In the Desert with Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mount Carmel – Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay 

During this time of being largely homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have had to field complaints of, “Mom, I’m bored!” from restless children. The adults in the family have probably experienced some cabin fever as well. With no family gatherings, sporting events, and other of the usual forms of daily activity and entertainment, it has taken some getting used to the “new normal” for many of us. You could say the experience has seemed somewhat like being in a desert – barren, desolate, and empty at times. Some of us may feel like we’ve been stranded in this dry, arid desert without much comfort. Many would consider time in a desert as being fruitless because of the isolation and lack of activity; however, it depends on how you look at it.

With the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel approaching on July 16, we are reminded of those religious around the world who have devoted themselves to a life of prayer and sacrifice in the “desert” of Carmel. They have given up many of the pleasures and comforts of the world in order to follow God more closely and to hear his voice. The first Carmelites were hermits on Mount Carmel beginning in the 12th and into the 13th Centuries. They dwelt on the mountain, inspired by the Old Testament Prophet Elijah, who prayed, fasted, and witnessed to God by performing a miracle before the worshipers of the false god Baal. Elijah and the early hermits on Mount Carmel were willing to leave the world and sacrifice everything in pursuit of holiness and union with God. Elijah proclaimed in  1 Kings 19:10, “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.” Carmelites today continue in the spirit and tradition of Elijah as they intercede for the world through prayer, fasting, and sacrifice.

Though we as lay people are not called to the vows and lifestyle of Carmelites, we can learn from their simple and sacrificial way of life. With many of our activities cancelled and having to spend much more time at home because of the pandemic, we have an opportunity to use this time to deepen our faith and prayer life. Even five or ten minutes a day is a good place to start. Some methods of prayer we can incorporate into our daily routine at home include reciting the Rosary alone or with family or friends, reading and reflecting on the daily readings and other spiritual reading, or reciting the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy at three o’clock in honor of the hour that Jesus died. Being in the “desert” of this pandemic is an ideal place to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, which often comes to us when we slow down and allow ourselves to experience silence and solitude.

Now more than ever the world needs saints, and we are all called to strive to attain this goal. Whether our days are spent at a desk, working with our hands in manual labor, or at home raising children, or whatever our vocation entails, each of us is called and is capable of becoming the person God wants us to be. This time of pandemic is not a waste of time. Rather, we can offer up any suffering, anxiety, or inconveniences which it has caused us as a sacrifice to Jesus, and we can use the experience wisely by growing in holiness and deepening our prayer life, and especially by calling on our Mother of Mount Carmel to help us.

The Novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel begins on July 8 and ends on the feast day, July 16. One way to join in the novena is to receive email reminders from Pray More Novenas by signing up here. Let’s beg Our Mother the Queen of Carmel to intercede for us with God for our individual and collective needs and petitions by praying the novena together.

God Bless You!

“Why Are You Afraid? Have You No Faith?” – Pope Francis’ Message to the World

Christ in the Storm
Heinrich Jansen
Danish, 1625-1667

During his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing delivered today, March 27, Pope Francis stood facing a nearly-empty St. Peter’s Square, indicative of the strange and unprecedented situation we find our world in during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our streets and businesses are, similarly, largely vacant, void of life and activity, as we have retreated to our homes to try and stifle the spread of the deadly virus. 

The Holy Father, however, offered hope to the world during the period of scripture, petition, and adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, as well as prayers before a miraculous crucifix and an act of entrusting the world to the care and protection of our Blessed Mother.  The hour of prayer concluded with the Urbi et Orbi blessing, Latin for ‘to the city and the world,’ which is ordinarily given only at Christmas and Easter and upon the election of a new pope as his first blessing.  The blessing carried with it the opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence for the faithful who participated by viewing the service through the media or online. 

The Holy Father compared the anxiety that many are experiencing about the virus to the disciples’ fear in the fourth chapter of St. Mark’s gospel, when Jesus was asleep in the boat as a storm came up, frightening them and causing them to worry and doubt.  “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other,” he said.  The analogy of the boat brings to mind the Church, separated by distance, but unified in mind and spirit and united in prayer and petition for an end to the pandemic and for peace and health for all.  In this time of uncertainty, we are like the disciples, fearful and afraid, and we are apart, yet together in the Body of Christ.  He is our head, guiding and steering this vessel, the Church, even during the turbulent storms of life when they come. 

Perhaps the most significant and resounding line in the gospel passage is Jesus’ question to his disciples that he addresses to us as well, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).  The Holy Father emphasized these words and how Jesus directs them to us, in the situation we face today.  He continued, “Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation,” Pope Francis declared. The Holy Father’s words should call us to repentance and encourage us to recognize the ways we have failed to follow the gospel values in our own lives. During this period of Lent, when we are facing a global pandemic which affects us all, we are given the opportunity to humbly admit our faults and failings and allow our hearts to be converted and recommitted to Jesus. We remember the words of Psalm 51, a psalm of repentance, which declares, “a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn,” and we have hope that the Lord will hear our prayers if they are offered humbly and sincerely.  Pope Francis reminded us that this is “a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”

The Holy Father encouraged us to “invite Jesus into the boats of our lives,” and to “hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.”  He reminded us that, “Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”

He also emphasized the call to have hope in these desperate and often desolate times and to remember the Easter promise that, “He is risen and is living by our side.” He concluded his remarks with these words of petition:

“Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7).

COVID-19: In the Desert with Jesus

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Because of the current situation of the COVID 19 global pandemic, we find ourselves in unique and uncharted territory. Schools and activities are cancelled and we are called to stay home as much as possible and avoid social gatherings, or, as it is called, to practice “social distancing.” For some, this may feel new and strange. For others, it is a way of life. Many religious monks and nuns live secluded and isolated lives, separate and sheltered from the noise and chaos of the rest of the world. For those who have experienced this type of life, you know that it can lead to immense peace and oneness with God, and that those who live cloistered or monastic lives often are some of the happiest and most content people.

We can look at this temporary situation of imposed isolation and seclusion as a great blessing and a means to deepen our own spiritual lives and our relationships with God and our families. Free from the distractions of unnecessary gatherings and activities, we can focus our attention inward and get in touch with God speaking in our hearts. For those of us lay people who ordinarily live, work, and play in the world, it is often difficult to “hear” God speaking in our hearts because his voice is drowned out by the noise and chatter around us. The blessing of the situation we find ourselves in now is that the unnecessary and extraneous activity has been taken away, and we find ourselves in a sort of a “desert” in our homes where there is more peace and silence. If we use this time wisely, spending time in prayer and reflection, we can learn to listen more fully to God and grow in love for him.

Deserts are hot, dry, and sparse and can be very uncomfortable. The circumstances we are in now may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to some. It may feel boring or empty to some without the entertainment and activities that we are used to. However, we should remember that Jesus himself spent 40 days in the desert, where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. We can unite our own sacrifices and prayers during this time with his, and offer them to the Father for ourselves and for all those who are or will be directly affected by the coronavirus. As Catholics, we are familiar with the phrase “offer it up” and now is a perfect time to do just that for the good of the Church, the world, and those affected by this pandemic.

Remembering that we are, indeed, in the middle of Lent, we are provided with a perfect opportunity to use this time as a sort of “retreat” and make some time each day for prayer and spiritual reading or reflection. We can engage in spiritual reading to learn more about our faith and to give us food for reflection. Praying the Rosary as a family and viewing the Mass which is being streamed for us by many sources online, along with making a spiritual communion, are ways we can maintain our devotion and even grow in our faith during this time. By making efforts to grow in the faith, we learn to recognize the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and we come to know Jesus more fully.

Being in the desert can be very productive, as God can prune away our faults and sins and change our hearts during this time. The experience can be a great blessing if we imitate Jesus and continue to fast and pray throughout this period. If we continue to endeavor to pray, fast, and give alms throughout this Lent, we will experience the Easter joy in our homes and hearts, and hopefully we will be able to celebrate once again the Eucharist on Easter Sunday in our communities. Let’s pray that this virus will be subdued and that by Easter we can gather together again in thanksgiving and joy.