According to the most ancient Carmelite chronicles, the Order has its origins with the disciples of the prophets Elias and Eliseus. They lived in caves on Mount Carmel. They honored the Queen of Heaven as the Virgin who is to give birth to the Saviour. When the reality replaced the symbol, the pious ascetics of Carmel were converted to the Christian Faith. In the 12th century, many pilgrims from Europe who had followed the Crusaders came to join the solitaries. A rule was established and the Order began to spread to Europe.
Amid the many persecutions raised against the Order of Mount Carmel, newly arrived in Europe, Saint Simon Stock, General of the Order, turned with filial confidence to the Blessed Mother of God. As he knelt in prayer on July 16, 1251, in the White Friars’ convent at Cambridge, She appeared before him and presented him with the well-known brown scapular, a loose sleeveless garment destined for the Order of Carmel, reaching from the shoulders to the knees. It was given as an assurance, for all who died wearing it, of Her heavenly protection from eternal death. An extraordinary promise indeed, but one requiring a life of prayer and sacrifice.
Devotion to the blessed habit spread quickly throughout the Christian world. Pope after Pope enriched it with indulgences, and innumerable miracles put their seal upon its efficacy. The first of them was worked at Winchester on a man dying in despair, who when the scapular was laid upon him by Saint Simon Stock at once asked for the Sacraments.
In the year 1636, a certain gentleman, member of a cavalry regiment, was mortally wounded at the battle of Tehin, a bullet having lodged near his heart. He was then in a state of grievous sin, but he had time to make his confession. Afterwards a surgeon probed his wound, and the bullet was found to have driven his scapular into his heart. When it had been withdrawn he soon expired, making profound acts of gratitude to the Blessed Virgin who had prolonged his life miraculously, thereby preserving him from the irremediable death of his soul.
At Lourdes in 1858, the Virgin chose to make Her last apparition on July 16th, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the day the Church commemorates Her apparition to Saint Simon Stock. And at Fatima on October 13, 1917, it is as Our Lady of Mount Carmel that Mary appeared when She said farewell to the three children. Throughout the ages, the Queen of Carmel has always kept a faithful watch over the destinies of Her cherished children on earth.
The illustrious founder of the Franciscan Friars, St Francis, cured Bonaventure of a serious illness as a boy in central Italy through his prayers, faith and God's favor. Later, he felt called by God to join the same religious order that he obviously knew. He devoted himself, as all can, according to God's will, to earnest study and prayer. God filled others with the fruits of his learning through his example, teaching and writings. The Order of Friar Minor (OFM), and the world, through Bonaventure, was renewed through his leadership and God's graces.
Our Italian Franciscan was a close friend of St Thomas Aquinas and received his doctorate with him as a Doctor of Theology in Paris. Thomas once asked him where he acquired his learning and Bonaventure pointed to his crucifix. Reflect and dwell on these spirited filled words of his: "whoever gazes upon Christ crucified with faith, hope and love will celebrate the Passover with Him". This master of theology and philosophy illuminates us, in this one sentence, with the secret and fulfillment of life, love and infinite happiness.
He held the leading role of his religious order and later was appointed a cardinal-bishop of Albano. He actually had declined an archbishopric position at Lyons. When the Pope offered Bonaventure one position, he humbly declined. Then the pope would offer him another. He got the message and Bonaventure humbly accepted.
Another reason he is referred to as the seraphic doctor is because of the warmth found in his writings and teaching. Both were always filled and inspired with God's burning charity. In biblical literature, a seraph is one of the six-winged angels of the highest rank believed in ancient Judaism to guard God's throne with sacred ardor. We can say that every creature of God, and not only the angels, who guard themselves from evil thoughts or actions, acts in a seraphic manner. We are temples of the Most High. We contain the throne of God within us. God has given us a guardian angel to protect, rule, guide and grace us. However, we have to be on our guard to acknowledge God's love responsibly. We need to show and demonstrate acts of kindness and goodness as Bonaventure even to unkind or mean people. This requires strength and virtue. When we do this, and we can only do it with God's grace, we, too, will reveal the fervor of God's fire as blessed Bonaventure.
Our doctor first taught at the University of Paris for about ten years. His teaching enkindled God's love in his subjects. His types of questions, his explanations, his answers - all, had divine warmth to them. He was a catalyst to anyone seeking the love and knowledge of God. Both in his Scripture and Theology courses, he made known to all that God was an exuberant Lover who cared and was solicitous for all creatures.
Many attacks were lodged against the Franciscan mendicants (beg for a living and take a vow of poverty) at this time largely because of jealousy and the success of their pastoral and academic endeavors. Bonaventure attempted to defend the friars by his good example and writings, some of which included: Concerning Perfection of Life, Soliloquy and Concerning the Threefold Way.
St Bonaventure's bent was to the ascetical rather than the philosophical approach. Ten thick volumes of writings testify to his inspired zeal. He is described as a "spiritual writer of great power and authority."
Our Franciscan doctor encouraged others in his lifetime and encourages us today to have a sincere spirit of humility, devotion and repentance. We need to practice these God-given qualities. Humility is a part of truth. Sound devotion is the earnest searching after God. Contrition, conversion and repentance means sorrow for past sins. We have committed egregious wrongs and have need of God's mercy. We are incapable and inadequate to have friendship with God without God's help and compassion. Our inadequacies are apparent in nearly all that we do despite our best intentions.
Read and listen to the following quote of St Bonaventure highlighting the futile effort of only human effort and not God's graces and support. Nothing can be gained supernaturally unless humility, devotion and repentance are practiced. Pray attentively as you think about Bonaventure's quote about our inadequacies:
"reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired of God."
We often do all of the above in a natural manner when we could sanctify them with God's help and grace. We need grace! We can not follow our natural bent and inclination. That will not do it. Even if we achieved phenomenal results, is it pleasing to God? God does not measure the amount that we do but the quality of our love that we give. Bonaventure gave until it hurt and without complaining. He probably sensed that he was very ill and questioned to himself if he should have gone to the council at Rome. However, he was not thinking about himself but the church and her needs. Obedience and goodwill urged him onward.
During this period there were many reforms and renewals being encouraged by the church and Bonaventure attempted to pacify both the right and the left. He governed his Order for seventeen years and has been justly called its second founder. He also wrote about his Seraphic Founder's life, St Francis of Assisi.
This cordial and warm gentleman attended significant church councils, preached at sessions and gave his all to the church whenever the Holy Father requested his assistance. In fact, he died attending one of these sessions.
He attempted to unite holiness and theological knowledge. And he did just that! He was a very active preacher, writer and loved by all. It has been said that to know him was to love him. To read him is still for all, especially Franciscans today, to meet a true peacemaker and a gentleman. Many tears where shed by his sudden death just as he must have caused tears of conversion when he spoke about the joy of his life: Jesus Christ, the crucified Master. He was a person of eminent learning and eloquence and of outstanding holiness known for his kindness, approachableness, gentleness, compassion and virtue. What greater tribute could one possibly say than to be described as a very warm and charming saint, doctor, teacher, reformer and founder?
From one of his discourses: "The outcome or the fruit of reading holy scripture is by no means negligible: it is the fullness of eternal happiness. For these are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written not only that we might believe but also that we might have everlasting life. When we do live that life we shall understand fully, we shall love completely, and our desires will be totally satisfied. Then, with all our needs fulfilled we shall truly know the love that surpasses all understanding and so be filled with the fullness of God. The purpose of scriptures, which comes to us from God, is to lead us to this fullness according to the truths contained in those sayings of the apostles to which I have referred. In order to achieve this, we must study holy scripture carefully, teach it and listen to it in the same way."
He explained Mary along a Franciscan theme of poverty and giving to the poor. He cited an unknown Franciscan who claims that Mary refused to accept the gifts given to Jesus by the Magi. She distributed them to the poor.
St. Henry II (972-1024), Duke of Bavaria, became Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire. He placed his army under the blessing of God and used to invoke the patron saints of his people, especially St. Adrian, a military martyr, whose sword was carefully conserved as a relic for a long time in Walbach.
With this protection he organized an army and defeated the barbarians from the East who were invading Western Europe. Before facing the pagan Slavs, who were much superior in strength, he called on his army to pray and receive Communion. When the troops entered combat, an unexpected panic took hold of the enemy soldiers, who broke ranks and fled en masse. An Angel and three martyrs led his troops, causing the enemy to take flight in despair. The Slavs submitted to his rule, and Bohemia, Moravia, and Poland were in turn annexed to the Holy Empire.
In 1006, he called a meeting of the Bishops in Frankfurt with the objective of regulating many points of discipline and enforcing a stricter observance of the ecclesiastical canons. Later, he would support the reform movement of Cluny.
Twice he defeated the Lombards, who resisted the consolidation of the Empire and threatened the Pontifical States. After his first victory in 1004, he was crowned King of Lombardy in Pavia with the famous Iron Crown of that Kingdom. The second time, he had to do more than pacify the Lombards, since grave problems were afflicting the Church. Henry drove out an antipope, and brought the legitimate Pope Benedict VIII back to Rome.
When he and Empress Cunigunde went to Rome to visit the Pope, they were crowned Emperor and Empress of the Romans. The Sovereign Pontiff gave St. Henry a golden orb, a symbol of the imperial dignity, inlaid with pearls and topped by a cross. St. Henry, dignified by the many honors, gave the orb to St. Odilon, Abbot of Cluny, who was present at the ceremony so that those symbols would be conserved at the Monastery of Cluny.
St. Henry approached Stephen, King of Hungary, who was still a pagan and had not been received into the bosom of the Church. St. Henry II made an alliance with him, offering him the hand of his sister, Gisele, as his wife. Soon afterward King Stephen was baptized and the whole nation was brought to the faith of Christ. With the marvelous conversion of Stephen, Henry won a great King for the Church and a Saint for Heaven.
After other military expeditions in Italy that resulted in the re-establishment of peace in the peninsula, he returned to Germany. On his way back, when he reached Luxembourg, he had a famous meeting with Robert, King of France, to resolve various political problems of Europe. The meeting was scheduled to take place on the banks of the Meuse River, which occasioned a problem of protocol. If one Sovereign crossed the river to enter the other’s domain, the former would be subject to the laws of the latter. To resolve the delicate situation, it was planned for the Sovereigns to meet in boats in the middle of the river – a neutral area. But St. Henry disregarded the protocol and crossed to the French side in consideration for the virtues of the French King.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
This selection is somewhat wide-ranging because the life of St. Henry is full of memorable acts that should be reported. For us to have a good understanding of the ensemble of these facts, it is necessary to place them in their historical context.
We are in the Middle Age, in the early 1000s. As you know, the Middle Age began with the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. It was invaded by incalculable hordes of barbarians. Those barbarians established themselves inside the imperial territory and ended by subjecting the Romans to their control.
Gradually the Roman population also fell into barbarianism. The roads were abandoned with no one to care for them; the aqueducts that supplied the cities with water broke and no one repaired them; the palaces occupied by barbarians became dirty and disorganized; works of art in public places were ruined, and the cities fell into chaos. Everything that represented culture and civilization was miserably destroyed. In this situation Europe became illiterate and its level of customs sunk to unimaginably low levels. It took centuries to bring Europe to a state of civilization again.
While everything was being crushed, the Catholic Church remained as the one existing institution. Those barbarians began to convert under her influence. The work the Church did with the European peoples was not so different from the work she later undertook to convert and civilize the Indians in the New World. The missionaries arrived, preached the catechism, and through successive generations the Indians became civilized and acquired a certain culture. The same took place with those European tribes.
In the year 1000, civilization had already achieved much in relation to the original barbarian way of living, but Catholic Civilization was still far below the standards it would reach 200 or 300 years later. That is to say, at the time of St. Henry II, we are in a semi-barbarian situation.
Some peoples were more civilized than others. In Europe there were islands of an incipient Catholic civilization amid a sea of barbarian peoples who continued to go and come at will and attack the established kingdoms. Catholic life was very difficult with adversaries coming from all directions.
One of the earliest conversions took place with the Germanic peoples who occupied the territory of present-day Germany, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. Those peoples became civilized and constituted a political entity called the Holy Roman German Empire. It was called Empire because it encompassed different peoples as a federation. Those free peoples agreed to be led – not governed – by a single political chief, elected by the various heads of State. So, as a league including a large territory and different peoples, it was called an Empire. It was called Roman because its model was the old Roman Empire; it was called German because it had been founded by German peoples; and it was called Holy because its principal finality was to defend the Catholic Church against the aggression of the pagans.
In the person of St. Henry II, we see an Emperor who was also a Saint. That a great political leader and head of an army was a saint does not fit very well with the lives of the saints taught by a certain sentimental piety. Indeed, he held the highest office in the most important political organization of his time and was, therefore, the most powerful man in Europe. Simultaneously he was the greatest warrior of Europe and the first son of the Church. He was par excellence the son of the Church. He was the one who always protected the Church against the attacks of her enemies.
He also had to face the peoples of the East who continuously attacked the Empire. So he gathered together a large army and counter-attacked those barbarians. He waged many wars and acted as a Catholic hero who had the spirit of Faith, relying more on supernatural help than on his natural forces. He asked God for the might to win his battles. To show St. Henry how his prayers were pleasing to Him, God gave him a miraculous victory on one occasion. As the two armies came face to face, the enemy troops fled the battlefield in panic for apparently no reason. In fact, to terrify his enemies, God had sent an Angel and the holy martyrs to whom Henry II had prayed. God was so pleased with the prayers of the warriors that he gave them the victory even without the combat.
With this victory, the pagan forces from the East were broken and the claws of Paganism lost their strength.
But a danger still threatened Christendom: the presence of the Lombards in North Italy. Lombardy was not a land of pagans, but heretics who were enemies of the Catholic Faith. They used to attack the Pope and the Papal territories and opposed the Catholic Empire. So St. Henry, with the support of the Italian Bishops, entered Lombardy, defeated its army, and then went on to Rome to visit and pay homage to Pope Benedict VIII.
It was on this occasion that the Pope crowned him Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire. In a ceremony realized with great splendor, he gave St. Henry a golden orb inlaid with pearls representing the power of the Emperor over the world. But St. Henry did not keep that treasure. To prove his love for the Church, he offered the precious gift to the Holy Abbot Odilon, the head of the largest religious order of Europe at that time.
After inflicting new defeats on the revolted Lombards, he returned to Germany. There he assisted the Bishops to exert their role of maintaining discipline in the Church. He also was instrumental in the conversion of a pagan King. He offered an alliance with Stephen, King of Hungary, together with the hand of his sister Gisela. She married Stephen and converted him. She did so good a job that he became a saint, St. Stephen, who afterward converted all of Hungary to the Catholic Faith.
Behind this conversion was the intelligent diplomatic maneuver of St. Henry. With this he won a precious ally close to those Slavic enemy peoples who had just been pacified. His diplomatic sense was also demonstrated in the episode at the Meuse River, in which he gave up his privileges in order to please the French King. Crossing over to the French banks, St. Henry was implicitly paying homage to the King. That is, he who was more – an Emperor – paid homage to the one who was less in order to maintain cordial relations and to resolve the complicated problems of Europe.
After all these services to the Church and Christendom, St. Henry died in 1024 in the peace of God as a great saint, warrior, diplomat and politician. This is the glorious story of St. Henry II, Emperor.
Let us pray to him to help us establish the foundation of a new Christendom that will be the Reign of Mary.