Eph 6.10-13,18; Ps 1; Jn 15. 9-17
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
England, Elijah and a Pilgrim
Today Carmelites celebrate the Englishman, St. Simon Stock. In the 13th Century during the crusades Simon made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He met hermits on Mount. Carmel. Mount Carmel is a ridge of mountains, rising 1740 feet above the sea. It is a continuation of the hills of Samaria, which divided Galilee to the north from Judea to the south./1/
Mount Carmel drops steeply into the Mediterranean. Caves dot its cliffs, which provided shelter for people who left the world to live in prayerful solitude. The hermits Simon met remembered Elijah and his followers. When it became too dangerous for pilgrims and natives because of the crusades, Simon returned to England with some of the hermits.
To live they begged, like the Franciscans and Dominicans, orders familiar to the people. The mendicant Carmelites--new way of living for them--elected Simon as their Superior-general.
As their order began to grow Simon established new houses. The shift from solitary to communal living was not easy. That shift was difficult for the Carmelites, who sought to live solitary lives. Also, the established orders resented the newcomers and their devotion to Mary.
That may surprise us, yet that is how it was. Introducing something new plays on human insecurity and challenges accepted ways. When Simon withdrew from everything for some relief from the problems vexing him and the Carmelites, Simon beheld Mary presenting him with a brown scapular to protect him and all Carmelites from “eternal fire. It shall be a sign of peace and a safeguard in times of danger.”/2/ Mary depends on her son’s mediation, and she offered Simon relief through her maternal care so that Simon would depend on Jesus’ mediating love, too.
Simon's story is not a familiar one to us “non-Carmelites,” which is why I rehearsed it. God works in surprising ways to help people save their souls. An Englishman in the Holy Land met hermits who continued to remember Elijah, not only Simon’s help to salvation but others’ as well. People resented them and without realizing it resented God’s ongoing efforts to save the world.
That is not what Jesus encouraged, as we heard in the gospel, but to abide in [his] love. Grow[ing] strong in the Lord, to use St. Paul’s phrase, is not a brash effort. Grow[ing] strong in the Lord is a discerning effort, which seeks to notice God moving in all things, the new as well as the familiar. That requires humility, something that St. Simon Stock had and encourages all Jesus’ friends to cultivate and to nourish no matter anyone’s vocation.
1. Find Mount Carmel and its ridge at D 5 on this map.
2. This timeline contains the full quotation at 1251 on the timelime.
Wiki-image of St. Simon Strock receiving the scapular from Mary is in the public domain.