Elijah, the Prophet of All Time
The Carmelite order is well known for its richness in heritage and is very much proud of the profound and sound spirituality of its family. Two great figures in the Bible have inspired the Carmelites throughout their history. Elijah, the fiery prophet of Carmel, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, have both helped the community to understand how to be contemplative and active; prayerful and prophetic;
reflective and apostolic. Elijah and Mary are human models. Just as many of us wonder about the best way to live our lives, these models felt paralyzing fear, faced difficult questions, and was hurt deeply because of the choices they made.
The origin of Carmel goes back 800 years before Christ; to a prophet named Elijah, who had a fiery zeal for the Lord. Elijah, meaning "My Lord is Yahweh", had to face the issues of his day and was often called to confront the people who were being obstinate in evil. What we call "Carmel" is really a way of life in which we try to be aware of the presence of God in the most ordinary, everyday life and its issues. We are contemplative, but we live out our service in the world. We are prayerful, but we are also practical. We were founded on a mountaintop, but we have our feet firmly planted in today's problems and concerns. From Elijah the Carmelites have learnt to become aware of the presence of God in the unexpected, and to be silent enough to hear Gods whisper. We should always be calm and free in the presence of God-calm to think and free to act. As the world of evil prevails, the challenge and inspiration left by Elijah to his followers is simple- always be active in the presence of God, and you can change the world.
In the Hebrew Bible, Elijah is a solitary figure. His personal appearances was unusual i.e., he appeared clothed scantily, wearing a leather girdle, with his hair long and shaggy, yet he impressed both king and people as the rugged ascetic. Utterly detached from the needs of the body, he was fed by ravens, a widow and an angel (I kings 17; 6,15 and 19:5). During Elijah's life the Jewish nation had become corrupt. It had ceased to keep the Law of Moses and had turned to the worship, of Baal. The king of Israel in those days was Ahab, who was married to a terrible woman known as Jezebel. God raised up Elijah to defend the revealed religion against false pagan cults, especially that of Baal, the Phoenician deity. Israel had been experiencing a three year drought as punishment for following the pagan cult of Baal. As a result, Directed by Yahweh, Elijah goes to Zarephath where a widow uses the last of her flour to bake him a little cake, trusting Elijah's' words that there will be some flour left over. The flour continued to replenish itself throughout the drought. Towards the end of his prayerful stay, the widow's son dies. Through prayer, Elijah restores him to life. The widow exclaims, Now indeed, I know that you are a man of God. The word of the lord comes truly from your mouth. (1 kings 17:24). Every Carmelite is an instrument of God. We are giving life to the Word of God in our demanding surroundings. The hearts of the Carmelites is like an ever running stream, it never stops even in the period of drought. The river never flows for itself, the tree never eats its fruits, the rain never falls for itself; it is all for others." Carmelites are for the world and its needs. Let our flours and oil continue to replenish as it becomes cake/food to others in their life journey to God.
The challenging personality of Elijah was most evident on Mount Carmel, where he challenged his people to choose one God for Israel, Yahweh or Baal. It was a call for identification. Elijah arranged a holocaust challenge for 450 false prophets of Baal whom Ahab and his wife Jezebel followed. It was a do or die test for Elijah. The words used by Elijah on this occasion w:::-re significant, ''how long do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If the Yahweh is God follow him, If Baal, follow him"(1 Kings 18). Elijah challenges even the patience of the God. The fire of the Lord fell from heaven and consumed the holocaust and wood, and licked up the water. This is the challenge that has been met by Carmelites right down the centuries. When we profess to serve God it is a call to love him with our whole heart, our whole mind and our whole strength. Commitment should be always complete, not 99 percent, but 100 percent. Nothing less will satisfy God. If a person wishes to pursue evil ways, then let him do it, even if it means that he will go to Hell. The worst kind of person is one who is lukewarm-neither hot nor cold, and who does the minimum to try and prove himself or herself a Carmelite. Baal was proclaimed as useless and the Israelites returned to God. Elijah kills the false prophets and invites Ahab to eat and drink for a heavy rain is coming. Through prayer Elijah scores another victory as a torrential rain falls.
However, when Ahab informs Jezebel of her prophets death, she becomes irritated and furious and vows to kill Elijah. The disheartened Elijah flees, feeling his victory was useless. Elijah started a journey through the desert, but he loses his focus and commitment. For him, death would be a welcome deliverance. Sitting under a bush, he wished to die. According to scripture he then came upon a cave, where he took shelter. But the Word of God came to him, "Why are you here, Elijah?"He answered: "I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life." Then the Lord said, 'go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord, the Lord will be passing by.' It was there that Elijah became aware of God...he got enlightenment...but not with the usual eye-catching signs of fire and earthquake, but rather as a gentle breeze. When he heard its whispering sound, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave (1Kings 19; 9-13). It was a resurrection or coming back to his mission. Elijah was sent back to his people refreshed. Dejection is a painful experience, it is even more painful if we are rejected by our dear and near ones and even crueler if we are rejected because of our good works. Elijah makes us happy by sharing his experience of dejection. He was actually crying to God. God had an answer for his cry. Life is not a straight line. There are turning points in all our lives. These are the places where we should be refreshed like Elijah. Elijah's encounter with God on Mount Horeb refreshed his mission and vision. The world is like a stage where we all are acting out our roles of life. On this stage happiness and sorrow take their turn .Elijah gives us a great lesson by his example. If we are living in the presence of God, the Almighty is there to lead and direct us, especially when we are undergoing the pressures to stay in our vocations. The enlightenment is not reserved to any particular person. It can be possible in each and every one of our lives too. 'I am zealous for the Lord God of hosts'. Elijah's' cry is written in the heart of every Carmelite and on every escutcheon that we make and it calls us to face the difficult issues of our day: care for poor and underprivileged, the sacredness of life for the unborn and the elderly, religious issues, prejudice and war. Like Elijah we must stand in the presence of the Lord and be aware of His power and influence in our lives. Elijah continued to speak and minister for the Lord. He anointed two new Kings and a prophet that would replace him. He assembled a community of hermits who shared his faith. These spiritual sons of Elijah patterned their lives on his contemplative way, seeking divine intimacy in silence and solitude. At the end of his career Elijah was taken away from earth by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). He was present at the transfiguration of our Lord. (Mathew 17:3) and will return to earth before the Second Coming of Our Lord (Mk 9:11)
Elijah has a unique aspect different from all other Carmelites. He did not pattern his life on Mary's virtues. Rather, his ideals were fulfilled in Mary who vowed virginity to God and pondered the Word of God in her heart day and night, living this Word as directed. The secret of Elijah's' sanctity is expressed in his own words, when he frequently states that he is standing in the presence of God. He lived always in the presence of God and was aware of his influence, his power and strength and even more of his great mercy. Tradition tells that he saw a cloud symbolic of life-giving rain, the life-giving form of the mother of the Messiah. The ideals and the way of life left by Elijah should be fulfilled in his followers, the Carmelites. Mary fulfilled it perfectly in her life. When we do say 'yes' to the Word of God or when we are positive towards the challenges, all of us can be the grandsons or granddaughters of a great grandpa- Elijah. Let Elijah's' mission be fulfilled in us and continue through us to the generations to come.