No reflection or conversation about Mary could possibly begin without first reflecting on Christ. And it is a life lived in allegiance to Christ which is the keystone to the Carmelite life. It is to place Christ, the Living Word of God at the very centre of our lives and to be constantly aware of that presence. Only when we put him at the centre, do we realise that the world does not revolve around ourselves but instead that our lives are to be realigned and subsequently revolve around God who dwells at our most profound centre. In our constant reflection on who is at our very centre, we come to realise that it is from there that we must begin to see the world. Looking upon the world not with our own perception, but with fruits of careful pondering. From here I may come to see the world as Christ sees it, as a creative expression of the love of God. To live in allegiance to Jesus Christ then is a radical call to return Him to the centre of our lives, to keep him there, and to see the world as he sees it.
For the Carmelite, the perfect model of this life is seen in Mary. And under the title of Our Lady for Mount Carmel, we draw closer to her as we imitate her life in Christ. We do this of course in many different ways, and now is not the time to explore them all. Yet, in this placing of Christ at our centre and becoming ever increasingly aware of this presence, we can still turn to Mary. We find in the Gospels that Mary is a woman of faith. In some of her appearances, she acts immediately and without hesitation, yet in other moments, she simply watches what is happening and holds it in her heart. The passage from Luke’s Gospel (Lk 2:19) tells us that after the nativity, visitation of the shepherds and of the Magi, Mary simply ‘treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart’. She may not have understood what was going on completely but instead she allowed the movement of God within her life to remain with her so that she could gradually come to a full understanding of its meaning. I think we can take two things away from this. The first is that Mary recognised the marvels that the Lord was working within her own life which was open to God from the very beginning. Yes, she recognised them, but did she always understand them? I would say then that this is our second point, her pondering. After all of the events within her life which the Gospels tell us about, we can see that she draws them into her heart and ponders them. Only by drawing these treasures into her heart can she come to contemplate them, allowing God to reach out to her from within, transforming her into the perfect disciple of his Son.
The early Carmelites knew this and having taken Mary’s example to heart they strove to live their days in this steady rythm of prayer and pondering. They knew that by imitating Mary’s model of discipleship, they would be led directly to her son. We see this in the Carmelite Rule where they were encouraged to ‘ponder on the law of the Lord, day and night’. Just like Mary’s own reaction, the Rule did not call them to a life of immediate responses, but a gradual conversion of heart, a quiet pondering on the hillside of Mount Carmel. As Carmelites of the 21st century, we continue this tradition of a careful pondering the law of the Lord, the scriptures, the movement of God within our own lives and in the lives of others so that we may draw it ever deeper into our hearts. How often in our own lives do we need to simply step back and think things over? To come to terms with an event that may have just taken place so that we may respond fully and knowingly. How important it is for us then to stop and ponder the truth (as Mary did) that God moves from within us! We may not live in the emptiness of Mount Carmel, separated by geography from all that may distract us in our modern world. But what we do have is the presence of God within our heart, the creative force that drives our longing for the divine. It is a presence that reveals to us our truest desires and potential. What we have also is the example of the perfect disciple in Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the one who walks beside us on our journey. In this imitation of Mary’s discipleship, we are gradually transformed by what we ponder. Knowing that what we ponder will only lead us in one direction, to Christ her son.
Matthew Janvier O.Carm