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Blessed Mother

Listening To Mary’s Voice – Part 5 (Losing Jesus)

 

Mary: “Where’s Jesus?”
Joseph: “I thought He was with you.”
Mary: “No, I thought He was with you.”
Joseph: “Well, He has to be around here somewhere, so let’s look.”
(Mother Angelica,  Mother Angelica’s Private and Pithy Lessons From the Scriptures)

This humorous snippet of fictitious dialog reminds us that, despite being the parents of the Messiah, Mary and Joseph weren’t given a pass from the worries and difficulties faced by all parents.  When we look at the story of the Finding in the Temple, we can almost feel the helplessness experienced by Mary and Joseph.  Despite being chosen for a monumentally important role, they didn’t have all the answers.  In her discussion of this incident, Mother Angelica notes a very important point about Mary, “She was sinless, but she wasn’t Mrs. Omnipotent”.

Continuing our series on Mary’s words in the Bible, let’s look at one of the most confusing, yet most familiar, of Our Lady’s statements.  After looking for Jesus for three days, Mary and Joseph found Him teaching in the temple.  Scripture tells us that they were “astonished” and records the words spoken by our Blessed Mother:

“Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (Luke 2:48)

Sometimes we forget just how human Mary was.  Although she never sinned, she wasn’t blessed with the gift of omniscience.  On several occasions, the Bible tells us that Our Lady “pondered things in her heart”.  In other words, just like us, she often had to meditate in order to discern the Lord’s message.  Being the Mother of God didn’t exempt Mary from struggling to determine God’s will.  Rather than lash out or complain, Mary asked a simple question to Her Son…Why have you done this to us?  She was trying to obtain an answer, most likely fearing that she and Joseph had done something wrong.  The second part of her statement also communicates an important piece of information.  Mary and Joseph were searching for Jesus with great anxiety.

There are many ways that we can “lose” the presence of the Lord.  Although He will never leave us, we can use our free will to turn away from Him.  Those of us who have done this know the feeling of emptiness and hopelessness that accompanies our disobedience.  In his book The Glories Of Mary, Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote, “Souls who have lost God are really miserable and unhappy.  If Mary wept over the loss of her son for three days, how much more should sinners weep who have lost sanctifying grace?” Since Mary had never sinned, she didn’t know what it was like to lose God.  It’s quite possible that the Lord wanted Mary to experience this sense of loss so that she could be a better advocate for those who stray.  This experience of losing Him, the only way possible for one who never sinned, will help her to empathize with those who are lost and enable her to truly become the Refuge of Sinners.

After losing Jesus, Mary and Joseph searched for Him with great anxiety.  How do we respond when we “lose” Him in our own lives?  Is finding the Lord our number one priority?  Sadly, it is often not a priority at all.  According to Saint Augustine, “When they lose an ox they do not hesitate to go and look for it; when they lose a sheep, they leave no stone unturned to find it; when they lose a beast of burden, they cannot rest until they have discovered it; but when they lose God, who is the supreme Good, they eat, drink, and sleep as usual”.

As we meditate upon this sad episode in Our Lady’s life, let’s never forget that she knows what it’s like to be separated from Jesus and can help us to discover Him in our own lives.  Holy Mary, Refuge of Sinners, pray for us.

“There is no sinner in the world, however much at enmity with God, who cannot recover God’s grace by recourse to Mary, and by asking her assistance.” (Saint Bridget of Sweden)

 

 

 

 

 

Listening To Mary’s Voice – Part 2 (Humility)

 

As we continue with Part 2 of a 7 Part series on Mary’s words in Scripture, I’ll be taking a look at a powerful statement made by Mary to the angel Gabriel.  Last time we focused on Mary’s question to the angel after learning that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Savior.  Having made a vow of virginity, Mary was confused as to how God’s will could be fulfilled.  She didn’t doubt that it could happen (unlike Zechariah, who flat out didn’t believe that his wife could become pregnant), she just wanted to know how it would happen so that she wouldn’t have to break her prior vow of virginity.  Mary sought to understand God’s will.  Gabriel answered her question by explaining that it would come about by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He also informed her that her elderly relative, Elizabeth, is now sixth months pregnant.  Then Gabriel gave Mary a great takeaway from their dialog when he stated that “nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). Mary’s response to all of this news?

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38)

Because many of us are very familiar with Mary’s statement, we run the risk of overlooking how profound it actually is.  These eight words give us a great insight into Mary’s view of herself.  In this statement, she is saying to God, “I am your humble servant, use me in any way that you wish”.  Unlike many of us, she fully understood that she was merely a creature and that the Lord was her Master.  According to the dictionary, a handmaid is “a servant who serves a useful, but subordinate purpose”.  When Mary refers to herself as a “handmaid”, she is professing her humility.  Despite just having been told that she will be the vessel used to deliver the Savior to the world, Mary referred to herself as a servant.  This profession gives us a glimpse into Mary’s interior attitude and provides an example that is worthy of our emulation.  In his book “The Glories Of Mary”, St. Alphonsus Liguori stated that the first effect of humility is a lowly opinion of oneself.  Even though Mary was aware of her sinlessness, she understood that it was all due to God’s grace.  How important is humility?  St. Bernard of Clairvaux observed that “humility is the foundation and guardian of the virtues”.  More importantly, Jesus instructed us to “learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).

Without humility, it is impossible for us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Unfortunately, humility is also one of the most difficult virtues to acquire.  As evidence, look at how many times we question events that occur in our lives.  Why is God allowing this to happen to me?  We pray “Thy Will be done” and, at the same time, provide the Lord with a list of acceptable answers to our prayers.  Some even go as far as to disobey teachings of the Church because “they don’t agree with them.”  These positions are all incompatible with the virtue of humility and illustrate a serious misunderstanding of who’s the Creator and who’s the creature!  Although it can be a struggle, we can become more humble by asking for the Lord’s help through Mary’s intercession.  After all, who better to ask then someone who viewed herself as nothing more than the Lord’s servant?

“If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is still humility.  Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts are fruitless.” (St. Augustine)

Next Time: “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Listening To Mary’s Voice: Confusion

 

We have been blessed with several Church-approved apparitions of the Blessed Mother throughout the years.  In each of these appearances, Mary has urged repentance and the importance of following Christ’s commands.  As we struggle to lead holy lives, wouldn’t it be nice if Mary could speak to us and give us the necessary encouragement to keep on the right path?  Fortunately, that is entirely possible and it can happen TODAY!  By opening up our Bibles, we can hear the Blessed Mother speak directly to us and help us to grow closer to her Son, Jesus.  Although Mary only spoke on four occasions in Sacred Scripture, each of her statements provides a wealth of information.  By meditating on her words TO EACH OF US, we can become more like her and grow closer to the Lord.  In this, the first of a seven-part series, we’ll be looking at her first recorded words in Scripture…

“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34)

After being told by the angel Gabriel that she has been chosen to be the Mother of the Savior, Mary is confused and asks a simple question.  Given the fact that she (like us) is not divine, there are times when she had questions about God’s will.  Even though she was sinless, Mary didn’t have all of the answers.  We see evidence of this a few verses earlier when (upon Gabriel’s arrival) she “pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29).  The common belief of theologians throughout the years is that Mary was confused because she had consecrated her virginity to the Lord.  Although not the norm for married people, this practice was not unheard of in Mary’s time.  Always desiring to do what’s right, the sinless virgin proceeded on the course she thought was best…and then the angel appeared with some new information.

How many times are we confused about what God wants us to do?  We struggle to discern His will for our lives and we have questions.  We may feel the urge to take a more fulfilling job, but don’t know how we’ll survive on less pay.  We may feel the call to the priesthood or religious life, but are fearful of giving up the possibility of marriage and children.  We get the idea that maybe we should volunteer and help people, but we don’t know how.  As my own life illustrates, when the Lord calls us to do something, He doesn’t provide all of the details up front.

In addition to those instances requiring us to make a decision, sometimes we aren’t given a choice.  Rather, we are faced with an unexpected illness, devastating personal problems or financial difficulties.  Although these situations occur without our consent, we still may question why they are happening.  How will I survive?  What will I do?  Why is God letting this happen?

Mary’s words to the angel remind us that it’s OK to ask questions.  If you feel that God is asking you to do something, but you’re not sure how it’s possible, go ahead and ask Him for details.  Mary did.  If you’re carrying a heavy cross and can’t understand why, ask the Lord to enlighten you.  Unfortunately, I can’t promise that you’ll get the answer you want.  Instead, the Lord’s answer may be, “trust me”.  If that’s the case, you may be asked (like Mary) to go along with His plan without knowing all of the fine details.  If you have a difficult time doing that…join the club!  However, don’t ever forget that Mary can help you tremendously.  As someone who’s “been there, done that”, she knows exactly what you’re going through.  Turn to her and ask her to share some of her faith with you.  I can guarantee you that, as stated in the Memorare, “never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession was left unaided.”

Next Time: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)

DVD Review: Mary, Mother Of Our Century (John Paul II At Marian Shrines)

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was one of 10 Catholic bloggers chosen by CCC of America to review the newly released DVD series, John Paul II – The Man, The Pope, And His Message.  The volume that I’ll be looking at is Mary, Mother of Our Century (John Paul II at Marian Shrines) Not only do I consider it an honor to be chosen to participate in this project, but I consider myself especially blessed to be asked to discuss the Marian devotion of the late Holy Father.

Aside from the fact that we’re both Polish (boy, were my parents happy when he was elected!), Blessed Pope John Paul II and I share something else in common.  We both made the Total Consecration of our lives to Jesus through Mary, as popularized by St. Louis de Montfort.  As pointed out in the DVD, when JPII was a young man, he carried Montfort’s book (True Devotion To Mary) everywhere he went.  This devotion was extremely important to him and greatly influenced his life.

As I watched this 3o minute episode (the entire set consists of 10 30-minute segments), it was easy to see the Holy Father’s love for the Blessed Mother.  I relived his trips to Marian shrines in such locations as Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe and Czestochowa as he gave us an example of what it means to be truly devoted to Mary.  In each of these locations, he re-consecrated himself, the country that he was visiting, and the world to Mary and her Immaculate Heart.

One of the most profound statements in the film was the Holy Father’s comment, “To those who strive to know and Love Him, Christ reveals His Mother as He revealed her to His disciple John from the Cross”.  Sadly, many Christians ignore this monumental event that took place while Jesus was dying on the Cross.  Can you imagine the effort it took for Our Lord to utter the words, “Behold your Mother” (John 19:27)?  JPII knew the significance of this gesture and, as a sign of his love for Mary, included an “M” next to the cross on his official coat of arms.

Many of us have been inspired by the holiness of others – your grandmother who faithfully prayed  her rosary each day, the elderly man who bows his head in prayer after daily Mass, your coworker who always has a positive attitude and a kind word.  Watching JPII as he traveled to the various Marian shrines had this same kind of effect on me and filled me with gratitude for the gift of our Blessed Mother.  Watching these visits, observing his actions and listening to his words caused me to reflect on my own relationship with Mary.  Do I love her enough?  Do I speak with her frequently?  Do I ask her to lead me closer to Jesus?  Am I utilizing her intercessory power?

Do you ever wish that you could see and hear some of the great saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Teresa of Avila?  While we can read their writings and the details of their lives, we can’t actually see and hear them.  In this DVD series, we are blessed with the opportunity to watch the actions and hear the words of a  future saint!  If you’re tired of all the garbage on TV and are looking for worthwhile programming that will inspire and entertain the whole family, I strongly encourage you to look into this DVD set. 

Do you know someone who would like a copy of this DVD series?  CCC of America is hosting a contest: JP II, They Love You!  Visit the website http://johnpaulseries.com for details about how you can nominate someone to win a free copy of the series or purchase your own copy.

October 7th, 2011 – A Day I’ll Never Forget!

As I sat down to write this post, I fully intended to comment on the Gospel from today’s Mass (Lk 11:27-28).  Sometimes mistakenly interpreted as a put-down of Mary by Jesus, in reality it is an strong endorsement of Our Lady’s holiness.  In response to a woman praising Mary for being the earthly mother of Jesus, the Lord emphasizes what really makes the Blessed Mother special: her constant obedience to God’s will.  As I prepared to type my thoughts on this encounter, however, I felt the Holy Spirit moving me in a different direction. 

Yesterday, was one of the most important days of my life and I’d like to share some of the details.  As some of you know, for the past 33 days I’ve been preparing to consecrate my life to Jesus through Mary (according to the method popularized by St. Louis de Montfort).  I was able to rally a group of over 100 individuals to make this Total Consecration along with me.  As a way to encourage everyone, I’ve been reading the prayers and meditations on my nightly radio show and sending email blasts.  Yesterday, on the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, we made our consecration.  Responding to Jesus’ words spoken from the Cross (“Behold your mother”) in John 19:27, I took Mary into my home yesterday.  This morning we (“Mom” and I) went to Mass and received Our Lord together.  When my words fell short and I wasn’t able to adequately give Him the praise He deserved, I asked her to take over and love Him with her heart.  Although I was tired, groggy and still fighting the after effects of shingles, I felt peaceful.  Mom is with me now and she’s never going to leave.  She will help me to grow closer to her Son and, believe me, I need all the help I can get!

I have to admit, I was skeptical when I heard about the Montfort Consecration.  However, when I saw endorsements from Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X, Pope Benedict XV, Pope Pius XI, Pope Pius XII, Blessed Pope John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Cardinal Justin Rigali, I realized that there was probably “something to this devotion”.  I decided to pursue it, figuring that these folks are a lot smarter than me, especially when it comes to the Catholic Faith.  I’m glad I did because I now see the power of Total Consecration!

So what changes for me?  On the surface, not a whole lot.  I’m still a husband, father, lay Catholic evangelist, author and radio host.  Internally, however, EVERYTHING has changed.  While I will still try to lead a good life and proclaim the “Good News” of the Catholic Faith, I’ll now do all of my actions by Mary, with Mary, in Mary and for Mary so that (according to St. Louis de Montfort) “we may do them all the more perfectly by Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus”.

Even though my lay apostolate (Following The Truth) has existed since 2008, yesterday marked a new beginning for me and for my work.  “Mom” is now on the Board of Directors and will be helping to direct my efforts.  She will help me to move in the direction most pleasing to Our Lord.  I am excited to see where the road leads.  As long as she’s with me, I know that road will lead me straight to Jesus!

Thank you, Mom, for coming to live with me.  I love you and, borrowing the motto from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, I am “Totus Tuus” (Totally Yours)!

Totus tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria.” (“I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart”) – St. Louis de Montfort

Waiting For Mom To Arrive!

I am very excited.  In 3 days, my Mom will be arriving and she’ll be staying with me for a LONG time.  We’re going to do lots of great things together and she will even be helping me to spread the “Good News” of the Catholic Faith through my Following The Truth apostolate.  Do you want to know the best news of all?  She has promised to be with me every time I speak to Jesus, especially when I receive Him in Holy Communion.  She will even help me when I get tongue-tied and don’t know what to say to the Lord.  What’s the big deal about that?  Did I mention that my Mom has never sinned and that her will is one with the will of Jesus!  She has the unique ability of being able to “clean up” my prayer requests and present them to Jesus in the way that pleases Him the most.  Now do you see why I’m excited?!!!

As many of you know, I have been deeply involved (along with 100+ others individuals) in the 33 day preparation period for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary which will take place on October 7th.  Sometimes referred to as the Montfort Consecration (named for St. Louis de Montfort, who is credited with formalizing this devotion), it is considered by many to be the quickest and surest way to grow closer to the Lord.  In August of this year, I decided  to make the Total Consecration.  I also resolved to encourage others to make the Consecration along with me.  In order to facilitate the process, I have devoted  all of my daily radio programs for the past month to preparing for this Consecration.  I’ve invited people to listen as I led the prayers and commented on the meditations.  Many of us have been corresponding by email and through a special Facebook group (Thanks, Katy!), as we traveled the road leading to Total Consecration.  For over a month, we’ve climbed hills and descended into valleys.  I have encountered obstacles ranging from apathy to a case of the shingles!   But, due to God’s grace and the help of each other, we persevered.  And I’m glad we did!

I still have some last-minute “house cleaning” to do so that everything is ready when Mom arrives on Friday.  Even though I’ve spoken to her in the past and read about her life, our relationship has been lacking.  Unfortunately, the blame lies with me.  She’s always been there to help me, but I haven’t taken the time to get to know her and invite her into my life.  That changes on Friday, which just happens to be the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.  On that day, along with over 100 others, I will turn my life over to the Blessed Mother, holding nothing back!  Our Lord offered us a gift 2,000 years ago as He was dying on the Cross.  Speaking to the beloved disciple (St. John), He uttered the words “Behold your mother” and John “took her into his home” (Jn 19:27).  On October 7th, 2011, myself and over 100 others will also accept the Lord’s offer and take Mary into our homes and our lives and we will never be the same.

I can’t wait until you get here, Mom…I love you!!!

How Is The Total Consecration Changing Your Life? UPDATED 9/13/11

Over the past couple of days, I’ve received the following comments from some of you who are participating in the 33 day preparation period leading up to Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary on October 7, 2011:

“I am so glad that the Holy Spirit moved you to offer this Consecration to our Holy Mother. It is even more special doing this in a group of people seeking to love our Lord even more.  In this fourth day I find myself having a more conscious connection and awareness of the love Jesus has for us. I am saddened at the end of the day many times when I have separated myself from God.  I have noticed that theses spaces have decreased as graces have increased or at least have been noticed by me.  How wonderful it is!  May God continue to bless your and all of us as we grow closer to Him through His beautiful mother. As you said, our Lord chose Mary,  gave us to Her and it makes perfect sense that we in turn reach out for Mary’s love for us.” (Michael R.)

“Thanks so much for encouraging us to do this! I am already reaping the blessings and benefits of this devotion.” (Peggy B.)

Even though we are only 4 days into the 33 day preparation period, people are already starting to experience changes in their lives.  That doesn’s surprise me, as I’ve heard that it will happen.  I am personally becoming more aware of my earthly attachments and trying to focus more on heavenly treasures.

I thought it would be a good idea to create a blog post that will act as a journal for those of us who are making the Total Consecration.  I invite you to comment on the changes that you are seeing in your life as the devotion progresses.  This will act as a great evangelization tool for others who may be thinking about making the Total Consecration in the future.  Don’t ever underesimate how the Lord can work through you to touch others.  Your comments may be the cause of someone else deciding to consecrate their life to Jesus through Mary!

Please comment as many times as you’d like, throughout and even after your consecration is made.  No matter how small the change, how is your life being changed by making the Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary?

If you are contemplating making this powerful devotion yourself, look at the comments from others who have already taken this bold step and see the fruit that Total Consecration can produce in your life. 

Please contact me with any questions at gary@followingthetruth.com

UPDATED 9/13/11Here are a few more comments that I received after Day 9:

My name is Rosario and I have been doing the Consecration to Jesus Through Mary with you. It could not have come at a better time for me, I am going through a very difficult time in my life. I love hearing the readings doing the prayers and knowing that there are many of us out there joined in the same prayer at for the same reason through  our blessed mother it’s just so great. When I heard you in the radio that you were going to do this I just knew that I had to join in.  Thank you so much. (Rosario)

Dear Gary,  Thank you so much for offering the Consecration online.  I have made it several times, but had to discontinue because of sight loss.  I heard your invitation via radio, and was able to follow along because of special computer software.  So far, so good.  Have read The Imitation since childhood, so was unprepared to find how much I liked the new version.  Have read your articles on New Advent with much interest, so am happy to see that I can perhaps find my way around your site.  Thanks again. Forgot to say that if anyone has a visually impaired friend, they might suggest this mode of Consecration to them. (Joan)

Gary,I try not to skip ahead and preview the reading for the day. I have noticed this last week such an increase of personal temptations.  Maybe I just realized these temptations because I had been given increase graces to oppose them when before I might have given in without a thought.  It was the perfect time to read this reading and know that the Lord has me on the right path to Him through His Mother.   Increased and more powerful temptations/roadblocks must mean I am opposing the snares of the serpent of lies and am keeping him busy.  I will keep trying to resist and will lean on our Holy Mother’s intercession.  Keep the Faith.  I sure am grateful to be a part of this group, for where two are three are gathered in my name…. (Michael)

Is The Assumption Still A Holy Day?

As Catholics, one of the most confusing developments in recent times, is the decision by the United States bishops to abrogate (or remove) the obligation to attend Mass for certain Holy Days of Obligation if they fall on a  Saturday or a Monday.  Such is the case with the Solemnity of the Assumption which we celebrate on August 15th.

Although Catholics in the United States are not obligated to attend Mass on the Assumption in 2011, it still remains not only a holy day, but a solemnity (the holiest of holy days).

I would encourage everyone to attend Mass, if possible, in order to celebrate this great day when our Blessed Mother was assumed bodily into Heaven.  Our Lady is standing by in her heavenly home, ready to intercede on our behalf.  That is definitely something to celebrate!

If you’d like to read more about the Assumption, here’s a link to Munificentissimus Deus, the Apostolic Constitition issued by Pope Pius XII on Nov 1, 1950, which defined the dogma of the Assumption. 

Mary, Queen of Heaven, pray for us!

Why Should I Wear A Scapular?

Yesterday, in honor of the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I blogged about the importance of wearing a scapular.  Rightfully so, several readers asked the question “Why?” or asked for for details about this often misunderstood devotion. 

My simple answer to the question of “Why?” is that by wearing the scapular we are placing our lives under the protection of the Blessed Mother, as we place our faith in her promise made to St. Simon Stock:

“This is a privilege for you and the order: whoever dies wearing this Scapular will be saved.”

Of course, the scapular isn’t magic and Our Lady’s promise shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to live an immoral life because you have a “get out of jail free” card.  Wearing the scapular represents a TRUE devotion to Mary, which implies living a good, moral life. 

At the end of this post, I’ll include links to a few books.  However, I do want to make one point clear.  Although I think these books are very good for learning about the brown scapular, 2 of them are reprints of manuscripts originally published in the 1930’s and 1940’s and may contain some out of date information, especially about indulgences.  That being said, I would still recommend them due to the pious information about the devotion.  One of them (Mary In Her Scapular Promise) even has a preface by (then) Msgr. Fulton Sheen!

For those who want current (and very detailed) information about the brown scapular, here is the Doctrinal Statement regarding the devotion:

The Doctrinal Statement on the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

 The following is the approved English text of the doctrinal section of the “Rite of Blessing of and Enrollment in the Scapular of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel” as issued and confirmed by the Congregation for Diving Worship and for the Disciple of the Sacraments, November 29, 1996, Prot. 2243/96/L.

I.  HISTORICAL PROFILE

1.  Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is bound to the history and spiritual values of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and is expressed through the scapular.  Thus, whoever receives the scapular becomes a member of the order and pledges him/herself to live according to its spirituality in accordance with the characteristics of his/her state in life.

A Marian Plan for Evangelical Life

2.  The Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin was born on Mount Carmel, in the Holy Land, in the twelfth century.  A group of hermits who came from the west settled there to live after the example of Christ in his land.  At their request, the Patriarch Albert gave them a rule of life that demanded of them, among other things, to build an oratory among their cells, where they could gather for the celebration of the Eucharist.1   They dedicated the oratory to Mary, and thus they were meant to bind themselves to her in a special way, so that they were identified, at first by the people, and later officially, as the “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel”.

 Thus, the matter in which the Carmelites follow the gospel takes on a deeply Marian character.  Mary:

   magnifies the Lord and exults in the wonders of his merciful love (cf. Lk 1:49);

   listens to and ponders in her heat all the things concerning Jesus (cf. Lk 2:19, 51);

   identifies herself with her people, especially those in need, the spirituality and materially poor, the marginalized (cf. Lk 1:52-53ff, Jn 2:3); and

  is constant in prayer, open to the fire of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:1-4) who is the strength of all apostolic gifts.

 In the Fraternity of Carmel

3.  From of old, they were faithful who were attracted by this ideal way of life and its characteristics and asked to be able to share in it.  Their circumstances as family people who lived in the world were no obstacle to their sharing in the fraternity of Carmel.

The visible sign of reception to this fraternity was the habit (or part of the habit) of the order.  At first the special sign was the mantle, but soon after it became the scapular.

 The scapular of Carmel, or the habit (also called by other names in different places), is one of the devotions most loved by the people of God.  The great diffusion of the scapular seems to have been due to the tradition of a vision of Our Lady, documented at least since the end of the fourteenth century.

 4.  During one of its difficult times, the order asked to get full recognition an stability within the Church.  Mary, Patroness of Carmel, seemed to have answered this plea with a vision to the English Carmelite, St. Simon Stock.  She held in her hand the scapular and assured the holy prior general, saying:

“This is a privilege for you and the order: whoever dies wearing this Scapular will be saved.”Later it was widely believed that the Virgin would deliver from Purgatory, on the first Saturday after death, the Carmelites and people associated with them who observed chastity according to their state, recited prayers, and wore the habit of Carmel.  This is the so-called Sabbatine Privilege.3

The faithful then quickly understood that to wear the habit meant to enter into the fraternity of the order and of Mary.  By responding to the love of the Virgin, they lived secure under her protection in all the dangers of life and, at the hour of death, confident that even after death she would intervene on their behalf, she who “with her maternal love takes care of the brothers of her Son…until they are led to the blessed land.”4

More recently, thanks to a deeper understanding of our tradition and the fruit of research and of the process of renewal in the whole Church, the approach to popular devotions and, therefore, to the scapular, has changed.5

 5.  As a result of the history and evolution of devotion to Mary through the scapular, there are today several categories of devotees according to the degree of identification with and affiliation to the family of Carmel.  These may be listed as follows:

 a)  The religious men and women.

b)  The Secular Order (also called Third Order).

c)  Those who belong to the Confraternity of the Scapular.

d)  All those who receive the scapular and live according to its spirituality in various degrees of association with the order.

e)  Those who receive the scapular and live according to its spirituality, but have no formal association with the order.6

f)  All who are committed to put into practice the Marian characteristic of Carmelite spirituality wholly and fervently, but in forms which correspond to the nature of the bond that ties them to the family of Mary.7

II.  Nature and Character

6.  “The scapular is essentially a habit.  Whoever receives it, is, by virtue of such reception, associated more or less intimately with the Order of Carmel.”8  The scapular or habit is, in fact, a habit in miniature of the order that, in order live “in allegiance to Jesus Christ,”9 has chosen the spiritual experience of familiarity10with Mary, sister, mother, and model.

7.  Association with the Carmelite family and familiarity with Mary take on a character that is fundamentally communitarian and ecclesial, because Mary “help all her children – wherever and whenever – to find in Christ the way to the house of the Father.”11  Thus the scapular is the small “sign” of the great ideal of Carmel: intimacy with God and friendship among the disciples.

Biblical Symbolism

8.  In the Old Testament, a habit – especially a mantle – was the symbol of divine benefits, of protection from on high, of power transmitted to one of God’s messengers.

The special coat of Joseph was symbol of predilection (cf. GN 37:3); the gift of Jonathan’s mantle to David was a symbol of friendship (1 Sam 18:4).  In Isaiah w read: “I exult for joy in Yahweh, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity” (Is 61:10).  When the prophet Elijah was taken up to heaven, his mantle fell on his disciple Elisha, thus passing on to him the spirit of the master (cf. 2 Kings 2:14ff).

9.  In the New Testament, even the hem of the cloak of Jesus, if touched with faith, communicated his healing power (cf. Mk 5:25ff).  St. Paul more than once talks of life in Christ in terms of putting on Christ (Rm 13:14; Ga 3>27); to put on the same attitude as Jesus, that is, the life of filial grace of the Christian, is described by the image of clothes.  the religious habit, of which the scapular is a part and symbol, signifies, in a special way, this following of Jesus.

In the Trinity with Christ

 10.  Mary, the blessed among women, is the masterpiece of the Most Blessed Trinity who united her to Itself, bringing the feminine to its greatest possible realization in her, like an icon of the Trinity’s tenderness, and Its saving will.12  Mary is the Lady in whom “all is related to Christ and all depends on him; foreshadowing the Son, God the Father, from all eternity, chose her to be the all holy Mother and adorned her with gifts of the Spirit, granted to no one else.”13  Our Lady is for the whole Church the model of that “praise of the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity” to which we are all called to be.

11.  The scapular is a symbol of filial and grateful recognition of the mission that the Most Blessed Trinity willed to confide to Mary in the history of salvation, “mystery of mercy” (1 Tim 3:6).  These truly significant words were placed on the lips of Mary: “I bring you a scapular as a sign of my blessing and my love and, at the same time, as a sign of the mystery, which will be accomplished, in you.  I come to fully ‘clothe you in Jesus Christ’ (Gal 3:27) so that you may be ‘rooted in him’ (Col 2:7), ‘the royal way’, in the depths of the abyss, with the Father and the Spirit of love.”14

Ecclesial Journey-Pilgrimage

12.  Through space and time, and especially through the history of human kind, Mary is present as “she who has believed” (cf. Lk 1:45), as she who goes forward on the pilgrimage of faith, partaking in the mystery of Christ above all other creatures.15

13.  The Church on her faith pilgrimage finds its best model in Our Lady.  The example of the Blessed Virgin leads the faithful to conform themselves to the Son.  But it also leads them to celebrate the mysteries of Christ with the profound attitude that the Virgin had when she was by her Son at his birth and at the Epiphany, at his death and resurrection.  That is, it urges them to guard zealously the Word of God to meditate on it lovingly; to praise God with exultation and to thank him joyfully; to serve God and neighbor faithfully and to offer generously for them even life itsel, to pray to the Lord perseveringly and to implore confidently; to be merciful and humble; to “wait vigilantly for the coming of the Lord.”16

 14.  Carmel has followed this way, suggesting to its members to become like Mary in order that, following her example, they may dwell in the divine intimacy.  The three phases of this ascent of Mount Carmel are: imitation, union, and likeness to Mary.17

III. Commitment to a Way of Life

15.  The following of Chris and of Mary, as understood and lived in the charism of the Order, becomes the reality after which the faithful in the Carmelite family strive.  They can rely on the help and support of all the brothers and sisters who share in the same ideal.  The members of the Carmelite family live their commitment in various ways: in the “desert”, in fraternal life, in the apostolic life, on the streets of the world, working with Mary for the Kingdom of Christ.

16.  The institutional forms, erected and acknowledge by the Order, help to emphasize the communal character of the family of htose who, led bye the Spirit, want to dedicate their whole life in this world – in union with Mary – to the glory of God.

Thus, becoming part of the fraternity of the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and receiving the scapular as a sign of such membership, is for the faithful an instrument of Christian life with special characteristics:

 a)  To live as “brothers” or “sisters” of Mary in communion with Carmel, to enter more deeply into its spirit, to live its ideals and its history, praying and cooperating with it in order that, faithful to its charism and their vocation, they may reflect, in the world, Mary who brings Jesus to all.

b)  To give to Mary ever more space in their life, seeking to live in their circumstances their fidelity to Christ in the spirit of Mary:

– in the faith that gazes at and prays to God, welcomes and dialogues with him;

– in the hope that transforms itself into being at the service of All, which is God; and

– in the charity that abandons itself to the will of the Lord in order to be a true gift to the brothers and sisters, especially the smallest and most humble.

c)  To imitate the “praying Virgin” who “kept the word of God in her heart” (cf. Lk 2:19,51), setting aside some time to meet God in prayer, meditating on the mysteries of salvation, taking part in faith in the liturgy of the Church, especially the Eucharist, reciting every day some liturgical hour or some psalms or the holy rosary.  To see to it that living in the presence of the living God, every aspect of life becomes prayer and that prayer becomes life, at the same time remembering the obligations and work of their state of life.

d)  To share in the Paschal Mystery of Christ by means of voluntary penances, lived in the spirit of Carmel, looking at Mary, whose soul was pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), who “sustained her union with her Son faithfully even to the cross, where she stood (cf. Jn 19:25) suffering deeply with her Firstborn and uniting herself to his sacrifice.”18

e)  To show the love of God.  The “Most Pure Virgin” allows the love of God to shine through all her being without any resistance or opacity, a love which clothes her personally and opens her to the whole of humanity.  Thus, she charms and attracts the devout, who keep their heart and senses, their body and soul, open to the love of God, whom they seek and desire in all things and above all things.  The faithful open themselves to receive all the gifts of holiness that God himself places in human relationships and in the love of neighbor.  Thus love involves the human body as the “dwelling place” of God (cf. 1 Col 3:16-17), and through which they communicate with others.  It is the vehicle for the expression of love.

f)  To engage in the works of evangelization.  Those who wear the scapular identify themselves with the mission of Carmel to be in the world a prophetic sign of union with God, to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God through visible signs of sharing, reconciliation, justice, looking after the sick, and listening to the cries of the poor.

g)  As much as possible, to foster fraternal communion among the members of the fraternity by means of assemblies and reunions, which nourish and support these aims.

 17.  The scapular is the sign of the love of Mary, icon of the goodness and mercy of the Most Blessed Trinity.  This love is the fruit of the grace of God poured into the hearts of the faithful who, in turn, commit themselves to it.

18.  Appendix: Practical Norms for the Scapular Confraternity

 1) The scapular confraternity of Carmel is an association of the faithful who strive for the perfection of charity in the world in the spirit of the Carmelite Order, participate in the life of the Order and its spiritual benefits in an intimate communion of thought, ideals, and works together with Mary.

2)  The supreme moderator of the Carmelite Order is the competent authority for the canonically established of a confraternity.  For churches belonging to the Order, the consent given by he ordinary for the canonical establishment of the religious house is also valid for the canonical establishment of the confraternity.  However, for the canonical establishment of the confraternity19 in other churches or places, the written consent of the ordinary is required.20

3)  A person given authority to act in the name of the Order may receive people into the confraternity of the scapular.

4)  Reception into the confraternity takes place according to the proper rite approved by the Holy See by means of enrollment in the scapular.  The scapular consists of two brown or dark pieces of material joined together by two ribbons or pieces of string.  For receptions, the name of the faithful and the date must be registered in a book kept for the purpose.  These conditions, however, may be waived.

5)  After the reception of the scapular, the faithful may substitute it with a medal showing on one side the Sacred Heart of Jesus and on the other Our Lady.  Both scapular and medal may be replaced without having to be blessed again.

 6)  The members of the confraternity must at all times devoutly wear the scapular or the medal as a visible sign of their belonging to Mary in the brotherhood of Carmel.

7)  Members are bound to set aside regularly time to be with God in prayer, frequent participation in the Eucharist, daily recitation of one of the hours of the liturgy or of some psalms or the rosary or other equivalent prayers.

 8)  If possible, they will meet periodically to build up the sense of fraternity, to study the spirit of Carmel, to care for brothers and sisters in need, all in union with Mary.

9)  They may gain plenary indulgences, provided they fulfill the usual conditions,21on the day they join the confraternity and on the following feasts:  the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel (July 16), St Elijah, prophet (July 20), St Simon Stock (May 16), St Therese of the Child Jesus (October 1), St Teresa of Jesus (October 15), All Carmelite Saints (November 14), and St John of the Cross (December 14).22

10)  The solemn feast of the confraternity is that of the Commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel July 16.  Members will celebrate this feast with great love and gratitude towards Mary, renewing their commitment of service to her, fidelity to Jesus Christ and the Church, and commending the whole Carmelite family to the maternal heart of the Virgin.

 Notes

1. Rule, 10.

2. B. Xiberta, De visione S. Simonis Stock oma. 1950. 3 11.

3. L. Saggi, La Bolla Sabatina, ambiente, testo, tempo. Roma. 1967.

4. Lumen Gentium, 62.

5. Lumen Gentium, 67.

6. See also the document,Un segno di fede e di impegno cristiano. Lo Scapolare del Carmine(Dec. 1994), which contains a brief catechesis.

7. However, the possibility is not excluded for those who see in it a sign of hope and protection of Mary for a Christian life and eternal salvation.  Henricus M. Esteve, De Valore Spirituali Devotionis Sacri Scapularis. Roma. 1953. 229.  He Quotes Benedict XIV.

8. Pius XII, Notre Premier Souhait, Aug. 6, 1950.  Discorsi e radiomessaggi 12 (1951), 168; of also Pius XII, the letter, Neminem profecto Libet.

9. Rule, prologue.

10. Consuetudo Vitae.

11. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 47.  John Paul II spoke of the scapular in a 1985 letter to the Cardinal Legate to the Mariological and Marian Congress of Santo Domingo.

12. A. Bostius, De Patronatu…,” n.1542; cf. n. 1574.

13. Marialis Cultus, 51

14. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, letter to Mother Germana, September 24, 1906.

15. Cf Lumen Gentium, 65; Redemptoris Mater, 25.

16. Introduction to the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

17. Cf Blessed Titus Brandsma, Historical notes on Carmelite mysticism: The Beauty of Carmel.  The tertiary Maria Petijt reached the heights of mystical experience with Mary.

18. Lumen Gentium, 58.

19. Cannon 312, par. 2.

20. Ibid.

21. Confession, communion, prayers according to the intentions of the Pope, and a renewal of the promise to keep the pledges of the Confraternity.

22. Decrees of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary 144/68/R of June 25, 1968, and 11533/68/R of Sept. 17, 1968.

As promised, here are links to some books about the brown scapular.  All are relatively inexpensive and still in print:

Scapular Facts by Albert Dolan, O. Carm

Mary In Her Scapular Promise by John Mathias Haffert

The Scapular of Mount Carmel by a Monk of St. Joseph Abbey

Garment of Grace by The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Hope this helps.  Let me know if you have questions/comments.

What Can Brown Do For You?

While most of you will think of the United Parcel Service when you hear this expression, there’s another kind of “brown” that’s a lot more powerful than UPS…

The Brown Scapular!

Today, the Church celebrates Our Lady’s appearance to Saint Simon Stock on July 16, 1251.  In this apparition, Our Lady of Mount Carmel promised a special blessing for those who wear her brown scapular.  For many years I thought that the use of this sacramental was nothing more than a superstition.  One day, however, I finally decided to listen to the Church’s wisdom and started wearing the scapular and asking for Mary’s protection.  As a result, I’ve seen an outpouring of grace that has brought me closer to Our Lady and to Our Lord.  If you don’t believe me, listen to the words of the late Holy Father Pius IX:

“This most extraordinary gift of the scapular – from the Mother of God to Saint Simon Stock – brings its great usefulness not only to the Carmelite Family of Mary but also to the rest of the faithful who wish, affiliated to that Family, to follow Mary with a very special devotion.” (Blessed Pope Pius IX)

What can (the)  brown (scapular) do for you?  Keep you close to Christ, protect you from sin and ensure that Our Lady will be with you at the hour of your death.

Sounds like a good deal to me!