Vol. 167 No. 29 - July 16 - July 22, 2016
The first Carmelites initiated something quite original and unique: a loose-knit community of hermits with an informal, occasional apostolate. They were in fact simple laymen, living as solitaries in a loosely connected group; in caves and huts on the desert side of Mount Carmel.
The Rule of Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem describes a cell or a hermitage, or at least a special room set aside for the unique person. Carmel is a mystical space - personal and solitary. The cell represents welcome as well as challenge. Carmel loves a spirit of silence and solitude eminently favourable to prayer, of which the desert was the most perfect expression for Elias. The desert calls out to the spirit, and the spirit calls out to the desert. Carmel's prayer is the desert in which the spirit dwells.
But also, it can be within us as a metaphysical, sacred, silent and solitary desert. "Let each remain in his [or her] cell or near it, meditating day and night on the Word of the Lord and keeping vigil in prayer, unless occupied with other lawful activities, declares the Rule. "Let everything be held in common among you." The purpose of the life was solitude and contemplation, but within a framework that allowed complete liberty for individual development under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The first Carmelites were also very conscious of a certain prophetic character about their vocation. This meant that they were inclined to give precedence to what we would call the 'mystical' side of their vocation. Prophets in the traditional sense are not merely a people who foretell the future under spiritual inspiration. They are, above all, witnesses to the experience of God.
"The Carmelite seeks to lead others in the ways of prayer, contemplation and solitude, teaches the way of the hidden life, of interior prayer," according to Thomas Merton. He cites the joys of the hermit's life of praise in union with all Creation. "You shall use every care and diligence to put on the armour of God. Holy ponderings will save you. Herein lies victory: your faith… the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, should dwell abundantly in your mouth and in your hearts."
The Rule of Carmel is concerned with interiority. "It seeks to waken divine powers slumbering in the contemplative soul. It is an invitation to live rather than a formula of life." A direct and intimate experience of God is the basis of Carmelite spirituality," says Paul Marie of the Cross.
"The figure of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel, even more than Elias, embodies in herself the perfection of the Carmelite ideal. Like Jesus, she was in all things human and ordinary, close to her fellow men, simple and unassuming in her way of life, without drama and without exaltation. The desert spirit and prophetic ideal of Carmel are understood most perfectly by those who have entered into the 'dark night' of Marian faith." (Thomas Merton) Carmelite spirituality is an attraction for open spaces and solitude, interior liberty, simplicity and unity under the impulse of the Spirit of Love. Vowed to the service of Love, the soul is not satisfied with loving, but seeks to experience love, to suffer love, and at last to be transformed into love. (Paul Marie of the Cross)
One of the most popular depictions of Our Lady in Christian Art is to depict her as Mother of Carmel - 'Vessel of God's Mercy', sheltering a group of people under her outspread cloak. This has been a much loved image in the Carmelite tradition, stressing Mary's intimate role as protector, Merciful Mother of the Carmelites.
We Carmelites have a rich heritage to be cherished, a tradition dear to the children of Carmel, an order specially devoted to Mary, our beloved Mother and Queen of Carmel. Over the beauteous and loveliest Mt Carmel, God's Mother, the Immaculate Virgin, was prefigured, who rose out of the sea of humanity, spotless and pure; her glories and beauties are sung by divine oracles. As the rays of the sun colour the flowers, so also her glance of love gives strength and beauty. Elijah and Mary together are the inspiration of Carmel.
The Order of Carmel traces its routes from Prophet Elijah who dwelt on Mount Carmel, and is often regarded as the founder and first patriarch of the Order of Carmel, and is so prominent in Scripture which bears symbolic meaning for Carmelites and for the world. Elijah was a witness to the living God, "As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today." (1 Kings 18:15) Before his encounter with God, Elijah first had to come to the awareness and experience of his weakness and helplessness. In weakness, God is drawn to His children, as a parent to a helpless infant. When we are aware of weakness and emptiness, we are ready to depend on God and be filled by Him. This humility and dependence is central to Carmel.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son, so relevant for the Year of Mercy - a story that invites us never to despair, but to own our wretchedness and present it to God who loves us as He does His own Son.
The context in which Luke sets this parable is criticism of Jesus by the Pharisees and the scribes. They have been saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them" (Lk 15:2). In response, Jesus tells the Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. The father's plea to his elder son to come in and join the party forms the end of this discourse. Clearly, the elder son represents the people at whom the parable was directed: those who prided themselves on their righteousness. It was up to them to supply the missing ending, and rejoice. But did they?
An invitation to relationship
This parable can be seen as an epitome of the Gospels. It is not a moralistic fable. So it is besides the point to ask whether the father was not in fact somewhat imprudent in allowing his younger son to go off and squander his share of the family inheritance; or to see the younger son's ruin as a consequence of wrongdoing (when, in fact, it is presented rather as a consequence of separation from his father); or to argue that the elder son's resentment had some justification; or to suggest that things might have been different if the father had been a mother. No; Jesus is simply showing us what God is like.
Many see her as a deranged woman suffering from being possessed by demons, while others view her as a fallen woman, even a prostitute. Although the biblical record is not silent on the matter, we are only given a few details about the life of Mary Magdalene in the Bible — and you may be surprised what Scripture does and doesn't say!
While the facts of Mary's life are sketchy, at best, one thing is perfectly clear: Mary Magdalene loved Jesus, and Jesus loved her. In fact, her story will forever remain entwined with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Her name means "trouble and sorrow"
The name 'Mary' occurs 51 times in the New Testament and is taken from the Old Testament names of Miriam and Mara, which mean 'bitter'. The root of the name 'Mary' is derived from the notion of trouble and sorrow. Being a common name during this time period, this Mary was distinguished from all others by being referred to as 'The Magdalene', which identifies her as being born in Magdala, a thriving city on the coast of Galilee, about three miles from Capernaum. The city of Magdala was known for its primitive textile factories and dye works. While it is only speculation, it could be that Mary Magdalene was connected in some way with that industry, which would have enabled her to help support the ministry of Jesus, as she was known to have done.
At some time or the other, we all experience it: midnight closing in on us; the shadows getting darker and longer. It is the time of sorrow; it is also the time for the evening song. It is that special time when you can ask Him to come close besides you, to embrace you in His mantle of peace and comfort. And He will come; and He will give you a new, sweet song and sing it alongside you. And if, because of your sorrow, you break down while singing this new song, He will take up the broken cadence and blend it with His own.
These are times when the Lord takes us into the dark, that He may speak to us in His light. Sometimes, it is in the darkness of a shadowed home where bereavement has drawn the blinds; sometimes, it is into the darkness of a lonely, desolate life where some infirmity – physical or otherwise – closes us from the light and stir of life; sometimes, it is into the dark of a crushing sorrow or disappointment. But such is the Father's love for His children, that He will not permit them to sorrow alone.
I recently became a double graduate — one from college, and the other in a life-changing event which began a year ago. I just happened to attend a youth programme after a regular Sunday mass, not even knowing what it was; I just happened to give in my contact details and fill out a form; I just happened to receive a call and wait! It isn’t all sheer happenstance. Sometimes you have to make things happen in your life; sometimes you have to take charge, which is exactly what happened. I recently graduated from the Take Charge Pilot Program 2015-16, and might I say, with flying colours along with 31 other mentees.
My journey with my mentor began on a funny note. At the induction ceremony, while all the other paired mentors and mentees were busy getting to know each other, I was left wondering where my mentor was. Apparently busy with work, he had forgotten, and hence was running late. At the graduation ceremony, I had a feeling of déjà vu when, again, most of the others were seated with their mentors, whilst I kept looking around.
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