(NOTE: This transcription has been automatically generated through an AI program. Consequently, this transcript may not match everything you hear in the podcast episode, and it may contain errors such as spelling, grammar, word choice, etc., due to the limitations of current AI technology.)
Hi everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of Midnight Carmelite. I’m your host, Andrew Gniadek. This podcast I wanted to discuss our Lady of Mount Carmel. I want to go through who she is and just some analysis about her because the month of May is coming up that’s dedicated to Mary. I know her feast day, July 16th, but I think it’s fruitful for us today to consider Our Lady of Mount Carmel, what she means to us, and what she means to all Carmelites and the Church as a whole. Mount Carmel physically rises near the shore and it stands clearly from the plane of Esdraelon and since the spiritual reading of Elias and the rain cloud, which is what Carmelites have traditionally attributed to Mary as being an image of Mary, the mountain of Mt. Carmel represented Mary as splendor and beauty.
Therefore, the history of Mount Carmel is tied to Mary as our Lady of Mount Carmel under this title. She defends us from dangers and enemies, helps souls in Purgatory, helps those in agony, helps people who neglect prayer and are full of vices, acts as a light in the darkness, and obviously this light leads us to her Son, Jesus Christ. So any time we pray to Mary under this title, whether the Memorare, the Salve Regina, or the Rosary we are calling as her children to be led by her to her Son and to assist us as Queen of Heaven in our needs.
So let’s start with Carmel’s meaning from the Bible. So for Carmelites, Mount Carmel goes all the way back to the Old Testament. Mount Carmel is a source of spiritual fruits and goods for growth in the spiritual life. So, for example, in the book of Jeremiah, it says, and I lead you into Carmel for you to eat my fruits and my goods. This is Jeremiah 2:7. Also in Jeremiah 5:19, God referring to Israel’s flock says, and I will drive my flock into Carmel.
So Mount Carmel is described in Isaiah 35:2 as the majesty of caramel, and in the Song of Songs 7:5 we see your head on you as Carmel. So what we see in these Old Testament verses is that Mt. Carmel produces fruits, goods, majesty, and beauty. And the major way that I see that relating to Mary is obviously Jesus being incarnate in her womb just as Mount Carmel possesses his majesty and beauty, our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the perfect way possesses the majesty, splendor, and beauty of Mount Carmel. She is the patron and perfect exemplar of all Carmelites, and therefore Jesus himself, you know, comes in and dwells among us by choosing her womb to enter into humanity as the fruit of her womb.
So the title of our Lady of Mount Carmel, I would say we start thinking about is Mary as Queen of Heaven and Mother of God. In the Song of Songs passage I just mentioned, the bride’s head is like Carmel. The Israelites according to Jeremiah, are led out by God out of Egypt to share his fruits and goods on Carmel. The point here is that Mary wants us to climb Mount Carmel as well to be where she is and have in our own way, meaning based on our person, the splendor, and beauty and majesty of Mount Carmel, and thus she’s both Queen of Carmel and Queen of heaven.
So as Queen of Heaven, she is the highest being in existence. Because remember God’s not of being, God is that which makes beings be. Mary is second to God. In Mary’s case being the highest created being God also incarnated himself as the fruit of her womb in the Incarnation. So Mary and God, there’s a very deep relationship. Human nature came from a free gift of Mary. The Queen acts as Patron to those who serve her; Mary is the patron of Carmelites and she’s also mother of the order because she brings mercy and hope to those who are devoted to her and through her to her Son, Jesus Christ.
Today I feel like there’s a lot of confusion around our Lady of Mount Carmel. Even with that brief history, you see the Old Testament Carmel as this place of splendor and beauty. You see that completed in Mary as our Lady of Mount Carmel where the fruits and goods of Carmel are exemplified in Mary bringing Jesus into the world through her human nature and her free gift of self to God. But there’s, you know, even at the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima 1917, Mary appeared as our Lady of Mount Carmel and there’s been three Discalced Carmelite Doctors of the church in the 20th century: Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, also the first woman Doctor of the Church and Saint Therese of Lisieux, three Discalced Carmelite Doctors of the Church in 100 years.
There’s a surprising lack of information about the history and meaning of this title for Our Lady. Let’s go more into this history and the origin of the title. The title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel dates all the way back to the founding of the Carmelites in the Latin Kingdoms during the Crusades. The Carmelites were known as the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. One of the best records we have is from a guy named John Phocas, who tells us how a monk had a vision of Elias, gathered 10 brothers around him and lived on Mount Carmel.
Another record we have is from James Vitry, who also says that monks lived on Mount Carmel, dwelling in hermitages in the rocks. What’s important to note about the hermitage is that there was a central point and then there were these individual like huts or caves. So it was a star model. So basically you have the hub in the middle and these different spokes coming out of it. So the center was kind of the main part of the Carmelite community. Carmelite tradition held for a long time that Mount Carmel was populated since Elias and Eliseus through Christ’s incarnation, they were visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary after Christ’s resurrection, accepted Christ as the Son of God, and became Christian and built a chapel in Mary’s honor and remained there until the Carmelites were expelled from the Holy Land in the 13th century.
There’s been a lot of research into this. There’s people who still want to maintain that the historical evidence I’ve personally seen doesn’t seem to indicate that. I think the major reason for this debate is because if it’s true that from Elias and Eliseus down to the present day that Carmelites occupied Mt. Carmel would make Carmelites the oldest religious order, which is a pretty big deal. The problem is that I don’t know if the historical evidence supports that claim, granted we kind it would be kind of neat if it did! But I don’t think it does.
So the main point here though is that Carmelites through this tradition are spiritually connected to Mount Carmel from Elias through the Crusader states and taking Mary as their patron and up through present day. So the point is while it may not be historical, it’s a spiritual tradition that traces its way back into the Old Testament and this tradition focuses on solitude, contemplation, and love of God and growth and virtues particularly humility. Mary exemplifies all these three things. She consecrated herself to God as a virgin.
She was in prayer when the Annunciation occurred when God united himself closer to her than any other creature that has ever will exist making her the Θεοτόκος. Mary is the exemplar for Carmelites and she’s also an exemplar of virtue. We need to understand that the Carmelite tradition hinges in large part on the human person. I can’t emphasize this enough. St. John of the Cross talks about this all the time. He says look, you have to remove attachments, you have to fight disordered appetites, you have to attach yourself to God.
As it says nada nada nada nada is the idea is that human person is building virtue. They’re becoming less and less attached to finite things and more and more attached to God. Now again to reiterate, that doesn’t mean that Saint John of the Cross is anti-material or basically saying give up your things; that’s not what this means. So I can’t emphasize that enough. And also remember that virtue is a habit, it’s a having, it’s not something logical, it’s something metaphysical. So keep that in mind as well.
It’s a real thing. A person possesses a virtue, the power of the person’s soul possesses that habit, meaning the person possesses that habit. Another confusion happens when people say, well, you know, the human person is really an embodied soul. No, it’s a psycho-somatic unity. It’s one. A person without a body is not fully a human person despite having a human soul, because the body and the soul are meant to be one. They’re unified by the personality which makes the person. So if a person lacks the theological virtues through Baptism and living a Christ life, the depths of the Interior Castle are out of reach.
So Mary as Our Lady of Mount Carmel starts with capturing the heart of the person. So again, capturing the affectivity of the person and seeing in Mary’s life from what we know through Scripture. Her humility, her grace, obedience, and seeing that alignment with God’s will meant exactly what was best for her. I would argue one of the best places to start an understanding of Mary is the Magnificat. In Greek, it would say
Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν Κύριον (my personhood, who I fundamentally am extols the Lord.)
There’s a lot going on in the Greek. In fact, I could do a whole podcast on this, but for the sake of now, I will keep this particular translation relevant to the aspect of Mary we’re discussing. So “extols” as a word points to the virtues of a person. And so in this case, Mary is pointing to God as her sole, complete end and Lord, she’s saying her soul is clear, mary is κεχαριτωμένη, which is completely receptive to God’s grace as the angel Gabriel declared and κεχαριτωμένη is where we get full of grace.
So she’s completely receptive to it. She’s full of grace. There’s nothing impeding Mary from receiving God’s grace. And again, St. John of the Cross talks about this, the more attachments you have, more disordered appetites, vices, anything contrary to God that make you completely receptive to God’s grace. Mary didn’t have that problem. She was immaculate conceived. She never sinned. Mary could be completely receptive to God’s grace. She was exactly conformed to God’s will. So she is κεχαριτωμένη. She is full of grace, completely receptive to God’s grace.
Mary’s virtues shine bright because she receives God completely with nothing contrary to resist or limit God’s communication of himself to her. And I’m going to talk about this in a later podcast, but there’s a very important metaphysical distinction between nothingness and something. Now you may say, so there’s something or there’s nothing well, but we’ll talk about later is the notion that if you have nothingness in Saint John of the Cross says is if you have nothingness, it can offer resistance because there is nothing there to resist. But if you have something that something can resist, so nothing is less resistant to God than something, which is a very, very deep metaphysical podcast, we’ll get into that later, but just keep that in mind.
So there’s nothing contrary to resist or limit God’s communication of himself to Mary. She is the exemplar for all of us. The communication is so clear that God, when Mary says yes, becomes flesh in her womb. When she said famously in Latin, her fiat, actually in Greek, kind of the rough translation of it is “may it come to pass” as if you have two equal parties discussing something. So God’s not forcing himself here.
He’s coming to her as God, who has every right to anything he wants and created. But God humbly asks her and says, may I give you the gift of being my mother. And Mary’s response was “Yes, I accept that gift and I give you the gift of myself and my human nature so that you can come into this world.” Both said yes, and a gift on both sides. God says yes. And he gives himself to Mary; Mary says yes, and she gives herself to God.
It’s a affirmation and then ἀγάπη and affirmation and ἀγάπη, and it creates this mutual relation. So Jesus is the gift that Mary as our Lady of Mount Carmel gives to us as the greatest gift we could ever received. Like I said earlier, the fruit of her womb. While Mary extols the Lord, each Carmelite is called to extol God, as Mary did by growing in virtue by her example, particularly through humility as patron of the Carmelite order. Our Lady of Mount Carmel calls each person in order to grow in virtue especially humility and obedience, as a way to more clearly emulate her service to God and to be worthy servants of their patrons.
Okay, onward and upward. So now let’s look at Mary’s humility is the foundation of her ἀγάπη. Like I said, with this, Yes, she possesses perfect virtue. She understands that all her virtues and gifts came from God alone. Yet her humility stands as the foundation of all her other virtues. So in the Magnificat she never once bragged about herself. Even in her first line, she points to God not to herself. In the second line, she tells us, she finds no joy in anything but God. The Greek is translated: “My spirit leaps full of joy on the basis of God, my Savior.”
And that’s a callback to the previous line, where St. John the Baptist leaped in the womb when he saw Mary. So her spirit is leaping full of joy. So God shows up. You leap full of joy when you’re ready to receive God. And my spirit leaps full of joy on the basis of God, my savior, God is her full joy, to which her spirit leaps, just like the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb earlier. Her humility is so perfect that she says, because he has gazed on the abasement of his slave.
The word here means utter abasement and humiliation. So she’s nothing compared to God. Saints often say I’m a worm, they use that term and I never really understood that. In today’s day and age, we’re always talking about positive reinforcement, like don’t think bad about yourself, but that’s not exactly what’s going on here. And they say you’re a worm compared to God. It’s saying that God is so infinite, so powerful, so love compared to your sinful fallen self that you’re basically a worm.
You function on the level of a worm relative to God. And keeping that humility, that truth, about that relationship in your heart builds humility and obedience to God. You understand the nature of that relationship meaning you understand your proper relationship to God whose infinite, good, love, merciful, justice, truth, power, so on and on. And Mary has only anything thanks to God by bestowing all these gifts on her. So Mary exemplifies what we should all strive for. As human persons, we must know the truth about ourselves.
Many people have said this humility is truth. Truth about ourselves can be hard to face because there’s a lot in us that’s contrary to God. And furthermore all of us should offer to God the only thing we can give to him is our freedom to say yes to him, just like Mary did, and to love him more and more each day. So there’s this freedom to say yes and to love him more and more each day. And we’re going to get into this in a later podcast to what I mean by this freedom. How does that relate to love? Very interesting.
But for now we have to keep remembering humility is truth. And the truth is that everything Mary has all the things that make Mary the greatest being outside of God himself (remember, God is not a being He’s that who makes beings be) comes from God. And it is God’s. In fact, Mary says this precisely in the 3rd line of the Magnificat. Therefore, Mary can love God completely with no disorder. On the other hand, we suffer from disorder in our attachment to finite things and habitual imperfections.
And these attachments impede our union with God. St. John of the Cross makes a comment that even if you have the smallest habitual imperfection that you’re attached to, you’ll never be able to fly to God. He uses the example of a bird. He says if you’re held by the thinnest string, that bird will never be able to fly. It’s until you cut all the strings that attach you to the earth that you can fly to God like a bird. And I think that’s important here: Mary knew looking at all creation that it was all good because it’s made by God.
So therefore it has some of His goodness in a way, the effect has some likeness to a cause. However, Mary also understood that none of these things are God. So this comes back to St. John of the Cross’s nada nada nada. If you look at it through this lens of Mary, you can see that created things are good and God will call you to obviously use them and possess them too and bring about God’s will in your life, but they’re not ends in themselves. And once you start treating them as an end and it’s very deceptive because we can fall for it easily, then you’re not like Mary, you’re more like fallen human nature, which you don’t want.
Mary never even suffered the inclination to finite things because she saw them as clearly for what they were. So as God filled her like a reservoir with his grace, Mary gave all these gifts back to God out of love. So under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mary shows us that purity in both body and spirit are required to unite with God. Mary is the perfect model of virtue and are tender mother who will pick us up as we strive to climb Mount Carmel to be closer and closer to God like her.
So now we’re looking at Mary as our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Under Mary’s virginity and purity, a Carmelite seeks to grow in loving union with God by mortifying disordered attachments and growing in pure love of God alone, the Carmelite tradition is the mutual relationship of the person with God, and in particular Jesus Christ who united his divine personhood to a human nature to save us from our sins. So here we are again with the Incarnation Mary’s relationship with Jesus comes from her perfect purity and her virginity.
Mary, as our Lady of Mount Carmel, never sinned. She was immaculately conceived. Quick note: Carmelites have defended that since the beginning, so they get credit for that and they never wavered on that one as far as I know from the moment of her conception to her assumption to heaven, Mary here shows us that even being immaculately conceived that God is her Savior. We mentioned that earlier God delivered her from sin by making her most pure, preserving her purity and never allowing her wants to fall into sin.
And for all this Mary loves God above all things. So as Virgin, she reserved herself for God alone. Her virginity was a gift that allows God to fulfill his plan of taking on a human nature and becoming man to die for our sins. Thus, Mary’s virginity links all the way to Christ on the cross. That singular gift was not just physical, but also a unity of intention. So Mary is the mother of the life of contemplation, and whatever degree a person has achieved at the current time since the aim of the spiritual life is to grow in loving union with God.
We see in Mary’s virginity and purity a simple union of her person with God, to the maximum degree, with no resistance or any hindrance. Again, Mary has no disordered attachments. She doesn’t have any issues with these things. Keep that in mind when you think like, well, how does our Lady of Mount Carmel relate to my spiritual life? That’s a pretty good way to think about it; Mary never had these problems. The white cloak of the Carmelites is emblematic of virginity and purity. And it’s the single mindedness that caused St. John of the Cross to say nada nada nada to anything besides God himself.
Her virtue, in particular, her humility, her purity, her virginity, her devotion to God shows us why Mary said, “For behold from this point on, all generations will pronounce me blessed.” The title of our Lady of Mount Carmel speaks to these things that for all ages will count her blessed. And these are the things we all strive to grow more and more like Mary to be more and more united to her son like her. And the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a great devotion to help you grow in likeness to her.
How does this all come together here? So I would say that our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist, that’s kind of the three-pronged approach here. So traditionally Carmel means Garden of God, the Hebrew word in the Old Testament means “garden vineyard,” that type of thing. So a garden is a place of cultivation, it’s usually for food, so it makes sense that Mary as our Lady of Mount Carmel would be the Garden of God who gave us Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins on the Cross and food for us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
So the fruit of Mary’s womb ultimately became the food, the growth out of the garden that we all partake of when we go to mass and partake in the Eucharist. Furthermore, the word Eucharist means thanksgiving. So Mary, where the word became flesh, taking on a human nature and then becoming the bread of life, so that we too may have life through Christ’s sacrifice for us, where we consume him under the species of bread and wine and for Mary as mother, especially through the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and her other titles, we are eternally grateful.
We are being led into Mount Carmel, like I said, with the Old Testament earlier so that we can share in the beauty and splendor of Mount Carmel. And so that Jesus can be the fruit of our actions and lives as we become more and more like him by growing in the spiritual life.
Thanks for listening. And I’ll see you next week.
How to learn more
To learn more about the Carmelite tradition in general, check out Midnight Carmelite episodes through the player below and hit subscribe to stay up to date!