is. 11:6).

Carmel Is Love
If we sincerely want to change the world, we have to start with ourselves, from the inside out. The strongest man is the one who has conquered himself.
Carmel is a way of life that heightens our spiritual awareness and enlarges our hearts through love. Heaven means "expansion." The more we love, the more we are capable of love. The command that Jesus left us sounds simple and easy when we read it, but it loses something in the translation when we try to put it into practice: "Love one another, as I have loved you" (Jn. 15:12). This is not a selfish love concerned with getting something, or whether the other person deserves our love. God loves us unconditionally. We must allow God’s selfless love to grow and develop within us, and control and restrict our self-centeredness. "He must increase, I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). "I live now not I, but Christ lives in me" (Ga. 2:20).
As John the Baptist recognized divinity looking out through human eyes, we begin to see Him in all of our brothers and sisters - and live accordingly. "A man who does not love the brother that he can see, cannot love God Whom he has never seen" (Jn. 5:20). "We shall be like Him" (1 Jn. 3:2).
The more aware we are of the God within us, the more we are aware that He is in everyone else. We begin to see past the "outer wrapping" to the gift inside that is the real treasure. We experience the oneness of all humanity as children of God, our Father, caring and concerned for the rights of all. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her nuns rescue the sick and dying from the sidewalks of India because they see Christ in His distressing disguise of the poor. "I tell you solemnly, insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to Me" (Mt. 25:40).
The Beatific Vision will not consist solely of gazing on God for our own enjoyment, but sharing the God-vision, seeing through the eyes of the Beloved the many unique reflections of the Godhead, and loving them as He does. Our heavenly existence has its beginnings on earth. "Life is the childhood of our eternity" (Goethe).
Like the many-faceted mirrored globe that revolves on the ceiling of many parties and dances, flashing back every color of the rainbow from the single light source, countless souls through history reflect something of the grandeur of God. As the father of a large family is not content until all of his children are home, our heavenly Father is the same. "So dear a son to Me, a child so favored, that after each threat of mine I must still remember him, still be deeply moved for him, and let my tenderness yearn over him" (Jer. 31:20). "It is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost" (Jn. 6:39).
Love is forgiving. The teaching of Jesus to forgive our enemies is, at the same time, beneficial to ourselves. When people carry a grudge, the resentment smoulders within them, often bothering them more than the person it is aimed at, for the other person may not even be aware that there is a problem. In practicing detachment, we should first eliminate the unkind words, the uncharitable thoughts and acts that we cling to. "What goes into the mouth does not make a man unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes him unclean" (Mt. 15:11). When we plan on "getting back at someone", or we constantly criticize and talk about people, we cause unrest not only in ourselves, but in others when we should be instruments of peace. "Be kind, be kind, and you will be saints" (Pope John XXIII). "Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Mt. 11:29). "When He appears a second time it will not be to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for Him" (Heb. 9:28).
The world is troubled about the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. "When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed, this is something that must happen, but the end will not be yet. For nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes here and there; there will be famines. This is the beginning of the birth pangs" (Mk. 13:7). "He overpowered the dragon, that primeval serpent which is the devil and Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years" (Rv. 20:2).
The final battle is between the forces of good and evil. Through the communion of saints we are communicating with all the souls who have achieved their birth into eternal life and are now participating in the divine nature, loving with God's own powerful, all-embracing love. They are concerned for us as younger brothers and sisters, for they love as the Father loves. As we learn to allow God’s will to surface more and more within us, we are tapping this power, drawing on this energy. The growing love of billions of souls on earth, joining with the perfected love of countless souls transformed in God, is an unconquerable force. God is Love, and Love conquers all.
"In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph" (Fatima message) "I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!" (Lk. 12:49). The beams of light and love radiate through our souls and outward to the world, to bring God’s healing power to earth. "I will pour out my spirit on all mankind" (Jl. 3:28).
In order for the spiritual to operate in the physical world we must cooperate. God respects the freedom He gave us. At Christmas time a father may give his child money to buy the parents a gift. The child is happy to be able to give something to express his love. The parents are touched by the gift, and do not consider that they gave the child the money in the first place, but if the child kept the money for himself, the parents would not be pleased. God has given us free will, and He does not take it back, but given generously, it is an expression of our love. Love is a commitment of the will. "0 my Sisters, what strength lies in this gift *of the will+! It does nothing less, when accompanied by the necessary determination, than draw the Almighty so that He becomes one with our lowliness, transforms us into Himself, and effects a union of the Creator with the creature"
(Way of Perfection, 33, 11).
God awaited Mary’s consent that she would become the Mother of Jesus. Even though she did not entirely understand, she took the first steps in faith, and surrendered her will completely through her "fiat": "Be it done unto me according to Thy word" (Lk. 1:39).
As we surrender our will to His, God is able to use us as His instruments. We become more supple and flexible in His hands. "As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in Mine" (Jer. 18:6). "It is written in the prophets: They will all be taught by God" (Jn. 6:45).
"Prepare in the wilderness a way for Yahweh. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert, then the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it" (Is. 40:1). "I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband" (Rv. 21:2).
The new Jerusalem is not a geographical place but a spiritual kingdom, a state of being. Each soul is a bride to Christ. "For now your Creator will be your husband" (Is. 54:5). "Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the One Who built you wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you" (Is. 62:5).
The new Jerusalem is each soul individually, and the Church and all mankind collectively. "Jerusalem the holy city, coming down from God out of heaven. It had all the radiant glory of God and glittered like some precious jewel of crystal-clear diamond.... The foundations of the city wall were faced with all kinds of precious stone" (Rv. 21:10, 19).
Like the ants each carrying their grain of sand, we all have a stone to contribute of varied color and brilliance. St. Teresa writes in her
Interior Castle: "We consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places" (1, 1). "Insofar as I can understand, the door of entry to this castle is prayer and reflection" (1, 7).
"You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make His home among them; they shall be His people, and He will be their God; His name is God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone" (Rv. 21:3). "I saw a new heaven and a new earth" (Rv. 21:1),
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done!
Peggy Wilkinson, OCDS

Discussion points for Welcome to Carmel.
What does the Indwelling mean?
Why did Jesus ask for some effort before He performed miracles?
What charisms do you know for various religious orders? Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits?
Why is the desert imagery helpful?
What is the prophetic character of Carmel?
What is the main characteristic of Teresian Carmelite prayer?
Why is childlike simplicity appropriate for Carmelites?
Will you love God more if you give up all your friends?
What are some effects of giving our will to God?

January 10, 2011

Devotion to the Church: The Discalced Carmelite’s Mission

St. Teresa ended her life saying, “I am a daughter of the Church.” The Second Vatican Council has defined the Church in a new way in teaching us that “the Church is the People of God, made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Carmel’s devotion to the Church, therefore, needs to be thought through anew in the light of this new teaching which we find in the central document of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium. (the Church as the Light of the World, n. 1).

Let us begin to deepen our understanding of the Church by recalling what Jesus taught us about the nature and life of the Church in St. John's Gospel. It is in chapters 13-21 that John tells us how the Church took birth in the paschal mystery of the Lord. Our prayer-life, our knowledge of God (Jn. 17:3), is our growth in the paschal mystery. Chapter 13 is the story of Christ’s service and teaching to the Apostles after the Last Supper. Chapter 14 is an introduction to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the new paraclete. Chapter 15, on the vine and the branches, is Christ’s own parable on the kind of life, the kind of love, and the kind of friendliness that will be the single outstanding mark of His followers in the new people of God. Chapter 16 is a fuller understanding of the role of the Spirit as guide and witness to the members of the Church, and to the world .at large, when Christ will have left the scene. Chapter 17 is Jesus’ priestly prayer for the unity of the Church, and then 18 and 19 are the story of His supreme “hour” when He established the Church in His blood, shed for us in redeeming us all from the powers of evil, of Satan, of division, and of manipulation by the likes of Pilate and the high priests of the Jews. Chapter 20 is the story of the return of Jesus after His resurrection, in glory and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to forgive sins, to revive faith and hope, and to tell the whole world, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” -the last beatitude of Christ. Chapter 21 is an addition, after the death of John, about leadership in the Church. Let us take the salient points of this doctrine on the Church.
The Church in the Paschal Mystery of Christ

I Jesus identified Himself with His church community (Jn. 15: 1-6). What brings the church communities into being is His paschal mystery:
1) in Baptism, those bathed in His mystery inherit eternal life;
2) His greatest gift to His Church is the divine indwelling;
3) His faithful disciples will enjoy an intimate awareness of the presence of Jesus;
4) and enjoy the fullness of union in the vision of God;
5) the primary duty of the disciple is to love as Jesus loved, i.e. in obedience to the Father, even unto death.
II Disciples “bear fruit” by loving one another and drawing others into this love. (Jn. 15:7-25) 2
1) To be persecuted for Christ’s sake is to share in His passion and its mysterious knowledge. “The purest understanding follows the purest suffering” (St. John of the Cross).
2) The faith of Jesus gathers together warm affection, loyal justice, humble service and contemplative insight into that love of the Father which is deeper than all its expressions.
3) The love of Jesus Christ is the motive power of discipleship.
III The Paraclete is one with us, so He can be of assistance to us (Jn. 14:15-18, 26; 15:26-16:33). The Spirit of Jesus is the spirit of both contemplative prayer and community relationships; indeed, the Holy Spirit is the subsistent relationship of the Father and the Son (St. Thomas Aquinas). He is the bond uniting us to Christ and one another. Therefore,
1) Everything which is said of the Spirit is said also of Jesus.
2) The Spirit is to be everything to the disciples after the Ascension that Christ was to them before.
3) When the Church is disturbed from within, the Spirit acts as a guide; as in the time of Teresa, so also in our own time.
4) When the Church is persecuted from without, the Spirit acts as the Witness to: the justice of Christ’s claims and the injustice of the world’s, through the persecuted members of Christ (Stephen, witnessing to Saul); the sin of unbelief, which is sin par excellence in John; the victory of justice, the judgment of the world by Christ, conquering the prince of this world; the power of the justice of God, stronger than death, harder than hell, and a bond of unity springing from the strong unity of the Father and the Son (Jn. 17).
5) The Holy Spirit also guides the Church as we probe the deeper meaning of Christ’s teaching.
IV The prayer of Jesus (Jn. 17) is the model of prayer for, with, and in the Church. “It is the most extraordinary of prayers, profound in feeling, yet greater than human in mystery and power.... This prayer lifts time into eternity, for it is the prayer of Jesus being lifted up, drawing all men to himself and uniting them to the Father. It springs from the human heart of God.” It is his paschal prayer (Journey, vol. 33, p. 22).
Unlike the Our Father, this prayer dwells on the period of time before the end, the eschatological times. In St. John, the last times are present now in Christ’s paschal mystery. This prayer is effective because Christ is always heard; it is a promise of unity, love, and brotherhood to the Church; and it is an exhortation to us to be faithful to our calling as disciples, pray-ers, and apostles of Christian unity.
Jesus prays for himself (17:1-8), Jesus prays for the disciples at table with him (17:9-19), Jesus prays for us, and for every succeeding generation of disciples (17:20-26).
What does Teresa add to the traditional doctrine of the Church? She accepts it as a dutiful “daughter of the Church”, and she seeks for her sons and daughters to be zealous for the interior and exterior mission of the Church. The interior mission -“for if your prayers, fasts and mortifications are not for the spread of the Church and particularly for the sanctification of priests and theologians, the captains of the Church, know that you are not fulfilling the call to Carmel which God gave to you,” she says in the Way of Perfection.
And what does God require of those whom He leads in deepening their prayer-life in the Intertior Castle? “It is works, my daughters, the combination of the work and prayer of Martha and Mary, of the active and contemplative lives.” This is the goal of our prayer, the spread of the grace of the Church.
What Does This Mean for Secular Carmelites?
It seems to me that, since most of you are married couples, and all of us are members of the Carmelite community that is characterized by a family spirit, we need to realize that our families are the domestic Church, the basic unit of the mystical body of Christ. The Church is as strong as our families. And one thing that St. Teresa insisted on, which we would do well to revive today, is the spirit of care and healing the wounds of our families and the church at large. Practicality is one of the characteristics of Teresa’s doctrine. Practical devotion to the Church consists in each one of us respecting our proper places in the Church: the husband as the head of the family, the wife as the heart, and children as the beloved but obedient children of the family as Teresa was a beloved but obedient child of Holy Mother the Church. Faith in the authority of the Church was what Teresa proposed. It is the guiding light of her teaching and of that of John of the Cross.
I think that we also have an external witness to bear to the whole Church that we respect the authority of our Holy Father the Pope, our Bishop, and our properly authorized priests and ministers. Proper subordination to the authority of the Church, in a caring, cherishing, curing community will go a long way toward healing the divisions of the Church today.
Cardinal Newman said that the layman and woman have always been the measure of the vitality of the Church; as secular Carmelites, you can possibly do more to provide unity in our local churches. Especially give an example of brotherhood. “If your brother has anything against you, go to him and point out his fault, but keep it between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Mt. 18:15). The brotherhood of Christians can be, as in the time of Christ, the single greatest evidence of the love of God in our communities.
What Would Teresa Do If She Were a Carmelite Today?
I have often asked myself that question. My answers are only my personal opinions, but I give them to you as thought-starters:
1. I think she would see that the people of God in the United States had a thoroughly American spirituality, as she developed a spirituality proper to the Hispanic culture of her times, prac-tical and mystical, prayerful and active, humble and yet tenaciously true to her Carmelite identity.
2. I think she would be thoroughly interested in the mission of the Order in the Church today. Father General has written the friars a pastoral letter in this vein. I believe that the cure for atheism is contemplation, deep, practical and thoroughly applied to the whole human race. The reality of God is caught, not taught, and by men and women who live His life, not by those who mouth His words. Teresa put it: “teach more by works than by words.” Let us follow her lead. Point to the reality of the living God; unveil His presence to our waiting world by lives full of love and friendship; and such lives are only lived by a deep spirit of union with the Father.
3. Act as good shepherds of your own domestic churches, and aid in the shepherding function of the local churches where you belong. That means to care about our people; to cure our people of their sicknesses, spiritual and physical; to cherish our people, many of whom need special kinds of cherishing, particularly in your own families.
And protect your people. So many lies are rampant today, so many divisions, which are lies lived out; so much rancor and opposition and accusation of the brothers. The father of lies and the accuser of the brothers is having a field day. Protect our people from these insidious traps and occasions of spiritual damage.
Denis Read O.C.D
Discussion points for Devotion to the Church: the Discalced Carmelite's Mission
What were Teresa's dying words?
What is the understanding of the church presented in Lumen Gentium?
What is the role of the Spirit before Jesus’ death and resurrection?
What is the Spirit’s role today?
What is the interior mission of the Church?
According to Teresa’s writing in the Interior Castle, what does God require of these He leads into deeper prayer lives?
Why is faith in the authority of the church the “guiding light of Teresa’s teaching and that of John of the Cross”?
Give some examples of Teresa’s practicality.
Why is it more important to teach by works than by words? How does this apply to our prayer lives?