“On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea” seems a most appropriate way to begin the gospel on a 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time that happens to fall on July 16th, the feast of Nuestra Señora del Carmen. In coastal regions across Spain and Latin America, festivals celebrate María this day as patroness of fishing and seafaring people. For obvious reasons I have an affinity for mi onomástico, the day associated with my baptismal name. In the part of la familia Fernández that emigrated to the USA a century ago, there are at least six tocayas spanning three generations of Carmens, in two branches of cousins that include mi abuela, my Mom, and me. In my home and at work, even in diaspora, a Spanish tile of la Virgen del Carmen guards and graces the spaces de mi cotidiano.
The title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel recalls a mountain range in the Holy Land where Christian hermits established themselves in medieval times. Mary, whose patronage they claimed, was identified by these holy seekers in terms of the particular storied place where she was accompanying them. Already considered a site of divine encounter in the Hebrew scriptures, Mount Carmel had a reputation for beauty, fertility, and expansive views of the Holy Land. A sacred site blessed with a flourishing of creation; it is also a protected place because hidden within its caves are the bones of some of our more ancient human ancestors.
Engaging the readings of the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time from the vantage point of a feast that focuses us on place – in this case, the wadis and summits and grottos and caves and views of the sea from Carmel – stretches our imagination. This perspective allows us to step back from the inclination to interpret creation simply as a metaphor for the word and, instead, to engage it on its own terms as divine revelation.
The rains that water the earth in Isaiah give “seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.” The psalmist rejoices in fields “garmented with flocks and the valleys blanketed with grain” thanks to the gracious divine visitation and watering of the land. For the generous sower in the gospel, no seed that falls is wasted. It may nourish birds, or it may surprise us by sprouting and struggling for life among the rocks, or it may take deep root and yield abundance.
The letter to the Romans keeps us grounded—reminding us that the destiny of all creation is bound together. This summer, the groaning of creation has not ceased. Canadian wildfires darken the skies and threaten our breathing from Chicago to New York, from British Columbia to the Carolinas. Historic floods submerged parts of the northeastern USA within the past week alone. Creation groans as war devastates Ukraine, Europe’s “bread basket,” and a deadly gift of cluster bombs will add to the human-caused destruction that will last many lifetimes. Creation continues to groan this July 16th, the seventy-eighth anniversary of the testing of a plutonium implosion device in the Jornada del Muerto Desert basin of New Mexico, an event that launched the nuclear age.
This Sunday, like Jesus in the gospel, la Virgen del Carmen heads to the shore. In festive processions on land and in boats, those who owe their lives and livelihoods to the sea accompany statues of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in journeys of gratitude and petition. At this intersection of our lectionary readings and popular practice, may we be ever mindful of our obligations to the place Pope Francis calls our common home, the kinship we share with the very creation that sustains us, and the power of creation to disclose the divine.
Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández
Professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry
Director, Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program (HTMP)