My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, offered us a reflection on the Coronavirus pandemic in his book, “Let Us Dream; A Path to The Future.” As he began the book, Pope Francis said, “The question is whether you are going to come through this crisis and if so, how? The basic rule of a crisis is that you do not come out of it the same. If you get through it, you come out better or worse, but never the same.”
I believe this is the question for us to consider today as we come to celebrate this Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Last year, our feast was rather subdued, and very few people were able to participate in the usual festivities. This year, however, as this pandemic is waning we are here in greater numbers. We are all thankful and happy that we have survived the virus. The questions for us are; will we be better, will we stay the same, or have we gotten worse?
Yes, as devoted children of Mary, we pledge to live a better life, a life that in thanksgiving we have been spared the worst of this pandemic, at least ourselves. Tonight, we mourn those lost to the virus, many of those whom we do not even know. The world has suffered much during this past year. Suffering, however, can bring us to a better place.
The Second Vatican Council, in its decree on The Church as Light of the World (Lumen gentium), said this about Mary: “Truly, by her maternal charity Mary cares for the brethren of her Son who will journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties until such time as they are let into the eternal happiness of their home- land…” Yes, it is a mother’s love that can teach us to become better. It is truly a mother’s love that we experience in our devotion to Mary.
All of us need our mothers. We needed our mothers when we were born, and as long as God allowed us to have our mother with us on earth. If we still have our mother with us, we give thanks to God for her being with us. But there never is a time when we can do without Mary, our Heavenly Mother.
What does a mother do for us? Perhaps, in this way, we can understand the maternal love Mary has for each of us. First, a mother is responsible for keeping her child clean. Many mothers are truly meticulous in making sure their child never touches any dirt, which is never an easy task. In the modern world, Pampers or disposable diapers have replaced cloth diapers. At one time, cloth diapers needed to be cleaned and washed in the home by the mother.
Or, if one was lucky enough to be able to do so, sent them out to a diaper service and received back clean diapers. I remember from my youth when a cousin of mine decided to play in the newly tarred street. She was covered with tar from head to toe. I wondered if she would ever be clean again. But that day my aunt took her child to the bath-tub. Who knows for how long and what she used to clean my cousin, but she emerged from the bathroom perfectly clean again! As a saint once said, “there is no child so dirty that their mother cannot make them clean again.”
And so it is with Mary. Mary is the one who provides for us the initiative of grace so that we can repent for our sins. And when we repent, we receive the remission of our sins, especially in the sacrament of penance. Mary leads us to that grace because truly Mary is our mother.
Secondly, mothers clothe their children. I am sure that mothers go through great expense to give their children the best of clothes, the best they can afford, and sometimes even more than they can afford. Mothers want their children to look their best so that they can be proud of them and they of themselves.
And so it is with Mary, our Heavenly Mother. Mary made a promise to her chil- dren. If they clothe themselves in her scapular (the scapular which was prefigured when Elijah the prophet of Mt. Carmel being taken into Heaven in a whirlwind, dropped his mantle to Elisha his successor, so that he would be filled with the seven-fold spirit Elisha prayed for when God asked him what he needed). Mary becomes the fulfillment of that promise.
When she appeared to St. Simon Stock, the master of the Order of Carmel in the 13th century, Mary said, “Receive, my beloved son, the scapular of your Order as a distinctive sign and mark of the favor of which I have obtained for you and all of your sons of Carmel, as a sign of salvation, as a safeguard from danger and as an assurance of peace and special protection until the end of ages. Behold this sign of health, a safeguard in all difficulties.
Whoever dies clothed in this habit, will be preserved from everlasting fire.” This promise we know has been lived for many centuries and understood as those who wear the scapular and live a life of chastity according to their state in life, will be rescued from the pain of Purgatory and the separation from God on the first Saturday after their death, if they have fulfilled all of the responsibilities of the scapular promise. What better clothing could we ever have than this sign of protection, the true wedding gar- ment that prepares us for the glory and joy of eternal life.
A mother, we know, heals her children. If one child is sick, she leaves the others to attend to the one who needs her help the most. A mother is able to bring about the comfort needed when her child is sick. We call upon Mary as health of the sick. We recognize that the tradition of Carmel and its prophets Elijah and Elisha speak to us about the healing that these two prophets of Carmel achieved in their lifetime. Yes, both of these prophets were helped by a woman who befriended each one of them, and in turn, they were able to give life to each one of their sons as they died and brought them back to life.
A mother feeds her children. Certainly, in the past, a woman breastfed her children. And this way of nourish- ing an infant has returned in today’s world, as many have come to understand it is healthier for the child to be fed with its mother’s milk whenever possible. And in her doing so we recognize that a mother gives herself completely to her children. So too it is with Mary, who feeds us with the best of nourishment, the Eucharist.
For if it were not for Mary’s maternal willingness in giving birth to Jesus Christ, whose body and blood we consume in the Eucharist, we would not be fed. It is Mary who is the Mother of the Eucharist, the one who made it possible for her willingness to accept the task of being a mother when she did not know what was to happen. The Eucharist truly is our food for the journey of life, for our pilgrimage which allows us always to be fed with the finest of food, the food of eternal life.
Finally, a mother teaches her children. The best thing a mother teaches her children to do is to pray. How import- ant prayer is for us. And I am sure that each one of us has been taught our devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel by our mothers and grandmothers, and fathers and grand- fathers, and other people in our lives who have brought us to this devotion, knowing that when we find Mary as a mother we have found the treasure of our life.
Like Elijah the prophet who retreated to Mt. Carmel first to contemplate God and have communion with Him and then also to obtain blessings and help for his people, we come first tonight to be in union with God through the intercession of His Blessed Mother. But also, we pray for the help that our world needs in the midst of the end of this pandemic, at least here in the United States; yet in many nations, the virus still rages among the people.
We pray for all of the blessings that we need at this time, because we know that Mary does not refuse the call of her children. If we pray with faith, we know that Mary will listen to us, that she will intercede with her Son and make us better as we come out of this pandemic. We are better in union with God, especially with our prayers, so that we may obtain the graces so necessary for our world today.
My sisters and brothers, as we put out into the deep, we cannot forget what we owe to our ancestors in the faith. Whether our memories and knowledge go back one, two or many other generations. It is all of those who have come before us in the faith who bring us to this place today. Each of them have instilled in us a true devotion to Mary, which means that we go to God through Mary. This is no idle path. Rather, Mary is the sure way to our union with God.
We pray for all of those who have gone before us and for this beautiful faith that they have given to us. That we may be worthy to pass this faith on to those who come after us. That we become true devotees of Mary, knowing that her maternal affection conquers all of the tribulations of this life. And that we should never be afraid of the future. As we see the end of this pandemic in the world, we will do our part to make this world a better place for all.