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Catholic Heroes… Our Lady Of Mount Carmel

September 13, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In northern Israel between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, a mountain range stretches inland. This range, although named Mount Carmel, is really a series of mountains stretching inland. The main site of the Mount, the Stella Maris monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, sits on a limestone bluff overlooking the city of Haifa. The view of the sea, the lands, and mountain range beyond the monastery is stunning.
In fact the name Carmel comes from the ancient Hebrew word meaning garden, named after its many beautiful flowers, shrubs, and fragrant herbs. So beautiful was this mount that people compared it to the bride in the Song of Songs (7:5).
Although we think of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in reference to the scapular, the history of this sacred mount goes back to the Old Testament prophet Elias. On the southeastern side of the mountains, a statue marks the place on the mountain where he battled the priests of Baal and won (1 Kings 18:19-40).
There also is a cave that was the prophet’s abode as well as a shrine marking the place where he prayed for water to save Israel from a devastating drought. This event, more than any other, relates to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
During a drought, Elias and his servant ascended to the top of Mount Carmel to pray for rain. Elias reposed with his head between his knees, ordering his servant to go see if rain was coming. Seven times he sent his servant up until finally a cloud appeared. “Behold, a little cloud arose out of the sea like a man’s foot” (1 Kings 18:44).
Elias understood this as a sign of the coming of the Messiah as mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah (7:14). He then discerned four secrets from God relating to the cloud:
1) The Virgin would come as a rain cloud out of salty water, pure from guilty humanity, but having no bitterness — the Immaculate Conception; 2) Because she arose “out of Mount Carmel” and like a “man’s foot,” she would retain her virginity, just as Elijah ascended the mount in voluntary virginity; 3) Since the servant observed the cloud on his seventh trip, the Virgin would come in the seventh age of the world; and 4) Because the small cloud had sweet rain, she would give birth without violating her purity.
Following this event, Elias led a hermetic life devoted to the future Holy Virgin. He bestowed a mantle on Eliseus, his disciple, as well as the other men whom the people called the Sons of the Prophet. These followers also lived in seclusion on Mount Carmel. To these men, Elias’ strength and spirit descended. Thus the roots of the Carmelite spirit began to sprout.
One private revelation claimed that St. Joseph joined the hermits on Mount Carmel for prayer when the High Priest of Jerusalem revealed that he would be the husband of Mary. There he prayed with the other hermits for the coming of the Messiah.
A traditional Church liturgy also indicates that some of these men, who were devoted to the Prophet Elias, became Christians on the first Pentecost Sunday. The hermits had also been followers of St. John the Baptist.
After they left Jerusalem, they ascended Mount Carmel and built a church. This church they erected on the same site upon which Elias saw the cloud symbolizing the fertility and the purity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Hence, they called themselves the Friars of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1698, a controversy disputing the above story began. The dispute lasted for 30 years until both parties were silenced by Pope Innocent XII. In 1725 Pope Benedict XIII allowed the Carmelites to erect a statue of Elias in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope’s inscription said the Carmelites were doing so to honor Elias as their founder.
Over the centuries many shrines, temples, and churches have been built on the range of mountains called Mount Carmel. Archeological evidence indicates that hermits lived on the mountain when the writings of a Greek monk, John Phocas, who lived there around 1177, were found.
In the twelfth century, St. Berthold came from Limoges, France — either as a pilgrim to visit Elias’ cave or as a crusader — bringing to Mount Carmel a monastic spirituality. He formed a community in the spirit of Elias.
The monks who settled on Mount Carmel built a chapel consecrated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They also referred to themselves as the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Around 1210 the Latin Patriarch St. Albert gave the brothers approval of their rules for life. In 1247 Pope Innocent IV authorized these rules. Thus the formal and canonical status of the Carmelite order was established with some modifications to them throughout the history of the order.
One of the most popular sacramentals of the Catholic Church is the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This sacramental can be traced back to Simon Stock. He was born in 1165 in County Kent, England. He ascended Mount Carmel during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Since the Saracens threatened the community there, he returned to Aylesford, England, where he lived with a Carmelite community.
In 1247 the Carmelites held their first chapter meeting and elected St. Simon Stock as their superior general. At the age of 82, he began to reform the order with rules more suitable for the Western world.
Having become more of a mendicant order, the Carmelites suffered much persecution. Finally, in 1251, they took their problems to Mary. On July 16, 1251, Mary appeared to Simon Stock holding the Child Jesus in one arm and the brown scapular in the other hand, saying to Simon, “This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall be saved.”
On January 13, 1252 Pope Innocent IV issued a letter of protection for the Carmelites. St. Simon Stock died on May 16, 1265. In 1587 Pope Sixtus V approved the wearing of the scapular.
Dear Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, help us to restore in ourselves and in others seeking God a true spirit of prayerful devotion. Help us follow the example of so many spiritual masters who were Carmelites. Help us — through prayer and meditation — to find solace, wisdom, and courage to know and do God’s will in this life in order to be happy with you in the next. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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