CARMEL, VIRGIN MARY AND ELIJAH
by V. Parco
July 16, 2016
Introduction: Patungong Carmelo
Patungong Carmelo, ako’y maglalakbay;
Tatawid sa ilang, pag-asa tanging gabay.
Doon sa Carmelo, ako’y maghihintay;
Hubad man ang loob, pananalig tanging alay.
Sa tuktok ng Carmelo, kita’y pagmamasdan,
Walang kapit ang puso, pag-ibig tanging yaman.
(E. Calasanz, NDV and N. Que, SJ)
In the heart of every person, of whatever culture, period or place, there exists a desire to be in touch with God. Every human person bears a sense of transcendence, a longing for something or someone, a higher or greater Reality, called the “the little word God, Supreme, High and Mighty Being, Allah or Zeus or the “I am who am” of Moses. Supreme, sacred and transcendent, this Being is perceived to dwell in the highest heavens. Thus, during primitive times, people climbed mountains to express their desire to be in contact with God. They even built very high, mountain-like temples or places of worship in order to have an experience of somehow connecting with the unreachable God. The song Patungong Carmelo expresses this desire.
Believers, especially Christian believers, do not only seek a contact with God, but a living personal relationship with God. Why do we have that desire?
Why do we want to see and relate with God? Our Christian Faith tells us that if we want to find God, it is God who sowed the seed of such a desire in our hearts. We are not only creatures of God, made in the divine image, but even more, we are children of God. God’s desire to communicate and relate with us infinitely surpasses our human desires. Human beings climb mountains to reach a seemingly unreachable God. Now God, whose delights are to be with the children of men/women, comes down among us to reveal the God-Self who is Divine Love. God dwells among us to share life and love with us.
CARMEL is a great sign of God’s loving desire to meet the children created out of love. What then is Carmel all about? Why sing Patungong Carmelo?
Carmel is an actual geographical place. In the map of the Middle East where the land of Palestine is located, there is a region called Haifa with a mountain range on the north, about 25 km. in length and 6 km. in breadth. That mountain range is called Carmel. There is a long and ancient tradition about Carmel which identifies it as a mountain where a sacred meeting between God and human beings took place.
Why is this mountain called Carmel? Literally, Carmel means a flowered orchard. It is a mountain of rare beauty, thanks to its vegetation-covered summits, its dense woodlands and its rich diversity of plants. Carmel has become a symbol of fruitfulness, grace and abundant life. Even more, the lush beauty of Carmel signifies the land that God has promised the chosen people after their long trial in the desert following the Exodus. God tells the people: “I have brought you into a land of delights, into the region of Carmel, that you might eat of its fruits.” Indeed, the song so rightly defines Carmel:
Bulaklak ng Carmelo
Bulaklak ng Carmelo, yumayabong sa hardin
Karingalan ng langit, liwanag sa dilim,
Ina at Birhen, Inang kay tamis,
Dalagang walang dungis
Sa abang anak ng Carmelo,
Ipagkaloob ang biyaya
Sa dagat ng aming buhay,
Ikaw ang gabay-tala.
(Eduardo Hontiveros, SJ)
ELIJAH and CARMEL: Once upon a time, around eight centuries before the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the slopes and woodlands of Carmel lived a great prophet called Elijah. At that time too, there reigned King Ahab in the northern kingdom of Palestine. He married a pagan princess named Jezebel. Because of the influence of his Queen, Ahab began to be unfaithful to the covenant of Israel with Yahweh. He allowed the worship of idols called baals introduced by Jezebel from her country of origin, Sidon. Ahab himself began to worship the baals, believing that they were powerful over the climate, the crops, the land, and on fruitfulness of nature.
God was terribly displeased by the infidelities of King Ahab whom many Israelites followed out of fear. What did God do? God sent a terrible drought. He ordered Elijah the prophet to prophesy the drought of three years. The First Book of Kings narrates that there was no rain nor water for three years. The result was drought, famine, hunger and death not only for the people but for animals and vegetation.
Carmel ceased to be a land of blooms and flower, but parched, dry earth. Elijah the Prophet rose to confront the King and Queen and to defeat the false prophets right on top of Mount Carmel. Later, he proclaimed the first commandment of the Decalogue: Yahweh alone is God and there is no other God but Yahweh.
Elijah climbed two mountains: Carmel, where he defeated the false prophets, and then Horeb, (another name for Sinai). At the summit of Horeb, he had a very deep experience of Yahweh who manifested the God-Self to him, not in cloud, thunder, lightning or earthquake, but in the so soft whisper of a tiny breeze — almost the sound of sheer silence.
Again, on the summit of Carmel, Elijah waited for the promised rain. At first, he saw nothing. Then his servant saw a very tiny light cloud slowly rise from the sea facing Carmel. It soon became bigger and heavier. It became so large and widespread, so dark and heavy, that Elijah and his servant had to run down quickly or else be drowned by the torrents of rain that would soon fall from the sky. Indeed, the rains poured down upon the land, ending the long drought. This proved that Yahweh was indeed the Lord of all things, with absolute control of all in nature and human affairsl
What is the meaning of the little white cloud that eventually brought a torrential downpour on Palestine. Today, that cloud is identified as a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so pure Virgin, but so fruitful and life-giving Mother, the Flower of Carmel herself. The life-giving rains that came from the cloud represent God’s Love and Life made visible and human in the Virgin’s Son, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word and Savior of all humankind.
Carmel is a place, a mountain range in Palestine, hallowed by the presence and memory of the prophet Elijah during the eighth century BCE. Is that all about Carmel? No, there is more, because Elijah had disciples who followed his way of life --- the first one being Elisha. Elijah lived a life of contemplative prayer and apostolic mission. He prayed deeply but also worked intensely for Yahweh’s honor. His followers/disciples took the same path that he traced. In the fourth century before Christ, there were Greek hermits who built caves and grottoes on the sides of Carmel, living in the spirit of the prophet Elijah, but concentrated on the contemplative dimension of his spirit. Still much later, during the period of the Crusades, when Christians from Europe fought to get back the Holy Land from the Muslims, Latin hermits chose to stay at Mount Carmel, there to pray in silence and solitude, offering true worship to the Lord in a Christian manner. By this time, Carmel had come to mean not only a place, a mountain, but a certain organized group of people bound by a Rule of life in the spirit of the prophet Elijah. This group of people can be considered the first members of what developed into the present Order of Mount Carmel. However, since the Muslims came back and succeeded in re-taking the Holy Land, many of these early Carmelite monks escaped to Europe and introduced the Order of Mount Carmel there.
Today, Carmel has grown in meaning and reality. It also means a spirit and way of life inspired by prophet Elijah. Because it is a spirit, one does not have to be a monk or a nun living in a monastery to live according to the prophetic spirit of Carmel. Today too, since the Reform of Carmel by Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, the two dimensions of the prophetic spirit is accepted and recognized. These two dimensions are the contemplative and the mission dimensions or contemplation and action together.
There are the so-called members of the Third Order of Carmel, diocesan priests, lay people, married people too, as well as members of secular institutes who are consecrated lay people living the spirituality of Carmel --- prophetic and Marian. Young people, like some catechists formed at Mother of Life Catechetical Center. are also inspired by the spirit of Carmel. How do they live according to its spirit in the world? They believe in the importance of prayer and they actually give it time in their busy lives. They believe in the prophetic spirit of Carmel --- a way of life which highlights the importance of silence and solitude to find GOD, to listen to GOD, to plunge in GOD, and later on, to go forth and be dispersed in highways and byways, schools, offices, depressed areas and hospitals, etc. to proclaim and become witnesses of the Living God in the very ordinary situations of their life.
That the spirit of Elijah/Carmel is offered to all, that is not limited to the monks and nuns in the monasteries, and that ordinary baptized Christians can live it and share in it — these were the convictions of soon to be beatified Venerable Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus (born Henri Grialou, in Aveyron, France, December 2, 1894). He was a Carmelite priest, a spiritual leader in the Order of Carmel who served as as Prior, Provincial, Definitor and Vicar General of the Order. Furthermore, he founded Notre Dame de Vie Secular Institute, now composed of consecrated laymen/women and diocesan priests who strive to live Carmel in its double spirit of contemplation and mission well united. They look upon the Blessed Mother, Queen Beauty of Carmel, as the prime example and best model of the synthesis of contemplation and mission. The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. Elijah did not enter monasteries in order to become contemplative apostles. They were ordinary people, living ordinary lives. Yet, they lived in close intimacy with the Living God, through intense and persistent prayer of faith. Through such prayer, they worked with great love and fidelity in service to God and their neighbors. Are we not capable of realizing the same spirit, in the ordinariness of our personal lives and work, for the glory of God and the service of the Church?
We will soon celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16) and of St. Elijah (July 20). When we celebrate these feasts, we are not alone. We will be together with many Carmelites who lived according to the prophetic and Marian spirit of Carmel. Among these are Sts. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of the Child Jesus, Edith Stein, Simon Stock, Teresa de los Andes, Miriam Bouardy, Elizabeth of the Trinity, and Venerable Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, to be beatified on November 19, 2016 in Avignon, France. Together with the whole Carmelite family on earth. let us pray to the Triune God, through Blessed Mother, to become more deeply imbued with the spirit of Carmel, through faith and love. Let us express our faith, love, and communion through this marian song:
Inang Mahal magpakailanman
Ang Ama sa iyo’y nakatunghay
Ang lupang tigib ng kadiliman
Nilaganapan mo ng liwanag
Ina ng Buhay.
Ikaw ang hanap pagtingin sa langit,
Sa dasal ng Propeta sa Carmel
Ikaw ang nakita niya sa ulap
Puno ng pangakong masagana
Ina ng Buhay.
Buhay ay nilaganap mo sa lahat
Tuyong damo muling nanariwa
Masaganag lumawig ang buhay
Pag-ibig sa mundo ay umapaw
Ina ng Buhay.
Pag-ibig ay dapat ipamigay
Di-dapat itago ng sinuman
Kung mahal ang Diyos ay ilalaan Niya
Kanyang buhay sa mga kaluluwa
Ina ng Buhay.
(trans. from Mere de Vie by Rosario Ramos, NDV+)