My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a well-celebrated event not only in our Mount Carmel parish in Williamsburg, but also in several others parishes in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.
Most especially, the feast is celebrated in the Carmelite Monastery on Highland Boulevard in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn. Many times, I have been asked why the Italian people are so dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Perhaps this might be a plausible explanation: the Port of Naples is the place where most people from Southern Italy left their homeland for the United States. The huge Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is located adjacent to the port where most had to embark for what was in those days a treacherous trip to America. As the ship sailed away, that steeple was the last church that they could see. Most emigrants certainly visited this church before they boarded the ship asking for the protection of Our Lady, who is also known as the Star of the Sea. That devotion came with them to the United States, and so many churches which were established by Italian immigrants were named after Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
This history of Our Lady of Mount Carmel goes back centuries. Almost 770 years ago, the scapular was bestowed to Saint Simon Stock in an apparition of Our Lady. The Carmelite Order has been entrusted with this special sign of Mary’s protection. The order itself traces its origins well beyond modern times to the prophets who followed Elijah to Mount Carmel and who lived there as hermits. Mount Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the modern Israeli city of Haifa, is a place sacred both to the people of the New and Old Covenants.
In 2001, St. John Paul II issued a message to those devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Carmelite Order entitled, “The Scapular: A ‘Habit’ of Marian Spirituality.” In this short letter, he outlines true devotion to Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is a truly inspiring document that succinctly brings together true understanding of Marian devotion as a means to union with God and particularly to Mary’s son, Jesus Christ.
The Order of Carmel has been the nurturing place of many contemplatives and mystics: Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Therese of Lisieux, as well as in our modern times, Saint Edith Stein. John Paul II wrote, “Thus an intimacy of spiritual relations has blossomed, leading to an ever-increasing communion with Christ and Mary. For the members of the Carmelite family, Mary the Virgin Mother of God and mankind, is not only a model to imitate, but also the sweet presence of a Mother and Sister in whom to confide.”
My own devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is expressed in my coat of arms on which appears the triangle symbolic of Mount Carmel and three stars representing the prophets Elijah and Elisha, as well as the star on top of the mountain representing the Blessed Mother.
Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, truly shows herself as a mother who cares for her children. For my own episcopal title, I chose the words of Jesus from the cross, “Behold Your Mother,” in which He gave Mary, His mother, to John and to each and every Christian who would follow. I can find no better way to deepen our union with God than by seeking the assistance of Mary, our Mother and Sister, in our pilgrimage of life.
St. John Paul II continued his brief 2001 exaltation to the Carmelite Order by saying, “Therefore, two truths are evoked by the sign of the scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only in life’s journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other hand, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honor on certain occasions, but must become a ‘habit’ – that is, a permanent orientation of one’s own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”
The scapular is a habit of Marian spirituality. The Pope concluded his personal reflection by saying, “I, too, have worn the scapular of Carmel over my heart for a long time!”
In his own motto as pope, “Totus Tuus, All Through You,” he indicates the teaching of Saint Louis de Montfort that all of our life’s work and prayer must be placed in God’s hands through Mary’s intercession.
The Sabbatine Privilege is sometimes a misunderstood part of the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, because Mary promised that those who would wear a brown scapular, recite the Rosary daily and live a life of purity as dictated by their state of life, would not suffer long in Purgatory because on the first Saturday after their death Mary would rescue them from the fires of Purgatory.
The concept of Purgatory is sometimes also misunderstood. It is a time of purification and prepares us for our final contemplation of the Beatific Vision for all eternity. Fire is a symbol of purification and longing when we are separated from God. Mary, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Carmel, promises that those devoted to her receive the special privilege, one that makes sense since the requirements are not in any way superstitious but rather solid spiritual advice.
Every procession in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel truly is an exercise in putting out into the deep understanding of our relationship to God in the pilgrimage of our life. Each day, we draw ever closer to our union with God. It is not easy to keep this in mind every day. However, when we honor Mary, our Mother, we find it easier to look forward to the day when Mary welcomes us and introduces us to her Son, Jesus, because we have kept true devotion to her.