This day is precious for many Passionists. For some (like me) it was the day of entrance into the novitiate. Others received the Passionist habit on this day, while still others made their religious profession on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Saint Paul of the Cross insisted that this liturgy receive special attention in the early years of the Passionist Congregation. This was in part because he saw a parallel between Carmel, that venerable mountain of ancient Palestine and Monte Argentario, the site of the First Passionist Foundation where he received his early mystical experiences.
“Today is the principal feast of all members of the Carmelite Order,” wrote the Reverend Dr. Pius Parsch, O.S.A., the outstanding American liturgist of the 20th Century. According to ancient biblical tradition, Carmel was the home of Elijah, the holiest of the Old Testament prophets. After the early patristic age, Christian hermits (both men and women) began to reside on the “Holy Hill.” Through the centuries the Crusaders eventually organized them into the conventual life, uniting them one to another. In the Holy Land itself their principal patron was Saint Albert of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch (1150-1214). The hermits eventually followed the soldiers back to the European Continent and lived there as begging friars.
In 1225 the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to the Pope with a mandate to approve, confirm and organize those who lived this lifestyle and to form them into a religious order. On this date (July 16th) Saint Simon Stock of England, in 1251, received a version of the brown scapular from Mary as an essential part of the Carmelite habit. It is a unique sign of consecration to the Mother of Jesus and protection by her in the transition to eternal life. Saint Paul of the Cross included the presence of the Carmelite scapular into the budge of the Passionist habit. Scholars of the spiritual life have remarked that the Carmelite habit in general symbolizes the purity and simplicity of heart required by Jesus through his peripatetic preaching throughout Galilee and Judea. The Carmelite habit was to condemn immodest and extravagant dress which has no place in the Kingdom.
Saint Paul of the Cross was fond of quoting from Carmelite saints, especially John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. He also cited incidents from their lives: “Saint Teresa, the seraph of Carmel, shortly after she became a nun, was taken by atrocious pains which lasted for years and it was necessary to use sheets to turn her from one side of the bed to the other.” He found consolation in his own sufferings through the precedent of the Carmelite saints. Perhaps he found the greatest insight into his personal profound experience of mystical marriage through Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi (1566-1607). She wrote and Paul quoted: “God does not germinate in sad souls; he wants a heart that is free and happy.”
Tomorrow’s feast, that of the Martyrs of Compiegne, demonstrates a two-century tangible drama of the meaning of today’s feast, i.e. “to live and die in the presence of God.”
- Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.