16 July 2011 - Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

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Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel
16 July 2011

Through the course of the year, as we know, there is a great variety in the length of the gospel readings. I am sure that the final decisions were made according to a number of criteria, but the end result is that some are reasonably lengthy and others are quite short. For this Mass, in honour of the Feast of our Lady of Mt Carmel, the gospel passage is one that fits into the shorter category.

As such, it is sometimes hard to get into the rhythm of the reading before it happens to be over. I thought it would be helpful to look at the reading in the wider context, and to see just what St. John included before this passage and what comes immediately after. The verses before the passage refer to the moment when Jesus was actually nailed to the cross. At least he was treated with some dignity and respect, for the soldiers, we are told, did not undress him completely, as was
the normal practice. Two other individuals were crucified with him, but we have no knowledge of who they were. We do know that one of them recognised that he deserved the fate that had befallen him; the other did not.

There at the foot of cross were four people, one being the Mother of Jesus herself, and the other, the narrator of the event, St. John. It would, fortunately, be a very rare experience, for a mother to be a witness to the execution of her son, but that is what happened in the life of Mary. What a terrible experience it must have been. I always think that it is an experience of particular sadness, when a parent outlives a child, but this was even worse.

In the relatively short passage of the gospel, the word “mother” appears five times: “stood his mother, his mother’s sister, seeing his mother, Jesus said to his mother, and finally when speaking to John, Jesus said “This is your mother.” In those dying moments, clearly, the focus of Jesus’ love and attention was his mother.

The contemplation of Christ, the one who came, would be linked closely to the Mother of Jesus, Mary herself. A very early phrase which referred to the followers of the Carmelite tradition was that of Brothers of our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The Gospel reading is a reminder of that closeness, as Mary is placed in the care of St. John, but also, of when St. John, and all of us, were placed in the care of Mary herself.

A very visible expression and reminder of that care and protection comes to us, as you know, through the scapular. It is a sign approved by the Church and accepted by the Carmelite Order as an external sign of love for Mary, of the trust her children have in her, and of commitment to live like her. As time as gone on, the Scapular has come to symbolise the special dedication of Carmelites to Mary, the Mother of God, and to express trust in her motherly protection as well as the desire to be live her in her commitment to Christ and to others.

It is also a constant reminder to live like Mary, open to God and to his will, as shown in the events of our lives; to listen, as Mary did to the word of God, in the Bible and in life, to believe in this word and to put its demands into practice, to pray at all times, as a way of discovering the presence of God in all that is happening around us, and to be involved with people and attentive to their needs.

One of those who followed the path of Mary as a Mother was of course St. Teresa of Avila. It has been said that even among those who failed to discern the sanctity of Teresa, still recognised her quality as Mother. In the times when she lived, monasteries were often located many kilometres apart, and of course the methods of transport were very primitive. It was not possible for Teresa to make regular visits, but somehow, there was an awareness of her presence none the less.

As one author says; “scattered over the country her nuns might be, but they were always members of a single family, bound together, first of all, by the force of her compelling and tender personality and, after her death, by the tradition which a career of only twenty years had suffered to establish at the time.” 1

In the passage that follows immediately after our gospel text for today, Jesus makes his final utterances: “I am thirsty” and “It is accomplished.” In a very real sense, Jesus suffered from the deprivation of fluids, as a consequence of all that he had experienced in the hours leading up to being nailed to the Cross.

But the task he had been given was most certainly accomplished at that moment, the task of showing the depth of his love and commitment both to his Father and to us.


1 Mother of Carmel, E. Allison Peters, SCM Press, 1945, page 188