Blog Template Theology of the Body: Carmel

Saturday, July 16, 2011


My breviary describes Mt. Carmel as "the lovely place where the prophet dwelt in service to the word of expresses a sense of the beauty, prayer, and silence that characterize Mary, the Mother of our Redeemer."

A few days ago, I pulled an old scrap book off the shelf and recalled that I had once been to Mt. Carmel, on a summer journey when I was sixteen with my mother, and my brother, and an old friend. In my photos we are suntanned and windblown and happy, and distracted; my journal records being under awed with the holy place, and being more enchanted with the pleasures of the company, and the day, and the charms of a rugged countryside. Perhaps there was little of the "beauty, prayer, and silence" of the Redeemer's mother in my heart then...and perhaps there is only a little more now...but the symbol of Carmel remains the same, calling us to the high place where our God takes us as we are, accepts whatever we've got to give to Him; "on my holy mountain...there I will accept them, and I will claim your tributes and the first fruits of your offerings, and all that you dedicate." (Ezekiel 20)

Those who wear the medieval brown scapular particularly celebrate Mt. Carmel today. In the ancient time, our Lady appeared to a humble monk of the order dedicated to the holiness of Carmel, offering to him a little symbol of faith; "a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, a pledge of peace." The scapular was and is God's gift to us; He is always giving us things. But it is also a potent symbol of our gifts to Him. Worn on the body, it can signify a certain childlike humility, an act of renunciation of one's own merits and strengths, a symbol of the total offering of the self to the Savior. Our ultimate gift, the whole gift of ourselves, signified in a little brown thing. And what dignity is lent to us in this: we teeny, tiny folk have something to give to God.

I have given some things to God. I have given Him grubby things, small in sacrifice, things diminished by my laziness and inconsistency. I have given Him things rash and ill-advised, more acts of raw and unformed zeal than perfect love. In truth I have never given to Him a gift that is perfect, timely, rounded out with all the contours of the virtues, properly motivated and complete. I'm not capable of it. It is only once in His receiving hands that my gifts are made fit for Him. He is the great Recipient. He makes all things beautiful in His time.

In this way, the grace and mercy of God is best comprehended not in the facile idea that "Christ has given all, I've got nothing left to offer," nor even in the hope that God might restore and return that which we've given up. I think that God's mercy is most strikingly known in the promise that He will receive what I try to give to Him. "He will accept, He will claim." And therein, He will transform, He will redeem. And all of this for the broken things we offer up, the haphazard works of cooperation, the mistaken selections, the little efforts, the smudged sacrifices, the daily moments that, even in our mistaken judgments and in our zealous foibles, come to signify the giving of our whole selves.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us.