July 2023 Allocutio
Fr. Paul Churchill
Concilium Spiritual Director
Today, the 16th July, is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is of course, primarily, a Carmelite feast day. The order began with some crusaders establishing a hermitage on Mount Carmel, the mountain associated with the great prophet Elijah who had been filled with a jealous zeal for his God. The Order was approved at the Council of Lyons in 1274.
Let us go back to Elijah. The story of Elijah was inspiring and still is. During his days the heart of the people of Israel began to drift away from God and from his commandments under the pressures of outside influences. The King, Ahab, married a woman from a neighbouring culture, who brought with her pagan notions of the gods or baals and their practices. That blended in with a trend in society to follow these outside influences and slowly the purity of the faith of Israel was being undermined. Fertility cults were becoming fashionable and a licentiousness in sexual matters came with them. It was in this cultural milieux that the prophet Elijah bravely spoke out challenging the king and his wife and the whole of Israel.
One time, when Elijah sought to escape, he hid in a cave. He then met God passing by the cave, not in a storm or earthquake or fire, but in a gentle breeze, God asked him, “What are you doing here Elijah?” And he replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars and slain your prophets by the sword; and I, even I only, am left and they seek my life to undo it!” (1 Kgs 19:9-14).
Jesus in his words clearly associated John the Baptist with Elijah because of the spirit he had. It can even be said that Jesus himself, because he too stood up and confronted a distortion of the faith, and because he was zealous for God as he showed when he said “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me!” and when he cleansed the Temple, and then paid with his life on the Cross, that he was the supreme Elijah. And inspired by all of this the early Carmelites on Mount Carmel, adopted the motto of Elijah, “With zeal I have been jealous for the Lord of hosts”.
But who was more zealous for God among creatures if not she who opened her whole being to him and stayed faithful even to the foot of the Cross. And so the Carmelite Order has always adopted Our Lady as its patron, more than Elijah. Our Lady appeared to one of them and gave the mission of the Brown Scapulars to them. And legionaries should promote the Brown Scapular, one of the great sacramentals of the protection of Mary.
This seems to me all the more important in a period of history when the cultural milieu in which we live seems so similar to Elijah’s time. Many once-christian societies have found themselves drawn away by worldly attractions and values while a hedonistic ethos around human sexuality and relationships is promoted in media, internet and with the help of mobile phones. And we hear voices too suggesting that the Church should change its value system to allow a broader range of relationships and exercise of sexual behaviour.
Let us turn to her who lived a most pure life and continually ask her help and every grace she can win for us to embrace the church’s healthy and proven ways. May the Holy Spirit, won for us by her, help us to find ways of understanding our truths better and communicating more effectively what is truly good and help us with a zealous zeal and with courage to stand for God’s wholesome ways built into nature. And we need to pray too in the battle with temptations, sometimes shoved in our face by modern media. May the Church be protected from this modern culture and stay steadfast with the values that endure, not giving an opportunity to the devil to make the journey harder for human weakness. And when we pray let us turn especially to Mary, purest of virgins and to her husband, St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, for the help of their powerful intercession.
O Mary, through your pure and immaculate conception, make our bodies pure and our souls holy. O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to you.