Put Out into the Deep

The Origin of Our Devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the full text of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s homily at the Healing Mass in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish, Newark, on July 18.

Over the years, our understanding of the Sacred Scriptures has changed. One fact that has remained constant is the unity of the revelation in the Old Testament and the New Testament, because it really tells us one story about God’s love for us. The New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. How true this is of our devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. This is because we see the history of this attachment to God going back to the 9th century before Christ.

We must speak, therefore, of the prophets of Mt. Carmel. Mt. Carmel, a beautiful mountain in the north of Israel, means the Garden of God. It is a special place of grace. I have visited this site myself, a high mountain overlooking a very large plain and the sea. It truly illustrates the closeness to God Elijah the prophet found, as well as his disciple Elisha. Yes, it was the place of encounter with God on this high mountain. In the First and Second Book of Kings, we see these prophets of Mt. Carmel performing one miracle after another, all meant to bring people back to the worship of the one true God. How important it was that these two prophets, one following the other, made sure that their work was always oriented to making the Word of God known through His people, so that in their worship they would never stray from a relationship to the one true God.

Each one of these prophets performed many miracles. There was one, however, that was common to both of the prophets which helps us to understand the origin of our devotion to Mary on this mountain. Each of the prophets was helped by a woman who made her house available to them in their time of need. And each woman had a son who died. And how the prophets at one time resuscitated these boys back to life. The boys were returned to their mother, obviously at the mother’s request. These mothers entreated the prophets to help them in their time of need.

St. Ephrem, a great deacon saint, tells us, “So God in His great love for us, after Christ died for our sins, brought us back to life with Christ.” The resuscitation of that boy prefigured and helped us to understand the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and why it happened. When Jesus was brought back to life, we too were brought back to new life having been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. And we too were given a mother on Calvary to intercede for us. The woman of Mt. Carmel, Mary, the one who is full of grace in the place of grace which is the Garden of God (Mt. Carmel) helps us to understand the continuity of this devotion over the many centuries.

Beginning in the 4th century after Christ, monks gathered on Mt. Carmel as the prophets of old had done because of its place of beauty and its nearness to the heavens. Already we see the devotion to Mary growing among these hermits and monks of Mt. Carmel. This continued until the 13th century when these monks, now gathered as the Order of Carmel, had to be evacuated to England because of the menace of the Mohammedan who controlled the area. As the Order of Carmel went to England, it flourished and so did devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. In an apparition to St. Simon Stock, the general of the Order, we see Mary promising her protection to those who would honor her with their prayer when they would do penance and when they would wear the scapular. The brown scapular, imitating the monk’s habit, reminds us of our particular attachment to the work of prayer in our life.

St. John Paul II, in his 2001 exhortation of the Carmelite Order said, “Therefore two truths are invoked 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 the frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

Yes, the scapular is no talisman or charm. No, it is a way of life that we live as Christians because it allows us to deepen our union with God which is the whole purpose of our life on earth because some day we are to join ourselves to that union of God in Heaven.

Another great saint of the Church, St. Josemaría Escrivá, in speaking about the devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, gave us an insight into the work of Mary. St. John Paul II reminds us that as a mother Mary clothed her children in the sign of the protection of the scapular. And St. Josemaría reminds us that Mary, as a mother, both cleans and heals her children. He said, “Besides, how maternal this Sabbatine Privilege is!” The Sabbatine Privilege reminds us that Mary promises that those who would have devotion to her, live a life of chastity according to their state in life and pray the Rosary, would be rescued from Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death if their devotion was true and real.

St. Josemaría goes on to remind us that, “If I were a leper, my mother would hug me. She would kiss my wounds without fear or hesitation. Well then, what would the Blessed Virgin Mary do? When we feel we are like lepers, all full of sores, we have to cry out: Mother! And the protection of our Mother will be like a kiss upon our wounds, which obtains our cure.”

How important is this in these days of Covid-19 when we are so concerned about the possibility of infection. I see everyone here in Church tonight wearing a mask. How important it is for us all to wear a mask to protect ourselves and others. And how even more important it is that we wear the scapular because it brings us spiritual protection. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel, beware of those who can kill the soul and not just the body. We all have had our time with this Coronavirus isolation. We recognize that our desire for the love of God has become even deeper because we have been kept from attending the Mass and receiving the Eucharist as we are accustomed. That absence has made us grow even fonder to recognize what we have lost through this pandemic.

Again, we are reminded of what Mary does for us. She feeds us. She feeds us with the Eucharist, not that she is a priest, but that Mary is the one who gave flesh and blood to Jesus Christ whose body and blood we now receive in the Eucharist. If it was not for Mary’s willingness to do God’s will, not knowing exactly what it was, we would not be able to share in this great gift of the Eucharist. How important it is that we as Christians today recognize the gifts that are ours.

Today, on this feast so dear to us, we come to the Eucharist and are fed with this body and blood of Jesus Christ, Son of the mother given to us on Calvary and venerated by us as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Today in this Eucharist as we receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, we all come asking the maternal protection of Mary and intercession for us. We know that Mary is powerful from the ages, and she is still powerful today if only we become her obedient children. As she told the servants at the wedding feast of Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.” Yes, we must be willing and ready to do what Jesus wants of us. God’s will, not our will. And there we will find the true meaning of our life. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us.

In a special way in every Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel we put out into the deep recesses of our souls, recognizing that our primary purpose in life is to develop a union with God. Without this, we cannot be prepared someday to give our lives back to God. Our union today predicts how close our union will be at the time of our death.

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