Our Lady of Mt Carmel

(commemorating the approbation of the rule of life of the Carmelite Order by Pope Honorius III in 1226)

Dear Candy,

My prayers for you are especially heartfelt today, the day on which the Church honors the religious Order of Our Lady of Mt Carmel.  The Order was founded in Palestine (that’s where Mt Carmel is – the same mountain where the prophet Elijah took refuge back in the eighth century BC, and where hermits dedicated to contemplation have resided ever since) around the year 1154.  You know the story of how St Simon Stock, an English pilgrim who had joined the order during his stay in the Holy Land, returned to his homeland with the rest of the Carmelites after the Muslim conquests made the land of Israel hostile to Christians.  Then he began spreading the Order, revising their rule of life to include missionary and ministerial activity in addition to asceticism and prayer. (It was to him that, so it seems – the apparition has never been formally approved – Our Lady appeared holding the little brown scapular [two patches of cloth made into a kind of double necklace – a miniature version of the Carmelite habit] and promising that whoever died wearing it would be assured of salvation.)  Later, in the 1500s, St Theresa of Avila and St John of the Cross would bring some Carmelites back to their original ideal of solitude, extreme poverty, contemplation, and rigorous self-denial. Their reform led to the erection of the “Discalced Carmelites” branch, while Simon Stock’s branch was called the “Calced Carmelites” (the reformers went barefoot or with sandals only, thus the adjective “discalced”, “unshod”). The naming of St Therese of Lisieux as a Doctor of the Church in 1997 revived awareness of the spiritual force exerted by the prayers and sacrifices of the Carmelites, an Order still going strong today.

Perhaps you don’t have a vocation to leave behind the delights and distractions of the world in order to dedicate yourself body and soul to love and serve the Lord, but that doesn’t mean you can start skipping Sunday Mass and abandoning your prayer commitments – as it would seem by your last note that you have begun to do.  Beach volleyball is fun, but beach volleyball in heaven is a lot more fun. If you cut out your prayer life, as St Theresa of Avila herself put it, you will “need not a devil to carry you to hell, but will bring yourself there with your own hands.” She, by the way, is also a Doctor of the Church.

Your lovingly honest uncle, Eddy


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