Homily of Archbishop Charles John Brown on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel
Nuestra Señora del Carmen, La Limpia of the Archdiocese of Cebu
July 16, 2022
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear Cebuanos, dear devotees of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, it gives me so much joy as your papal nuncio to be with you this morning for the Feast of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, La Limpia here in this beautiful Archdiocesan Shrine dedicated to her, elevated in fact as an Archdiocesan Shrine last April 29th.
I'm delighted to be here with your archbishop, Archbishop Jose Palma, with Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones, and also with Auxiliary Bishop-elect Ruben Labajo, who will be ordained a bishop on the 19th of August and at which I will be present.
I also am very grateful to all the Augustinian Recollects who have invited me here for this mass this morning, especially to the community prior Fr. Leopoldo Estioko and to the entire community - the provincial, the rector and so forth, each and every one of them. It's wonderful to be with you this morning, all of us devotees of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The Carmelite Scapular
When we look at her beautiful image here, this famous image, in fact, the oldest image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel here in Cebu, we see that she is clothed with the Carmelite scapular, the brown scapular that Mary herself is wearing, and she's also holding that in her hand.
And also the Niño, the Santo Nino, the baby Jesus, also has the scapular in his hand. And I see when I look at all of you this morning that many of you like me are wearing the scapular this morning to show your devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to Nuestra Señora del Carmen, asking Mary to protect you, to hear you, to intercede for you.
The scapular is an interesting symbol. The original idea of the scapular was it was part of the religious habit of monks. The monks, the Benedictines, the Trappists, and even the friars like the Dominicans wear a garment over their shoulders, like we are wearing, that comes down and covers their body and it's called the scapular. The religious scapular is part of the habit, the clothing of religious orders, and we devotees of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, wear the brown scapular as a small image of that larger garment that religious monks and nuns wear. And this makes us think about the symbolism of clothing, how important clothing is to us as human beings as a symbol.
When I look out at your beautiful Archdiocesan Shrine this morning, of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, I see different groups of people dressed similarly. I see probably Eucharistic ministers dressed in one way, Knights of Columbus dressed in another way, I see Mother Butler ladies dressed in a certain way, I see their Hermana Mayor, and the others dressed in a certain way. Of course, I see religious sisters, the sisters of Mother Teresa and others dressed in a certain way. Our dress, our clothing is important for us. It's not the most important thing, but it's an important symbol for us. And the scapular is a form of clothing.
Symbolism in the Bible
Let's go back to the beginning of our history as Catholics, as Christians, indeed, as human beings - the first book of the Bible. All of us know what it is, it's the book of Genesis. Remember at the beginning of history, when God created Adam and Eve, and poor Adam and Eve were deceived by the devil by the evil one. And they, in disobedience to God, reached out and took the fruit of the tree, and they lost their communion with God. They lost their closeness, their friendship of God. They lost God's grace. And what is the first thing that Adam and Eve did after they were lost to God, after they turned away from God? They realized that they were ashamed. Indeed, they realized, they understood that they were naked and so they sewed little garments of leaves to cover their nakedness.
So the first thing at the beginning of history, the first thing we see is clothing. A pathetic, poor attempt of these, our first father and mother Adam and Eve to clothe themselves in a very humble, pathetic way with some leaves to hide their sinfulness, to hide their shame, to hide indeed their nakedness. At the beginning of time, clothing, in a very pathetic and sad way.
Then if we fast forward, brothers and sisters, to the end of salvation history, the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, we have more symbolism of clothing. And what do we see in the book of Revelation? We see all the saved, the blessed before the throne of God, praying to God. And these are the ones who have entered into paradise.
Now we're in the future, and all of them are clothed! All of them are clothed not in the pathetic, little pieces of leaves of Adam and Eve but in beautiful white robes, clothed and washed in the blood of the Lamb.
So from pathetic clothing and in Genesis, to the glorious clothing, the beautiful, radiant, and splendid clothing of the saints in heaven, clothed in the blood of the Lamb in shining white garments before Jesus in glory. What a contrast - the past and the future.
The Woman Clothed with the Sun
But also we look into heaven, we see another figure clothed even more brilliant than the ones clothed in white garments. And who am I talking about? The woman clothed with the sun. The woman clothed with the sun, Mary, Our Lady. Mama Mary clothed in a brilliance that goes beyond white. Those clothes, it is said, the brilliance of the sun.
So this is salvation history. From Adam and Eve in their wretchedness, and their pathetic attempt to hide their nakedness to the glorious splendor of the saints and Our Lady clothed with the sun. And we, brothers and sisters, we are in the middle of that history. We are moving in our own personal lives, from the history of Adam and Eve, the history of sin, to the history of glory and heaven.
We are in that history between those two points. And you know what? When you were baptized, perhaps even in this very church, when you were baptized as a little baby after the baptismal water was poured over you, what was the first thing the priests then did with the help of your godparents? You were clothed. You were clothed with a white garment. And the priest prayed over you, saying you have begun, you have become a new creation, you have clothed yourself in Christ.
"See, in this white garment," the priest says to the baby, "See in this white garment, the outward sign, the symbol of your Christian dignity, with your family and friends to help you by word and example. Bring that dignity unstained.” Unstained. Limpia. "Unstained" is what limpia means. Bring that garment, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven with your family and friends to help you in the church.
And isn't that maybe what Jesus is saying when He says who is the one who does the will of my Father in heaven? He is my mother and brother and sister. We are the family of God. We, the baptized community of believers. We have been clothed with Christ. We are somewhere between the story of Adam and Eve and our sinfulness and on the way to the glory of heaven, clothed in white, clothed both with the Blood of the Lamb.
And that is why the symbol of the scapular was so important for us. Because the scapular is Mary's way of protecting us, it's Mary's clothing. It's not white, it's brown, like the habit of the Carmelite order. But it's a sign of Mary's special protection on us as we move towards heavenly glory. Mary protecting us, Mary caring for us, Mary, we can say, clothing us. Think about Mary, Mama Mary. She clothed the baby Jesus. Don't we read that in the gospel at Christmas? She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. Mary clothed Jesus so that Jesus can clothe us in His glory, in His grace. And that is what the scapular tells us.
If we put this scapular on, we follow the humility of Mary, we are clothed with Christ, we are protected by Christ, we are given the power to resist sin and deception of the devil and to head towards the glorious life of heaven. How important these symbols are for us as Catholics. How we must rejoice in these symbols. The scapular in the medieval times was called the iugum Christi. What is iugum Christi? The yoke of Christ. A yoke, we see this on a carabao. A yoke is something that's put on animals so they can pull a plow or something.
The scapular was seen like that, like a yoke of Christ. Christ's yoke, which He told us in the Gospel just last Thursday when He said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves for my yoke is easy and my burden light." Mary gives us this yoke of Jesus in the scapular, this yoke which is easy and making our burdens light so that we will run towards heavenly glory so that we will be transfigured by God's grace so that we will be able not only to be filled with God's grace, but to radiate His grace in this world that we live in, so that those around us will see the power of God in the way we live in humility, in practice of our faith, and imitating all the virtues of Mary. Mary, Mama Mary, who so many times, clothed Jesus. She put clothes on Him. And in the scapular, she puts the clothing of Jesus on us, the iugum Christi, the yoke of Christ, and she promises us that she will be our mother also, as she is Jesus' mother, and she will allow Jesus to transform us into prayer to prepare us for the life of heaven.
It was back in 1251, that Our Lady appeared in England in the town of Aylesford to St. Simon Stock and showed him the power of the scapular. So on this day on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, here in this beautiful archdiocesan shrine of Nuestra Senora del Carmen, it gives me so much joy to celebrate this feast with you and with our beloved Augustinian Recollects who have done such beautiful work here in Cebu for 400 years. Four hundred years of the presence of the Augustinian Recollects in Cebu, and we are filled with gratitude to them because it is they who brought us this beautiful image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Nuestra Senora Del Carmen.
So in our hearts, we say Viva La Virgen.
Transcribed by Gel Katalbas
Photos from The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu Facebook Page