“All gracious God, may the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, protect us, and bring us to your Holy Mountain, Christ our Lord ….”
These lovely words are from the opening prayer for the Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The words may not be familiar because they come from the Carmelite sacramentary. When the Carmelite order celebrates Our Lady’s feast day, we have special readings and prayers that help to guide us on the journey of faith that the Father has prepared for us, that Jesus opened for us, and that the Spirit empowered us to embrace. Yet, we do not walk down this path of faith alone. Christ has entrusted His Mother to us, as a model, witness, and guide along this journey.
As a guide she wants us to understand her Son and the way we must take to reside with Him. However, there are many ways to approach our Blessed Mother. As we mature in faith, our relationship with Mary will need to grow and change so that our hearts can always be open to her gentle touch in our spiritual journey. The wisdom and tradition of Carmel has offered us four important biblical vignettes of Mary that we are called to reflect upon during the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I offer you these biblical images as a means of traveling with the Carmelite Order as we seek to honor Mary and to celebrate and praise her Son, our Lord and brother, Jesus Christ.
The Cloud of Renewal (1 Kings 18:42b-45a)
This passage recounts the story of the Prophet Elijah resting on the top of Mount Carmel. He is resting because he has just defeated the false prophets of Baal. He tells his attendant to check the horizon. The attendant, on the prophet’s 7th request, tells Elijah that he sees a small cloud rising out of the sea. At this moment Elijah prepares for the rain to return to the land of Israel. The drought of the land has ended now that the people have returned to their one true God.
For Carmelites this little cloud is understood as a prefiguration of Mary. Why? A cloud brings water to the earth. Remember, the land of Israel suffered a draught for 3½ years. The land became barren because it lacked the water that makes life possible; for all intents and purposes the land was dead. But the rain that arrived with the cloud offered it new life. So also with Our Lady. Our life comes in and through Jesus Christ, and He chose to reside in the womb of Mary, who is the little cloud offered to us on the horizon of human history.
Mary gave us the possibility of life by her fiat (her “Yes” to God) because Christ came into the world through her. She was fashioned and made by Him, just as the rain in the sky makes a cloud possible. Thus, the little cloud, a cloud that does not appear to hold much, actually held the fullest means of salvation and renewal. Seeing the cloud – our Blessed Mother – reminds us we were once barren and lacked the true life offered by God, but because of her and her Son, our renewal is now possible. Also, like that little cloud, Mary comes to us in ways that seem unassuming, but her impact is totally transforming because she always seeks to make her Son known to us, as a cloud wishes to share its water with the earth.
A Guide to Life on the Mountain (Psalm 15:1, 2-3, 4)
In the responsorial psalm of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the people respond, “Draw us after you, Virgin Mary; we shall follow in your footsteps.” This response opens us up to the message of the 15th psalm, which is about being admitted into the temple and resting upon the holy mountain. The psalm reminds us Carmelites, as we follow Mary, to ask ourselves who can have a place on the holy mountain of the Lord? The Lord has made a place for us and desires all people to dwell and celebrate with Him. But how? We must become like Him. As the psalm continues we are told how we must act in the world. The life of a disciple is not one of abstractions but a life of Truth; the Truth that has taken on our human nature; the Truth that is Jesus. So, like Jesus, we must speak the truth from our hearts, walk blamelessly, do what is right, never slander, never harm friends, or give reproach against our neighbors. By living this way, which is founded upon fear of the Lord, we can experience and embrace the open hands of God. Mary, having lived this life, makes known to us the steps necessary to live the life of her Son; a life she helped to shape as his mother; a life she continues to shape by being our mother. She will always make known the beauty of this life to her children, and it is through beauty that we can follow in her footsteps.
Living in the Freedom of the Children of God (Galatians 4:4-7)
In chapter 4 of his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul reminds his disciples about the true and real human birth of Jesus. His birth had consequences. In coming to birth through a woman, Christ chose to enter our enslavement to the Law. Why? By becoming like us, slaves to the Law, He gave us the ability to become children of the Father and thus live in the freedom of God. By this gift of freedom, we are once again able to call God our Abba/Father. One can never separate Mary from her Child, for the mother will always make her Child known. However, this passage, even though it invokes the motherhood of Mary, also points to her childlike character. She also needed a Savior. Through her Immaculate Conception she tasted the salvation of Christ, her Son, and could speak her “Yes” as a free child of the Father. Mary never turned away from God in her freedom but always sought to journey into the mystery of His love. Mary reminds us, as does Paul, that we are called to be and move as free children of the Father. Freedom that has been won for us and offered to us, through the Son of Mary, Jesus Christ.
Our Receptive Mother (John 19:25-27)
Finally, we Carmelites choose to dwell with Mary during the darkest moment of her life, namely, the time she was called to remain at the side of Christ at Calvary. At that moment, the depths of her fiat were tested by the suffering of her Son. She could have fled and left Him alone on the Cross, but in her love, she chose to remain with Him, allowing Him to know some level of love as He suffered and died on the cross. As Mary received the message of the angel and the presence of the Spirit at the beginning of her vocational journey, so she was asked to receive her Son once again at the Cross, in a way unimaginable to any loving parent.
Additionally, Mary, the woman who received her Lord in her heart before she ever received Him in her womb, was then asked to receive another; that is, she was asked to receive the Church in the person of John, the beloved disciple. We hear no words from Mary in that passage, but we know her actions all too well. She chose to dwell within the Church, which was birthed on that horrendous day through the water and Precious Blood that poured forth from the side of her Son. She, who received her Lord in the womb and raised Him as her Son, was offered another “child” to raise and care for – the infant Church. It is through this infant that the life and presence of her Son would continue to be known in the world; Mary would also leave her mark on the Church, as she left it on her Son Jesus. Finally, because of that moment, Mary reminds us that through our darkest hour the Lord makes his charity known to us in ways we cannot perceive or understand. But, this act of charity does call forth a response of faith in us, so we may live with him and rest in the life he has promised to us. Like Mary, we need to maintain a heart that is always ready to receive our Lord, no matter how He comes to us.
Resting in her embrace
Mary teaches us the hardest but most necessary truths so we may live in her Son. She teaches us through her own life because she is the one who always bears witness to the Truth, her Son. She is not a queen we can merely place on a pedestal and keep at a distance, as someone to be admired but never imitated. Mary has always been “more mother than queen” as St. Therese of Lisieux believed. As a loving mother she never keeps her distance but always comes to be with her children within the context of their lives. The closing prayer of the Mass on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel expresses this well: “May the wonders of your [Jesus’] love strengthen us to follow more faithfully the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary to whose service we are dedicated.” Mary’s continual gentle touch made known through her brown scapulars, reminds us that she is the guide who was chosen by the Father to bear His Son; the mother to whom the Son was obedient; and the woman who was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and became His spouse. Upon seeing the acts of God in her life and Our Lady’s faithful response, how could we ever turn away from such a guide, one whose desire is always for us to rest in her embrace so we may arrive safely to her Son?
With the divinest Word, the Virgin
Made pregnant, down the road
Comes walking, if you’ll grant her
A room in your abode.
~St. John of the Cross