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On Marian Visions

May 24, 2020
As we continue to honor Mary in this month of May I would like share a few words on Marian apparitions or visions[1], a topic I mentioned in my last reflection. I had explained how the relationship of us Carmelites to Our Lady is founded on Sacred Scripture and the Church's teachings more than on these extraordinary phenomena. In this we attempt to live a life similar to hers, which was led by the light of faith in the ordinary more than spectacular spiritual events.

It is important for all Catholics to understand what the Church truly teaches about Marian visions so as to keep a balanced approach to them. When the Church grants her approval it means that the faithful are free to believe in it if they so choose, but they are not obligated to. This is so because these events, when genuine, do not add anything to what the Church already teaches about Our Lady or any other aspect of the faith. Real Marian visions are only a reminder of what God has already revealed to us; through them he seeks to encourage us to live by it. That is why those who choose not to believe in them are not deprived of what they need to fully live out their Catholic faith and their call to holiness. That being so, when choosing to believe in approved Marian visions, we need to keep in mind that these are meant to be a help to our faith more than its foundation. After all our Catholic faith is built on the Word of God (fully revealed in Jesus Christ) that comes to us through the Church in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Some important questions we should ask ourselves when we follow approved Marian visions are: "Are they helping me to grow in the virtues of faith, hope and charity? Are they grounding me more in the Church's teachings? Are these phenomena motivating me to persevere in my life of prayer and in my love and obedience to the Church?"


On the other hand, all this being said does not mean that we Carmelites reject approved Marian visions. I myself have been to pilgrimages to the shrines of Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe. All of them, especially the last one, have been places of grace for me.

Having a balanced approach to Marian visions also includes avoiding falling into the opposite extreme, which is to look down on them and on the people who follow them appropriately. It is okay if Marian visions do not do much for our spiritual life as long as we are respectful of others and of the different ways that God chooses to draw them to himself. Just because the way our Lord brings someone closer to him is not the one we think best or is not the one I follow, doesn't mean it's not a valid route. God usually meets us where we are and then attracts us to where he wants us to be. For example, what moved our Holy Mother Saint Teresa to enter the convent of the Incarnation was not the most perfect of motives. It was not mainly a profound love for Our Lord and a deep desire to serve others, but the fear of hell.[2] Nevertheless God used this to gradually bring her to an ever deeper love relationship with him and to eventually make her a great Saint. This being the case, who then are we to judge and dismiss God's work in the lives of others?

Seeing others who follow approved Marian visions as spiritually inferior is a danger that could be worse than exaggerating the importance of these phenomena because it stems from one of the worst sins, spiritual arrogance. Let us keep in mind that during his public ministry Our Lord was able to touch the hearts and bring to conversion many great and public sinners. The ones he was unable to bring to conversion were those who were spiritually arrogant, those who thought of themselves as holier and above the rest, like the Pharisees. We need, then, to be careful not to fall into assuming that people who follow approved Marian visions are spiritually inferior, overly pious and ignorant of real theology and Sacred Scripture.

We priests need to be particularly careful in this matter so as not to hurt the flock that we have been called to lead. In imitation of Christ himself we are to meet them where they are and with compassion and humility minister to them discerning and following the lead of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

God gave us the invaluable gift of the Church to guide us in our journey, in this case to have a balanced approach to phenomena such as Marian visions, and so avoid erring on either side of the issue.

If we truly love Our Lady we are to strive to imitate her virtues, especially her humility, obedience, and her fraternal charity. This applies to all of us Carmelites and non-Carmelites, whether we follow Marian visions or not. I conclude echoing here some wise words from St. Augustine that summarize well the message of this reflection: "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”


[1] The term visions is more theologically accurate than apparitions, since when they happen it doesn't mean that Our Lady makes herself physically present. If that was the case everyone present would see her, not just the visionaries. This, however, doesn't make them a less genuine and God-given spiritual experience.
[2] St. Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, 3: 5.


Written by Fr. Jorge Cabrera, OCD

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 21, 2020
Readings: 
1st Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 
Resp. Psalm: Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18 
Gospel: John 14:15-21 

Things aren't always what they seem. Usually if we feel comfortable and our surroundings appeal to us we think that we are in the right place, doing the right thing. On the other hand, we can be tempted to believe that just be cause we are irritated or don't feel well that we are in the wrong place or that we are doing the wrong thing. How do we know which end is up? How do we know if we are doing God's Will? He will give us peace, true, but what kind of peace? How do we recognize it? Is it the absence of the things that bother us? No. The peace that God gives us is one that sees us through any type of obstacle because we must remember that God does not give us anything, any cross that cannot be endured or is beyond our capacity. We can be irritated by the blare of loud music, we can be disturbed by an illness that incapacitates us in some way or even be preoccupied by a problem that keeps us awake at night tossing and turning. But we can still be at peace. St. Therese suffered horribly from tuberculosis and endured temptations against the faith -- so bad were these temptations that she feared that if she were to tell her sisters about it, she would blaspheme. But there was a type of peace that sustained her, there was an inner joy, despite all that was happening around her to bother and upset her.

Jesus said: 

I WILL ASK THE FATHER AND HE WILL GIVE YOU ANOTHER PARACLETE TO BE WITH YOU ALWAYS: THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, WHOM THE WORLD CANNOT ACCEPT, SINCE IT NEITHER SEES HIM NOR RECOGNIZES HIM; BUT YOU CAN RECOGNIZE HIM BECAUSE HE REMAINS WITH YOU AND WILL BE WITHIN YOU. 

In order to be in tune with the Spirit of Truth, that is, the Holy Spirit, we must pray and pray as much as is possible. We have the Sacraments, the Mass through which God gives us grace. And yes, He has promised us another Consoler, the Holy Spirit. How do we know if we have received the Holy Spirit? If we follow the Commandments of God and especially the greatest one: LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. Remember that the life of a Christian is a difficult one. We resolve to do better, we fall, we get up again and then we fall again. Yes, we have to struggle. Jesus did not tell us to be a complete success in the eyes of the world, or of society, but to be perfect as His Heavenly Father is perfect and that means to let God accomplish in us, whatever He wants. 

Keep asking God for help. It will come.

Written by Fr. Jim Curiel, OCD

Carmelite Marian Spirituality

May 10, 2020

During this month of May dedicated to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, I would like to share a reflection on her, the most remarkable woman in history and our Mother in the order of grace.

We Carmelites have a most special bond with Our Lady, since we are the first religious order in the West dedicated to her love and service.[1]  In fact, our official name, Discalced Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, came from a chapel we built in her honor at Mount Carmel, Israel where our Order began.

The Marian spirit we have inherited as Carmelites has particular traits. It shapes our life of prayer and contemplation, our apostolic activity and our life in community.[2]  Inspired by Mary's example and helped by her intercession and care, we strive to ponder the Word of God in our hearts (Lk 2: 19). She is the perfect embodiment of our Carmelite ideal; therefore, we aspire to imitate her attitude of "poor of the Lord", the anawim. This means living a life confidently surrendered to God in whom we are to find our sole foundation and hope. Being spiritually poor signifies receiving everything freely from the love and mercy of God, understanding that his gifts are not to be seized or possessed but to be received. It means giving all we have received, sharing it with the same generosity and freedom with which God gave it to us.[3]  After her Son, Mary is the most evident witness of this humble attitude.

This Marian poverty of spirit moves us to look to Mary especially as she is portrayed in Holy Scripture[4] where we see her as our model of Christian discipleship lived in the midst of the ordinary and guided by the sometimes dark light of faith. Throughout her journey, Our Lady didn't perfectly comprehend God's plan nor all the reasons behind every event in her life. She walked in faith like we all do; this is precisely what makes her faith so meritorious. The Holy Gospels reveal this plainly. One example is the passage of the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple: "When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, 'Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.' And he said to them, 'Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?' But they did not understand what he said to them." (Lk 2: 48-50) In light of this, extraordinary spiritual phenomena seemed to have been the exception more than the norm in the life of Mary of Nazareth.

Therefore, our Carmelite Marian spirituality doesn't gravitate towards the pursuit of these kind of phenomena, such as Marian apparitions. These do not define our filial relationship to our Blessed Mother nor are the source of our Marian calling. Without rejecting these manifestations when they have the Church's approval, we tend more to contemplate Our Lady as our Carmelite sister St. Thérèse of Lisieux did:

"Mother full of grace, I know that in Nazareth
You live in poverty, wanting nothing more.
No rapture, miracle, or ecstasy
Embellish your life, O Queen of the Elect!...
The number of little ones on earth is truly great.

They can raise their eyes to you without trembling.
It's by the ordinary way, incomparable Mother,
That you like to walk to guide them in Heaven."[5]

Contemplating Mary as one of the anawim in light of her journey of faith is a source of encouragement for us and a powerful reminder that God is faithful to his promises even in the darkest of times. May she continue to guide us and protect us as we carry on in our journey through these challenging times. 

 [1] Rule & Constitutions of the Discalced Carmelite Friars, #47.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Jaques Philipe, The Eight Doors to the Kingdom: Meditations on the Beatitudes (New York: Scepter Pubishers, 2018), p. 23 - 24.
[4] Ibid. #49.
[5] St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Why I Love you, O Mary.
 

Written by Fr. Jorge Cabrera of Mary Immaculate, OCD

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