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and Prophets of Hope

Reflection on Con Gen 2011

Reflection on the Final Message of the General Congregation
“How to respond to those who ask”
(Niagara Falls, 2011)

 2. [...] AND PROPHETS OF HOPE [...]

  • This material is only to give some ideas and can be adapted as each community decides.

1. Distribution of handout

2. Personal reading of the Final Message of the General Congregation 2011.



3. Opening prayer (mosaic of biblical texts)

• Is 52: 7-10: "The feet of the messenger."
• Is 26, 1-6: "The feet of the poor."
• Jn 13: 3-14: "The feet of the disciples."
• Jn 12: 1-3, Lk 24, 36-40: "The feet of Jesus."

A Caravaggio painting: "The feet of the pilgrims"

  • Anyone who wishes can go the web site of the Order and view pictures of the Caravaggio painting "The Madonna of the Pilgrims."

In the Church of S. Augustine, in Rome, where Saint Monica is buried, there is a painting attributed to Caravaggio, entitled "The Madonna of the Pilgrims" (1604-1605). The sanctuary of Loreto, for some time, had become a centre of pilgrimage. The Augustinians, to honour the village to which, according to tradition, the house of Our Lady had been moved, commissioned the artist to paint a picture of Mary as Queen, enthroned as a heavenly being. The artist completed the work but, when it was time for payment, he found that the friars neither wanted to pay, nor did they want the picture, because it seemed irreverent to them to have represented the Mother of God as a village woman. [1]

The painting in question depicts Mary at the door of her house carrying Jesus in her arms. Kneeling in front of Mary, are two pilgrims, barefoot and dirty from the dusty road. [There were those who said that the dirty feet of the beggars were so well painted and were so real that they even seemed to smell!] “The pilgrim's feet” started such a commotion that a cleric branded the genius "indecent", stating that such details should be removed from art, especially art which was intended to awaken "elevated devotion to Our Lady." Caravaggio, however, did not yield, and stated categorically that there can be no higher devotion that that given to the Mother of God by the tired and aching feet of the poor. The white foot of the Madonna, shaped like that of a ballerina, enhances the contrast with the corns and calluses of the "pilgrim's feet."

The painter tried to convince the Augustinians that Mary exercised her royal role by the closeness and intimacy of the woman who is known as sister and companion to the weary. Caravaggio realised that the humanity of Mary was glorified by the feet.[2]  Luther, in one of the most beautiful commentaries ever written on the Magnificat, portrayed Mary's humanity, saying of her: "She claimed for herself no action, no honour, no fame [...]. She claimed no honour for herself but continued as before to be devoted to her normal work,  milking cows, cooking, washing dishes, sweeping the floor. She behaved the same as a maid or housekeeper dedicated to insignificant chores [...].”[3] Mary stoops down to humanity. Stooping down is a prophetic trait, as well as being maternal and fraternal, at the same time. Mothers crouch down looking for their children, and their backs are early signs of it. Mazzolari Primo says: "That stoop in your body is the proof of your love, the unmistakable sign of motherhood that bends down to the level of the children."

The true prophet of the Church of the future will be the one who comes from the "desert" like Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul and especially Jesus, people of God and with that special glow that only those who are used to talk with God face to face have.

4. Reading of Final Message, No. 5-6.

5. Community discussion.

• John XXIII in his opening address to the Second Vatican Council (October 11, 1962) stated: "In the daily exercise of our pastoral ministry, there sometimes come to our ears, the voices of some, who, though are very zealous for religion, seem to have too little discretion and judgement. Such are those who in our modern times seem to see nothing but lies and ruination ...It seems necessary to say that we disagree with these "prophets of doom" who are always announcing upcoming dreadful events as if it were the end of time ... ". What does it mean to you personally, that a Carmelite is a "prophet of hope" in our world?

• "The true contemplative is carrying the light of the risen Christ in the middle of the nights of humanity" (No. 6). What are the “deserts” that affect our society and the people we serve in our ministries? What does your community do in order to be a "light" in those dark nights? What more could it do?

• Pope Benedict, in the dialogue he had with the Prior General, Fr Fernando Millán, in August 2010, during the Pilgrimage of Hope, in Castelgandolfo, reminded us: "The Carmelites are the ones who teach us to pray ...". How do you relate this statement of the Pope with our prophetic Elijah dimension of our charism? What does this statement mean to you?

7. Our Father.

8. Marian Antiphon.



[1] Some specialists on Caravaggio affirm that the row became more acute when it became known among the ecclesiastical hierarchy that the model who posed for the painting (Lena Antognetti), was in fact the lover of the painter, and was a well known Roman prostitute. Others disagreed. Whatever the truth, it is certain that the life of the painter swung between the churches and palaces of the cardinals and the bordellos, gambling dens and taverns of the less salubrious parts of Rome. The great artist, by means of his work, tried to unite these two worlds. It was not without its arguments and dangers. However, it is certain that “the feet of the pilgrims”, finally passed the exam of orthodoxy and they remain for eternity.

[2] MILLÁN ROMERAL, F., “Et humiles victoria ornat (Sal 149,4)”, in Fonte 2 (2005) 112. The theology that lies behind the coronation of Our Lady is quite significant: “On may think, on a first superficial reading, that it is possible to crown Our Lady like a divine being far from the human condition […] Really, it is the complete opposite: in Mary we crown redeemed humanity, we recognise in Her what humanity can become and what we are called to be”.

[3] LUTHER, M., Luther’s Works.

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."