Carmelite: July 2004 Archives

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The Brown Scapular


From recent teaching documents on the Scapular (1999)

Brown Scapular One way in which Mary is honoured in the Carmelite family is through the Brown Scapular. The Scapular is a symbol of Mary’s protection. A garment as a symbol is found elsewhere in the Christian tradition, most notably in the Eastern icon tradition “Madonna of the Mantle.” Along with the understanding of Mary’s protection, the Scapular (itself a symbol of the Carmelite habit) includes the idea of consecration to Mary. Consecration is most properly an act done by God, so that when we say we consecrate ourselves to God and to Mary, we are principally stating that we freely want God’s will, the Lordship of Jesus, to be manifest in our lives. The wearing of the Scapular is a sign that we want the values lived out by Mary to be evident in our actions and dispositions.   Tradition suggests that in 1251, Our Lady appeared to the Prior General of the Carmelite Order, St. Simon Stock at Aylesford, England. In this apparition, Our Lady gave him what we call the brown Scapular... a garment that has become the symbol of the bond between Our Lady and the Order of Carmel. The Carmelites have always been her devoted servants. However, whether or not this apparition actually took place is something we shall never know. But Our Lady did not give the Scapular just to the Carmelites. She gave it to the whole world so that all her sons and daughters could wear an outward sign of her love for them. As a “cloak” of grace and love, the Scapular represents the protection and security we find in our heavenly mother’s love. Our Lady has given us her Scapular to wear; a garment of special concern a sign of belonging. Her Scapular is a mantle of grace and love.   The Carmelite Scapular is not a magical charm to protect you, or an automatic guarantee of salvation or an excuse for not living up to the demands of the Christian life. The Scapular holds us to live as authentic Christians in line with the teaching of the Gospel, to receive the sacraments, to profess our special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which should be expressed each day, at least by saying the Hail Mary three times.
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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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Within the order, as you may know, this Optional Memorial is a Solemnity. It commemorates the day on which, according to tradition, St. Simon Stock received from the hand of the Blessed Virgin herself the Brown Scapular which so many people wear. If properly enrolled in the Confraternity of the Brown Scapular, all of these are said to be members of the Carmelite family, sharing in some part the spirituality of the Order.

This is from the Preface to the Eucharistic prayer for the Liturgy of the Solemnity:

Your Word filled her heart and inspired all her actions, making her constant in prayer with the Apostles, and, through her share in our salvation, constituting her the spiritual mother of all mankind. She watches unceasingly with a mother’s loving care over the brethren of her Son, and lights us along our pilgrim way to the Mount of your Glory, our beacon of comfort, and the embodiment of all our hopes as members of the Church.
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More insight from St. Thérèse via H.U. Von Balthasar.

from Two Sisters in the Spirit Hans Urs von Balthasar
[here von Balthasar quotes from Manuscript B of Story of a Soul]

What does me a lot of good when I think of the Holy Family is to imagine a life that was very ordinary. It wasn't everything they have told us or imagined. Such as the story that the Child Jesus modeled a little bird out of clay and breathed upon it, so that it came to life . . . . In that case, why were they not trasnported to Egypt by a miracle--that would at least have been useful and not at all diffiuclt for the good God. They would have been there in the twinkling of an eye. But no, that did not happen. Their life was the same as ours.

Here the truth of the Incarnation is in question and therefore the truth of our whole life, which is only true when it is lived through to its utmost depths as it comes to us from its source, the Savior. Men always believe that they are supposed to attribute to the Lord every imaginable, superhuman "perfection"; and the fact that they do so may even be a token of their admiration. Yet ultimately this perfection lies in that very humility and love by which he became like us in everything except sin. For he was obedient unto death, learning this obedience through suffering

And what pious nonsense has been talked in the name of Mariology! Rather as if she herself were wielding the thong of cords at the purification of the temple, Thérèse ruthlessly kicks aside all the heaps of pious, well-meant untruths that have been wished upon the Mother of the Lord and in the end leave souls unnourished and prevent them from drink the living waters.

All the sermons on Mary I have heard have left me cold. . . . How I should love to have been a priest in order to preach about the Mother of God! I believe that just one sermon would have been enough for me to show what I mean. I would begin by showing how the life of the Mother of God is, in fact, very little known. One should not relate improbable stories about her, such as, for instance, that she went to the temple when she was a child of only three years in order to offer herself to God because she was so full of burning love and extraordinary fervor. Perhaps she went there quite simply out of obedience to her parents. . . . If a sermon on Mary is to bear tfruit, it must give a genuine picture of her life, as we are allowed to glimpse it in the Gospels, instead of something imagined. And it is surely easy to sense that her life in Nazareth and later must have been perfectly ordinary. "He was subject to them." How simple that is!

Too often, it seems, we may do the same with Saint's lives. We look upon their extraordinary accomplishments and then embellish them so that they become not so much role models as distant figures of impossible faith and piety. We neglect their ordinariness. We admire them, but we can come up with an extraordinary plexus of reasons why we couldn't possible emulate them in any way. How often have I heard, "Oh, I couldn't be like St. Thérèse, she was so holy from such a young age." So who is asking you to be like St. Thérèse? We already have one of those, and there are those in the world who would maintain that one is more than enough. (I used to be among them--no longer).

God gives us Saints not so much for slavish imitation as for encouragement. No one is called to be another St. Francis, St. Benedict, St. Anything. Each person is called to be a unique Saint, just as they are a unique person. The canonized Saints give us a glimpse of how others have achieved this. How they have achieved heroic sanctity despite a less than heroic start; how they have come to love God when they started by dispising Him; how their own persons and personalities are used by God to erect new Saints and new heroes, new examples that tell us--"You can do it."

After all, what is remarkable about St. Thérèse? She grew up a bourgeoise French lady, a potential snob, in a jansenist French society, overwhelmed with the exceeding wrath of God. She was treacly sweet and had a hellish temper at the same time and was stubborn as an ox. Nothing here particularly remarkable. And in that very fact lies our best hope. Just as there is nothing particularly remarkable about any of us, so too God can use that milquetoast or wanness and convert it into heroic virtue.

When I reflect on St. Thérèse this is what I most often think about--her humble beginnings did not stand in the way of her storming heaven, asking for, and receiving the gift of holiness, the gift of love. So what stops me? And when I think like this I realize that there is very, very little in the way--only myself. And if Jesus is willing, I can be healed.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from July 2004.

Carmelite: June 2004 is the previous archive.

Carmelite: October 2004 is the next archive.

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