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Carmelite Marian Spirituality

May 10, 2020

During this month of May dedicated to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, I would like to share a reflection on her, the most remarkable woman in history and our Mother in the order of grace.

We Carmelites have a most special bond with Our Lady, since we are the first religious order in the West dedicated to her love and service.[1]  In fact, our official name, Discalced Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, came from a chapel we built in her honor at Mount Carmel, Israel where our Order began.

The Marian spirit we have inherited as Carmelites has particular traits. It shapes our life of prayer and contemplation, our apostolic activity and our life in community.[2]  Inspired by Mary's example and helped by her intercession and care, we strive to ponder the Word of God in our hearts (Lk 2: 19). She is the perfect embodiment of our Carmelite ideal; therefore, we aspire to imitate her attitude of "poor of the Lord", the anawim. This means living a life confidently surrendered to God in whom we are to find our sole foundation and hope. Being spiritually poor signifies receiving everything freely from the love and mercy of God, understanding that his gifts are not to be seized or possessed but to be received. It means giving all we have received, sharing it with the same generosity and freedom with which God gave it to us.[3]  After her Son, Mary is the most evident witness of this humble attitude.

This Marian poverty of spirit moves us to look to Mary especially as she is portrayed in Holy Scripture[4] where we see her as our model of Christian discipleship lived in the midst of the ordinary and guided by the sometimes dark light of faith. Throughout her journey, Our Lady didn't perfectly comprehend God's plan nor all the reasons behind every event in her life. She walked in faith like we all do; this is precisely what makes her faith so meritorious. The Holy Gospels reveal this plainly. One example is the passage of the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple: "When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, 'Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.' And he said to them, 'Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?' But they did not understand what he said to them." (Lk 2: 48-50) In light of this, extraordinary spiritual phenomena seemed to have been the exception more than the norm in the life of Mary of Nazareth.

Therefore, our Carmelite Marian spirituality doesn't gravitate towards the pursuit of these kind of phenomena, such as Marian apparitions. These do not define our filial relationship to our Blessed Mother nor are the source of our Marian calling. Without rejecting these manifestations when they have the Church's approval, we tend more to contemplate Our Lady as our Carmelite sister St. Thérèse of Lisieux did:

"Mother full of grace, I know that in Nazareth
You live in poverty, wanting nothing more.
No rapture, miracle, or ecstasy
Embellish your life, O Queen of the Elect!...
The number of little ones on earth is truly great.

They can raise their eyes to you without trembling.
It's by the ordinary way, incomparable Mother,
That you like to walk to guide them in Heaven."[5]

Contemplating Mary as one of the anawim in light of her journey of faith is a source of encouragement for us and a powerful reminder that God is faithful to his promises even in the darkest of times. May she continue to guide us and protect us as we carry on in our journey through these challenging times. 

 [1] Rule & Constitutions of the Discalced Carmelite Friars, #47.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Jaques Philipe, The Eight Doors to the Kingdom: Meditations on the Beatitudes (New York: Scepter Pubishers, 2018), p. 23 - 24.
[4] Ibid. #49.
[5] St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Why I Love you, O Mary.

Written by Fr. Jorge Cabrera of Mary Immaculate, OCD

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