FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
This reflection is dedicated to the Carmelite Missionaries of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Community,
Mater Carmeli School, D. Tuazon, Quezon City Philippines
Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
1 Kings 18:42b-25a | Psalm 14:1, 2-3, 4 | Galatians 4:4-7 | John 19:25-27
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Patroness of the Carmelite Order. In 1251, the Holy Mother appeared to Saint Simon Stock and gave him the brown scapular, telling him to promote devotion to it. The scapular is a modified version of Mary’s own garment. It symbolizes her special protection and calls the wearers to consecrate themselves to her in a special way. The scapular reminds us of the gospel call to prayer and penance—a call that Mary models in a splendid way.
Hideyoshi, a Japanese warlord who ruled over Japan in the late 1500s, commissioned a colossal statue of Buddha for a shrine in Kyoto. It took 50,000 men five years to build, but the work had scarcely been completed when the earthquake of 1596 brought the roof of the shrine crashing down and wrecked the statue. In a rage Hideyoshi shot an arrow at the fallen colossus. "I put you here at great expense," he shouted, "and you can't even look after your own temple."
A little bit of setting. The date was around 870 B.C. It’s been about one hundred years since King David ruled a united Israel. The kingdom is now divided between Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Ahab is king. He married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, a woman who hated God and worshiped the idol Baal of Peor. Promptly after the two were married, Ahab built a temple for Baal in Samaria and erected an altar to Baal in the temple. Additionally, he made a sacred pole that is representative of the goddess Asherah. As a result, his actions led the Israelites away from worshipping the Lord. But even though very few of God’s people were being loyal to Him, He still wanted to save them. And He knew just the person who would help Him. His name was Elijah (Yahweh is God), one of God’s faithful prophets. Elijah would help the people understand how important it was for them to worship the true God instead of idols. Filled with the Spirit, Elijah bravely walked into the king's palace and boldly thundered God's warning at wicked Abab and his decadent wife, Jezebel. Elijah announces that Ahab’s worship of Baal of Peor has provoked God to cause a drought in the land. There would be no more rain nor dew, except at his word. The priests of Baal told everyone not to worry. They said that Baal was in charge of the rain, and that the people didn’t need to be afraid of Elijah’s God. But by the third year, everyone was very worried; and the wicked priests were very frightened and worried about a situation. They prayed louder, and they offered more and more sacrifices to Baal. The drought was terrible. The grass was gone, the trees were bare, and food became more and more scarce. People and animals were starving to death. The prophets of Baal were humiliated since they couldn’t invoke their god to end the drought and bring the needed rain upon the land. Elijah proposed a contest with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel that would demonstrate that the Lord was the true God. So the contest commenced. Throughout the day, the false prophets called on their god to send down fire and consume an animal sacrifice—but to no avail. At the end of the day, Elijah called on Israel’s God to send fire to swallow up the sacrifice prepared for Him. God responded to Elijah’s prayer. In a moment thousands witnessed the fire from heaven consume the carcass, all the water in the trench and all the wet wood, burning up even the stones! The God of Israel indeed proved to the detractors which deity was the one true god.
Jesus was leisurely taking His morning walk through the heavenly garden. It was peaceful until He bumped off nasty people whom he believes should be in another place. Angrily He went to the pearly gates to confront Saint Peter. The hard-working gatekeeper embarrassingly complained, "Lord, when the undeserving come here, I chase them away and tell them to either go to purgatory or hell. But then they go to the back door, knock softly, and your mother sneaks them in!"
The expression "in the fullness of time" speaks of a most sacred moment when God entered human history in a unique and unprecedented way. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians tells us that God sent His Son, born of a woman, that we might be ransomed from the law and receive adoption as children. We are no longer slaves but rather heirs of God. As adopted children, we would no longer act on our own but with the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Thus we would be entitled to share in the same inheritance as the Son deserved for his obedience, namely, an eternal place with the Son in His Father's house. Paul used the analogy of a family and the rights of all members within it, so it is particularly fitting for the celebration of Mary as the mother who brought Jesus into the human family. Mary is our mother because Christ the Lord gave her to us as a mother. At the foot of the cross, Mary was made the mother of the Church. She accepted the beloved disciple and in the beloved disciple she accepted all of us totally. Thus Mary is our mother, too.
In Japan, there is a mountainous area which for centuries was called, Ubasuteyama or "the place where you leave your mother.” It was so named because of the custom of taking the old and feeble up to the top of the mountain to die. One day a strong young man named Katashi carried his sick or elderly mother Kaiya through the dense forest. As they move up the mountain for the purpose both understood but neither talked about, Katashi began to notice something. “Why,” he asked his mother, “do you keep on dropping white pebbles along the way?” Looking at him through eyes dimmed by everything but love, Kaiya said, “So that you will not get lost on the way back home, my son.”
At the hour of our Savior’s greatest need—during Jesus’ passion—most of the original disciples of Christ were nowhere to be found. It is very striking that the ones who are closest to Jesus physically at the cross are a group made up of several women and one man. Seeing Mary, His mother and the beloved disciple, Christ entrusted Mary to the care of the disciple he loved. Mary is now a middle-aged woman, probably in her early fifties. Over thirty years have passed since that wonderful day when the angel Gabriel told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. It is likely that she has been a widow for a number of years. She needed to have someone to look after her. By entrusting Mary to the care of the beloved disciple, Jesus was fulfilling His family responsibility as a devoted son. And so from that hour, that hour never to be forgotten, that disciple took her to his own home. It was a great responsibility, but he cheerfully accepted it and took her to his own home, not objecting the trouble nor expense, nor his obligations to his own family, nor the ill-will he might contract by it. As Jesus tells John from the cross, “Here is your mother,” he is proclaiming to all of us that Mary is our mother in faith. As our mother, Mary is continually praying for us as we strive to grow closer to Christ. In addition, she provides for us the perfect example of living a life as God’s servant. Therefore, let us take some time today to reflect on how truly blessed we are to have Mary to help guide us in our lives of faith and to remember that we can continually ask for her intercession when we find ourselves struggling to follow Christ. As St. Teresa of Calcutta often shared, “If you ever feel distressed during your day — call upon our Lady — just say this simple prayer: Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now!" No excuses, no explanations, just bury yourself in her arms. <enrique.ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum