Perfect! A Private Devotion that’s Actually Private

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July 16, 2013 by lucieromarin

Today’s Feast – Our Lady of Mount Carmel – seems the right time to write about the Brown Scapular, which I would recommend to anyone, but especially to those reviewing their lives and their personal exercises of faith.

I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t see the wholesale abandonment of all such exercises as the best response to burnout, exhaustion, disappointment, or even betrayal. I do, however, agree that it can be both necessary and healing to review and rearrange said exercises. This means knowing what to let go and what to keep. The wearing of the Brown Scapular is something to keep, for more reasons than one.

See, it’s not really devotion itself that exhausts people, any more than it’s the love of God that does so. The exhausting part is the physical activity surrounding it: being out at night or early in the morning; going straight from work to Mass and then devotions, so having half a piece of toast for dinner at 9 p.m rather than actual dinner at 6; staying awake to finish prayers when you want to be asleep; listening to your fifth half-hour sermon of the week when it’s freezing cold and in the back of your mind you know you haven’t done the laundry or cleaned the bathroom, and that’s going to have to happen at 10 p.m instead of 5; explaining things to other people (why you have to be there; what it’s all about); and wondering how much of your salvation depends upon being there at all.

The break you need is not a break from loving God or loving Our Lady; you need a break from hunger, tiredness, and cold. The wearing of the Brown Scapular really is a devotion made with the real needs of real laypeople in mind, because, well, that’s what you do. You wear it. It goes where you are. It’s not a case of Our Lady versus laundry; there’s no duty versus duty about it. It goes with you to every duty, no matter what it is, at every moment of the day.

Now, I’ll grant you, to really enter into the devotion (and to be rewarded with Our Lady’s protection at death because of it) you do have to be chaste and pray – if not the Little Hours of Our Lady, then the Rosary (or something similar deputed by someone authoritative.) But the Rosary is also the sort of prayer that blends into your day; it can be said while travelling, walking, in pieces or all at once, and so on. It’s schedule-friendly. So, there you are, able to develop a relationship with Our Lady at every second of the day, at your own pace (sorry to sound like an online distance education programme!), without any opportunity for scruple. If you’re inclined to scruples over Not-Turning-Up-To-Liturgies –  well, this devotion won’t give you those scruples, because it doesn’t have Liturgies to turn up to.

The other important characteristic of this devotion is that it really is private. You wear the scapular under your clothing…because you’re meant to. That is, not only does this devotion not require you to get in anyone else’s way, it actively encourages you not to! Here, concealment isn’t cowardice, real or imagined; it’s an imitation of that holiness which ‘kept these things in her heart,’ and a participation in the hiddenness of Carmelite enclosure. If you’re desperately shy, or hurt by third-party aggression, or you’re over debates, or you care about aesthetics, then public displays of devotion can be horrible. Even if you do take them on in the long-term (and some of them really are worth it) they can, during a period of recovery, just add to the burden of shyness, or scruple, or whatever else it is that you’re working through. This one won’t add to those burdens, because it doesn’t demand any particular form interaction with other people.

Lastly, to be enrolled in the Brown Scapular means to be united to the prayers of the entire Carmelite Order. If you’ve been troubled by your own community, then now is an excellent time to bring yourself under the care of a larger, older, and far more prayerful community!

You wear the Brown Scapular – you don’t have to tell anyone else about it. You don’t have to go to things. You don’t have to count anything, or start again if you miss a day. Yes, you should pray, but the timing, depth and intensity of that prayer-life is up you. And…all the Carmelite prayers in the world, now giving you back-up. Please excuse me sounding like a smooth-talking banker for a moment, but that’s a pretty big return for a pretty small investment. And anyway, sometimes the secret love is the most real.

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