Incredible saints have come from the Carmelite religious order: Saints John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux represent this Catholic spirituality. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Spiritual Mother of the Carmelites.
The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16th. During the late 14th century, St. Simon Stock received a vision of Mary who advised him to wear a scapular as a sign of her protection.
Before I go further, I have to clarify something to avoid getting a ticket from the grammar police. I am aware I misspelled Carmel in the title (who hasn’t said caramel in place of carmel 😊 at least once?). I did not know much about the Brown Scapular (or any for that matter—there is blue, green, and white too!) until a few years ago. This Catholic devotion provides a sweet win over sin. However, God planted many hints of this devotion in my childhood.
Before my son’s First Communion earlier this summer, we showed him some sacramentals I received for my First Communion and on the top right of the felt-laden box was a brown scapular. My mother also made it a point to frequent the local Carmelite monastery when Mass was open to the public.
Sacramental, Not Magic
The Brown Scapular is not a talisman—it does not bestow magical protection for the wearer. According to the Catholic of the Catholic Church paragraph 1677, “Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men (and women) to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.”
While Mary promised protection (and salvation) to all wearing the Brown Scapular upon death, the sacramental is a sign pointing at sacramental living. I had a priest bless my Brown Scapular. It is suggested you make a consecration to Mary as well.
Initially, Marian consecration seemed excessive (I already pray the Rosary). But the more I petition Our Spiritual Mother for guidance the closer I am to Her Son. St. Louis de Montfort wrote, “We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek—Jesus, her Son.”
We Give Titles to People We Honor
I have learned that the more a person learns about a subject or person there exists a direct correlation in an increased amount of titles or synonyms to describe them. For example, I had a lot of nicknames as an infant and toddler because of my parent’s love toward me. I have inherited that same knack to create multiple monikers for my children as well.
Within the Catholic Church, our honor toward Mary, the Mother of God, lends itself to a burgeoning of titles to reference her too. She has over 2,000 titles! Her title Our Lady of Mount Carmel reminds us that closeness to Mary is closeness to Jesus. Mary’s promised Simon Stock, “Whosoever dies in this garment shall not suffer eternal fire.” Again, the Brown Scapular is not a lucky charm or talisman. Instead, it is an outward sign of an interior lifestyle. The principles of Carmelite spirituality include:
Frequent participation in the Mass and reception of the Eucharist
Frequent reading of and reflections on the Word of God in Sacred Scripture
The regular praying of at least part of the Liturgy of the Hours
Imitation of and devotion to Mary, the woman of faith who hears the Word of God and puts it into practice
The practice of the virtues, notably charity, chastity (accordion to one’s state of life), and obedience to the will of God.
Mount Carmel—A Place of Sweet Victory
Another interesting fact about the Carmelites is Mount Carmel is the same mountain where the Old Testament prophet Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Ba’al. Elijah lived during a time when Israel succumbed to idol worship. His complete trust in God allowed him to be an instrument for God’s power and majesty (1 Kings 18: 20-39).
Our Lady of Mount Carmel testifies to the power of God in an even better way than Elijah. Mary’s total obedience to God the Father’s will led the birth of Jesus Christ—our savior. The Blessed Mother of God leads us to the Son. You will battle sin all your life. Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel protects us and leads us to victory (through trusting in Jesus) over sin.
On March 19 the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Joseph—foster father of Jesus. According to Richard E. Vatz, professor at Towson University in a Washington Times article titled, The social costs of fatherlessness, “there is no root cause more consequential in producing permanent violence, poverty and related life dissatisfaction issues than fatherlessness.”
Saint Joseph provides the ideal for what it means to be a kind and loving father and man. More than ever this world needs strong men to be role models for their families and communities.
The foster father of Jesus’s example of silence, humility, and patience will equip men with the tools necessary to foster meaningful and lasting relationships.
Silence leads to sanctity
Guess how many words of St. Joseph did the Evangelists record in the Gospels? If you guessed a whopping ZERO than you are correct my friend! Though included in the key infancy and adolescent scenes of Jesus’ life the foster father of our Lord said nothing!
The old adage “actions speaks louder than words” applies more directly to St. Joseph than arguably any other person in history– as we can only analyze his actions. Cardinal Robert Sarah in The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise plainly stated, “Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise.” Using Sarah’s logic Joseph not only clearly, but overwhelmingly choose God!
Joseph’s ability to heed the Angel’s message to flee the wrath of King Herod demonstrates a complete trust and dependence on God. The noise of life yanks me in different directions– all away from God. Looking to the silent saint as a role model helps to remind me of the importance of asking the Lord for help.
Humility overcomes Hubris
Hearing that you must play “second fiddle” naturally causes humans to react in various manners. Being the “B team” certainly just not connote a positive image in sports, politics, and work. Some people downplay the role of a foster, or step-parent. “I am not the real, or official dad” is a mantra that may go through a stepdad’s head—especially on hearing the news that children are a package deal with his so-to-be spouse.
The movie Stepdads comically portrays the real life challenges men have to face in modern mixed family units. Both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed that movie, but not merely because of the comedy. Rather, its message rang true that mere biology does not suffice for parenthood, let alone fatherhood. Love is the hallmark of fatherhood.
True love involves the virtue of humility. According to Peter Kreeft, “Humility is not an exaggeratedly low opinion of yourself. Humility is self-forgetfulness.” St. Joseph accepted the responsibility of raising Jesus Christ as his own even though he and Mary never had sexual relations.
As a just man, Joseph obeyed God’s will and married Mary. St. Pope Paul VI in his homily for the Feast of St. Joseph in 1969 used the word humble six times in referring to the foster father of Jesus. More specifically, the recent canonized pontiff wrote, “Saint Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises to great destinies, and he is the proof that in order to be good and genuine followers of Christ there is no need of ‘great things’; it is enough to have the common, simple, human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic (Emphasis added mine).” St. Joseph’s simple, humble, and hidden life act as a good model for fathers, and men in general, that avoiding the drama of sin is possible and worthwhile!
Model for Workers
Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy remarked, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Although St. Joseph’s lifespan may be up for debate, his levels of patience certainly could not be argued. Being a carpenter by trade, I am most confident that Joseph was quite patient. I can barely do a house project without cursing let alone craft with wood.
Men typically associate themselves with the work that they do. “Where do you work?” is almost always the first question I am asked (and that one that I ask) when meeting a new guy either at the parish, neighborhood, or at work outings. St. Pope John Paul II articulates the value of work best in his Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos,
If the Family of Nazareth is an example and model for human families, in the order of salvation and holiness, so too, by analogy, is Jesus’ work at the side of Joseph the carpenter. In our own day, the Church has emphasized this by instituting the liturgical memorial of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. Human work, and especially manual labor, receive special prominence in the Gospel. Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption (no 22, Emphasis added mine).
Due to Original Sin, humanity suffered (still suffers) a fractured relationship with God. The Mystery of the Incarnation involved God becoming man in the Person of Jesus Christ. Divine Love selected Joseph of Nazareth to be the legal and foster father of Jesus Christ and protector of Mary. St. Paul VI declared in his Homily on Saint Joseph, “Because of that function which he [Joseph] performed in regard to Christ during his childhood and youth, he has been declared Patron or Protector of the Church, which continues Christ’s image and mission in time and reflects them in history”.
May all men reflect upon the silent, humble, and diligent example of St. Joseph the Worker, and Foster-father of Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to be graced with opportunities to be holier versions of ourselves!
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In this current age it seem that we have a deep desire to have a dislike for God. We see this every day the more we seek to remove Him from the public square. As a result things will get progressively worse with the state of the world.
As a society we have really become spiritually bankrupt. With recent events we are starting to receive the rewards of that bankruptcy. When God is no longer the focus of our lives. The evil one seeks to fill that void we have willingly allowed to be created. We push God out of the way, and by that same understanding, turn our back to Him.
It creates a path for the evil one to take advantage of the situation. This is because the world is no longer afraid of the punishment of hell. No longer understanding what it means. No longer afraid of sin that takes us down that dangerous path. Nor is the world afraid of the final judgment of our souls that awaits us. To even think about these things becomes for us an uncomfortable truth.
The majority of people right now don’t accept or believe that there is a spiritual war going on. We have lost sight of what is truly important. Replacing it by embracing the sins of the world. Instead of embracing Jesus Christ our Savior.
As followers of Christ we must remain strong and not give into supporting this sins of evil. For the reward for such actions is by no means pleasant. The gate to Heaven as always been a narrow path. While the road to hell is as wide as the rivers. It has always been our choice on which path we take. Taking the time to think about that fact should scare you more than anything else going on in the world right now.
About our guest blogger
JM Kraemer is a Catholic artist out of Saginaw, MI who uses LEGO as creative way to evangelize. He writes on issues related to the Catholic Faith and disability awareness. Visit his Facebook page Lego Church Project to read more content to help you build your faith (and enjoy amazing Lego constructions).
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” — Luke 2:19
Reflection has been an elusive activity for most of 2020. It appears life continues to slam us with unexpected situation after another (Kayne West is running for President?! What next?)
Reading centers me during times of upheaval. I enjoy learning new information and thinking about it afterwards. My minor in college was philosophy so René Descartes’ maxim “I think therefore I am” has been imprinted in my brain.
Because of the pandemic our local library still has restricted hours. This forced me to visit my living room bookshelf for my next book. Thankfully, I forgot to finish reading Michael Hesemann’s Mary of Nazareth: History, Archeology, Legends.
I finished the book in less than a week this time. I love Mary, history, archeology, and legends. But did I enjoy all those subjects combined into a single book?
Enter into the Life of Mary
Hesemann begins Mary of Nazareth by detailing out a brief history of the oldest surviving Marian icon— the Advocata Nostra. Christian tradition holds this icon is Saint Luke’s painting of the Mother of God after the events of the Resurrection of Jesus.
The author goes on to spend a chapter on each of the significant events in Mary’s life: the Annunciation, Visitation, Christmas, Flight to Egpyt, Wedding at Cana, at Calvary, the Ascension of Jesus, and Pentecost. Hesemann relies on a multitude of sources to provide a complete understanding of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He quotes Scripture, cites early Church Fathers, ancient secular historians, interviews archeologists, and sifts through pious legends.
At the end of the book, Heseman discusses the Death and Assumption of Mary. He sketches out various theories for location of where Mary died and how old she was when she rejoined Christ in Heaven.
The best part about Mary of Nazareth was Hesemann’s ability to draw the reader into the life of the Mother of God. I felt transported to the Holy Land reading this book. He also did a phenomenal job of presenting the information with little to no bias. Hesemann simply presented the information and rarely interjected a personal opinion (even with regard to the legends about Mary).
I highly recommend you buy Mary of Nazareth as your next addition to your personal library. If you’re a Catholic who loves history this book is going to be in your Amazon cart later today (or purchase it directly from Ignatius Press).
Every day we have a choice. We either give into the pressures of daily living or crumble under the weight of stress. The constant flux of life makes stress inevitable.
This year taught us all about the importance of mental health. Pandemics. Racial inequalities. Economic shutdowns. Adjusted graduation celebrations (or none in some cases). Public Mass suspensions.
Even the best fiction writers couldn’t write a more complicated and despairing storyline than 2020: Reality is Stranger than Fiction.
I understand the need for precaution in slowing down COVID’s spread (in April I contracted the virus and it was a miserable experience). But mental health must be a priority in overall wellness.
Even though stress will always surround you in some way, shape, or form don’t despair. I have learned to shield myself against the pressures of this world and the snares the Devil lays out to try to entrapment. Here are seven ways to arm you against anxiety:
***NOTE: These are only suggestions. Some of the strategies may not be applicable to your situation at this time in your life. Please use these shields against anxiety as it suits your needs/situation.***
1 Peter 5:7 states, “Cast all your worries upon Him because he cares for you.”
Prayer is communication with the Divine Creator of the Entire Universe. It involves a dialogue not a monologue. Much of my spiritual journey has had me focus on my end of communication—asking God for my wants. I did not always listen. Something I have done to open communication is to be more deliberate in my gratitude.
Along with prayer, song safeguards me from anxiety. I used to listen to rock music; however, four years ago I made a shift in the type of music that played in my car. Because the words we hear impact our daily living, my shift to listening to positive and uplifting Christian music protects me from the chaos life throws my way.
Together with prayer and encouraging music, monthly counseling appointments protects me from the foray caused by the foibles of myself and my fellow neighbors. Counselor is a title given to the Holy Spirit as well. Between my professional counseling sessions, I can rely on the aid of the Holy Spirit to console me against daily anxiety.
A fourth shield in my armory against anxiety is frequent reading of good books. According to Frederick Douglas, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” While this quote is not necessarily an absolute truth, I will attest that reading can be a doorway to freedom.
As I journey into the literary universes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, I am afforded respite from the toils of work. Through the written word I am also able to travel—in a sense—back in time to meet holy men and women and learn about how they existed in a world that was not their home.
St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 provided a timeless example of the spiritual life, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” I joined cross country in high school and my passion for running continues today. During a stressful week, I defend myself from the snares of anxiety by taking my children out in the jogging stroller for a short run. During my neighborhood circuits, I am able to reflect on how my day went and how I may be able to improve on my shortcomings.
Anxiety medicine does not work for everyone so feel free to disregard this point. However, pharmaceuticals for stress help me to limit the anxieties I impose on myself. Consistent usage of doctor prescribed anxiety medication is beneficial to my unique situation. It took me a long time to acknowledge that outside help was necessary to help relieve intense stress.
God loves humanity so much that he implemented a support system for his adopted children to use to shield against the prowess of the Devil. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1436,
Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. “It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.35
The Holy Spirit absolves me of my sins when I have an authentic contrition. Along with forgiveness, I receive grace to stave off future temptations. Often the sacrament of Confession is the only thing that bring me back to the life of faith when I face despair and doubt in the Divine Providence!
Whether you are in the shadows of desolation or experiencing consolation, these seven shields form an effective defense against the constant assault of anxiety. Continue to fight the good fight. Aim to be the best version (holiest) of yourself. Trust in the Lord and don’t give impatience, anger, or doubt the final victory. I pray that you take up this challenge daily.