Skip to main content

Nine Themes in Carmelite Spirituality - 7. Carmel is Elijan

by Fr. Patrick Thomas McMahon, O.Carm.

Lay Carmelites seek God's presence in prayer while living an active life in the world. This duality of contemplative prayer and active ministry was modeled by the first Carmelites who lived as hermits on Mount Carmel, then later became mendicants in the cities of Europe.

Carmel is Elijan

That means we look to the prophet Elijah, the great prophet who lived on Mount Carmel eight centuries before Jesus, and we find great inspiration in him. Carmelites from the very beginning of the Order have looked to Elijah for inspiration. They saw in the prophet everything that they wanted to be. He was a man of deep contemplation, one who sought solitude in the wadi Carith or in the cave at Mount Horeb. All Carmelites need to know the Elijah stories that we find at the end of the First Book of Kings, and in the beginning of the Second Book of Kings in the Bible.

We see in these stories that Elijah was a restless man. He was filled with energy for God like we want to be, and he was anxious to spend that energy on God’s kingdom. But he was always searching to know what God asked of him. He is the model, along with Mary, for each of us Carmelites. Elijah was a fearless prophet who stood strong and tall against the injustice of his day. He defended the farmer and the peasant against the mighty kings and lords. And that is why the Order of Carmel today has stood with the Church in making the preferential option for the poor. Carmel chooses to stand up for the cause of the poor. We stand with the teachings of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and now Pope Benedict XVI, and with their teaching about the rights of immigrants and the rights of workers and the rights of women and the rights of all human persons for housing, health care, and education. Carmel stands for nothing more than what the popes have stood for in their brilliant encyclical letters when they call for rights of the poor to be protected.

The trouble is that many Catholics do not know what the Church teaches in the areas of social justice. Let me say that, tragically, our bishops and our priests often have not done their job in this area. Too often the laity intimidate them from speaking the truth. Too often some clergy preach only that part of the Church’s magisterium that their congregations already agree with. But we Carmelites cannot depend on others for our knowledge of the Church’s teaching. Carmelites have an obligation to learn the social gospel of the Catholic Church and to put it into practice. I am going to be very blunt on this point. If our politics aren’t formed by our Christian and Catholic faith then we’re not good Christians, good Catholics or good Carmelites. Some Catholics think that all they have to do is vote for the candidates that are opposed to abortion, but while the protection of human life from the moment of natural conception until the moment of natural death will always be the chief priority, the social teaching of the Catholic Church is far broader than that one issue. We must know our faith. We must be familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Papal Encyclicals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Papal Encyclicals belong in our hands as we vote, even as they belong in our hands for every decision we make in our lives. Some might say ‘Render to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s,’ but I can tell you what is not Caesar’s business and where in my life I don’t have to be obedient to Caesar. But you tell me where you don’t have to be obedient to God. You tell me what in life is not God’s concern, what is not subject to God’s authority. The whole world belongs to God. And our whole life belongs to God. And every decision we make must be according to the will of God. The Carmelite, like Elijah, is enflamed with the spirit of God and stands for truth in the face of every obstacle. The Carmelite, like Elijah stands up for the poor, for the victims of injustice, for those who have no voice of their own with which to cry out to heaven.

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."