Protocol 403 – 2012 R
Sermon of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III
For the Golden Jubilee
Of the Carmel of the Mother of God and Unity – Harissa
Most Reverend Mother Superior, dear sisters of the Carmel of the Mother of God and Unity
Your Grace, dear Reverend brother, Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, Metropolitan of Beirut for Melkite Greek Catholics and ecclesiastical superior of the Carmelites
Your Graces, dear Archbishops
Reverend Father Elias Aghia Superior General of the Society of Paulist Missionary Fathers, godfathers of the Carmel
Reverend Mother Nicola Herro, Superior General of the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, godmothers of the Carmel
Dear brothers and sisters
“God the Lord hath appeared unto us; let us celebrate the Feast, and let us rejoice and magnify Christ.…let us raise our voices unto Him with praise, saying, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord, our Saviour.”
On Palm Sunday, the Church welcomes our Lord Jesus Christ with this hymn1.
And with this same hymn we welcome the Golden Jubilee of the foundation of the Carmel of the Mother of God and Unity in this wonderful place in dear Lebanon, which is considered a spiritual oasis for its flourishing patriarchates, monasteries and convents and world-famous Marian sanctuary.
This convent was founded on 24 August 1962 and we are gathered together to celebrate this Golden Jubilee. Meanwhile, in Spain, the Order in its masculine and feminine branches is celebrating the jubilee of 450 years since the foundation of the Carmel of San José in Ávila, the name of which province remains linked with that of the saintly doctor of the Catholic Church, Teresa of Ávila.
Firstly, I should like to convey some ideas from the letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Bishop of Ávila, Mgr Jesús García Burillo, on the occasion of the foundation of the Carmel in Ávila, where Saint Teresa of Jesus began the Carmelite Reform. The Pope’s letter is dated 16 July 2012, feast of Our Lady of Carmel.
His Holiness begins with Jesus speaking to Saint Teresa in a vision, during which He encourages her to undertake the Reform. The Carmel of San José would be a star shining in great splendour, “Resplendens stella.” (Libro de la Vida, [The Book of My Life] 32, 11). That is the mission of the Carmel and especially of contemplative monasteries. That is what our Lord, Jesus Christ said: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15) The house here means Lebanon and the world. This flourishing monastery is the light on the candlestick and the city on this hill.
His Holiness the Pope emphasises these points:
- The Jubilee should enlighten the hearts of those who take part in it, (in Spain and here) and be an opportunity for spiritual renewal.
- Silence, contemplation and a life enlivened by prayer are constituents of this spiritual renewal. Saint Teresa of Ávila, in her Book of her Life, gave a definition of prayer as, “being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, we know, loves us.” (Libro de la Vida 8, 5)
- The Carmel, according to Saint Teresa of Ávila, is a form of life that favours personal encounter with the Lord, for which “we have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest.” (Camino de perfección [the Way of Perfection] 28, 2)
- Saint Teresa of Ávila, the Spiritual Doctor, adds, “The friends of God should be strong, in order that they may support the weak.” (Libro de la Vida 15, 8
- This is the role of contemplative monasteries such as this monastery. Nuns, as his Holiness says, “protect with their fervour those who proclaim Christ’s name everywhere, so that they may pray for the Church’s needs and bring the cry of all the peoples to the Saviour’s heart.” 2
- His Holiness emphasises on this occasion the “need for the baptized to renew their hearts through personal prayer which… is also centred on contemplation of the Most Holy Humanity of Christ as the only way on which to find God’s glory” (cf. Libro de la Vida, 22, 1; Las Moradas [Interior Castle] 6, 7).
- His Holiness emphasises the importance of working to encourage vocations to the priesthood and “consecrated life which, [is] a treasure of the Church and an outpouring of graces … in both its active and contemplative dimensions.” 3
Beloved friends and sisters celebrating this Jubilee,
While I was preparing the sermon for today, I read the big book that recounts the memories of this monastery and I’d like to share with you something of what I discovered in that book. Mgr Philip Nabaa, Archbishop of Beirut, of blessed memory, fifty years ago, on 24 August 1962, presided over the inauguration ceremony of the Carmel accompanied by Mgr Georges Hakim, of blessed memory, later Patriarch Maximos V, two Paulist Fathers, Reverend Fathers Basil Breidi and Habib Basha in the presence of the Reverend Mother General of the Sisters of Perpetual Help. During his homily he emphasised the role of Divine Providence and the efforts exerted to bring about this foundation, which is the fruit of the perseverance of H.E. Mgr Paul Ashkar, of blessed memory, when he was Superior General of the Society of Paulist Fathers, and whose idea it was, during his stay in Barcelona with H.E. Mgr Joseph Maalouf, of blessed memory, when they were attending the International Eucharistic Congress in 1952. It took ten years of struggle to realise this foundation. This foundation is also the fruit of the determination of Carmelites, despite the difficulties that arose over those ten years. It is also the fruit of a great deal of effort on the part of Roman Congregations, especially those of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and of the Oriental Churches. It is the fruit of the support of His Beatitude Maximos IV, who at the beginning opposed it. It is likewise the fruit of the gifts and sacrifices of the Paulist Fathers and the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help who have accompanied it and continue to do so all along the way. Our great gratitude goes to them, in the name of the Church, in my own name and in the name of the Carmelites.
And obviously the Eparchy of Beirut has looked after this Monastery which is under its immediate jurisdiction.
H.E. Mgr Philip Nabaa, of blessed memory, explained in his afore-mentioned sermon the goals and spirituality of this contemplative Western monastery in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. This was the most important part of his talk on this topic and his idea completes what the Pope said in his letter for the Jubilee:
- The presence of the cloistered Carmel is a factor that meets the needs of our Church. Our female congregations were, at first, contemplative and cloistered behind grills, as was also the case in the Maronite Church. In the course of time they became apostolic to meet pastoral, social and educational needs. The Church is very grateful to these nuns for their apostolate.
- The Carmel is an oasis of eremitical and contemplative life in our Church through consecration to prayer, solitude and contemplation.
- The Carmel raises its hands in prayer in the name of and on behalf of those who cannot pray. It intercedes for those who are sorely buffeted by the roaring tides and harsh demands of this life. My brothers and sisters participating in this Jubilee, you have intercessors, representatives and delegates in prayer, silence, contemplation and solitude: the Carmelites.
- This Carmel has two names: that of Mary, Mother of God and Unity. It is the place of prayer and sacrifice for Christian unity, so that there may be just one flock and one Shepherd; that the world may believe. All believers are called to join in the prayers of the nuns of this monastery and other monasteries for communion, unity and witness. That is the pivot on which the 2010 Synod for the Middle East rests and that His Holiness the Pope, during his expected visit in September, will set out in the Apostolic Exhortation.
- It seems that the Carmel is the Upper Room where the Apostles gathered around Mary, Mother of Jesus, and where the Holy Spirit was poured out over all of them, in tongues of fire, calling all to unity and courage in bringing the message of Jesus and his Holy Gospel to our society torn as it is by crises, wars, divisions, hatreds and rivalries especially in our Arab society that is experiencing difficult times, unique in its history. And Lebanon itself is experiencing this state of affairs.
On this blessed Jubilee, we should like to thank the Spanish Carmelites who struggled to realise their dream and the dream of the Greek Catholic Church by founding the Carmel in Lebanon. They struggled hard, leaving their country, detaching themselves from their traditions, their Latin Roman rite and their everyday life … They learned to read Arabic, studied the Eastern rite and chant… God knows how much heroic, exhausting effort that takes!
- Among the blessed days in the history of this holy monastery is 11 May 1997 when Blessed Pope John Paul II visited it for ten minutes. He blessed the nuns and encouraged them to continue praying for Church Unity, saying: “I know that you live here and pray here and that you suffer here for Church unity. So you must continue, because Lebanon is really a significant point… You have to go on in this direction. May God bless you.”
Dearly beloved faithful!
Such is the history of this monastery! That is its mission, to be at the heart of Lebanon and in the bosom of the Church! The sisters in this convent are suppliant hands praying day and night – officially seven hours per day -for Christian faith to take root, for evangelical values to spread and for everyone’s intentions. They fulfil the saying that states: if one soul is raised, it lifts the whole world with it!
Our liturgical prayer invites us to sing at the Feast of the Transfiguration: “Arise, ye slothful thoughts of my soul, which have ever been dragged down to the earth! Be ye borne up and rise aloft to the summit of divine ascent! Let us make haste to Peter and the sons of Zebedee, and with them, [and with our Carmelite sisters] let us go to Mount Tabor, [the Mount of the Transfiguration, beauty, light and splendour] that with them we may see the glory of our God [the culmination of Christian life], and may hear the voice which they heard from on high…” 4 and we shall say with Peter, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” (Matthew 17:4) Let us be at home here in the Church, as our Lord asked, “Go into thy closet and when thou hast shut thy door… [meaning the senses and the outward doors] pray to thy Father which is in secret [as Carmelites do in their cells, in the solitude of the cloister, in church in front of the icons] and thy Father, which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:6) That is the vocation of this convent and the call of Jesus, “Come apart into a desert place and rest a little.” (Mark 6:31)
Here is the beautiful, delicious fruit that we can gather from the Jubilee of the Carmel of the Mother of God and Unity. It is that we should set aside every day a time for prayer, contemplation, meditation and spiritual reading of Holy Scripture, a time of silence, standing before the holy icons that should take a special corner in our homes and families.
In the name of the Carmelites, thank you for being here. May God’s plentiful blessings, both temporal and spiritual, shower down upon us at the intercession of the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, Lady of Lebanon and Our Lady of Unity, and may peace, security, unity, charity and fellowship return like Spring to our Arab countries, especially our dear Lebanon with all its denominations and parties, and wounded Syria, Palestine and all those countries suffering the pangs of childbirth of the new man, we hope, in the image and likeness of God.
And I promise the nuns so dear to all our hearts, mine included, to continue to follow closely in the steps of my two predecessors, Patriarchs Maximos IV and Maximos V, and of the Archbishops, especially Mgr Ashkar and Mgr Nabaa. Our brother, the Archbishop of Beirut, and the Paulist Fathers will also follow the same course by continuing to support this holy monastery’s vocation.
We cannot fail to mention here the memory of the Blessed Carmelite, Mariam the Arab or Mariam of Jesus Crucified, of I’bellin in Galilee, in the Holy Land, whom Blessed Pope John Paul II beatified in 1983. She is the daughter of our Greek Catholic Church. She is our Church’s gift to the Carmel of Pau in France and she founded two Carmels, one in India and one in Bethlehem, where her relics are.
We rejoice with the nuns at the many vocations to the cloister that they have had, which has led them to found another Carmel in Lebanon.
Onward, Carmel of the Mother of God! Carmel of Unity! Blessed Jubilee
وكلَّ عامٍ وأنتم بخير And many happy returns to you all!
With my love, blessing and good wishes,
+ Gregorios III,
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem
For Melkite Greek Catholics