Thursday 16th July 2020 is the feast day of 'Our Lady of Mt. Carmel' and presents an opportunity to pause and to reflect on the significance of Mary in our lives and within the Carmelite family
Last summer, I visited the small village of 'San Felice del Benaco' in Northern Italy on the west of Lake Garda. I was on my way to find the 'Madonna del Carmine Carmelite Monastery', built between 1452 and 1482, which remains a popular pilgrimage destination. There was widespread suppression of the Order in Italy in later years and it was not until 1952 that the Order returned to that particular monastery, with only a very small number of brothers now living in the community there.
Although I was staying on the other side of the Lake, I had noted the whereabouts of the monastery and arrived within about three hours of setting off. As I stood in front of the impressive statue to 'Our Lady' and considered once again the hugely defining role that she plays in the life of the Church, I was struck by the challenge we all face at times of embracing change and that very human process of going from the present moment into the uncertainty of the future.
It can be troubling thinking through how we should move from new discoveries or 'learning' about ourselves and the course of our individual lives, to 'understanding' the distinct path that we are to take and then to acting or 'applying' ourselves to what is necessary. Every stage can be daunting, span such lengthy periods of time and feel like a lasting struggle. Yet, we can experience that sense of 'companionship' or 'sisterhood' with Mary in our hearts and hold to a positive and informed outlook. Perhaps in a sudden and profound moment, we even sense that we are 'exactly where God wants us to be'.
We know that the hermit brothers who gathered on Mt. Carmel in the early part of the thirteenth century had dedicated a chapel space or 'oratory' to Mary and looked afresh at her central importance in bringing human beings closer to God. The Carmelite tradition reminds us that Mary was a sincere 'woman of faith', that she was a model of discipleship ever close to Jesus and that she still - here and now - accompanies us on our spiritual journey, providing guidance and protection.
In Carmelite tradition Mary has been depicted as Mother, Queen, Contemplative and Sister. Former Prior General Joseph Chalmers writes of this idea of Mary being alongside our personal growth and development: 'Our Sister walks with us in our journey of transformation'. Below, I attach two images - one from the Church at 'San Felice del Benaco' and the other from a Japanese artist, which I feel really does convey that 'sisterly dimension' to Mary. Although living and working on the opposite side of the world, the artist offers a very warm and familiar representation of 'Our Lady of Mt.Carmel', blessed because she heard the word of God and kept it.