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Brookline Carmel Bulletin                        

July 16, 1961


Cogitatio Sancta

(Holy Meditation)


The Scapular Message


How heartening it is to see the increase among the faithful of devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  It reveals a deep, healthy concern for their spiritual welfare.  Children of an insurance-conscious society, they realize it is foolhardy to neglect the powerful guarantee of eternal life afforded by the Scapular.  In putting such confidence in the Scapular devotion they give evidence of their faith in a cardinal point of Catholic theology, namely, that by a free decree God has given Mary an indispensable role in the economy of salvation.  Jesus is, of course, the unique cause of salvation; He is indispensable by the very nature of things.  But He comes to us through Mary or He comes to us not at all.  She is the mediatrix and the dispensatrix of all graces.


Now in his desire to render his eternal beatitude secure by embracing the Scapular Devotion, a man may easily overlook its fullest, most profound meaning.  Chances are that when he first asks to receive the Scapular and agrees to fulfill the conditions laid down for its fruitful use, he does so primarily because he is aware of the numerous dangers to salvation that surround him in these modern times.  Occasions of sin abound in this secularistic, materialistic day and age, and they are borne in upon him by every medium of communication.  If humility hasn’t convinced him of his frailty in the face of these threats, experience has.  His, too, is the conviction that these dangers will remain with us for a long time to come.  It is so easy for him, then, to think:  “Hedged in as I am by so many allurements to sin, I now need an extraordinary means of rendering myself immune to the blight on the spirit that breeds so readily in the current philosophical climate of systematic skepticism.  I must go to Mary, take refuge under her protection, so that while living and breathing in this atmosphere, I may, by a special privilege, escape harm.”


We cannot find fault with persons who don the Brown Scapular and wear it piously if this kind of reasoning has fathered their devotion.  After all, we do strike a bargain with our Lady when we take advantage of her offer.  If we fulfill the conditions, she will see to it that we do not suffer the flames of Hell.  But this frame of mind misses the fuller interpretation of the Scapular message referred to above.  The Scapular Devotion does more than to help us dodge, so to speak, the blows aimed at us by the enemies of our salvation.  It is more than a shield, which wards off their assaults.  Really, the most perfect way to safeguard against an enemy bent on our destruction is to disarm him, to overcome him.  Therefore, the most perfect interpretation of the Scapular message is this:  The Scapular is a weapon as well as a shield; indeed, it is a weapon first and foremost.  By living the Scapular devotion in its fullest sense we overcome the occasions of sin by destroying them.  Its goal is to sanctify the atmosphere in which we live.  By it we work to root out of society the God-less mentality of these latter days and to replace it with the Christian view of life revealed by Jesus.  To live the Scapular Devotion in the fullest sense is to live according to the Spirit of Carmel.


We can see this interpretation implicit in the historical circumstances under which the Scapular was first given to St. Simon Stock.  The Carmelite Order had been forced to leave Palestine or be wiped out by the Saracens.  As a matter of fact, those that did not migrate to Europe were finally all massacred.  Now it was thought by some members that the Spirit of Carmel could not survive outside of Palestine.  That land, to be sure, offered favorable conditions.  There, the needs of the hermits were few and easily satisfied.  So, too, were their obligations to the people.  In Europe they had to work harder to satisfy the needs of body and soul, and had to devote more time to the spiritual needs of the faithful.  Many were unsympathetic, if not openly hostile, to eastern ways, to the contemplative spirit.  Many Carmelites began to despair for an extraordinary means of preserving the Carmelite Spirit.  We weren’t there to take note of the inflection in her voice, but when Our Lady said, “This (Scapular) will be a sign and a privilege…” she may well have said it in such a way as to mean, “Why, this, the Carmelite Habit and the Carmelite Spirit it represents is in itself a privilege that cannot be improved upon.  This spirit does not depend upon external circumstances to remain alive, but is fruitful and vivifying in itself.  It is compatible with every type of culture and civilization that is itself truly in accord with human nature.  It can sanctify a man regardless of his ethnic origins, culture and customs.”


To the modern Catholic, then, the Scapular message reads:  The Catholic Faith has nothing to fear from advances in science, technology, medicine and the social and economic reforms those advances make necessary.  It is the duty of every Catholic to drink deep of the springs of grace and truth found in the church and apply them to his daily living.  Introduce the characteristically Carmelite Spirit into your life:  Mental Prayer, Renunciation and Detachment (i.e., Poverty of Spirit), the virtues of humility, purity of intention, penance and zeal for the welfare of souls.


When a Catholic takes up the Scapular Devotion, therefore, he must remind himself that he is thereby assuming a sacred mission.  The Scapular represents a vocation.  It must not be looked upon as an extraordinary, as an un-customary (to coin a word) means of salvation, but as a dedication to introduce into society and its institutions the everlasting, absolute truths of Christianity so as to hasten its process of evolution to the destiny mapped out for it in the Divine Plan, to becoming the Kingdom of God, the replica of the heavenly Jerusalem.

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