“Mondays with Mary” – The Synthesis of Marian Spirituality in the Brown Scapular

With Wednesday being the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I found it fitting today to write about the importance of the Brown Scapular or as I like to call it – Catholic Dog Tags (the title of my post from 2013 and a very popular post at that).

It was Our Lady at Carmel who gave St. Simon Stock the Brown Scapular and asked him to promote the devotion. Because of this the Brown Scapular has a true Marian spirituality synthesized to it. All that wear the Brown Scapular have a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and seek to assist her in leading others to Jesus Christ. If you don’t wear a Brown Scapular already, I would highly encourage you to enroll in the devotion. The sacramental has truly changed my relationship with Jesus, Mary, and the Church.

Young Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II) wearing the brown scapular.

Young Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II) wearing the brown scapular.

If my words are not enough for you, then let’s read what Pope St. John Paul II said about the Brown Scapular (something he himself wore for many years) to the Carmelites on the 750th Anniversary of the Bestowal of the Scapular on March 25, 2001. Although the letter is important, I have not quoted it in its entirety. Furthermore, the bolded words are mine since they stood out to me when I read it.

Pope St. John Paul II says…

“Therefore, Carmelites have chosen Mary as their Patroness and spiritual Mother and always keep before the eyes of their heart the Most Pure Virgin who guides everyone to the perfect knowledge and imitation of Christ.

Thus an intimacy of spiritual relations has blossomed, leading to an ever increasing communion with Christ and Mary. For the members of the Carmelite Family, Mary, the Virgin Mother of God and mankind, is not only a model to imitate but also the sweet presence of a Mother and Sister in whom to confide. St Teresa of Jesus rightly urged her sisters:  “Imitate Our Lady and consider how great she must be and what a good thing it is that we have her for our Patroness” (Interior Castle, III, 1, 3).

This intense Marian life, which is expressed in trusting prayer, enthusiastic praise and diligent imitation, enables us to understand how the most genuine form of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, expressed by the humble sign of the Scapular, is consecration to her Immaculate Heart (cf. Pius XII, Letter Neminem profecto latet [11 February 1950:  AAS 42, 1950, pp. 390-391]; Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, n. 67). In this way, the heart grows in communion and familiarity with the Blessed Virgin, “as a new way of living for God and of continuing here on earth the love of Jesus the Son for his Mother Mary” (cf. Angelus Address, in Insegnamenti XI/3, 1988, p. 173). Thus, as the blessed Carmelite martyr Titus Brandsma expressed it, we are put in profound harmony with Mary the Theotokos and become, like her, transmitters of divine life:  “The Lord also sends his angel to us…we too must accept God in our hearts, carry him in our hearts, nourish him and make him grow in us so that he is born of us and lives with us as the God-with-us, Emmanuel” (From the report of Bl. Titus Brandsma to the Mariological Congress of Tongerloo, August 1936).

Over time this rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church. By its simplicity, its anthropological value and its relationship to Mary’s role in regard to the Church and humanity, this devotion was so deeply and widely accepted by the People of God that it came to be expressed in the memorial of 16 July on the liturgical calendar of the universal Church.

The sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother’s loving presence in their lives. The Scapular is essentially a “habit”. Those who receive it are associated more or less closely with the Order of Carmel and dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church (cf. “Formula of Enrolment in the Scapular”, in the Rite of Blessing of and Enrolment in the Scapular, approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 5 January 1996). Those who wear the Scapular are thus brought into the land of Carmel, so that they may “eat its fruits and its good things” (cf. Jer 2: 7), and experience the loving and motherly presence of Mary in their daily commitment to be clothed in Jesus Christ and to manifest him in their life for the good of the Church and the whole of humanity (cf. “Formula of Enrolment in the Scapular”, cit.).

Therefore two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life’s journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a “habit”, that is, a permanent orientation of one’s own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the “covenant” and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful:  indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our spiritual Mother.

A splendid example of this Marian spirituality, which inwardly moulds individuals and conforms them to Christ, the firstborn of many brethren, is the witness to holiness and wisdom given by so many Carmelite saints, all of whom grew up in the shadow and under the protection of their Mother.”

To enroll in the devotion of the sacramental, purchase a Brown Scapular, locate yourself a Catholic Priest (or Deacon), and have him bless the scapular and recite the formula with you.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Simon Stock…Pray for Us.

Our-Lady-of-Mount-Carmel

 

Saint John of the Cross – “Doctor of Mystical Theology”

In the year 1542, at Fontiberos in Old Castile, Spain, John Yepez, who could become known to the Church and the world as St. John of the Cross was born. From a very early age, Saint John had a great devotion and love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a young boy, he studied at a poor school in Medina del Campo and was trained as a weaver, but really didn’t have the skills for the trade. The governor of the hospital took him on as a servant for seven years. By this time, he had begun his austere practices of the body and started his studies at the Jesuit College.

St. John entered the Carmelite Order at the age of 21 years old and took the name, John of St. Matthias. He asked to follow the original rule of the Carmelite order and hoped only to be a lay brother, however, this request was denied by his superiors. Since he had advanced studies in theology, St. John was ordained to the priesthood in 1567.

It wasn’t long after his ordination to the priesthood that he met another great saint and Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila. By this time, St. Teresa had begun her reform
of the Carmelite Order. When she reached Medina del Campo, she already knew of St. John and wanted to meet him. She told him that he would play a major role in establishing a monastery for men in the new reformed order – the Discalced Carmelites. The first monastery in Duruelo was a very poor monastery and St. John sacrificed to build it. After establishing this new place for Carmelite men, he changed his name to John of the Cross.

Although he was not looking for it, word spread of the great sanctity that was being built in Duruelo. St. Teresa decided to build a second monastery in Pastrana, a third in Mancera, and a fourth in Alcala. At Alcala, St. John was made rector since it was a university.

St. John of the Cross loved the contemplative life. Being a rector was a challenge for him because he suffered greatly with spiritual dryness, which in turn, brought many trials, sufferings, and interior conflicts on the human side, but also dealt with severe and violent temptations on the spiritual side from the Devil.

After enduing years of scrupulosity and inner desolation, he wrote his greatest work, The Dark Night of the Soul.  St. John continued to suffer with spiritual darkness and spiritual pains. At one point in his life, St. John felt that God had left him on his own to suffer. He writes in the book,

“There is, therefore, a great difference between dryness and lukewarmness, for the latter consists in great remissness and weakness of will and spirit, in the want of all solicitude about serving God. The true purgative aridity is accompanied in general by a painful anxiety, because the soul thinks that it is not serving God…the cause of this dryness is that God is transferring to the spirit the goods and energies of the senses, which, having no natural fitness for them, become dry, parched up, and empty…” (Book I, Chapter IX).

Even though St. John endured these many trials, religious and non-religious individuals sought his spiritual wisdom. He became the spiritual director to St. Teresa after she became prioress at her original priory in Avila, a role that was extremely difficult and spiritually draining.

As persecutions began to the reformed Carmelite order, St. Teresa and St. John found themselves in the center of these trials and were both punished to a degree. Refusing to go back to his original monastery, since he was under the direction of the Papal Nuncio, John was arrested, brought to Toledo, and asked to abandon the order. When he said no, they locked him up in a cell. He was not brought to Avila because the people of that city loved him. Until the day of his death, he carried the marks of his beatings at the hands of his captives.

After nine months of captivity, St. John escaped from prison and traveled to a couple of the reformed monasteries. From 1578-1582, he remained relatively quiet and watched from a distance the struggles the reformed order would undergo. It was during this time that he wrote much of his mystical theology, the writings that would elevate him to a Doctor of the Church.

At the death of St. Teresa, the struggles continued for the Discalced Carmelites, but they stood with fortitude and would remain true to the reforms established by her. St. John would fill the posts of superior, superior-general, prior, and definitor of the Discalced Carmelites. Although he served well in all these positions, he was reduced to a meek friar by the superior-general of the time and was exiled to a monastery. He spent most of this time in prayer, study, and contemplation.

At the end of his life and succumbed by a great illness, his last illness, St. John had the choice between two monasteries: one was a joyful place and he knew the prior well, the second place, was a desolate location where the prior did not like him. St. John chose the second monastery. He suffered immensely for three months. On December 14, 1591, Saint John of the Cross entered Heavenly Glory.

In 1675, Pope Clement X beatified him. In 1726, Pope Benedict XIII canonized him. Pope Pius XI declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1926. He is considered one of the great mystics of the Catholic Church and known as the Doctor of Mystical Theology. Along with The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John has given us the Ascent of Mount Carmel, A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom of Christ, and countless writings on prayer and spiritual wisdom.

Saint John of the Cross…Pray for Us.

Sources:

Hoever, Rev. Hugo. Lives of the Saints. Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1989.

Walsh, Michael. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux – “Doctor of Merciful Love”

Today we celebrate the memorial of one of the most prolific Doctors of the Church in the modern era, not because of the large quantities of her writing, but the impact and simple quality of her writing and how it reaches into the depths of our souls when we read it. Although she is known as the “Little Flower” or “Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus”, she is often referred to as the “Doctor of Merciful Love” for her magnificent writings on the mercy and love of God. Read the complementary post, Offering to Merciful Love, to attain a sense of the beauty this little saint has given us.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is one of the most famous saints in the Catholic Church over the last 115 years. Countless miracles have been attributed to her and the scent of roses usually follows. Millions of people love her and have a strong devotion to this “Little Flower” from Lisieux. Personally, she is in the top three saints I would love to meet when I enter heaven (St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Paul II would be the other two).

Saint Therese as a childThérèse was born on January 2, 1873 to Blessed Louis and Zélie Martin. She was baptized Marie-Francois-Thérèse. She was the youngest of five children who survived to maturity. She had a very joyful and ordinary childhood. Her mind was very open and filled quickly with intelligence. In 1877, Zélie Martin died of breast cancer, leaving Louis to raise five girls on his own. He sold his business in Alencon and moved to Lisieux, where the children were under the care of their aunt. Thérèse was very special to her father and he cared for her deeply.

When Thérèse was nine years old, her sister, Pauline, entered the Carmel at Lisieux. She had a strong attraction to the life of a Carmelite as well. Five years later, Mary followed Pauline into Carmel. Watching her sisters enter religious life was both a joy and a struggle for Thérèse, because she wanted to join so badly. The Christmas before her eventual entrance to Carmel is referred by Thérèse as “my conversion.” That night she had an experience with the child Jesus. She says,

“On that blessed night the sweet infant Jesus, scarcely an hour old, filled the darkness of my soul with floods of light. By becoming weak and little, for love of me, He made me strong and brave: He put His own weapons into my hands so that I went on from strength to strength, beginning, if I may say so, ‘to run as a giant.’”

After asking her father permission to join, in which he gave his full approval, Thérèse tried to enter Carmel. However, due to her young age, the Carmelite authorities, supported by the bishop of Bayeux refused her entrance.

Some months later while on pilgrimage with her father in Rome for the sacerdotal jubilee of Pope Leo XIII, Thérèse, who was told not to say anything directly to the Holy Father as he blessed her, boldly and courageously, asked the Pope, “In honor of your jubilee, allow me to enter Carmel at fifteen.” Pope Leo was astonished at the young girls request and found it to be impressive, but said to her, “If the good God wills, you will enter.”

St. Therese of Lisieux

On April 9, 1888, Thérèse was given approval to enter Carmel. Three of the five Martin sisters were now Carmelites. In 1889, the sisters suffered a great loss when the mind of Louis Martin suffered two strokes and was taken to an asylum where he would live for three years, cared for by Celine, another of the sisters. Reflecting on her fathers’ suffering, Saint Thérèse said, “the three years of my father’s martyrdom seem to me the dearest and most fruitful of our life. I would not exchange them for the most sublime ecstasies.”

One year later, on September 8, 1890, Thérèse professed her final vows. She was in poor health, but remained strong and steady. On her final profession day, she said she felt like a queen and “I took advantage of my title to gain all the favors I could from the King for His ungrateful subjects. I did not forget anyone. I wanted all the sinners of the world to be converted that day, and purgatory emptied of every single captive.”

She lived the life of a cloistered Carmelite well, often praying for priests, which is a primary duty of Carmelites. However, she did struggle in prayer and often fell asleep while praying. She felt at times great distress and dryness of prayer. She carried most of the austere Carmelite rules out efficiently, but because of her poor health, was not permitted to fast, since it could take a toll on her overall condition.

In 1893, she was appointed as assistant novice mistress and actually did the work of mistress, but never had the official title. One year later, Louis Martin died after years of suffering mentally and physically from his strokes. Celine, the sister taking care of him, entered Carmel to join her three sisters.

The Carmelites from Hanoi in Indo-China requested her to join them, but she had to decline because of her poor physical condition. During the last eighteen months of her life, she endured great physical suffering and spiritual trials. She entered the infirmary in June 1897 and was unable to receive Holy Communion because she was frequently sick.

On September 30, 1897, with the words of divine love on her lips, Saint Thérèse entered Heavenly glory. In 1923, Pope Pius XI beatified her and two years later, he canonized her a saint. In 1927, she was declared the heavenly patroness of the foreign missions, never leaving the grounds of Carmel.

St. Therese Holy Card

On October 19, 1997, the soon to be saint himself, Blessed John Paul II, declared Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church. During his homily, the Holy Father said,

“Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face is the youngest of all the “doctors of the Church”, but her ardent spiritual journey shows such maturity, and the insights of faith expressed in her writings are so vast and profound that they deserve a place among the great spiritual masters…[she] did not only grasp and describe the profound truth of Love as the centre and heart of the Church, but in her short life she lived it intensely. It is precisely this convergence of doctrine and concrete experience, of truth and life, of teaching and practice, which shines with particular brightness in this saint, and which makes her an attractive model especially for young people and for those who are seeking true meaning for their life…. In a time like ours, so frequently marked by an ephemeral and hedonistic culture, this new doctor of the Church proves to be remarkably effective in enlightening the mind and heart of those who hunger and thirst for truth and love.”

Sources:

Gorres, Ida Friederike, The Hidden Face: A Study of St.Thérèse of Lisieux. Ignatius Press, 2003. 

Walsh, Michael, Butler’s Lives of the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

Vatican Website, http://vatican.va, Homily by Blessed John Paul II on Proclamation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and The Holy Face as  “Doctor of the Church”

Catholic Dog Tags

A few months back, I was getting a haircut and the individual cutting my hair noticed that I was wearing some sort of cloth “necklace”, but I told this person; it’s not a necklace, it’s the Brown Scapular. Having no idea what I meant by that word, I said, it’s like Catholic Dog Tags. As soldiers wear dog tags to identify them, the Brown Scapular should identify Catholics who wear them.

Today we celebrate the dual feasts of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the “Scapular of Mount Carmel.” The first feast commemorates the place of honor, Mount Carmel, where tradition tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary assumed into heaven. It’s also the primary feast day for the Carmelites who take their name from the same site. The second feast commemorates the event that happened on this day in 1251. Tradition says that the Blessed Mother appeared to Saint Simon Stock (1165-1265), Prior General of the Carmelites in England, and showed him the scapular.

As taught by the Carmelites,

“The Blessed Virgin appeared to him with a multitude of angels, holding in her blessed hands the Scapular of the Order. She said: “This will be for you and for all Carmelites the privilege, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire” that is, he who dies in this will be saved.”

Brown Scapular 1The Brown Scapular (scapula – Latin for shoulder) is composed of two small pieces of cloth united by strings that is worn over the shoulders as a sign of protection and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s brown because it’s connected to the Carmelite order who wear brown habits. The scapular provides the “scapular promise” – which states that anyone who wears it faithfully will be saved from eternal damnation from Hell and will attain graces for final perseverance into Heaven.

On March 25, 2001, during the 750th Anniversary of the Bestowal of the Scapular, Blessed Young Karol Wojtya as a young factory workerJohn Paul II said in regards to his own devotion to the scapular, “I too have worn the Scapular of Carmel over my heart for a long time! Out of my love for our common heavenly Mother, whose protection I constantly experience…” Since the year 1280 A.D., every Pope has worn the Brown Scapular.

We must be careful not to enter into formalism when it comes to the Scapular. Formalism is “an exterior act that is not accompanied by the necessary and corresponding interior disposition of the will” (Introduction to Mary, page 173).  When one wears the scapular externally it should be mirroring the person’s internal thoughts of mind and heart to serve the Almighty God, to love the Blessed Virgin Mary, and be obedient and truthful to the teachings of the Church.

The Scapular assists one to live in the station of life that they currently abide and to follow in service to Christ and his Blessed Mother. Wearing the Scapular does not substitute living a Christian life and will not keep you from sin, but can provide the necessary motivation to live a life according to Jesus Christ.

Through Our Lady’s motherly Queenship and Advocacy, the Scapular has a strong spiritual ability since she intercedes for the graces when things seem dark and hopeless. There are countless souls throughout the history of the Church that have found themselves in darkness and despair. However, many of these people have found a conversion of heart simply because they were wearing the Scapular. The spiritual graces of the Scapular should never be underestimated.

Encompassed in the Scapular devotion is what is known as the “Sabbatine” privilege. Its origin begins with Pope John XXII who was inspired by the Blessed Mother to declare a papal bull. The magisterial document stated that the souls in Purgatory who wore the Scapular during their earthly life would have the intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They also were to be chaste, according to one’s state in life, and prayers were offered for this intention at the request of their confessor. Other Popes after John XXII have also mentioned this privilege that focuses its attention on First Saturdays (Introduction to Mary, pages 174-175).

The Brown Scapular which has a very heavy Marian focus, should be understood that she is not the end all for us as Christians, that is only reserved for Jesus Christ himself.  However, she as our Heavenly Mother assists us and leads us closer to Jesus Christ. St. Louis DeMontfort states, “to do all our actions through Mary, with Mary, in Mary, and for Mary: so that we may do them all the more perfectly through Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus, and for Jesus.”

Our-Lady-of-Mount-Carmel

As one who has been wearing the Brown Scapular since the summer of 2009, I would encourage my Catholic brothers and sisters to purchase one immediately and follow the consecration enrollment.

As the persecutions begin for us as Christians today, we all need our Catholic Dog Tags as we put on the armor of God (Eph 6:11) and engage the spiritual and rhetorical battles that are before us. With the Brown Scapular upon our shoulders, we will have the grace of Jesus Christ through the intercessory prayer of the Blessed Virgin Mary to guide us in all things.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel…Pray for Us!

“Mondays with Mary” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Many people think that Pope St. John Paul II had the great devotions to the Blessed Mother, and yes that would be correct, however, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also had great devotions to the Blessed Mother as well. He would often speak of her in his addresses and magisterial documents.

Being that tomorrow is the feast day for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, below is an excerpt from Benedict’s address on July 16, 2006 from Les Combes, Introd, in the Aosta Valley of the Italian Alps. In this excerpt you shall read his concern for the Middle East, his love for the Carmelites and religious life, and his overall devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

“…By a happy coincidence, this Sunday is July 16, day in which the liturgy remembers the Most Holy Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Carmel, high promontory that rises on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, at the altitude of Galilee, has in its folds numerous natural grottoes, favorites of hermits.

The most famous of these men of God was the great prophet Elias, who in the 9th century before Christ, courageously defended the purity of the faith in the one true God from contamination by idolatrous cults. Inspired in the figure of Elias, the contemplative order of Carmelites arose, a religious family that counts among its members great saints such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of the Child Jesus and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (in the world, Edith Stein).

The Carmelites have spread in the Christian people devotion to the Most Holy Virgin of Mount Carmel, pointing to her as a model of prayer, contemplation and dedication to God. Mary, in fact, before and in an unsurpassable way, believed and felt that Jesus, the incarnate Word, is the culmination, the summit of man’s encounter with God.

Fully accepting the Word, “she happily reached the holy mountain” (Prayer of the Collect of the Memorial), and lives forever, in soul and body, with the Lord. To the Queen of Mount Carmel I wish to commend today all the communities of contemplative life spread throughout the world, especially those of the Carmelite Order, among which I remember the convent of Quart, not far from here. May Mary help every Christian to meet God in the silence of prayer…

…In recent days the news from the Holy Land is a reason for new and grave concern for all, in particular because of the spread of warlike actions also in Lebanon, and because of the numerous victims among the civilian population. At the origin of these cruel oppositions there are, sadly, objective situations of violation of law and justice. But neither terrorist acts nor reprisals, especially when they entail tragic consequences for the civilian population, can be justified. By such paths, as bitter experiences shows, positive results are not achieved.

This day is dedicated to the Virgin of Carmel, Mount of the Holy Land that, a few kilometers from Lebanon, dominates the Israeli city of Haifa, the latter also recently hit. Let us pray to Mary, Queen of Peace, to implore from God the fundamental gift of concord, bringing political leaders back to the path of reason, and opening new possibilities of dialogue and agreement. In this perspective I invite the local Churches to raise special prayers for peace in the Holy Land and in the whole of the Middle East.”