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Updated: Dec 4, 2022

In my early years of ministry, I wanted to cinch up my Spanish speaking skills so I jumped at an opportunity offered me by a deacon friend in the parish to help his priest brother for the summer in Mexico. Many tales came from that experience, but most prominent in memory was my first night in a small pueblito called Tepalcatepec, in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.

It took me about a week to learn how to pronounce the name of that small town with dirt streets (back then), though the people were immediately warm and charming.

I was dismayed by the room I was to live in, for there were no screens on the window and warily, I noticed bugs and a spider crawling on the walls. I hate bugs, so this was going to be a challenge. That first night was sultry, as I slept with only a sheet and the dread of insects, drifting off uncomfortably and then into a deep slumber. Suddenly, I felt something moving on my chest, and I tried to snag it, was but was so deep in sleep that it felt like I had to swim up furiously to the surface of a pool in which I was submerged. Finally, I regained consciousness, sat bolt upright and grabbed at my chest—to hold my scapular, mildly soaked with sweat!

Of all the Church’s lovely sacramentals, my favorite is the brown scapular. Holy water, blessed candles, blessed medals, holy cards, crucifixes, statues, and the Stations of the Cross, to name a few; we all have our favorites. But the one I am most intimately connected with is the scapular because I have worn it most of my life, twenty-four seven, save to shower. A note on the side: it tickles me when visiting some of my 51 nieces and nephews to see them and their children with scapulars dangling from their necks.

What is the attraction to a piece of cloth with an image of the Mother of God on it? The scapular is Our Lady’s own privileged symbol of her maternal attention and care received by those who wear it. Originally presented by Mary as a blessing to the Carmelite Order especially dedicated to her, the scapular has been accepted by the Church universally as a defense against eternal damnation. Wearing it (presumably in a state of grace) grants inestimable graces and blessings, one of which is Our Lady’s promise to St. Simon Stock in the fourteenth century that the one who dies in the scapular will not suffer eternal fire.

I so love the scapular that I would buy them by the hundreds and give them to the school children, families and friends, anyone who would take one—such is the beautiful nature of our Catholic faith in wanting to share the good things of God. And when asked by children what they meant, I told them the truth: wearing the scapular means “I belong to God!” If you don’t have one yet, please get one and find a priest to enroll you in it; if you are currently wearing yours, with all sweetness and care, take that lovely simple piece of cloth around your neck and bring it to your lips in a silent prayer of thanks that Our Lord and Our Lady are watching over you night and day.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Dt. 6:6-8).

(The Church where I worked.)

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