Reflecting on Our Lady of Mount Carmel

"Our Lady of Mt. Carmel" by Pietro Novelli

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel” by Pietro Novelli

I think of Mary as a gardener throughout human history. Trouble in France? Here comes Mary with rosary in hand and a full dose of prayer. Something’s tough in Russia? Mary’s on her way, pulling a hose behind her for some special fertilizing. They need help in the United States? There’s Mother Mary, clad in gloves, trowel in hand.

There’s no weed in our lives that’s too big for her, no overgrown mess that’s too intimidating. She doesn’t look outside her heavenly window and exclaim in frustration, “Won’t they ever learn?” She just shows up with a smile and heavenly help.

A garden full of weeds looks hopeless to me, but Mary must see it as another opportunity to show her Son how much she loves Him.

When I see my rhododendron choked by thistle, burdock, and wild carrot, I want to turn around and go back in the house. What does Mary see? Does she think of converting the weeds to works of mercy, leading them triumphantly through the gates of heaven to see her Son?

Simon Stock, Carmelite-in-Training

Simon Stock, a hermit who became an integral part of turning around the Carmelite Order in the 13th century, spent many years secluded in the forest, surviving on herbs, roots, wild apples, and water. He spoke daily with Jesus and Mary, and it was during one of those conversations that Mary told him to find and join the Carmelites. 

This must have seemed bizarre to Simon, who had been in seclusion for 35 years, but those years of frequent conversation with Jesus and Mary had prepared him to listen and obey. Simon found the Order to be strict and serious in their asceticism, with a passionate devotion to Mary.

Simon had been a Carmelite for over 30 years when the 1244 migration to England occurred for the Order. He was chosen as the sixth general of the Order as the governance was moved to England with the majority of the friars. By this time, Simon was 80 years old, and though still alert, weakened by the penances he had chosen throughout his life.

Weeds in the Carmelite Order

Things must have seemed hopeless for the Carmelites in 1244 when they sent most of their friars to Europe. The Carmelite Order was like an abandoned garden in the 13th century, driven to England by the threat of Moorish invasion in the Holy Land. They didn’t have much support from the laity, and enrollments were low. It was the kind of situation that called for divine intervention.

I wonder if Simon felt the despair, looking at his Order, that I feel when I see my rose bushes and day lilies suffocating in dandelions, ivy, and milkweed. He had dedicated his life to God, but it seemed to be for nothing. 

Did he look to heaven with tears in his eyes as he asked for help on July 16, 1251? Was his voice cracking as he asked for a miracle to restore his Order’s supporters? Did he speak or just throw up his hands?

Mary herself appeared, wearing the Carmelite habit and holding a scapular. “Receive, my beloved son,” she said, “this habit of thy Order. This shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire.” She assured Simon that his current problems would be solved soon.

Better than Round-Up

The Carmelite Order was transformed within a short time, with the dissenters silenced, an official ecclesiastical sanction from Pope Innocent IV, and royal protection from King Henry III. There was an increase in those interested in joining the Order, and before long it began to prosper.

In Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I find hope for my gardens — the ones by my house and the one in my soul. All I need to do is ask for help, whether I’m feeling desperate or just not sure of where to turn.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel reminds me to strive for humility. She points out that the word “humble” is related to the Latin word “hummus,” for earth. Being down-to-earth, then, is being humble, and being humble is being like Mary. 

When I’m like Mary, my garden blooms fragrant with graces and blessings.

I think I’ll go spend some time in my flower gardens, in among the weeds. While I’m there, I think I’ll turn my heart to Mary and let her lead me, once again, to her Son. It is there, in His embrace, that I’ll find the peace I need to tackle the weeds in my life.

The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is July 16.

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