Dear brothers and sisters of the Carmelite family:
The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is approaching and, like every year, I want to send you an affectionate greeting with my most sincere congratulations. I hope that the feast and all the celebrations of these days (novenas, processions, religious and cultural events, etc.) will be an occasion to honor Mary under this title so popular and endearing and so dear to all of us Carmelites. May these celebrations touch our hearts, inspire our living of the charism, and transform our lives so that we become more and more faithful to the values of the Gospel.
I would like to present again this year the outline of the novena that has been made by the people in charge of the website of our Order, based on texts by writers, mystics, and Carmelite saints. May this novena help us, guided by the hand of Mary, to enter the depth of the mystery of our faith.
This year I would like, in the first place, to remind you that we are commemorating the first centenary of the apparitions of Fatima. For this reason, among other events, the Portuguese Carmelites, in collaboration with our discalced Carmelite brothers, have prepared a Marian congress that will take place in September 2017. Also, various works and articles have been published on the relation of these apparitions to Our Lady of Mt Carmel.
It is well known that, in the sixth apparition, which occurred in October 1917, the shepherds indicated that the Virgin appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel who was venerated in her parish (see photo). In 1924, testifying before the diocesan tribunal, Lucia insisted on this and added that “she wore a thing hanging in her right hand” (the Holy Scapular). Likewise, when in 1950, Father Kilian Lynch, then Prior General of the Order, visited Lucia, the seer, insisted that it was the Our Lady of Mt Carmel. Even in interviews with other Carmelites, Lucia emphasized that she was surprised that this aspect had not been emphasized and that devotion to the Scapular of Carmel, inspired by the same apparitions, had not been promoted.
Be that as it may, in this centenary of the apparitions, the Carmelite family renews in some way their Marian devotion and now that the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is approaching, we also ask her to give us a simple, deep faith and a devotion that does not fall into empty sentimentalism or passive affections, but, well rooted in our hearts, leads us to rediscover every day the Good News of the Gospel and encourages us to announce it with courage and authenticity.
Pope Francis, during his visit to Fatima, has insisted on how the values of the Gospel must transform and revolutionize our lives and how the devotion to the Virgin helps us to discover them and live them to the full. Marian devotion, in fact, if it is authentic, makes us more human: “Every time we look at Mary we come to believe in the revolutionary power of tenderness and affection. In it we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong. ”
In this centenary, we also remember in a special way all the sick of the Carmelite family. The Pope had endearing words for them in his visit to Fatima, stating that they were “a valuable treasure of the Church”. In this feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel may we be very present to those who suffer any infirmity and may we renew our commitment to help them, accompany them and share with them all the best we have. We pray that far from the “throw away” culture, nor of the selfish comfort, we see that they are really a treasure in our families and Carmelite communities.
Secondly, I would like to point out that this year we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Blessed Titus Brandsma’s death at the Dachau concentration camp and the 50th anniversary of the death of the great Carmelite theologian, Bartolomé F. Mª Xiberta. Both died the same day, on July 26, with a difference of 25 years. The two met in Holland, in 1938, after the expulsion of Fr. Xiberta from Italy by the Fascist government. Father Xiberta would always remember with admiration the Dutch Carmelite.
The two stood out for their great Marian devotion and wrote about the role of the Virgin Mary in the history of salvation. Father Titus insisted that we, like Mary, are called to be “theotokos”, bearers of God, who take the Lord to the most needy places. It is a doctrine that connects very well with the Pope Francis’ missionary insistence who constantly reminds us of the importance of leaving and going to the geographical and existential peripheries.
Father Xiberta was able to harmoniously combine a very high and speculative theology with his tender devotion to Mary. Those who knew him well remember how he counted the days that were missing to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He liked to repeat the Marian antiphon, taken from the book of Judith (cf. Judith 15:9), “You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you are the pride of our race.” In Mary, a woman of our race and of our people, the whole of humanity becomes evident, giving her primacy in the mystery of salvation.
Here are a couple of examples to illustrate how our brothers lived with depth, doctrinal seriousness, and piety the devotion to Mary in the twentieth century.
Blessed Tito celebrated for the last time the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Lager of Dachau in 1942. Despite his weakness and illness, he did not fail to greet with a handshake the other Carmelites that were there: the Dutchman, Fray Rafael, who accompanied him to the end, and several Poles, among whom was Blessed Hilario Januszewski. It was a strange celebration, but lived, certainly, in an endearing and touching way in those terrible circumstances.
The same day, twenty-five years later, Fr. Xiberta died in Tarrasa, Spain. The last few years he was totally disabled because of a stroke. He hardly articulated any words. Perhaps he was realizing what he had once said about his work as a theologian: “We, poor teachers of theology, must talk about extremely high mysteries, before which it would be best to remain in silent contemplation …”
May both Blessed Titus Brandsma and the Servant of God, Bartolomé F. Mª Xiberta, help us to live our Marian devotion with the same authenticity and requirement of life that they demonstrated.
May Mary, the Mother and beauty of Carmel, the star of the sea, guide us in our journey, so that we can respond with creativity and joy in the face of the challenges that arise in our sometimes complex world.
To all of you who are one way or another part of the Carmelite family, I send you my affectionate greeting. Congratulations!
Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm.