Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time (July 30th, 2015)

Some people construe the Old Testament Book of Exodus to be primarily about a politics, a treatise on freedom and self-determination. Now while one can cite elements in the Book of Exodus that gesture towards these themes, the main point of the Book of Exodus is not about politics, but about worship.

If one recalls the reason Moses insists to Pharaoh that the Israelites be permitted to leave the lands of Egypt it is not to form a new government or write a new constitution, but so that the people might worship the God of Israel as he wants to be worshipped.

Thus, the commandments given by God to the Israelites are not just for the sake of providing a code of conduct, but of expressing for the people those expectations that would conform the Israelites to the God whom they worship.

The Book of Exodus is really about worship.

In today’s excerpt from the Book of Exodus, the prototype of the temple of Jerusalem is completed. This prototype is described as an immense tent that would serve as a dwelling place for the divine presence. In this sanctuary God would have a home among his people.

The Israelite temple, in its prototypical form, or as it took shape as the great temple of Jerusalem, was not just a civic center or a gathering place for the community to celebrate itself. Instead it was literally God’s house, the Lord’s dwelling place on earth. The Lord would make his presence known in this place in signs and wonders and the Israelites would have recourse to the temple, not as some kind of faith-based clubhouse, but as the privileged meeting place of God and his people.

Thus, does the Church gather the faithful, not in civic centers or gatherings spaces or clubhouses, but in temples- for this is what the Church’s place of worship is properly called, for in our places of worship it is not just the community that is present, but the divine presence of God in Christ.

The divine presence of God in Christ is revealed in the great mysteries of the Mass, mysteries that culminates in the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, which is not just a symbol of Christ, but the real presence of the Lord Jesus himself. This presence dwells in the faithful, who carry out into the world in their own bodies the divine life of Christ, but also this presence abides in the holy of holies of the tabernacle, where the divine presence endures and beckons the faithful to adoration and worship.

The purpose of the Church is not simply to advance this or that cause or promote this or that agenda. The purpose of the Church, like that of Israel, is to invite people into an experience of true worship- to call people from the darkness of false gods and into the light of the one, true God. It is from its worship that the life of the Church is sustained and grows. The source and summit of the Christian life is the worship of God in Christ, not our causes, cultures, or agendas.

The worship of the Church is God in Christ’s gift to us, we receive worship from him, we do not make it up for ourselves.

Pope Benedict XVI was apt to point out that the mission of Church can be summed up in three great tasks- worship, evangelization and care for the poor. Of these three, worship has a priority, for without the worship of God in Christ we will not know the God whom we are to invite others to know and we will not know how to love those whom Christ insists that we serve.

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Memorial of Saint Martha (July 29th, 2015)

Today the Church celebrates the witness of the great friend and disciple of the Lord Jesus, St. Martha.

The Gospel testifies that Martha was the sister of Lazarus and Mary, and that the three were friends of the Lord Jesus who lived in Bethany.

Further, the Gospel testifies that Martha was the subject of a rebuke from Christ for prioritizing domestic tasks over that of attentive, communion with Christ. This rebuke was an invitation to conversion and indicates that the Gospel cannot be reduced to simply an affirmation of who we are, but an opening up to becoming the person that Christ wills for us to be.

Also, in the Gospel of John, Martha offers witness to her faith in the power of God in Christ to restore the dead to life. Her testimony to the power of God in Christ is a precursor to a wonderful miracle- Christ restores life to her dead brother, Lazarus.

Legends regarding Saint Martha are also worthy of note as they are both delightful and edifying. Perhaps the best is the story of St. Martha the Dragon-slayer.

Exiled during a time of persecution from the Holy Land, Martha journeys to a region that we now know as France.

The itinerant evangelist Martha finds herself in a village plagued by a dragon, whose appetite for the villagers could not be satisfied.

Martha proclaimed the power of God in Christ to the villagers, a message to which the villagers listened attentively, but the matter seemed abstract to their experience- for the greatest power they knew was the power of the dragon.

Was this power of God in Christ greater than that of the dragon? If so, could she overcome the dragon?

The tenacious Martha then went out, found the dragon, confronted it, subdued it, brought it back to the village on a leash, and after a stirring proclamation of the power of God in Christ, called for a sword- thus did Martha become Saint Martha the Dragon-slayer.

It’s a wonderful story and it’s not important that the dragon or the story be literally real, because the truth in the tale is in its deep symbolism. The dragon being a symbol of all that opposes Christ, an opposition that lurks in all of us and seeks to consume the goodness and life that God with which God has blessed us. It is the dragon that tempts us to live in fear, rather than in courageous hope. This dragon is the devil and the dark and fallen powers that always accompany him.

Saint Martha is a representation of the soul who counters the power of the dragon with the power of God in Christ. Christ, who conquers and who is victorious over the powers of the dragon and who still fights on our behalf. It is Christ who reveals to us that the dragon can and will be defeated.

Christ is our champion and we if we let his power transform us then perhaps we too can be known, like St. Martha, as the slayers of dragons.

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 26th, 2015)

With this Sunday, the Church begins a presentation of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. (Excerpts from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John will be the Church’s Gospel reading for the next few weeks.)

The Gospel of John is in its elegant literary style, perhaps the most beautiful of the four Gospels. It begins with what might be described as a hymn of praise to God in Christ, who revealed himself to the world by accepting for himself a human nature and living a real, human life.

God is not presented in the Gospel of John as merely an idea or feeling, but as a living, divine person who offers his creatures (that’s us) the extraordinary possibility of sharing a relationship with him. This relationship imparts great gifts to those who accept it- foremost being the forgiveness of our sins and friendship with God.

John writes from the perspective of one who knew the Lord Jesus intimately, personally. His Gospel is not presenting a theory about the Lord Jesus, the kind of which historians create, but testimony to how the Lord Jesus revealed himself as God- a revelation that John himself encountered in real flesh and blood. The Gospel of John is not about how a man named John knew a figure of historical importance, but how he met and became friends with Jesus Christ who is really and truly God. Jesus Christ is not for John a symbol of God or a new kind of prophet, but he is God himself, who surprised everyone by revealing himself in the world as a flesh and blood man.

John insists that this privileged encounter with God in Christ is not the stuff of legends or myths, but of actual fact and real life circumstances. Thus he describes how not only his own, but how other people’s encounters with God in Christ transformed their lives forever.

John presents the revelation of God in Christ in the context of seven great events or signs. In each of these events, God in Christ speaks and acts in the person of God and what he says and does upsets the status quo, throwing people off, initiating total conversion in some and inciting great anger and opposition in others. In each case, the Lord Jesus compels people to make a decision about him, and if that decision is accepting him for whom he reveals himself to be, then that person’s life is transformed.

Whatever our decision might be, for or against, the encounter with God in Christ changes people’s lives forever.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John is about a great miracle through which God in Christ manifests his divine identity. This miracle is feeding a vast multitude of people with a small quantity of food.

Now I know, some preachers try to sell this idea that the great miracle is that people were provoked by the Lord Jesus to be generous, and there was no real multiplication of the food. This is not only a bad, corrupted interpretation, it is not what the testimony from the Gospel of John is about.

Sharing what we have with others, especially with those in need is a good thing for us to do, but the testimony in the Gospel of John you heard this morning is not first and foremost about us, it is about the Lord Jesus, and in this particular case it is testimony to a miracle that John believed indicated to him that the Lord Jesus was God. Precedents for this kind of miracle existed in the story of Israel’s great prophets, and one was referenced today, a story about the prophet Elisha from the second book of Kings, but as the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John progresses, it becomes clear that what the Lord Jesus has done in this miracle was about much more than showing himself to be a wonderworking prophet. Jesus Christ is acting and speaking in today’s Gospel in the very person of God!

I can’t stress to you enough that this revelation, the revelation of Jesus Christ as God, is what the Gospels, indeed, what the Church is all about.

Testimony to the revelation of Jesus Christ as God is extraordinary, indeed upsetting for many, especially now as God is viewed as little more than an idea or feeling, rather than a living divine person with whom we can relate to.

Ideas and feelings are our own, we make them and give them whatever significance that we prefer. Persons are different, as in every person we meet, there is always a potential demand placed on us, a decision- if this is the case with the human persons that we encounter, how much more so for Jesus who is a divine person, who is God.

It is because of the demand and decision that Christ places upon us that it seems easier for some folks to make him less that who he claims to be. It is for this reason that some folks take a Gospel, like the one we heard today, and want to make of it a nice, pleasant story about sharing, rather than a weird and wonderful miracle. Nice, pleasant stories are emotionally satisfying and let’s face it, place little if any pressure on us to do anything. Miracles are emotionally upsetting, and if accepted for what they imply, the pressure to change one’s life in response is immense indeed!

Jesus Christ is not just a maker of stories. Jesus Christ is a maker of miracles.

There is one more thing about today’s Gospel that is important to know about. John is up to something in the sixth chapter of his Gospel and if you miss this detail you miss the point of what he saying not only about the Lord Jesus, but also about his Church and how we come to have a relationship with God in Christ in his Church.

John presents this miracle story knowing that stories about the miracles of the prophets anticipated and foreshadowed the Lord Jesus. When the prophets worked wonders, they were signaling to the people what God would one day reveal in Christ.

John wants us to understand that what Christ does in this miracle anticipates and foreshadows a wonder that he will work in the Church- he will feed his people, with something greater than that of the multiplication of food. God in Christ will feed his people with his own divine life and this will happen in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament.

The miracle story you heard this morning is really a kind of introduction to a greater revelation that God in Christ will reveal in the Eucharist.

The remainder of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel will provide startling insights from the Lord Jesus himself regarding the Eucharist, and like the miracle of today’s Gospel, what Christ the Lord has to say about the Eucharist will place a demand on us and compel us to a decision.

Demand and decision.

These two categories are likely not ways that many Catholics nowadays are accustomed to think relate to the Eucharist.

The Eucharist has become for many Catholics a nice gesture, a pleasant custom, a way of feeling good about oneself, that the Eucharist places a demand on us to change our lives and compels a decision for or against Jesus Christ is likely not what many might think when they come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

But more than anything else, this is precisely what the Eucharist is doing and compels us to do.

Why?

Because the Eucharist is not just an idea about God or a feeling about Jesus, instead, the Eucharist is an encounter with the divine life and presence of God in Christ.

And as the Gospel of John, makes it clear, the encounter with God in Christ will always and is supposed to change your life.

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Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time (July 23rd, 2015)

The scholar of religion Rudolph Otto was apt to describe the manner in which people relate the experience of God as being “tremendum et fascinans”, which can be translated as “fear and fascination”. God is for Otto, “wholly other” echoing St. Anselm’s description of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought”. I believe it was the Protestant theologian Karl Barth who, musing on St. Anselm’s description, that there is an “infinite qualitative difference between God and the world”.

All this relates, in very sophisticated language, to what the Book of Exodus presents to us in the form of a story. What those great thinkers are attempting to describe, the Book of Exodus tells us about in a story.

The divine presence that is revealed in this story from the Book of Exodus is one of power, power manifested by means of the coming together of both the creative and destructive forces of nature. This power is manifested throughout the Book of Exodus as the God of Israel acts to defeat the false gods of Egypt, a defeat that was utter and complete when he moved the waters of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites a passage to freedom and then used those mighty waters to crush the armies of the god-king, Pharoh.

The God of the Israelites, is not a thing in the world that can be managed or manipulated. His power is beyond that of anything in the universe and the forces of nature move in accord with his will and purposes.

This is both frightening and fascinating.

But it is also not all that God reveals himself to be.

The Letter to the Hebrews, a New Testament book, makes reference to the extraordinary scene that the Book of Exodus describes, appreciating what the biblical author describes but also reminding us that this revelation of God was but a pre-cursor to a revelation of God far greater, far more mysterious, and far more important- the revelation of God in Christ.

The Letter to the Hebrews testifies: “You have not approached that which could not be touched, a blazing fire and a gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such as that those heard begged to be spared.”

Instead, what you have received is the revelation of Christ, who manifested his power by emptying himself of such spectacular displays of might and taking the form of a slave- being born into this world in vulnerability, accepting as his own the experiences of suffering and death, and manifesting his divine power, not in exemption from the raw and weakening facts of being human, but precisely through them.

The great mystery in all this is that God in Christ is in no way diminished or destroyed in any of this, but even in his weakest condition, he is still “that than which nothing greater can be thought”- the same power that moved the Red Sea and shook the foundations of Mt Sinai, the same power that, to paraphrase the poet Dante “moves the sun and the stars”.

God makes himself accessible to us in Christ and he meets us face to face.

God in Christ immerses himself in the human condition, accepting a human nature, and living a real human life, so that in all the events and circumstances of life, great and small, his presence is ready and waiting, saving and redeeming. God in Christ, who is that than which nothing greater can be thought, creates out of the human nature he accepted from us a bridge over the infinite qualitative difference between himself and the world.

The Fathers of the Church described this as a “marvelous exchange”- God in Christ accepting from us a human nature so that from him we might receive the gift of a share in his divine nature. Bottom line, this is what the whole of the Church’s life, her existence, her mission is all about- introducing people to Christ so that they too can share the divine gift of his life that he wants everyone to have.

Those of us who have received this gift cannot keep that gift to ourselves or that gift will diminish in us. The gifts Christ gives us increase in us only inasmuch as we are willing to give to others what we have ourselves received.

In the end, our fidelity to Christ will be judged and measured in relation to how we have shared the gifts he gave to us with others. Foremost among these gifts are faith, which is our faith in him- in his revelation, our hope, which is hope in his promises to us, and love, which is not just loving what we prefer, but loving what he prefers that we love.

This risk in all this is great and the demand even greater.

I can only but think that this is really what Rudolph Otto means for the Christian when he describes the experience of the encounter with God as one that is fascinating and frightening.

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 19th, 2015)

Our first scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the Book of Jeremiah, one of the most beautiful texts in the all the Bible- made all the more so because it is so very sad.

The prophet Jeremiah lived in catastrophic times, indeed for the Israelites, the times would be best described as apocalyptic.

The Kingdom of David, once one of the mightiest powers in the ancient world, was not only about to fall, it was about to come crashing down.

Jeremiah would himself see the stunning conclusion of David’s Kingdom when in the year 587 BC the armies of Babylon would encircle the walls of the holy city of Jerusalem. The armies of Babylon would overcome the city’s defenses and bring the Kingdom of David to a ruinous end. The city would be sacked. The great temple burned to the ground. The royal family would be killed. No one would be spared the destruction.

Those who managed to survive fled as homeless refugees or were sold into slavery.

Jeremiah saw all this as the culmination of a long history of corruption that had rotted the souls of the Israelites. The corruption was rooted in idolatry, the worship of false gods- gods of wealth, pleasure, power and honors. The seeds of this idolatry has been planted and nurtured by the ruling elites of the Israelites- their priests, prophets and kings, who consolidated their power over the people by sanctioning the desires of the people for false gods, rather than modeling for them and inviting them to sanctity.

The one, true God was kept as a fixture of custom and culture, but his commandments were treated with contempt and his worship was tolerated as helpful anachronism and appreciated more as a matter of aesthetics or performance art rather than being an act of holy communion with God.

Identity as an Israelite had become a merely a matter of citizenship, rather than a mission to be for all people a route of access to the one, true God.

All this corruption gained momentum over time until it led the Israelites over a precipice of destruction- and that destruction was interpreted by the prophet Jeremiah to be the terrible events of 587 BC.

Jeremiah excoriated the “shepherds”of Israel for their role in this catastrophe. We heard a brief sample of his cry of indignation this morning. He is really, really mad- especially at those who survey the situation and cast the blame at God. It wasn’t God, the prophet insists, but the shepherds who ruled the Kingdom of David.

Now, by shepherds here, Jeremiah is not speaking about those men who cared for the flocks of sheep and goats, but the cultural elites of the Kingdom of David- the kings, the priests and the prophets. As a reference point in terms of your own experience think of the cultural elites of our own time as like the shepherds that Jeremiah has in mind- politicians, celebrities and financiers. High status folks like that.

Folks like these were supposed to be leading people to God and instead, led them to idols.

Jeremiah understands that the terrible events of 587 BC had what he believed to be the positive effect of clearing these people out and in their absence, Jeremiah foresaw the possibility of new shepherds, of new leaders, who would lead people to God, rather than to idols.

These new shepherds would set right what had gone so terribly wrong.

Who would these shepherds be? Were would they come from? When would they be revealed?

Jeremiah gives only one hint- that God would act to raise up from the fallen and ruined House of King David a worthy shepherd for his people.

The great surprise of the revelation of God in Christ is that God himself inserts himself into the House of David, creating for himself a place in that family, and God himself becomes the good shepherd that the prophet Jeremiah foresaw would come.

We Christians recognize Christ the Lord as our Shepherd. We do not look to politicians, celebrities or financiers as our guides in our discernment of right and wrong or for the meaning and purpose of life or for the way of knowing God and serving him will. We Christians look to Christ, for he, and he alone, is the Lord our Shepherd.

We Christians should be the ones who have learned the lesson of 587 BC and who therefore know the one, true God from false gods. We know that false gods make empty promises and that in Jesus Christ, God reveals that he keeps his promises. We know the one, true Shepherd Christ and can distinguish him from simulations of Christ or from people who demand from us an allegiance that belongs only to him.

That’s the lesson for us from the prophet Jeremiah.

It is also the point that St. Paul is making this morning in his magnificent letter to the Ephesians. The apostle Paul stresses the priority of Christ, his centrality to our lives. It is Jesus Christ who has given to us a privileged relationship with God.

Remember, that in Jesus Christ, we have become the children of God. In Jesus Christ, we have become the brothers and sisters of God. In Jesus Christ we have been given a mission that gives meaning and purpose to our lives. And perhaps most spectacularly, we have been given a relationship with God that is like the Lord Jesus’ own relationship with his Heavenly Father.

This is what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us and it has only happened and can only happen because of him.

When St. Paul testifies that God has in Christ “abolished the law and its legal claims”, what he is saying is that it isn’t cultural, political or economic structures that imparts our relationship with God, but Jesus Christ does this.

Jesus Christ is means by which we have a relationship with God and no one and nothing can give to us the kind of relationship with God that God in Christ wants to give.

This relationship with God in Christ is not a theory for our minds or an emotion for our hearts. This relationship with God in Christ is not a matter of culture or ethnicity. This relationship with God in Christ is given to us in the Sacraments of the Church, which are the privileged means by which Jesus Christ enters into a relationship with us. Jesus Christ enters into a relationship with us in the Sacraments of the Church and through our participation in the Sacraments of the Church we can have a relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship we have with Christ in the Sacraments of the Church is always personal because God is a person, a divine person.

The great revelation of God in Christ is that God is a person who desires to have a relationship with us, and so strong is this desire that he is willing to become human himself to make that relationship happen. This is what happens, this is what God reveals in Jesus Christ! The Sacraments of the Church are the means that the Lord Jesus uses to bring you into relationship with him. The Sacraments serve the same purpose that the revelation of God in Christ as a man served. Like the humanity of Jesus, the Sacraments serve as a route of access that will take you to him.

That’s why the Sacraments are necessary. That’s why the Sacraments are important.

That’s also why when out of ignorance or fear the Sacraments become distorted, becoming only cultural rites of passage or ethnic customs or family obligations that the grace of a relationship with Jesus Christ through them becomes frustrated and the Sacraments lose their meaning and purpose and people drift away from them.

The Sacraments are given to us by Christ for one purpose- to lead us to him, if we try to use the Sacraments for some other purpose, we will be deprived of the blessing that Christ wants to give to us through them- and this blessing is a relationship with him!

Finally, in his Gospel, Christ experiences the desire that people have for him. The people need him. The people want him. There is a desperate longing in this world for Christ the Lord.

Our mission, the mission of the Church is to bring people to Jesus Christ. In fact, this mission is the whole purpose of the Church summed up succinctly.

The purpose of the Church is not to provide for my own faith based needs or to support the causes that I have determined to be important, but to bring people to the Lord Jesus, and offer to others what we have received from him- a relationship with Christ in his Church.

The decadence and decline of so much that is good in our culture… The prevalence of idolatry… The elevation of the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and honors to divine status… The dogmas of individualism and materialism… The callous regard in which the most vulnerable among us are treated…

All these are symptomatic of how desperate people become when the Church’s invitation to know Jesus Christ is frustrated or blocked or when we, as Christians, are no longer, as Pope Francis calls us, “missionary disciples”- people who are willing to risk much so that others might know Christ in his Church.

People are looking for Jesus Christ. We Christians are supposed to be the ones who are the means by which they find him.

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Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time (July 18th, 2015)

All this week the first scripture for daily Mass has been an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Exodus.

The Book of Exodus describes the extraordinary events that led to the liberation of the Israelites from the oppressive power of the false gods of the Egyptians. The God of Israel defeated these false gods and ended the slavery of the Israelites.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Exodus gives an account of the Israelites’ first taste of freedom, a taste that is marked and remembered in the celebration of a sacred meal called Passover, during which faithful Israelites recall the victory of God and the liberation of their ancestors from bondage to false gods.

The victory of God over the false gods of the Egyptians and the sacred meal of Passover are understood by the Church to be anticipations of Christ, both indicating his victory over the powers of sin, death and the devil on the cross. The reality of Christ’s victory is not just marked and remembered, but really and truly given to us in the sacred meal of his Body and his Blood called the Eucharist. In our participation in the Eucharist we participate in the victory of God in Christ and his triumph over sin, death and the devil is offered to us as his gift.

What the Passover expressed in shadows; the Eucharist expresses in the fullness of light. While the Passover suggests God in Christ to us; the Eucharist gives us God in Christ himself. What the Passover offers in symbols; the Eucharist gives us in reality.

Today’s Gospel speaks about resistance to Christ- a resistance that expresses itself in wanting Christ dead.

It is chilling to hear that some people deliberately sought to put the Lord Jesus to death, but it was true. The reasons for this terrifying resistance to Christ are many. We should not lose ourselves is speculations as to why others resisted or betrayed Christ and in doing so pay little or no attention to the resistance and betrayals of Christ that we have ourselves perpetrated against him.

Our own resistance and betrayals of Christ are likely far less dramatic than those described in the Scriptures, but they are just as real.

Our resistance to Christ happens when his overtures of love are met with indifference and his commandments are met with a refusal to change. Christ does not suffer physically in the body of his human nature anymore, but his sacred heart aches for us, because in our refusals of God, we are diminished and the consequences are many times impossible for us to bear. Despite all appearances of worldly accomplishment or success, none of us can ever be fully alive or fully ourselves in our refusals of Christ or in our resistance to his commandments.

Despite that his love for us is so often unrequited and his commandments so often rejected, God in Christ still loves us and offers us the possibility of reconciliation. Remember, Christ’s last word to those who had hurt him so terribly was forgiveness. His invitation to those who has betrayed him was to accept the gift of another chance.

It is Christ’s indomitable love for us, a love that seeks communion with us despite our refusals that should inspire in each of us a profound hope for, rather than just fear for our salvation. Christ identifies himself as the “Suffering Servant” and this indicates that he does not meet the sinner who comes to him with a desire to be saved with recrimination and retribution, but with compassion and mercy.

The love of God in Christ is given to us in the Church’s Sacraments and reconciliation with God in Christ is possible for us in the Sacrament of Penance. In that Sacrament we can hear for ourselves Christ’s own word of forgiveness and receive from him his gift of another chance.

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Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16th, 2015)

Today the Church honors the Mother of God, presented to us as the Lady of Mt. Carmel, which refers to her role as heavenly patroness of the Carmelite Order. This is the reason that artistic depictions of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel show her dressed in the habit of a Carmelite.

The Carmelite Order is a community of men and women religious that was founded in the 13th century. The rule or way of life of the Carmelite Order highlights the necessity of austerity of life and contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is marked by an a willingness to accept God on his terms, relying not on petition or imagination, but by a disciplined receptivity to what God desires to accomplish in through our prayer. This disciplined receptivity is an expression of the Carmelites desire to make of their life a total gift to Christ. As Christ emptied himself so to give himself to us, the Carmelite, in imitation of Christ, empties him or her self of worldly aspirations and achievement, placing his or her life at Christ’s disposal. Notable Carmelites are St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Edith Stein.

Mt. Carmel is the spiritual center of the Carmelite Order, evoking the arduous path of renunciation and self-gift that Carmelites aspire to through their way of life, but it is also a real place that is located in the Holy Land.

Mt. Carmel was the place of refuge where the prophets of the Bible would withdraw and seek communion with the God of Israel in solitude. The Carmelites understand their role as originating in the Biblical prophets, particularly that of the wonder working prophet, Elijah.

The biblical prophets spoke the Lord’s truth and proclaimed the necessity of obedience to the Lord’s will. They often offered this testimony to worldly powers that resisted the Lord’s truth and his will and in doing so led people into idolatry. Idolatry is the greatest manifestation of human corruption, and it engenders spiritual decadence that leads to our destruction.

Idols are false gods, but they need not be mythological beings. Idols are usually created from our desires, the desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors being foremost. But idols can also be constructed from other desires, such as our need to control, or our need to be right, or out of our fears.

It might be helpful to understand the austerity of the Carmelite way of life, as well as its emphasis on intense contemplation, as an intentional turning away from false gods to the one, true God. Though we might not be called to the radical renunciation of a Carmelite, we are compelled by our profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord to contend with the idols that we have created.

We may not think of the Mother of God as a prophet, but she surely is, and her association with Mt. Carmel is as apt as it is profound. In her presentation of her Divine Son to us and her persistent command that we do “whatever he tells us”, the Mother of God positions herself in solemn witness against our idols and our idol-making tendencies. Further, her prophetic witness against the pomp and pretense of worldly powers resounds in her great Magnificat, which casts God’s judgment upon the fallen powers of the world that would in their arrogant desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors resist her Son’s Kingdom. (Just as it is misleading to think of Christ as merely gentle, meek and mild, so it is also misleading to think of his mother in those terms. Her Magnifcat reveals her, not as a symbol of domesticated passivity, as a force to be reckoned with!)

The Mother of God is also a privileged model of the contemplative prayer that is at the center of the Carmelite way of life. The Gospel testifies that she “kept God’s revelation and treasured it within her heart”, a statement that does not indicate sentimental musing, but an intense recollection at what God had revealed in Christ and why he had revealed it. The Mother of God is the paradigmatic example of the disciple whose life was intentionally centered on a deep and abiding awareness and appreciation of the presence of the living and true God revealed in Jesus Christ.

For centuries, faithful Christians have appealed the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as a friend who would accompany them at the hour of death and as an intercessor for departed loved ones. The great sign of this devotion is displayed in the practice of wearing the Brown Scapular, which manifests one’s identification with the spiritual works of the Carmelite Order and one’s particular reverence for the Mother Of God.

May our own love for and devotion to the Mother of God lead us to an ever, deeper appreciation for the holy communion of God and humanity that is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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