John 19 26-27
“But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag’dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
It is with great joy that we gather to praise this woman of faith, the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. We thank her for her protection over the Carmelite Order, and over all peoples, as we look to her as our example of discipleship that we are called to follow.
We know that from the very first, the original founders of Carmel had a deep, abiding love and devotion to Our Lady. History tells us that the first chapel of the Carmelites on Mount Carmel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was her who provided inspiration to the first hermits; it was she who watched over these men of faith as her own sons, guiding them to Jesus.
As we come to this mass, under the protective mantle of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the gospel account of Mary and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the cross, gives us two insights on how we can imitate the Virgin Mary in our own walk as disciples.
The first insight is this: As the Virgin Mary followed Jesus, her son, we are to do the same. If there is one characteristic that is clear from the gospel accounts of Mary, it is that she follows Jesus every step of the way in His journey to His passion, death and resurrection. She is there, of course, at the Annunciation, when the Holy Spirit overshadows her. She is there at the Presentation of Jesus, where Simeon prophecies of Jesus being the Savior of the world, while at the same time telling Mary about the sword of sorrow that will pierce her heart. She is there at the first miracle of Christ, the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine, and thus saves a young couple’s wedding feast. Mary follows Jesus as he journeys throughout Galilee and Judah, proclaiming the kingdom of God. Finally, the Virgin Mary is here, at the foot of the cross, where she is witnessing the death of her son.
This image of Mary, at the foot of the cross, is so important for us in today’s world. We live in a time of tremendous violence. Week after week we see examples of death coming suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically. A truck drives into a crowd, and eighty-four innocent people lose their lives. Policemen killed because of hatred. Seemingly innocent people, gunned down. Not only that, but we continue to see and feel in our world hatred, injustice, racism, intolerance, and it is overwhelming, it is distressing, we experience our seeming helplessness, and we wonder: how do I live my faith in the midst of so much violence?
How to live my faith? By doing what the Virgin Mary did: follow Jesus. St. Paul tells us to “walk by faith, and not by sight.” (2Cor. 5:7), and that is what she did. With the eyes of the world, Mary can see violence committing evil upon her son. With the eyes of the world, she can see that her son lost the battle, and Jesus will die and be forgotten. But Mary walked by faith, not by sight. By faith she knows that death, sin, evil, the forces of darkness cannot overcome the power of her Son, Jesus our Lord. In the depths of her Immaculate Heart, she knows that victory belongs her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This our invitation to imitate Our Lady of Mount Carmel, by following Jesus as she did, even unto the cross, and by faith, know that victory belongs to God. So, we, like the Virgin Mary can see and experience the violence around us in our world, but we, like Mary, continue to walk by faith, following wherever Jesus leads us, for we know that it is only in Jesus, only through the power of His resurrection, that we and the world will be saved. Evil can never have the last word; rather it is our crucified Savior, who gains victory over all evil, that has the last word. We might not see it now, but like the Virgin Mary, we walk by faith and not by sight, and by faith we know that when we follow Jesus as Mary did, the forces of sin, death, and darkness will never have final victory over us.
Our second insight is this: like the Beloved Disciple, we need to make a home for the Virgin Mary. This is what the first hermits did on Mount Carmel; they made a home for Mary, where she is welcomed and treasured. We are being invited by Jesus to do that very thing today – make a home for Mary.
The first place where we need to invite Mary is in our hearts. The problems and violence of today’s world is not so much a problem of laws (though they are important), but a heart problem. Jesus tells us: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Mt. 15. 19-20)
The heart is where true discipleship takes place; it is where we focus upon Jesus, the mystery of Jesus in us, Jesus in our hearts, and this is where the Carmelite life is lived. To have our hearts centered upon Christ, as is that Immaculate Heart of Mary, is what we strive for as Carmelites; this intention is ever before us, for as Jesus becomes the center of our hearts, we are able to share with others the great wonder that is faith in Christ.
Secondly, we become welcoming in our relations with others, for that is what the Beloved Disciple did when commanded by Jesus to make a home for Mary – he welcomed her. This welcome to Mary is extended by us to all those that we encounter in the church and in the world. The Beloved Disciple welcomes the Mother of all the faithful, and he did that at the foot of the cross. The violence of the cross did not harden the heart of either Mary, nor of the Beloved Disciple, but enlarged them – this is our vocation in today’s world, to realize that at the foot of the cross, and new family of humankind is being formed by Jesus, a family that is led by a holy mother, where her sons and daughters imitate her, with enlarged hearts, as they welcomed each other through the power and glory of Jesus from the cross.
These two invitations, imitating the Virgin Mary by following Jesus as she did, and taking Mary into our very lives, is what marks Carmelite devotion to Our Lady. We give our lives to Jesus, as did Mary. We invite Mary into our very lives, as Mary did, and have our hearts become like her Immaculate Heart. When we do this, we will truly become like those first hermits that lived on Mount Carmel, we will be like that great cloud of Carmelite witnesses, like St. Teresa of Jesus, John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, like all those great men and women of Carmel whose names we do not know, like living saints, disciples of Jesus, following the example of the Virgin Mary.
We ask Our Lady of Mount Carmel to pray for us, so that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and overshadow us, like it did her. That our hearts will be like hers, so that we can live in the presence of her son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, worshiping and praising the Holy Trinity, in the company of all saints, for all eternity.
Copyright Fr. Matthew Williams, OCD, 2016. All Rights Reserved.