Archive | The Pastor’s Page RSS feed for this section

The Children of this World vs. the Children of the Light

September 15, 2016

0 Comments

jesuslightoftheworld

Jesus made a troubling comment when he was teaching his disciples:  “The children of this world are more prudent … than are the children of the light” (Lk 16:8b).  This is sad but true.  It is human nature.  Jesus was deeply disappointed, and in this case not so much with “the prudent,” a veiled reference to people who connive to make more money and get their way, but with those who claim to be righteous, decent, religious people.

The dishonest steward was a child of this world.  He was preoccupied with himself and his commission, or put in modern terms, he was self-centered, greedy, and on an all-out quest for the almighty dollar.

This world is obsessed with money, and tremendous amounts of time and energy go into making it.  Young people go to good schools and try to get good grades so they can get into good colleges so they can get a good job so they can make more money.

The children of this world are enterprising. Whether they are starting their own business or working for someone else, those who excel in business are enthusiastic and energetic, creative and imaginative, shrewd and resourceful.  They are experts at analysis and evaluation, skilled at developing an ingenious business plan, and eager to modify, improve, and update it.  They are dedicated to the task and willing to work long and hard, even if it means coming in early, staying late, or traveling.  They are not afraid of change and able to act quickly and decisively.  Their objective is a quality product or service, but it is also profit, and as much as possible.

Meanwhile, there are “children of the light.”  This probably refers to Jesus’ new followers, his children, with him as their light.  It also may have referred to good and faithful Jews in general or to the Essenes, a group of Jews, some who lived in the desert, who separated themselves from world and its evil ways to embrace an ascetic lifestyle in which they dedicated themselves totally to God.  Children of the light are those who love, follow, and obey God.

Jesus was upset.  His observation was that business people put more time and energy into making money than supposedly religious people put into their spiritual lives.

It would be a grand and glorious day when the primary objective of a school is to form disciples in God’s ways.  Jesus is longing for followers who are enthusiastic and energetic about him and his gospel, and creative and imaginative in the application of his gospel values to their daily lives.  Jesus wants disciples who can size up the situation and develop an ingenious plan to root out evil and replace it with great good, both in their individual lives and their organizations, and to do so decisively and without delay.  He also wants believers who are willing to put in their time when it comes to prayer and service.  Jesus wants to surround himself with people who want to get ahead, not with money and possessions, but in holiness and God’s grace.

Save

Continue reading...

Mercy for miserable sinners

September 7, 2016

0 Comments

St. Paul

Mercy is one of God’s most wonderful attributes.  God is kind and merciful.  Paul was utterly dependent upon God’s mercy.  So was Peter.  So are we.

Paul and Peter had something in common:  both were intensely aware that they were miserable sinners.  Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost [the worst]” (1 Tim 1:15); and Peter told Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).  Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and arrogant.  Peter tempted, doubted, denied, and abandoned Jesus.  They badly missed the mark when it came to doing the right thing.  They were not pleasing to God.  They offended God.

After all of Paul’s wrongdoing, he should have been in serious trouble.  He deserved condemnation and punishment, but he did not get what he deserved.  Instead of a conviction and a fine, prison time, misfortune, or some other penalty, God treated Paul mercifully (1 Tim 1:13,16).  God still loved Paul.  Jesus even asked Paul to preach the gospel.  Paul was completely overwhelmed by such unwarranted kindness.  The mercy of God was a gracious gift.  He did not deserve it but he received it nonetheless.

Paul mentions this to encourage us.  Paul would like to tell us:  “With how bad I was, if God was merciful to me, no matter how bad you may have been, God will be merciful to you, too.”

God is merciful.  There are many aspects to God’s mercy.  God gives us the benefit of the doubt.  God is lenient instead of severe, soft instead of heavy-handed, gentle instead of rough, gracious instead of high and mighty, kind instead of mean, tender instead of harsh, compassionate instead of irritated or irked, understanding instead of aloof, patient instead of perturbed, sympathetic instead of hostile, quiet instead of lecturing or scolding, calm instead of angry, serene instead of furious, accepting instead of rejecting, forgiving and absolving instead of condemning, reconciling instead of isolating, and pardoning instead of punishing.

Each of us is like Paul, a sinner.  It is almost impossible to make it to the end of the day unblemished.  When we add up the sins of the past day or week, it is humbling, and when we add up all of the sins of our past life, it is devastating, downright demoralizing.

Despite our sins we must never lose hope.  Paul states emphatically, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).  Jesus went to the Cross to save us.  It is through the Cross that we receive divine mercy and the forgiveness of our sins.  God was merciful to Paul, and no matter what sins we may have committed, God will grant us mercy!

Continue reading...

Jesus, model teacher for instructors and catechists

September 1, 2016

0 Comments

JesusSermonMT

Summer vacation is over, and another school year is about to begin.  Instructors are headed to their classrooms, and catechists are headed to their faith formation groups.  The main focus of education rightfully belongs on the students, but it is also a high priority to reflect on the role of those who facilitate the learning process, teachers and catechists.

In education, a teacher who is experienced, highly effective, and an expert at training new teachers is a “Master Teacher.”  Jesus explained that these attributes belong to him when he told his disciples, “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am” (Jn 13:13).  Christian teachers who wish to excel in their ministry would be wise to take their cues from the greatest teacher of all.

Love all the students.  It is difficult to love every student.  Some resist.  Others are slow.  Peter was impulsive.  James and John wanted the best positions, the others were indignant, and they squabbled among themselves.  Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot would betray him.  The disciples had their shortcomings.  Every student does.  Yet, Jesus loved each of them, and his authentic love for his learners was the single greatest secret to his success.

Pray for your students.  Jesus prayed for his disciples, and teachers should pray for their students.  Prayer not only asks God’s grace and blessing for the students, it also has a transforming effect on the teacher’s disposition toward their students.

Ask the Holy Spirit for help.  The Holy Spirit came down on Jesus at his baptism before he began his public ministry as teacher, and the Spirit gave him wisdom, insight, inspiration, energy, and courage.  Teachers should pray to the Holy Spirit for the guidance and understanding they need to carry out their ministry.

Prepare; study before teaching.  Jesus may have lacked a formal education, but he had an inquisitive mind, and he learned from others and on his own.  Mary and Joseph homeschooled him.  He was in the custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Lk 4:16) where he was taught by the rabbis.  He went to the Temple in Jerusalem where he sat “in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Lk 2:46).  From the way that he quoted Scripture, it is evident that he spent long hours in study and memorization with the books of the Bible.  Teachers who follow the example of Jesus do their homework.  They study before they teach, and they come to class with a well-prepared plan.

Use a variety of methods.  Jesus taught with lectures such as the Sermon on the Mount.  He was fond of storytelling with his parables.  He frequently taught large groups, but there were a number of occasions when he pulled his disciples aside for small group learning, and he also taught individuals as a tutor.  An assortment of approaches keeps learning interesting.

Be patient and kind.  The disciples were confused when Jesus taught in parables and asked, “Why do you speak … in parables?” (Mt 13:10).  Jesus did not get irritated.  Instead, he patiently explained his imagery (Mt 13:18-23; 36-43).  Many students do not comprehend the first time.  Jesus shows how to treat slower learners with extra kindness and provide additional instruction.

Continue reading...

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

August 26, 2016

0 Comments

Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

Beheading of Saint John the Baptist depicted in the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, the Chapel of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel.

August 29 is the memorial of The Passion of Saint John the Baptist.  It was known formerly as The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

Annual Memorial.  This memorial in honor of the Baptist began in the Fourth Century AD at the dedication of the Church of St. John at Sebaste in Samaria, Israel, where, according to tradition, John’s skull had been buried by his disciples.  This commemoration gradually spread to the universal church, first to the East in the Fifth Century and to Rome by the Seventh Century.

The Historical Event.  The account of the Baptist’s passion is given in two of the four gospels, the original version in Mk 6:17-29, and an edited and shortened account in Mt 14:3-12.  Biblical historians believe that the beheading of John took place at Machaerus, a fort in the desert on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan.  It had been built by King Herod the Great as a desert hideaway, and his son, King Herod Antipas, went there occasionally.

Foreshadowing.  John the Baptist is the forerunner or precursor.  John went ahead of Jesus with his miraculous birth and his unique role as prophet, preacher, and baptizer.  These set the stage for Jesus’ own miraculous birth, as well as his baptism and his ministry as prophet and teacher.  John the Baptist’s suffering and death prefigures Jesus’ suffering and death, and the details in the account of the passion of John anticipate the Passion of Jesus.  Specific similarities include:  John spoke the truth, Jesus is truth; it was the festive occasion of a birthday, it was the festive occasion of Passover; Herodias bitterly opposed John, the religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus; John was arrested and bound, Jesus was arrested and bound; Herod declared John innocent, Pilate declared Jesus innocent; John was held in a prison cell in Machaerus, Jesus was held in a prison cell below Caiaphas’ palace; Herod tried to please his wife, Pilate attempted to please the crowds; Herod condemned John, Pilate condemned Jesus; Roman soldiers put John to death by beheading, Roman soldiers put Jesus to death by crucifixion; John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb, and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and laid it in a tomb.

Larger Gospel Context.  Mark carefully placed the account of the Baptist’s death between two sections on the missionary work of the first apostles.  In Mark 6:7-13 Jesus sends the Twelve out two by two, and in Mark 6:30-33 the apostles return to Jesus to report what they have done.  Mark wants to show that it requires tremendous courage to speak the truth and proclaim the gospel, and that it will lead to bitter suffering.

Gospel Preview.  The Cross is not mentioned explicitly in the Baptist’s passion account, but it is Mark’s underlying mindset.  The death of John is a preview of the death of Jesus, and for John his beheading was his cross.  Everyone who is a disciple must carry their cross.

Spiritual Applications.  The Baptist had a number of outstanding spiritual qualities.   He was a fierce advocate for truth and justice, fought hard for what is right, demonstrated his faith in a very public manner, walked in straight paths and urged others to do likewise, directed attention away from himself to Jesus, had a humble estimation of himself, and endured the suffering that came his way.  These admirable traits serve as inspiration and guidance for our spiritual lives.

Save

Continue reading...

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 19, 2016

0 Comments

StBartSaint Bartholomew is one of the original twelve apostles.  In Aramaic, his name is bar talmai, “son of Tolmai,” or the Graeco-Roman equivalent, “son of Ptolemy.”  The only time that he is mentioned in the New Testament is on the four lists of the twelve apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:14; Acts 1:13).  Because he is paired with Philip in the three Synoptic Gospels, and because Philip is paired with Nathanael in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 1:43-51; 21:2), biblical scholars believe that Bartholomew and Nathanael may be one and the same person.

Apart from Bartholomew’s name on these four lists, there is no other information about him in the New Testament.  There is wide agreement among early church historians that Bartholomew went on multiple missionary expeditions preaching the gospel with great fervor and conviction, but there is little agreement about where he went.

In the Fourth Century AD Eusebius reported, based upon Second Century information obtained from St. Pantaenus, a teacher in Alexandria, Egypt, that Bartholomew had gone to India, possibly in partnership with Thomas the apostle.  Pantaenus had visited India between 150 and 200 AD, and when he visited the Malabar Coast he came upon Christian communities that claimed that Bartholomew was their founder and that he had brought them copies of Matthew’s gospel.  Rufinus, another early church historian, reported that Bartholomew went to Ethiopia in North Africa and Arabia which is south of Israel.  Others reported that Bartholomew went to Mesopotamia and Persia, both east of Israel in modern-day Iraq, and Phrygia and Lycaonia, both in south-central Asia Minor or Turkey, possibly in partnership with Philip the apostle.

While there is little agreement about where Bartholomew went on his first missionary journeys, there is wide consensus about where he finished his missionary work.  Bartholomew made his final missionary trip in 44 AD to Greater Armenia, the area in modern-day southern Russia south of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

There are two divergent accounts of Bartholomew’s ministry and martyrdom.  According to the predominant tradition, Bartholomew, through his persuasive preaching, made a large number of converts to Christianity in Armenia.  This angered pagan barbarians who protested vociferously to King Astyages.  The king agreed and ordered that Bartholomew be put to death.  According to ancient Persian custom, Bartholomew was first flayed or skinned alive, and then beheaded.  This took place at Derbend, Albanopolis, in Upper Armenia, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea.  Bartholomew’s remains were placed in a sack and tossed overboard into the sea.

According to another tradition, Bartholomew converted King Astyages to Christianity.  This legend claims that the king’s brother was so infuriated that he ordered Bartholomew be put to death by flaying and decapitation.

Save

Continue reading...

Peace or division, which is it?

August 11, 2016

0 Comments

Holy Spirit dove

Stained glass window at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Henning, Minnesota

Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he broached the subjects of peace and division (Lk 12:51).  His words were difficult to understand.  He seemed to be in favor of peace one moment, but then he spoke about how he was a reason for division the next.  Was he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?  How can the same person be both peacemaker and a cause for division at the same time?

Jesus placed an enormous value on peace.  He proclaimed the gospel of love (see Jn 13:31-35; 15:12) and his mission was to bring peace.  He began his preaching ministry with the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), and he practiced what he preached, doing everything in his power to bring cooperation, mutual respect, and harmony.  He worked to eliminate rivalries and dissension (see Mk 10:35-45).

Jesus fulfilled ancient hopes as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9:5).  When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “On earth peace” (Lk 2:14).  When Jesus would cure someone, he often would say, “Go in peace” (Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48).  Jesus wanted the Twelve to abide by his word so there would be peace among them (Mk 9:50).  Jesus instructed his disciples that when they entered the home of a host family, they were to say, “Peace to this house” (Lk 10:5).  On the night before Jesus died he said, “Peace is my farewell to you, peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), and his final words to his disciples were, “I have told you this so that you might have peace” (Jn 16:33).  After Jesus rose from the dead, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26).  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), and Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, was dedicated to peace.  He was an agent of peace himself, and he wants peace among families; the Body of Christ, the Church; and the nations of the world.

How is it, then, that Jesus, who was so peace-loving himself, and who wanted peace among everyone else, would also say, “I have come to bring division” (paraphrase, Lk 12:51b).  Jesus hates conflict.  So do we.  Jesus does not want arguing, fighting, or trouble.  But Jesus knew that conflict would be an unintended consequence of his ministry.  When it comes to a family, Jesus knew that his preaching would force the question, “Shall I follow Jesus?”  Some family members would follow him, others would not, and families would be torn apart.  Jesus would have preferred that the whole family would follow him together, but he was wise enough to know that not everyone not accept him, and his heart ached over the fact that some family members would reject him and that families would be divided.

The divisions are multigenerational.  Jesus referred to conflict between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (see Lk 12:53).  In a family that disagrees over him, there are clashes over house rules, prayer in the home, Sunday Mass attendance, church weddings, vacation schedules, and many other issues.  Conversations can be heated.  Feelings often are hurt.  This is not what Jesus wants, but he realized that it would happen.

Jesus wants those who accept him to remain faithful to him, even if others in their family do not.  Where division does exist, faithful Catholics continue to love those who have gone another direction, work for family unity, keep the door open, pray for them, give good example, and try to bridge differences with love and kindness.

Continue reading...

Somebody’s knockin’ at your door

August 4, 2016

0 Comments

JesusKnocking

Somebody is knocking at your door, and that somebody is Jesus!  Jesus is not your typical visitor.  The usual guest comes at a prearranged time, but not Jesus.  Jesus gets to do whatever he wants, which means that he can come on any day at any time, either today, tomorrow, or a day in the distant future.

If we have dinner guests scheduled, there often is a mad rush to get everything ready by their arrival time.  It would look terrible if there were piles of dirty clothes on the floor, a sink full of dirty dishes, old newspapers on the living room floor, empty pop cans on the tables, and dust on the countertops.  And it would be terrible if there was nothing to offer them:  no beverages, hors d’oeuvres, meal, or dessert.  So we spring into action on a cleaning frenzy as a white tornado roars through the house, and we go on a shopping spree to be sure that the refrigerator and cupboard are fully supplied.  Then, after our guests leave, the mess gradually reappears.

Jesus wants to come over as our guest, and Jesus wants to have dinner with us, but he refuses to be pinned down when it comes to a day and time.  He is a free spirit.  He comes and goes as he pleases.  He is unpredictable.  There are some things that we know for sure, others left uncertain, as Jesus promises, “You can be absolutely sure that I will be coming over to your place, but I just don’t know when yet.”

This leaves us in a quandary.  If Jesus could come knocking anytime, it means I have to be ready all the time, which means that the house has to be clean all day, every day, and it rarely is.  There is a pile of junk here, a mess there, and while I like the house clean, I’ve gotten used to some clutter, it doesn’t bother me all that much, and I don’t want to put that much effort into cleaning.

These are all spiritual figures of speech.  The house represents each person.  The door represents the entrance to a person’s mind and heart.  The dirt and junk represents sin.  A sparkling clean house represents being in the state of grace.

Jesus is a kind and compassionate house guest.  It may seem impolite that he is unwilling to announce his arrival time, but it actually is a blessing.  His delay gives us more time to go on a cleaning frenzy, to sweep out sinful behaviors, vacuum up bad habits, and dust off rough edges.  It is time for the strongest and most concentrated cleanser, the Blood of Christ, which washes away our sins, and for the “white tornado,” the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which confers absolution and restores the sinner to the state of grace.

The delay also gives the homeowner ample time to stock the refrigerator and the cupboard, not with groceries, but with good deeds:  love shared, sacrifices made, food and drink provided, clothes distributed, strangers welcomed, the troubled visited, assistance delivered, donations and alms given, and prayers offered.

Jesus wants us to come to a “new normal” with our homes.  He would like them to be clean and well-stocked all the time, and he would like us to be so irritated with dirt when it appears that we remove it right away.  Somebody’s knockin’ at your door!  That somebody is Jesus!  He wants to come into a clean house!

Save

Save

Continue reading...

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

July 29, 2016

0 Comments

St. Alphonsus Liguori was born Alfonso Maria de’Liguori in Marianella, a town near Naples, Italy, in 1696.  He was a brilliant student who, by the age of seventeen, had already earned two doctor’s degrees, one in civil law, the other in canon law, both at the University of Naples.  He practiced law with much success for eight years until he lost a major case because of a serious blunder of his own, and he interpreted this as a sign from God to leave the legal profession and study for the priesthood.

Alphonsus threw himself into his theological studies and was ordained to the diocesan priesthood in 1726 at the age of 30.  He spent the next three years canvassing the countryside preaching and hearing confessions, and he quickly gained a reputation for excellence in both.

Three years later he became the chaplain for a college that trained missionaries for China.  There Alphonsus became friends with a senior colleague, Father Thomas Falcoia, who had spent a long while trying to found a religious order of nuns, but he had only been able to establish a single convent.  Falcoia was made bishop of Castellamare.  One of his nuns, Sister Celeste, claimed to have had a vision that confirmed Falcoia’s earlier vision regarding a new rule of life for their congregation.  Bishop Falcoia asked Alphonsus to offer a retreat for the nuns and to investigate Sr. Celeste’s vision.  Alphonsus found the vision to be authentic, and with a new rule and religious habits, a new religious order was founded, the Redemptorines.

With the religious order of women established, Bishop Falcoia asked Alphonsus to found a religious order of priests that would specialize in preaching and missionary work directed toward the poor in the rural areas around Naples.  The new institute was established in 1732 and called the Congregation for the Most Holy Redeemer, also known as the Redemptorists.  The Congregation was officially approved by Pope Benedict XIV in 1749.  Alphonsus did his best to guide the new community, but his efforts were hindered by the dissension among the members.

Meanwhile, Alphonsus continued to go from village to village preaching the gospel with a message that was understandable to all, especially common folk, children, and the elderly.  He also was in high demand as a confessor because of his gentle style and wise advice.

At this point Alphonsus increasingly turned to spiritual writing, and he composed thirty-six separate works, some scholarly, others devotional.  His first work was published in 1745 and his most famous work, Moral Theology, was published in 1748, which presented a reasonable middle ground between the morally stringent approach of Jansenism and laxity, an excessively lenient approach.  His contributions led him to being named a Doctor of the Church.

After leading the Redemptorists since 1732, Alphonsus was named the bishop of Saint Agata dei Goti in 1762.  His major initiatives were to reform the clergy and to serve the poor.  He was afflicted with rheumatic fever, and because of ill health, he resigned in 1775 after having serving for thirteen years.  He retired to Nocera dei Pagini in Campagna where he died in 1787.

Alphonsus was beatified in 1816, canonized a saint in 1839, pronounced a Doctor of the Church in 1871, and named the patron saint of confessors and moral theologians in 1950.

Continue reading...

The Cross: Our hope for forgiveness and salvation

July 22, 2016

0 Comments

crucifixion

On the day that we die, we want to go to heaven to be with God, the angels and saints, and our loved ones who have gone before us, to live for all eternity in peace and joy, but there is one enormous obstacle to our admittance to heaven:  our sins.

No one is worthy to go to heaven on their own merit.  It is impossible to do enough good works or earn enough graces to pay the price of admission.  The price is too high.  It is beyond us.

St. Paul explains that there is a “bond against us, with its legal claims” (Col 2:14).  The bond is like an indictment handed down by a grand jury or a criminal complaint filed by the county attorney that accuses a person of specific crimes that have been committed.  Spiritually, “the bond against us” is filed by God, and it is a list of all of our sins, our transgressions against “The Law,” either the Mosaic Law and the commandments or the Law of Love and Jesus’ gospel teachings.  The law has legal claims.  We are expected to obey, to live a good and holy life, and if we fail to comply, our violations have dire consequences; we could be barred from heaven and doomed to eternal punishment.

In Roman times “the bond” was nailed to the cross.  When a criminal was sentenced to death by crucifixion, not only were the criminal’s hands and feet nailed to the wood, but a list of the criminal’s crimes were written in large letters in ink on a piece of papyrus and nailed to the cross, posted in plain sight for everyone to read (see Jn 19:19).  Not only was the person’s naked body exposed, so were their crimes.

If we are honest with ourselves, we must humbly admit that “the bond against us” is long.  We have committed many sins over our lifetime.  God has a written criminal complaint against us.  It is humbling, embarrassing.  We are terrified at the prospect.  On Judgment Day God has every right to condemn us and post the list, but God has no desire whatsoever to condemn us.

God so loves the world that he sent his only begotten son Jesus that we might have eternal life (Jn 3:16).  Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death on the cross (Phil 2:8), and by the price he paid, Jesus has gained our redemption and salvation.  It was on the Cross with the blood he shed and the life he laid down that our sins have been wiped away.

Jesus obliterated our bond that was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14).  The ink on ancient papyrus did not sink into the fabric like modern ink binds to the paper.  The ink laid on the surface, and because papyrus was so expensive it was often reused after the ink had been wiped clean.  Jesus obliterated our sins on his triumphant Cross.  He wiped our list of sins clean, never to be seen again, entirely forgotten, completely absolved.  In the Cross is our salvation!

Continue reading...

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 14, 2016

0 Comments

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 16 is the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  It commemorates July 16, 1251, the day when the Blessed Mother Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock in England a number of years after he had made a visit to Mount Carmel.  It is the patronal feast of the Carmelite religious order.

Mount Carmel is a beautiful and picturesque mountain located in northern Israel just south of the modern city of Haifa.  It towers magnificently over the Mediterranean Sea below with an elevation of 470 feet at the coastline and 1742 feet further inland.  The Stella Maris Mount Carmel location provides a panoramic view of the sea to the east and the city to the north.

Mount Carmel is associated with the ministry of the prophet Elijah who lived in solitude in a cave along the mountainside.  It is the place where Elijah successfully confronted the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:19-40).

During the Twelfth Century AD, a number of Christian hermits moved into the same caves, inspired by the prophet Elijah to live a life of poverty and simplicity, silence, solitude, and prayer.   Mount Carmel has been traditionally associated with the glory of Mary while Mount Tabor has been traditionally associated with the glory of Jesus.  The monks who lived on Mount Carmel had a special devotion to Mary, built a small chapel in her honor, and prayed regularly through her intercession.

St. Simon Stock was a baron from England who visited Mount Carmel sometime in the early Thirteenth Century, and upon encountering the Carmelite hermits who lived there, he convinced some of them to accompany him back to England where they would establish a community and monastery.  Upon their return, St. Simon Stock reported that the Blessed Mother appeared to him on July 16, 1251, at Aylesford, England, and that during the apparition she presented him with a scapular which subsequently became a featured aspect of the Carmelite religious habit.  The scapular is a long rectangular piece of brown fabric worn over the shoulders to below the knees over the front and back above the full-length brown robe.

The scapular represents the yoke of Jesus (Mt 11:29-30), and it serves as a constant reminder to comply with the gospel and obey the will of God.  It also is an outward sign of devotion to Mary, and a reminder to imitate her virtues, exceptional holiness, and prayerfulness.

The Blessed Mother made several promises regarding the scapular.  St. Simon Stock was burdened with many worries, as were many of the other monks, and Mary promised that whoever wore the scapular would be given the gift of perseverance.  Furthermore, she promised that whoever was wearing a scapular at the time of death would be released from Purgatory the first Saturday after their death.

The promises at first were understood to be reserved to the members of the Carmelite religious order, but later the promises were extended to members of the laity.  An adapted form of the scapular was developed for lay use, two small rectangular panels joined by two brown strings or cords and worn over the shoulders and usually under the clothing.  The scapular is a sacramental, a sacred object that is blessed and treated with reverence and respect.

Continue reading...