Earlier this week, the Church celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. One might recognize Mt. Carmel from Sacred Scripture—it is where the prophet Elijah defended Israel and her faith in the living God. This natural beauty was also home to hermits in the twelfth century, who “lived as God's bees, gathering the divine honey of spiritual consolation." These contemplatives later founded the Carmelite Order, and they constantly looked to Mary, the Mother of God, for guidance and inspiration.
Blessed John Paul II was very fond of the Carmelite Order and its Saints, like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and St. John of the Cross. He also fostered a devotion to the Scapular of Carmel, which he wore over his “heart for a very long time.” In his 2001 message to the Carmelite family, Blessed John Paul II wrote:
The sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother's loving presence in their lives…
…two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life's journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a "habit", that is, a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy… indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to her, who became our spiritual Mother.
Much like the monastic scapular, which many religious wear with their habits, the devotional scapular of Carmel is worn over the shoulders. It is smaller and typically made of two pieces of cloth connected by a band—one piece of cloth lays near the chest, one drops down the back (which is why many scapular wearers are warned that their “tags are sticking out”). By committing to a life of holiness, those who wear the scapular open themselves up to many graces and protections.
Blessed John Paul II wasn’t the only Saint devoted to the Scapular. St. Alphonsus Liguori is one example, and there are many others. One remarkable Blessed, beatified by Blessed John Paul II, was martyred for refusing to take off his scapular. Read the story of Blessed Isidore Bankanja here.
While a devotion to the Brown Scapular is special and unique, a true devotion to the Blessed Mother is a sure way to the heart of Jesus and His salvation. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, please pray that we may become like you in our love for your son, Jesus Christ.