Flower of Carmel,
Splendor of heaven
None like to thee!
Peerless thou art!
To the Carmelites
Star of the sea!
Dear Friends of Carmel,
These beautiful, simple, childlike lines send our loving cry to the Mother of Carmel in Heaven, who is also ever with us here on earth. Very special blessings to you on this very special day for all Carmelites, including all “Wearers of the Scapular”! Today’s Feast, a commemoration on the universal liturgical calendar, is the foremost Marian Feast of the year for us Carmelites, and we know that you all share in the spirit of joy as we celebrate Our Blessed Mother.
Needless to say, we have much to share after these eventful months since April. But let us begin with a few thoughts about our great pride and joy: Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“It is It is the great glory of the Order of Carmel to be the Order especially set aside by Holy Church to venerate the Blessed Mother of God, and to propagate devotion to her. The little cloud seen by St. Elias arising from the sea and spreading over the land and giving life to the arid soil has ever been understood as symbolic of the Mother of Divine Grace. The successors of the holy Prophet eagerly accepted the Gospel and constructed on Mount Carmel the first sanctuary in honor of the Mother of the Redeemer. It is believed that Mary frequently visited the hermits there, so that they were called the Brothers of Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel. Many Pontiffs have given their confirmation to this sacred tradition… As a most sure sign of her vigilance and love, Mary, through St. Simon Stock, has given us her Scapular.
Steeped in this holy tradition, devotion to Our Lady takes on a very personal nature: the Mother of Our Lord visited the hermits on the holy Mount in Palestine during her lifetime; she later came from Heaven to visit and clothe the children specially dedicated to her. The gift of the Scapular, placed around our necks and with us twenty-four hours a day, is one of her great gifts to make us believe and know her nearness.
The best of teachers about the Scapular remind us that this sign of privileged protection is also the mark of the Our Lady’s part in the redemptive work of her Son. They rightly compare the Scapular with the gift of grace that we receive at Baptism – our souls, cleansed in the Blood of Christ, are clothed in grace – sanctifying grace, which is a share in the very life of the Trinity.
We can truly say that the garment of grace was woven by the blessed hands of Mary, who day by day, moment by moment, gave herself entirely, in union with her Son, for our salvation… She has cooperated in the obtaining the garment of our eternal salvation, the wedding garment in which we shall enter the banquet hall of heaven. How she longs that this robe be imperishable! From the moment we received it, Mary has never ceased to follow us with her maternal gaze, to safeguard within us the life of grace. Each time we are converted and return to God or rise again after falling into sin – be it great or small – each time we increase in grace, all – everything – is effected through Mary’s mediation. The scapular, the little habit, that Our Lady of Mount Carmel offers us, is only the external symbol of her unceasing, maternal care: the symbol, but also the sign, the pledge of eternal salvation. “My beloved son,” Mary said to St, Simon Stock, “take this scapular… whoever dies clothed in it will not suffer eternal fire.” The Blessed Virgin gives the assurance of the supreme grace of final perseverance to all who wear worthily her little habit.Father Gabriel, Divine Intimacy
Rightly understood then, the Scapular devotion is seen as a sign of consecration to God through Our Lady, a reverent setting apart of one’s soul to their love and dominion. “Those who wear the Scapular,” Pope Pius XII said, “profess to belong to Our Lady.” For the devout, serious Christian, it can be truly a means of holiness, as are all sacramentals, simply because of one’s intention to draw near to God and the Blessed Virgin – and ever remain in their company. This same pope further encouraged those who wear the Scapular:
“For the Holy Scapular, which may be called the Habit or Garment of Mary, is a Sign and a Pledge of the protection of the Mother of God … May all see in this Keepsake of the Virgin herself a Mirror of humility and purity; may they read in the very simplicity of the Garment a concise lesson in modesty and simplicity; above all, may they behold in this same Garment, which they wear day and night, the eloquently expressive symbol of their prayers for the divine assistance; finally, may it be to them a Sign of their Consecration … to the Immaculate Virgin…”Pope Pius XII
Back in 1988, a Carmelite priest, Father Redemptus Valabek, wrote a stirring defense of the Scapular devotion, lamenting, “The scapular devotion has fallen on hard times, as have other devotions…” How correct he was, for it can hardly be denied that the Church of our era has seen neglect, rebellion, indifference, and loss of faith among her children. Father Redemptus declares that the Scapular cannot be for its wearers an amulet, good-luck charm or crutch. He stresses the interior will and dispositions necessary for worthily wearing and using the Scapular, once again referring, as Father Gabriel above, to the life of Baptismal grace. Uniting oneself to God through Mary means depending on her motherly assistance, her instruction, her gentle correction; it means striving to imitate her – who was and is the greatest, most fervent and wise Christian: “…[A]n authentic Scapular devotion intensifies the basic Christian commitment to put on Christ. It is an attempt to appreciate Mary’s role in our belief. When this role is recognized and its inestimable worth appreciated, then certain basic Christian constants are lived more fully, for Mary was the perfect disciple of her Son.” Father Redemptus speaks eloquently of the virtues of Our Lady that her children must imitate: humility, simplicity, purity, faith, hope and charity. (Mary, Mother of Carmel)
Similarly, the repeated praise of the holy Scapular of popes throughout the centuries always includes a clear warning against a pietistic, superficial use of this treasured sacramental of the Church. Pius XII plainly cautioned that wearing this sign of Our Blessed Mother’s protection should not be taken for granted as an easy ticket to Heaven : “…[N]ot for this reason, however, may they who wear the Scapular think that they can gain eternal salvation while remaining slothful and negligent of spirit, for the Apostle warns us: ‘In fear and trembling shall you work out your salvation’ (Phil. 2:12).”
Thanks be to God, Who faithfully preserves the work of His Church and souls through Our Lady and the Scapular devotion! We here in Carmel have witnessed, to our joy, the resurgence of this devotion, year by year. God reward the zealous priests who are preaching and promoting the venerable tradition of the Scapular devotion! It seems that modern naysayers and innovators, with their supposed-scholarly research and sophisticated reinterpretations of Church history and piety, have been quietly, but steadily quashed – or at least ignored. No doubt through the work of the Holy Spirit in souls, that wonderful “Catholic sense” has triumphed, and in the tradition of the Saints and generations of steadfastly devout Catholics, the holy Scapular and its message continue to grow and prosper. So true is this that we cannot keep up with the demand for the Scapulars we make and offer through our gift website. But about this happy “problem” we will tell you more later in our newsletter!
We would like to share with you the story of a young man who took the Scapular devotion very much to heart; whose life embodied all that this precious gift of our Blessed Mother is meant to produce in our souls, as put forth in the lessons above – humility, simplicity, to put on Christ and preserve baptismal grace. The Scapular became for him the sign of steadfast fidelity to his holy Faith, even unto death.
Blessed Isidore Bakanja (1887-1909) was born of the Boangi tribe in central Africa in what was, in his time, the Belgian Congo. This nation is better known as Zaire, but has since become the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Unjust exploitation of the native peoples, very tragically common in the European colonies, was the social environment Isidore lived with. Leopold II of Belgium sought to soothe the often inhumane treatment of slaves by sending missionaries. But many of the Belgian agents were atheists who hated these missionaries, because they fought for justice and for the rights of the natives. It was from the Trappist missionary priests that Isidore learned the Christian faith and at age 18 was baptized. From the Trappists, he received the two devotions which were hallmarks of Catholicism, the Rosary and the Scapular, learning the value and importance of external signs that show forth the Truth. Isidore, who was to die for refusing to discard his scapular, saw in this devotion the external emblem of the unsurpassed gift of faith and the protection of the Mother of God.
He was an earnest and kindly young man. From the very beginning of his Christian life, he was “all in,” as they say – always eager to share his faith and to spread his dignified joy in the truth of the Gospel. Although never trained as a catechist, many thought he was one of the priests’ assistants in teaching the catechism. Witnesses among his own people admired him for his affable nature, his goodness and purity, and his calm wisdom in the face of those opposed to his faith.
He worked at different times as an assistant mason for the white colonists, and later, as a domestic on a Belgian rubber plantation in the African wilderness. It was at this latter employment that he encountered the avowed anti-Christian, Van Cauter, who hated the priests and believed that all Europe should be rid of the Catholic Church. Hearing that the holy Faith was being taught to the natives enraged him, and he tried to undermine any possible influence of the missionaries among the people. But then, Isidore arrived. His life of prayer, kindness and of strength of character impressed his fellow-workers; yet for the time being, he remained the only Christian worker on the plantation. In fact, all the witnesses of his sufferings and martyrdom were until later, non-Christians who had never heard of religion or prayer or God. This proved most providential, since their testimony was not only eyewitness, but highly objective and readily believed.
While one day serving the dinner of his masters and the guests, Van Cauter caught sight of the scapular around Isidore’s neck and commanded him: “Bakanja, take that thing off your neck. It’s disgusting. I don’t want to see that contraption of stupid priests here anymore.” But Isidore was too fervent and convinced a Catholic to take off his scapular, and when Van Cauter a few days later noticed him yet wearing it, he flew into a rage and had him beaten with twenty-five strokes. It was February 2, 1909. Some weeks later, when he again saw Isidore, he ripped the scapular from Isidore’s neck and forced him to lie on the ground, demanding that his fellow servants flog him, threatening them with death if they did not follow his orders. The chosen instrument for this beating was a whip, a strap cut from elephant hide, which Van Cauter had made with protruding two nails on one end. In spite of their unwillingness, two servants held his hands and feet and a third used the strap to beat Isidore. 200-250 blows had ripped Isidore’s back apart.
Although Van Cauter tried to conceal this horrible beating from the authorities, many people, both among his co-workers and among the slaves, had witnessed it all. At first, he hid the suffering young man in a prison hut, his wounds untended, expecting Isidore would die – but he lived on. The slave master then drove him from the plantation, ordering him to go to another town. Isidore told him, “You know very well that I cannot walk.” But yet again threatened with death, Isidore dragged himself away to escape the fury of his master and hid in the nearby forest. His fellow-slaves tried to help him, giving him food, water and some clothing, but the untended wounds continued to bleed and fester.
He was eventually found in the forest by an inspector of the plantation that Van Cauter had been uneasily expecting. To this man, Isidore, a mass of blood and anguish, revealed the whole story: “The white man beat me for no reason! I am a Christian. This is the plain truth: the white man beat me because I am a Christian… I am dying because I am a Christian.” Although his wounds were then treated, he continued for months to suffer very much, and through it all, never ceased praying, always with the rosary in his hands, as witnesses attested. He was then taken to a village where there were Christians and stayed among the families there, where, in June, two Trappist Fathers came to him to hear his confession and give him the sacraments of Extreme Unction and Holy Viaticum, for the priests knew he was dying. When they asked Isidore about the beating, Isidore told them simply, “The white man did not like Christians… He did not want me to wear the scapular… he yelled at me when I said my prayers.” When the priests urged him to forgive Van Cauter, he declared, “I’m not angry with the white man… certainly I shall pray for him. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much.” In the end, his wounds were too infected to heal. After several more months of prayer and suffering, Isidore died August 15, 1909, holding the rosary and with the scapular around his neck. He was beatified in 1994. (Source: Profiles in Holiness, Fr. Redemptus Valabek)
As we mentioned above, we have been stunned at the number of scapulars we now make for the website. When we first began making them many years ago, the Sister who did most of the sewing at that time dreamed of seeing them distributed all over the world – and that dream has certainly come true! We have sent scapulars all over the United States, of course, and to Canada and Mexico, to Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Greece, Germany, Hungary, France, Poland, Africa, India, Japan, Taiwan, etc., as well as to many of the nations of South America. We have even, to our particular joy, sent scapulars to Russia. And it is always a touching thing to know, as we have heard from many of our website patrons, that a loved one has passed to eternity while wearing one of our scapulars.
But the fact is, we do have a problem. We have finally had to admit that we are no longer able to keep up with the demand. Our once well-stocked scapular drawers are now nearly empty some days, what with schools, churches, and gift shops ordering large quantities at once, as well as all of the individual orders that are placed. We are now, especially in the weeks leading up to July 16th, almost constantly “in the hole” when it comes to filling those large orders. Sometimes in the hole by as much as 200 scapulars! Since they are handmade, they require time to make. But we have NO plans to stop making these special scapulars.
We knew we had to come up with some option that would no longer make it necessary to limit the quantities available or make them difficult for people to obtain. So after many months of brainstorming and discussion about what to do, we are in the midst of designing a slightly different version of our scapular. This one will use all of the same materials as our current scapulars – the same wool, same images, same strings. The only thing that will be different is the outside edge. The new scapular will have a simple border woven directly into the label; the label will be machine-stitched to the wool with a sewing machine, instead of being hand-stitched with the decorative border. Without sacrificing any of the strength and durability, we will be able to make quantities of this scapular more quickly and simply, as well as offer them for a bit lower cost. This scapular will be a good option for bulk orders. We hope that you will see these new scapulars on our site soon – probably in the next four to six weeks.
Again, never fear! We will continue to make and offer our original scapulars with the hand-stitched embroidered edge!
In honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we have added a new medal with her depiction to our website. We were very pleased with the beautiful detail on this medal which comes from a manufacturer in France, where there is still fervent devotion to the Mother of God. (We will be adding more of their pieces to our site in the near future!)
Also, we offer a few Carmelite greeting cards, which have proved to be quite popular!
First, just a brief recommendation for our books on the Brown Scapular. The John Haffert book, Mary in her Scapular Promise, besides being a classic, is a reliable source for the Scapular’s history, tradition and place in Catholic devotion. We ourselves use this book frequently for reference and reflection. Mr. Haffert shares wonderful stories involving the Scapular throughout its history. In both editions of Garment of Grace, one of which is especially for young readers, are further accounts in the wonders of the Scapular in the lives of Christians, both saints and sinners. Don’t let the simple format and language of Garment of Grace mislead you. Rather, read with faith and wonder of the important work of salvation conducted by Our Lady through a simple piece of clothing – her chosen Sign of favor and protection.
We might use this Feast day again to recommend Carmelite Devotions and Prayers for Special Feasts of the Liturgical Year. The original of this book we cherish greatly, having received it through our founding Mothers and had it specially re-bound, we use it throughout the year – for Community novenas, etc., as well as for individual use.
One last Marian title to consider is The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics. Our Lady has revealed to certain holy souls her life and its unique vocation. Learn in this wonderful collection of writings the high and wonderful place Mary held in the plan of God for the salvation of the world – all in a simple, hidden life upon earth.
If you have been with us over the past two years and reading our newsletters, you are familiar with our offerings of traditional Catholic literature that is out of print. We have featured until now only volumes from the Cross and Crown Series of Spirituality, and we have been thrilled to locate more copies of some of those titles. If you missed out the last few times, be sure to look over the listings, since limited numbers of both Mystery of Mary and In Him is Life are again available. While continuing to offer books from this wonderful series, today we present another excellent book by a well known author, the French priest, Father Philipon. His book, The Mother of God, is a complete and wonderfully readable compendium of Marian theology. Both fascinating and devotional, the book is a treasure that we have had in our own Monastery library for years. The more used and appreciated by the Sisters, the more eager we were to locate additional copies to offer you!
One last thing to share with you about “old” books. The past 30-40 years have seen some return to the traditional teachings of the Catholic Faith. One of the key elements in this good movement (forward, not backward), has been the re-publishing of important Catholic literature. Quite a few publishers have done fine work in this area, including TAN Books, Sophia Institute Press, etc. But many on-demand publishers are also republishing Catholic spiritual classics, and we have been incorporating a number of these in our website book selection. They are important works – valuable for the spiritual life – and written by some of the holiest men of their time. Among these, see in Marian books a number of works that explain and expand on the doctrine of St. Louis de Montfort (True Devotion), such as The Virgin Mary and the Apostles of the Last Times and To Jesus Through Mary. Others are The Spiritual Doctrine of Father Louis Lallemant and Manual for Interior Souls by Father Nicholas Grou. Perhaps we will talk about these excellent spiritual works in future newsletters.
Some of you have been emailing, asking if you missed a newsletter. No, you haven’t missed any letters; we just have hardly been able to come up for air in the ocean of work and projects that have been filling our days. But let’s see if we can catch you up on the last few (very busy!) months at Carmel.
Needless to say, the biggest project keeping us so well occupied has been our moving of work offices into the new building – yes, the building is finally completed. But moving is still moving, even if it is only across the yard! Both of the “migrating” offices (the sewing room and the website business rooms) come with a lot of equipment, machinery, supplies and all sorts of odds and ends….from bottles of glue, to boxes of books. Come rain or shine, we knew we had to get this job done, for the love of God – – and for the peaceful resettling of the Monastery work and schedule. Well, we got rain AND shine… and then, we had snow. By mid-May, you would think weather would be the least of our problems, but Springtime in the Rockies can be the winter that isn’t quite finished. The first few days saw a steady procession, Sisters and filled garden carts and wagons, back and forth between the buildings. After we had packed up or cleared most of what we could lift, a moving company arrived with their big truck to move all of the heavy furniture and tables. These 4 young men were excellent and careful movers. We were so grateful for their help. And the day they came was rainy and misty and just plain wet and cold. But never a complaint, and with cheerful countenances, they lifted and shifted their cargo, sometimes two of them jogging with a bulky bookcase up the truck ramp. But even they had never seen something quite as enormous and heavy, as our sewing room table. Even each section of it was arduous work for them. At the end of the day, just as they were bringing in the last of the truckloads, the rain turned to sleet, and quickly the sleet to snow. As they drove off around 6:30 that evening, their big truck left tracks in the snow. We quickly closed and locked gates, locked up the new building, and ran to the Monastery building for some hot soup, knowing that we had before us the next daunting task of getting everything organized and in its place, all while trying our best to keep up with the business!
We cannot quite say that the “moving” project is completely finished, but we are getting there! The inventory and mailing rooms are set up and functioning well; the Sisters so appreciate not having to crawl up into a “half-cell” (as we dubbed the small closets with four foot ceilings where most of our stock was previously stored) to find some needed packing box or Sacramental to fulfill an order. The sewing room is gradually taking shape, with most of the bolts of fabric, trims, and trappings stored away in their new homes. In the original Monastery building, we have already begun to set up our new Oratory/Chapter Room (the old sewing room), and have rebuilt the wall that was knocked out to house the business 15 or so years ago. This gives us two new cells for future vocations, one of which may be filled by summer’s end. We step back from all of this, and breathe a sigh of amazed gratitude. Just think! A couple of years ago, we were only dreaming of this project and all it would accomplish for the good of our Community. We thank God – and ask you to thank Him with us – for seeing the project through and for the blessing of having Loreto. May we put it to good use for His glory and lovingly honor the Holy Family!
We also turned our attention to finishing some of landscaping around the building – bringing in a few new trees, as well as transplanting some of the smaller trees that have sprung up around the enclosure into a little “tree nursery.” Three of these little guys are truly “Charlie Brown trees,” but we’re rooting for them, and we’ll see if they survive the trauma of their move as well as we have! Someday we hope the added trees will help to provide a nice wind break from the sometimes harsh north winds! We also transplanted quite a few sun-loving shrubs from inside the enclosure. These were not thriving where the trees we planted 15-20 years ago have grown to form a nice, shading canopy. River rocks to help with the drainage of rain water, mulch to keep the newly planted trees moist, and a couple colorful annual flower pots were final touches….at least for now!
Weather, as you read above about our move, has been unusual around the country, and Colorado is not an exception. The heavy wet snowstorm the day we moved very quickly did its damage. The Sisters looked out the window after the evening recreation and saw that within just a couple of hours, some of trees were so weighed down that branches were reaching the ground. Many had already broken. Some of the pine trees tops simply snapped off mid-trunk! Late that night, some of us went out with poles and shovels to shake tree branches free of snow, which we think helped to minimize the damage. But by morning, the same branches were leaning and bending. Others had finally broken under the weight. We even lost power, and chanted our morning Divine Office by flashlight. Moisture we got, but at what cost… Almost two months later, we are still waiting for our tree care company to clear some of the higher broken branches, dangling precariously in the tree tops. There was so much damage in the city that all these companies have been delayed getting to everyone needing help. 3’ drifts and higher around the new building had us pulling out the snow-blower from storage! As time allowed, the Sisters have gradually taken care of the lower, reachable branches. Of course, our dogs loved the spring snow, but we made special note for the future – not to put away the winter coats and boots, snow shovels and snow blower until after May!
Besides the snow, the dogs have been enjoying the new part of the enclosure, such a large field where they can run and play! We spent some time digging up some of the many wild cactus growing out there. More than once, Meika (Zelie somehow always seems to avoid them) came running back to the house with nose or paws full of cactus spines… not that it seemed to bother her! She was always too worried about chasing a ball or Zelie having too much fun without her, to stop and have them pulled out. We might have another adventure/project on our hands about mid-August, when we are hoping that Meika will have puppies. Our professional trainer is also a breeder and has been our big help in this. It’s a little early to tell for sure, but thus far she is displaying all of the signs of expecting.
With the snow, frost, and freezes finally behind us the gardens have been making up for lost time. We haven’t done much with them this year, having been so busy just cleaning up from the damage of the storm and finishing the planting by new building, but everything is thriving!
This time of year is replete with so many beautiful liturgical Feast days. The Feast of the Sacred Heart is very special for us, since it is our patronal Feast. And this past week has been spiritual preparation for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with a special novena in her honor. July 20th we will celebrate the Feast of St. Elias, a truly unique Feast Day in the Church in that it is the only one which celebrates a Saint who never died. Our founder is still with us in a way, with us in the flesh, as he awaits to fulfill the rest of his vocation upon the appearance of the anti-Christ. See the book of Malachi in the Old Testament for this inspiring prophecy.
So yes, as you have now read, our days in Carmel have been very busy! But before we end our letter, we would like once more to return thoughtfully and prayerfully to the Brown Scapular and our great July Feast. Our own Carmelite Scapular, which we don each day with our religious habit, has sometimes been called by our Carmelite ancestors a “work apron.” It is a custom in Carmel every morning to kneel and kiss our Scapular while we put it on, recalling and repeating the words addressed to us by the Priest on the day we were clothed in the habit: “Take upon thee the yoke of Christ which is sweet and the burden which is light.” The days indeed are busy, sometimes full of sorrows, burdens and cares. But in this vale of tears, Our Mother is here to remind us every morning that all the little crosses of life, carried with love, in union with her, and above all with her Son, are light and sweet. We all bear burdens which are sanctifying our souls, helping the souls of others, and carrying us all forward to our eternal home in Heaven.
Let us all re-dedicate ourselves to Our Blessed Mother today, and donning our scapulars with a renewed enthusiasm and fervor, let us all “go to work!”
In Our Lady,
Your Carmelite Sisters