As we do every year, we get ready to celebrate the feasts in honour of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, our Mother and Sister as we like to call her among Carmelites, following the ancient tradition that comes down to us from the Middle Ages. First of all, I want to offer you my best wishes for the feast. May all the activities, celebrations, devotions and all that we are accustomed to do throughout these days by way of honouring the Blessed Virgin, be a sign of something very deep inside, and of a real desire to be close to Mary the Mother of Jesus, (Acts 1:14) so that she, the first disciple and follower of the Lord, may be an inspiration to us on our journey. In view of that, each day we will offer, as we do every year through our website, an outline for a novena that is the work of a number of biblical scholars. Here we have a number of reflections that are both simple and profound, that may be of some assistance to people in achieving a greater spiritual intensity at this time.
This year I would like to propose for your reflection the experience and doctrine of three great Carmelites of different periods in our history who for different reasons we remember this year. St. Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi, Blessed Baptist of Mantua and Blessed Titus Brandsma. All three – each in a different language, with a distinct mariological background, and with different sensitivities and emphases – underlined this fundamental dimension of the Carmelite charism: a filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, that is deep, and oftentimes poetic. They enriched that devotion and more importantly, they lived it, authentically, in a way that made it a spur to holiness. Would that we too might renew our understanding of that devotion to Mary so that it might give new energy to our Carmelite vocation at the service of the Church and of the world.
Last March 20th was the 5th centenary of the death of Blessed Baptist of Mantua, known also as “Spagnoli” on account of his father’s nationality. Baptist entered the Order as part of the Congregation of Mantua that was at the height of its splendour in those years. In addition to being an excellent religious and a prominent figure in the history of our Order (he became Vicar General of the reformed congregation and then at the end of his life, Prior General of the whole Order) he was also an important person in the life of the Church at that time, known as the “the Mantuan”, he was an important writer passing into history as the “Christian Virgil”.
Throughout his poetic composition and his religious life, Baptist of Mantua continued to sing the praises of Mary. He dedicated to her the sublime verses that we find in his work called La Partenice mariana. He loved the title, Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel that Carmelites have been using from time immemorial. It is a beautiful title, which when properly understood, shows us a very important dimension of our mariology and devotion to Mary: Mary is our Mother and our Sister, who walks with us on the road to the Father. She stood by her Son, very often in the background, with deep humility, and also with the fidelity that led her to the foot of the cross and to remain with the nascent Church in waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
May Mary help us to be companions on the journey for the men and women of our times. May she, our Mother and Sister, help us to remain faithful to the following of Christ, as true and ever persevering and faithful disciples. And at the end of our journey may we be able to proclaim joyfully as Blessed Spagnoli did when he addressed these words to the Blessed Virgin: “Now your paths and mine are crossing …..”
Throughout this year, there have been several events and celebrations to honour the 450th anniversary of the birth of St. Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi, the great Florentine Carmelite who reached the heights of mysticism. This Carmelite saint, in the course of her intense mystical life, developed a very deep Marian piety, that was both spiritually and theologically very solid. At various times, she uses the image of the “door” in referring to Mary and her role in the history of salvation. Mary is “that door by which God came into the world and by which we enter the heavenly homeland” (Probations, 2, 202). What a beautiful image for this jubilee year in which Pope Francis invites us to pass through the door and come into the presence of the God of Mercy!
On other occasions she refers to her own monastery as the home of Mary, Mary’s house, thus proclaiming that Carmel, every Carmel, is to be a humble dwelling in which Mary accompanies and inspires us. Mary Magdalene, in words that are fiery, bold and poetic, recreates the beauty of Mary and invites all of us to come into that dwelling place, and to cross its threshold with great confidence, passing through the door that is Mary, and entering the place of divine mercy:
How pure and beautiful you are, Mary! By your gaze you make the Word bring joy to the angels, comfort to sinners and energy to pilgrims (…) From the heavens, with your gaze, it is like as if God is no longer God, and his anger is lessened and his creatures here on earth begin to ask if God is really so powerful and just when they see so much mercy that every time a person turns to him, he is waiting, and still being God, just and pure, does not come across that way but shows his mercy much more. In the beauty of your eyes, the whole of creation rejoices and the throne of the Holy Trinity descends ….
May Mary help us to discover that merciful God who lovingly waits for us. May she help us also to be the planters and the conveyors of that mercy, especially towards those who need it most. May we Carmelites be able to radiate that mercy to the world that needs it so much, a world that so often is cold and hostile.
As perhaps you already know, the case of a miracle is being examined, attributed to the intercession of Blessed Titus Brandsma in the diocese of Palm Beach in the U.S.A. Blessed Titus was faithful to that fundamental aspect of our charism. On many occasions he preached and taught the true sense of that Marian piety that leads to the depths of the Gospel. It was in line with this that in 1932, before announcing the events to mark the 15th centenary of the Council of Ephesus, he published an open letter addressed to Protestants in which he tried to explain the sense that we Catholics give to these celebrations and he showed his desire (sincerely ecumenical) not to offend the sensitivities of anyone.
Blessed Titus was adamant that a correct and healthy devotion to Mary could lead no where else but to the heart of Christian life and to the very mystery of Christ. In that way this Dutch Carmelite was ahead of his time in terms of what the dogmatic Constitution of the II Vatican Council, Lumen gentium would say many decades later, when, while strongly recommending devotion to the Blessed Virgin, it warned:
This most Holy Synod (…) exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously (…) from all gross exaggerations, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and piety. Let them assiduously keep away from whatever, either by word or deed, could lead separated brethren or any other into error regarding the true doctrine of the Church. (LG 67)
An idea that has deep patristic resonances, very dear to Blessed Titus, was the idea that we are all, like Mary, in some way, “bearers of God” (Theotokos) In an analogous way, of course, as believers we have to try to ensure that Jesus and the Good News of the Gospel reaches everybody. With the witness that we give in our lives, with our prayer, and the words we say …. we are called to be bearers of God, out of our humanity and the authenticity of our lives. Blessed Titus lived like that, radically and heroically, right to the dramatic moments that preceded his death in Dachau.
May we, Carmelites of the 21st century, take on that same challenge, like Mary, generously, enthusiastically and creatively to be people who bear God for others!
Inspired by these models, let us dispose ourselves to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. May she always be our companion and guide. Happy Feastday!
With fraternal affection,
Fernando Millán Romeral O.Carm.