A brother shared on Facebook what appears to be a teaching on the Brown Scapular associated with the Carmelite Order. The congregation where I belong. This is a very old teaching which I believe, one time in the congregation's history was being taught to the faithful. But history would also tell us that the Church discouraged such teaching because of its lack of historical and factual basis.
So what's it about?
Basically its about the Sabbatine Privilege allegedly granted by Pope John XXII, claiming that the Blessed Mary appeared to him with the promise to the wearer of the scapular that after their death, she will free them from the sufferings of purgatory and lead them to heaven, provided they meet the following conditions while they were still alive:
1. Faithful wearing of the scapular throughout their life;
2. Observance of chastity, depending on their state of life;
3. Daily recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin or observance of the Church's fasts including abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays or say five decades of Our Lady’s Most Holy Rosary or substitute such actions with some other good work.
And, depending on one's viewpoint, to add to the problem, it is said that Pope Benedict XV granted an indulgence of 500 days to those who kiss the scapular devoutly.
So, I live a sinful life for 500 days and on the 500th day I kiss the scapular so all of those sins I committed will be absolved? Is that how all these indulgence thing works? Or lets say, we sin because anyway we would already have 500 less days in purgatory when we die. So we just kiss and kiss the scapular until we die. Let's say, 100 kisses = 50,000 days less in purgatory, right? So let's assume we are so sinful and dying, then why don't we just cover our lips with the scapular and get the chance of never going to purgatory.
Wearing the scapular would not assure one of going to heaven if such an external act is not complemented with the purification of ones self through intimacy with God, and of course with charity and living a life in accordance to the teachings of Christ, otherwise, I would just wear the scapular, recite the Office or even the whole Psalmody, and be chaste while at the same time enrich myself by exploiting other people and still be assured of heaven because of the Sabbatine privilege or whatever indulgence I get from wearing the vestment.
For me, wearing the scapular is not a privilege but an obligation. When we wear it we vow to follow Mary, as the perfect disciple of Christ. When we wear it we vow to follow Jesus, that man from Nazareth whose viewpoint and standpoint is grounded on the anawim - the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor, the little ones.
We should not be dependent on whatever promise it bears, rather we should take it upon ourselves to strive for holiness, to follow Mary, our sister, mother, and protector, in her effort to become Christ's perfect follower, and of course, to live Christ's teachings and tattoo them in our hearts.
The scapular is not an amulet or a lucky charm. It is not some magical stuff that would instantly lead one to the glory of eternal life.
What it is, though, is a promise, a reminder that we have an obligation, a responsibility to be Christ's followers, and with that to be living testaments of God's grace, love, and mercy. This is a reminder that we are servants, that we live for others and not for ourselves. This is a reminder that we promised to live a life of purity, obedience to Christ, and poverty.
The scapular is a reminder of Mary's love for us, because, after all, she did cloth us with her garment, with a garment which she herself must have woven tirelessly. So how should we compensate this love? We should compensate this love, of course, and we do this not just by outwardly wearing the scapular, but by making it our inner habit, our constant reminder, our very life.
A high ranking official of the Philippine National Police once quipped to a brother who was not wearing a habit during the Pope's visit in the Philippines that the brother must be a good example to the rest of the faithful by constantly wearing his habit. And a Facebook user once commented on a picture of Carmelite friars wearing ordinary clothes on an important meeting that nothing makes a Carmelite than his brown habit.
But really, the habit is just that, a piece of clothing that we wear identifying us to the congregation where we belong. And, as much as we should wear it with reverence, what's more important is if we wear it within ourselves. Are we constantly living the Order's charisma? Are our very lives a reflection of what the Order stands for?
For me that's what is important, the rest are mere reminders of our identity, of our devotion, of our promise.