During the final apparition of Fatima Mary appeared briefly in the brown habit of Carmel, or as “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel,” a silent witness to Carmelite spirituality and the order’s special and unique relationship with her.
Carmel is a Marian order. Our devotion to Mary is intimate and deep. We have long considered ourselves to be living Mary’s own life and spirituality. To us devotion to Mary centers on this imitation of Mary. In other words, we focus on being Mary.
The appearance of Mary as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at Fatima may indicate that devotion to her Immaculate Heart encouraged at Fatima, is about having our hearts do what the Gospel of Luke says Mary’s heart did: she pondered the life of Jesus, the Word of God, in her heart.
The charism of Carmel is exactly that: intimate prayer, meeting God deep in the heart, pondering the word of God day and night, imitating Mary, seeking fruitful union with God for the sake of all.
The three shepherd children who saw Our Lady at Fatima said the light from Mary’s hands made them “see ourselves in God more clearly than in any mirror.” This experience sounds like the true and holy self knowledge that is one of the fruits of contemplative prayer, which is Carmel’s charism.
St. Joseph also appeared on that day, blessing the world with peace. St. Joseph is the secondary patron of the Order of Carmel. Our Mother, St. Teresa of Avila called him, the “Master of Prayer.” No word of Joseph’s is recorded in the Scriptures. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke present him as simply being open to God’s message, receiving it, and acting on it with quick dispatch which implies radical trust. St. Joseph was practicing receptive prayer at its finest.
Mary also appeared then as Our Lady of Sorrows, as the widow who had just lost her only Son who was God, draped in black. In Carmelite eyes, her bereft state represents the soul stripped of everything it had in itself, left only with the naked faith Our Carmelite Father, St. John of the Cross described; singular hope in God, possessing only the love of God as He is in Himself, and not for anything He can give.
Our Lady of Sorrows also represents Mary’s co-offering with the suffering and death of Jesus that Carmelites strive to mirror, offering all to God for the salvation of souls.
Jesus appeared as a Child at Fatima, reminiscent of the simplicity and purity of heart of the way of spiritual childhood. St.Therese, another Carmelite Doctor of the Church, made great discoveries about this Little Way of coming to God as a child.
At times, the crowds at Fatima felt a cooling wind in the heat of the day. The sun dimmed, to the point the people could see the stars. Petals rained gently down.
As a Carmelite soul, that imagery enchants me. I think of the breath of the Holy Spirit that draws the soul away from the weary world to the inner life of prayer. Even spiritual consolation will fade as the soul quests deeply for God, and discovers the stars of faith that can only be found in the night of the spirit. “The soul subsists purely on faith,” says St. John of the Cross, and the secret blessings of union with God rain down silently on the soul, now so much like Mary’s own, until she can say, as did our St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, “He is my Heaven!”
Now, 100 years after Fatima, perhaps it is time, as the beauty of Carmel’s heritage has taught us, to be the medicine that heals the world. To quote St. Therese, “In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be love.”
So pray like a Carmelite.
until prayer becomes love,
and love becomes prayer.
That is the activity of Mary’s Immaculate,
and perfect Heart
which Carmel seeks to imitate
and for the salvation of all the world.