Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Our Lady of Mount Carmel - July 16, 2008

The topic of Mt. Carmel is the topic of Our Lady, Elijah, the mountain itself which is Christ, and faith which is Love.

In 1964 Joseph Ratzinger asked: if love is the point of Christianity, why faith? He answered by asking, as usual, another question: “Who among us would not have to admit that even in the acts of kindness he practices toward others, there is still an element of selfishness, something of self-satisfaction and looking back at ourselves? Who among us would not have to admit that he is more or less living in the pre-Copernican illusion and looking at other people, seeing them as real, only in their relationship to our own selves?... It is at this point that faith begins.”[1]

With regard to St. Thomas the Apostle, Newman remarked: “What the Apostle says of Abraham is a description of all true faith: it goes out not knowing whither it goes. It does not crave or bargain to see the end of the journey; it does not argue with St. Thomas, in the days of his ignorance, ‘we know not whither, and how can we know the way?’ It is persuaded that it has quite enough light to walk by, far more than sinful man has a right to expect, if it sees one step in advance; and it leaves all knowledge of the country over which it is journeying to Him who calls it on.”[2]

As we have seen on July 3d, St. Thomas the Apostle was neither saint nor blessed because he saw and believed. It is precisely because he saw that he did not really believe yet. The certitude that comes from faith is a knowing that comes from the love that is self-gift. It is a knowing without seeing. And yet it is a seeing that is not by sight. Ratzinger’s point is that faith is needed because I don’t really love enough until I relinquish the certitude that comes from myself and my own investigation – making sure for myself. I am sure because of my love for the other. “Faith is thus that stage in love which really distinguishes it as love; it consists in overcoming the complacency and self-satisfaction of the person who says, ‘I have done everything. I don’t need any further help.’ It is only in ‘faith’ like this that selfishness, the real opposite of love, comes to an end.”[3]

The mountain is always Christ the Cornerstone. It is the place of loving prayer and contemplation. Elijah prayed in belief to end the drought, and it ended. “Behold a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea. People could see it from the summit of Mount Carmel while the prophet Elijah was beseeching the Lord to put an end to a long drought. The cloud quickly spread to cover the sky and brought abundant rain to the parched earth. Scripture scholars see this rain cloud as a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. By bringing the Savior into the world she bore the living water to quench the thirst of all humanity, and she continually brings us countless graces.”[4]

Elijah is a major figure here. In the third Book of Kings (19, 11-21), we find him as the only believer in Israel: “I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and pout your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.” He had confronted Ahab and Jezebel and their 450 priests of Baal in a contest of faith on Mt. Carmel. The 450 had prayed, slashed themselves, danced, shouted, etc. to no avail: “But there was not as sound; no one answered, and no one was listening.” Then Elijah prayed saying: “Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these tings by your command. Answer me, Lord! Answer me, that this people may know that you, Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to their senses” (3 Kings 18, 36).

Threatened by Jezebel, Elijah begins a journey of 40 days from Mount Carmel to Mount. Sinai – the site of direct encounter with God - to restore and strengthen his faith. He is told “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord” (3 Kings 19, 11). Before the Lord comes “a great and strong wind… overthrowing the mountains, and breaking the rocks in pieces; the Lord is not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake; the Lord is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; the Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air. And when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his mantle, and coming forth stood at the entering in of the cave, and behold a voice unto him, saying: What dost thou here, Elijah?” (19, 11-13).

After performing the great works and visible testimonies concerning the Lord, Elijah – not unlike John the Baptist – had to go through yet another conversion to find the Lord in the small things and obscurities of ordinary life. He had to come to belief again by finding God not in the great winds, fires and earthquakes, but in the gentle breeze. This was precisely the point of Benedict XVI concerning John the Baptist who had begun to doubt in prison and send to Christ messengers with the question: “Are you who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Therefore, the gently breeze, the darkness and obscurity of prison, and, yes, ordinary life, the search for the quid divinum in the quotidian, the Church telling us that, indeed, Christ has risen from the dead – this is the locus where we become blessed and holy by the loving gift of self to the Person of the revealing God.

Our Lady is the chief protagonist of this. The “truth of Mary” is the announcement of Elizabeth at the visitation: “Blessed is she who believed.” Luke said three times that Mary kept the word in her heart and pondered it (Lk. 1, 29; 2, 19; 2, 51). Ratzinger said: “First of all, then, she is portrayed as a source of the tradition. The word is kept in her memory; therefore she is a reliable witness for what took place. But memory requires more than a merely external registering of events. We can only receive and hold fast tot eh uttered word if we are involved inwardly. If something does not touch me, it will not penetrate; it will dissolve in the flux of memories and lose its particular face… I cannot really understand something for which I have no love whatsoever. So the transmission of the message needs more than the kind of memory that stores telephone numbers: what is required is a memory of the heart, in which I invest something of myself. Involvement and faithfulness are not opposites: they are interdependent…. Mary becomes a model for the Church’s mission, i.e., that of being a dwelling place for the Word, preserving it and keeping it safe in times of confusion, protecting it, as it were, from the elements. Hence she is also the interpretation of the parable of the seed sowed in good soil and yielding fruit a hundredfold. She is not the thin surface earth which cannot accommodate roots; she is not the barren earth which the sparrows have pecked bare; nor is she overgrown by the weeds of affluence that inhibit new growth. She is a human being with depth. She lets the word sink deep into her. So the process of fruitful transformation can take place in a twofold direction: she saturates the Word with her life, as it were, putting the sap and energy of her life at the Word’s disposal; but as a result, conversely, her life is permeated, enriched and deepened by the energies of the Word, which gives everything its meaning. First of all it is she who digests the Word, so to speak, transmuting it: ut in doing so she herself, with her life, is in turn transmuted into the Word. Her life becomes word and meaning. That is how the gospel is handed on in the Church.”[5]

The Scapular: On July 16, 1251, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock, the superior general of the Carmelite Order, promising a special blessing for all who wear her scapular. “The Blessed Virgin Mary promised many privileges in this world to those who wear her scapular. Moreover, it is a pious belief that, since she is so merciful and powerful everywhere, in the next life she will comfort by her motherly protection those who have worn the scapular and are expiating their sins in the fires of purgatory, and bring them promptly to their heavenly home.”[6]

“Wear on your breast the holy scapular of Carmel. There are many excellent Marian devotions, but few are as deep-rooted among the faithful and so richly blessed by the popes. Besides, how motherly is the Sabbatine privilege!” (Josemaria Escirva, “The Way” 600).


[1] J. Ratzinger “What It Means to Be a Christian” Ignatius (2006) 74.
[2] John Henry Newman, “Faith Without Sight,” Plain and Parochial Sermons 11, 2, Ignatius (1987) 234-235.
[3] J. Ratzinger, Op. cit 75.
[4] Francisco Fernandez Carvajal. “In Conversation with God” VII, 13.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Seek That Which is Above,” Ignatius (1986) 101-103.
[6] Roman Breviary of St. Pius V, Ad Mat., Sixth Reading

1 comment:

Brian Kilroy said...

As Israel contemplates the inevitable attack on Iran, and the world’s youth return from Sydney infused with the Holy Spirit for the very difficult times that soon approach, what a gift to be reminded of Elijah...

Father Bob’s excerpt on Elijah:

“A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord – but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire – but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, ‘Elijah, why are you here!’” And Elijah dialogued with God.

Contemplating Elijah and his important roles (past, and yet to come), I am reminded of several things, all of which flow back to God’s Masterpiece, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the “survive and thrive” guide for survival in the 21st century, the Magnificat – and in this case, the last line: “And He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.”

I pray that I have the patience and fortitude to endure the real and figurative winds, quakes, fires, background noise, etc., that are here and are soon to escalate, and for the wisdom and understanding to discern and hear the words that will surely come to me at the appropriate time. And, that I have to courage to always fulfill the Divine Will, particularly at the critical moments, as much will be expected of us.

In the meantime, I am reassured by the “big picture” promises of deliverance expressed in Exodus 6, that God the Father promised, paraphrased as: I will free and deliver you, I will rescue you, I will take you as my own people as you take me as your God, I will give it to you (land, i.e. eternal life) as your own possession.

When in doubt and in dark moments, I return first to the Magnificat, line by line, and I am reassured once again as the Blessed Virgin intercedes on my behalf. God’s secret weapon against the powers of Satan is the Blessed Virgin, and evil flees upon reflection and contemplation of the Magnificat. Jesus, Our Lord, is with you word by word when your heart is in the Magnificat. Blessed Mary endured the fires, the difficulties, and having suffered the Seven Sorrows, provided the perfect life and example for all of us. Humility, faith, love, service. Our Lord refuses no prayer offered through the Blessed Virgin, provided, of course, such requests are pure in intention and in accord with the Divine Will.

Blessed Mary, like Our Lord, is indeed found in all the small things, the ordinary and mundane, a job well-done, etc. In doing these things we are biding our time yet we are also “steeling” and purifying our soul for the greater things to come, as Blessed Mary did, Our Lady of Carmel, and as Elijah did as well.

Thanks for the thoughtful pieces on Our Lady of Carmel and Elijah.