byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
The latter part of July brings with it two feasts of Mary which have special significance. One is that of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel which is celebrated on July 16. The other is that of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, which is celebrated on July 26. Pope Francis has established every fourth Sunday of July, this year July 24, as a World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly to coincide with the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne. Both of these feasts come in the middle of the summer when there is a certain air of quiet, especially in southern Florida. This is fitting since both of them speak of one of the primary aspects of Mary’s life which is her quiet spirit which made her open to the word of God.
The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is significant to our Diocese which is privileged to have the Carmelite Order ministering at the parish of St. Jude in Boca Raton. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order upon whom the order was founded and to whom the order is dedicated.
The Carmelites, the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, were originally a group of Christian hermits who inhabited the prominent biblical site of Mount Carmel in Palestine beginning in the late 12th century. It was covered with lush vegetation and was well known for its beauty. Mount Carmel was the site of the Prophet Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal as well as the site where the prophet Elisha was staying when he set out to restore the wealthy woman’s son to life. It was a most fitting site for a contemplative order and Mary was a most appropriate model of contemplation and the interior life.
The wearing of the scapular is a very popular devotion to our Lady of Mount Carmel. The brown scapular became part of the habit of the Carmelite Order when it moved to Europe in the 13th century. The tradition is that Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock, the Prior General of the Carmelite Order, with the promise of salvation to those who wore the brown scapular she held out to him.
As envisioned by the Carmelites, devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is devotion to the contemplative aspect of Mary’s life. Mary lived a quiet life in which she was continually open to the word of God which she treasured in her heart. As is obvious at the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she did not always understand that word. However, she always listened to it, contemplated it and trusted that it would bear fruit. In our own lives, Mary is a primary example of this trust as we listen to God speaking to us through His word in the Scriptures. Christ’s highest words of praise for His mother regarded her contemplation and living of God’s word. When a woman came up to praise Mary for her physical maternity by saying, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed” (Lk 11: 27), the Lord responded by saying, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:28). Indeed, it was Mary who as Queen of the Apostles handed on to the Church all that she contemplated in her heart.
The feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, is also significant in our Diocese which is privileged to have the church of St. Ann as the oldest Catholic community in Palm Beach County. There is nothing that is spoken of regarding Saints Joachim and Anne in the Scriptures. It is popular tradition that hands on to us, not only their names, but some accounts about them. Saints Joachim and Anne are mentioned by name in the Book of James, an apocryphal book about the infancy of Jesus also called the Protevangelium of James. This work most likely dates back to the middle of the second century. As devotion to Mary began to increase in the life of the Church, the Book of James became a useful source for stories about her birth and early life and also inspired icons and paintings of Mary with her parents. The Book of James is also the basis for two other feasts of Mary with devotional significance – the Birth of Mary (September 8) and the Presentation of Mary (November 22).
Devotion to Saints Joachim and Anne as the parents of Mary have an obvious importance. Mary’s parents assist us in our relationship to her as well as to Christ. They help us to understand better the humanity of Mary and Christ in their family relationships. They also help us to understand the importance of family life in terms of handing on values and faith. In this regard, they made a significant contribution to the lives of Mary and Jesus. As Pope Francis has expressed, “Mary grew up in the home of Joachim and Anne; she was surrounded by their love and faith; in their home she learned to listen to the Lord and to follow His will.” Much of Mary’s knowledge of God was certainly derived from the teaching and example of her parents. There is no question that she also derived from them her contemplative nature. Much like Mary, Saints Joachim and Anne are hidden in the background. However, they hand on the most important truths for life.
As we celebrate these two Marian related feasts during the month of July, we look to Mary as a model of listening to the word of God. The month of July and the summer afford us more quiet time as the heat of the summer slows down our regular pace. It is a good time to reflect more on our faith especially as we read God’s word in the Scriptures and contemplate its meaning for our lives. Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saints Joachim and Anne are wonderful models for this contemplative spirit which should become more part of our lives all during the year.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 15, 2022