Our Lady of Mount Carmel - Stella Maris
One of the most useful tools for living in a city is a travel app. Large metropolises become much easier to negotiate because the program gives so much information, from where you are to how to arrive at your destination, whether by foot, by car, or by public transport. It can even indicate the correct times of buses, and the duration of the rides, even in a foreign country, and all in your own language.
Ancient mariners, who could not avail themselves of such wonderful modern technology, depended on the celestial bodies to guide them to their port of call. Often, they would use the star Polaris, or North Star, at night to help determine their course, and as they neared their destination, the distance to their arrival. It is from this experience that one can have some understanding of the meaning of Mary’s title, “Stella maris.”
This ancient epithet, which concludes the second verse of the Flos Carmeli, comes to us as a happy fault of transcription of St. Jerome’s Latin translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Onomasticon. According to Jerome’s original etymology, Miryam, signified stilla maris, “drop of the sea,” but a later copyist wrote it as stella maris. Throughout the following centuries, many were inspired by the title, including Albert the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux and Pius XII. For them, this title captures Mary’s role in salvation history as the one who bore the Savior while maintaining her integrity, and in doing so, brought light to all those who hoped for his coming. The inclusion of this title in the Flos Carmeli means that this image of Mary resonated with the early Carmelites as well. Like her, they also sought to live integrated lives of purity and fidelity, especially as they negotiated the tempestuous experience of life. So the turned to her as their patroness and model of Christian discipleship.
This image of Mary as “Star of the sea” may also furnish us with some reflection for our time. As people of the contemporary world, especially those of us who live in large cities, we are surrounded by lots of artificial light. Light bulbs provide illumination, while the blue light that shines on us from computer screens and smartphones and other electronic devices, not only provide us with a world of information, but they also fool our bodies into believing that even the dark of night is midday. Spiritually, artificial lights also surround us; things that might even contain hints of truth, but ultimately mislead us into believing that they will bring us full happiness and joy, or help us to discover our identity, or lead us to paradise. Instead, they make us unhealthy, tired, and turn us away from ourselves, from one another, and more importantly, from Christ our real joy and destination.
On the other hand, the sun and stars provide natural light and a rhythmic pattern to our days. While modern technology replaces the stars as navigational tools, the stars still serve a great purpose. The sun gives light to even the cloudiest of days, and nourishes our bodies, while the stars hint at the vastness of the cosmos as they indicate the time and need for rest. The light of Christ is the light that shines throughout our souls, as Teresa of Avila says, revealing to us the truth of God and the truth of ourselves as God’s Beloved who are called to intimate relationship with Him. Mary, as Stella Maris, serves as the model who indicates by her life what this experiences looks like as it is lived out.
As Carmelites, we have in Our Lady of Mount Carmel a true light, a light that guided our Carmelite ancestors and continues to guide us today. May we follow her example so that like her, we may also be beacons of Christ’s light for others so that together, we might all reach the port of our heavenly home.