Simon Stock will be forever associated with the Scapular. His story will also always be under contention, with real and verified information about the saint seamlessly integrated into legends and myths. See, even his vision of the Virgin Mary and the Scapular has become a subject of heated debate and of inspired works of art. His is not a unique case. Many saints have stories that contain a continuous mix of reality and fiction, but it did not diminish their value as followers of Christ. At the end of day, we look at virtue, good example, and inspiration from the saint and not their extraordinary earthly experiences.
This is the same stance of the Church regarding mystics who are under consideration for sainthood. It is not about the levitations and the visions. It is about how the saint lived the life of the Gospel, no more no less. And so, for all the Simon Stock stories’ worth, we must be able to work through the foliage and see what is really growing underneath. We must be able to peel through the astonishing segments of the stories and see for ourselves what makes Simon Stock a good example of exemplary Christian life.
Written accounts of his life by various authors through the centuries portrayed Simon Stock as a Godly and God-fearing man, someone who made it his mission to be sensitive and responsive to the Lord’s teachings. It was said that Simon led a solitary and penitential life, able to have lived the life of a hermit. Well, he was probably more solitary and penitential within his heart, resolved in detaching himself from worldliness and earthly desires.
As he was largely responsible for the Carmelite Order in England around the 1200s, he made it his business to carry out God’s plan, spreading the Gospel and leading the people to live full Christian lives. His was an unenviable position back in the day. Despite the seemingly dazzling title of Superior General, Simon had his work cut out for him. His time had conquerors and other characters of ill-repute. It was an uphill battle for him in establishing the Order in England, but he persisted.
This spirit of persistence, and indeed perseverance, was strengthened by Simon’s devotion to the Blessed Mother. In her Simon found more than an ally: a mother, a friend, a confidante, a bridge between heaven and earth. In her Simon put his trust, and he was never disappointed. Every Carmelite should learn from this simple relationship, and it is not just the seemingly mother-son interaction between them.
We are looking into exactly the adjective used to describe that relationship: simple. Well, years into our religious life, some of us still make that relationship with the Blessed Virgin more complicated than it should. There would be bargaining agreements with Mary (usually one-way, and it’s just the petitioner’s), asking for this and that in exchange for something else, to the point that the person does silly devotional practices just to ensure the success of his petitions. Doubtless, it is this type of person that prompted Saint Teresa of Avila, possibly horrified at the very reality that confronted her, to exclaim: “May God deliver us from silly devotions!”
True enough, once we let go of this silliness, we should find ourselves standing with Mary leading us to Jesus. It is simple faith that we should hang on to. It is the kind of faith that does not think twice about soiling one’s feet when the bridegroom’s hands slip through the door. Simon obviously had his faith firmly secured, and, yes, one would have to admit that his was the fruit of contemplation and prayer. Perhaps these are the stories of his life—contemplation and prayer—which should always be remembered by and found inspiration in by generations of Carmelites to come. Now that’s a story angle in Simon’s life that could never be contested.