Sunday, July 15, 2007

Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

It was at Carmel that the prophet Elijah in 9th cent. B.C. challenged the followers of Baal to a contest to establish the supremacy of the God of the Israelites over their god. As the result of this encounter, Carmel became recognized as a holy place where God met His people. Situated between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, Carmel, during the crusades of the Middle Ages, became a place of retreat for hermits who took up residence in the many caves in the area.

Later, in the 13th century, A.D., these hermits joined together to form a community which came to be known as the Carmelites. The Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock on Sunday, 16 July, 1251 in answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order. She appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said: "Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant".

In the years following, their rule was modified to enable them to engage in a more active apostolate, and the Order spread to Europe. A separate Order for Women was established. The Carmelites have produced some of the great mystics of the Church. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and, of course, in more modern times, St. Therese of Lisieux are among the more illustrious. The Carmelites have promoted the devotion to the Scapular.

This meeting of God with His people in Biblical times at Carmel foreshadowed the time when God, in the person of Christ, would again meet his people as Leader and Saviour. This meeting is foretold in the first reading of today's Mass - "for I am coming to dwell in the middle of you". This would happen with the co-operation of Mary. Hence her song of praise and thanksgiving in the Responsorial Psalm.

In the gospel of today's Mass we see this meeting of God with his people unfolding and not without difficulty. As was to be expected, he was not welcomed with open arms by everyone. It is on record how his fellow townspeople at Nazareth ran him out of town. After hearing him teach in their synagogue, they became enraged and hustled him out of town. It was then that Jesus had complained that no prophet is ever accepted by his own people! He wept over Jerusalem because she had refused to welcome him.

But it was not only the people who were uncertain about him. His own family - explain use of "brothers and sisters"- also opposed him. It is one of the great human tragedies in Jesus' life that his nearest and dearest did not understand him. St. John in his gospel records -"Not even his brothers had faith in him"(Jn 7:5) St. Mark tells us that when Jesus set out on his public mission, they tried to restrain him because they were convinced that he was out of his mind! (Mk 3:21)

And, again, today's reading would seem to indicate another crisis. Whilst speaking to the people his family sends a message - we need to talk! Knowing what was on their mind, Jesus turns the occasion into an opportunity to let it be known that his mission is bigger than family. He belongs to all who hear his word and accept it.

There are times, too, when, in terms of our Christian commitment we must assess out loyalties. We still encounter examples of people wishing to follow their consciences and being opposed by those nearest and dearest to them. Not only do they meet with opposition, but open hostility is shown. It is an unfortunate fact that sometimes a person's blood relations are the ones who understand least, proving that real understanding more easily exists between those who share a common ideal and work together for that goal.

There is little on record about Mary's reaction to Jesus' attitudes in these family encounters. But actions speak louder than words. She was always there to encourage and to comfort. No doubt that same comfort and encouragement is available to those who, today , encounter opposition in their efforts to serve Christ.

That is why we pray today that the "prayers of the Virgin Mary protect us and help us to reach Christ her Son". Amen