Homily on Our Lady of Mount Carmel by Fr. Robert Altier
Reading I (1 Kings 18:42b-45a) Reading II (Galatians 4:4-7)
Gospel (St. John 19:25-27)
Today we celebrate the most wonderful feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. One might wonder why Our Blessed Lady would be named after a mountain. If we think about some of the apparitions of Our Lady,
when she appears in a certain city they name her after the city. In this particular case, Carmel (which in the ancient world is always considered a holy mountain) is where the hermits lived from the time of the prophet Elijah. In the first reading, we heard about Elijah going up and sitting on top of Mount Carmel (at what would be modern-day Haifa) overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. He sent his servant out seven times to see if there was a cloud; there had been three years of drought at this time. Elijah prayed and up from the sea a little cloud, which symbolizes Our Lady, came to Mount Carmel. From that time on, there were hermits that lived on that mountain. They knew that the Mother of God was going to be born to the Jewish people and that she would bear the Messiah. These hermits on Mount Carmel were dedicated to the future Mother of God. They prayed for the woman who would give birth to the Messiah.
We are told, in Saint Matthew's Gospel, that after the birth of Jesus the Holy Family went down to Egypt. But then, because of fear of Herod, they came back by a different route. There were only a couple of routes that they could have taken at that time to get up to Nazareth. They took the route that goes up along the Mediterranean Coast through Caesaria Maritima and up to Mount Carmel. The tradition is that there, on Mount Carmel, the hermits gathered and Our Lady showed to them the Christ Child. There is evidence from the very early centuries of chapels that were dug into the side of the hill in the caves where the hermits lived that were dedicated to Our Lady. They were little Nativity chapels made in the form of the Cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem. There they worshipped God and they honored Our Blessed Lady. After that, the hermits were no longer devoted to the future Mother of the Redeemer, but to the one that they had seen, the Mother of Our Lord who had come to them and showed them Our Blessed Lord.
Today we also celebrate something else which is very wonderful: the 750th anniversary of the Brown Scapular. In 1251, Our Lady appeared to Saint Simon Stock and gave him the scapular. That is being celebrated today in a special way. If you do not have a Brown Scapular, I strongly urge you to get one. As we heard, in both the second reading and the Gospel, we are children of God and children of Our Lady, adopted sons and daughters of God. From the Cross, Our Lord said, "Behold your mother." Like any mother, Our Lady will clothe us. She has given us this garment of salvation - the Brown Scapular - and promised that anyone who dies wearing the scapular will not go to hell. Anybody who does not wear the scapular needs to stop and think about where their soul is at. Why would we not want to wear the garment of Our Lady, to take on the yoke of Christ (as the scapular covers both sides and goes over the shoulders), to be able to say that this is a sign of a life of holiness and innocence? It is Our Lady's guarantee that she will take care of her children and that she will bring us safe and sound to the glory of Heaven. That is what we celebrate today.
When we think about Our Lady and name her after a mountain, we recall that Jesus is called a mountain. We see that most clearly in Daniel's prophecy. Remember when he sees the statue with four different types of material: bronze, silver, gold, and tile. Then, he sees a little stone hewn from a mountain that becomes a huge mountain and fills the whole world; that is Jesus Christ and He is Carmel. We read Saint John of the Cross and one of his great works is called Ascent of Mount Carmel. It is the way to growth in holiness and perfection. The climbing of Mount Carmel is the climbing of the mystery of Jesus Christ, it is to enter into the depths of Christ. It is Our Lady, Our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, who leads us perfectly to her Son and to the top of the mystical mountain.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.