On the history and spirit of Carmel
Elijah stands before God’s face because all of his love belongs to the Lord. He lives outside all natural human relationships. We hear nothing of his father and mother, nothing of a wife or child. His “relatives” are those who do the will of the Father as he does: Elisha, whom God has designated as his successor, and the “sons of the prophets,” who follow him as their leader. Glorifying God is his joy. His zeal to serve God tears him apart: “I am filled with jealous zeal for the Lord, the God of hosts” (1 Kgs 19:10,14; these words were used as a motto on the shield of the Order). By living penitentially, he atones for the sins of his time. The offense that the misguided people give to the Lord by their manner of worship hurts him so much that he wants to die. And the Lord consoles him only as he consoles his especially chosen ones: He himself appears to Elijah on a lonely mountain, reveals himself in soft rustling after a thunderstorm, and announces his will to him in clear words.
The prophet, who serves the Lord in complete purity of heart and completely stripped of everything earthly, is also a model of obedience. He stands before God’s face like the angels before the eternal throne, awaiting God’s sign, always ready to serve. Elijah has no other will than the will of his Lord. When God bids, he goes before the king and fearlessly risks giving him bad news that must arouse the king’s hatred. When God wills it, he leaves the country at the threat of violence; but he also returns at God’s command, though the danger has not disappeared.
Anyone who is so unconditionally faithful to God can also be certain of God’s faithfulness. He is permitted to speak “as someone who has power,” may open and close heaven, may command the waters to let him walk through and remain dry, may call down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice, to execute punishment on God’s enemies, and may breathe new life into a dead person. We see the Savior’s predecessor provided with all the graces that he has promised to his own. And the greatest crown is still in reserve for Elijah: Before the eyes of his true disciple, Elisha, he is carried off in a fiery carriage to a secret place far from all human abodes. According to the testimony of the Book of Revelation, he will return near the end of the world to suffer a martyr’s death for his Lord in the battle against the Antichrist.
On his feast, which we celebrate on July 20, the priest goes to the altar in red vestments. On this day the monastery of our friars on Mount Carmel, the site of Elijah’s grotto, is the goal of mighty bands of pilgrims. Jews, Moslems, and Christians of all denominations vie in honoring the great prophet. We remember him in the liturgy on still another day, in the epistle and preface of the Feast of Mount Carmel, as we usually call the feast of the scapular. On this day we give thanks that our dear Lady has clothed us with the “garment of salvation.” The events providing the occasion for this feast did not occur until much later in the Western world. In the year 1251 [according to tradition] the Blessed Virgin appeared to the general of the Order, Simon Stock, an Englishman, and gave him the scapular.5 But the preface reminds us that it was our dear Lady of Mount Carmel who bestowed this visible sign of her motherly protection on her children far from the original home of the Order. It was she who manifested herself to the prophet Elijah in the form of a little rain cloud and for whom the sons of the prophets built the first shrine on Mount Carmel. The legend of the Order tells us that the Mother of God would have liked to remain with the hermit brothers on Mount Carmel. We can certainly understand that she felt drawn to the place where she had been venerated through the ages and where the holy prophet had lived in the same spirit that also filled her from the time her earthly sojourn began. Released from everything earthly, to stand in worship in the presence of God, to love him with her whole heart, to beseech his grace for sinful people, and in atonement to substitute herself for these people, as the maidservant of the Lord to await his beckoning—this was her life.
Saint Edith Stein
On the History and Spirit of Carmel (excerpt)
Sunday, 31 March 1935
Stein, E. 2014, The Hidden Life: hagiographic essays, meditations, spiritual texts, translated from the German by Stein, W, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Featured image: De hemelvaart van Elia is an oil painting that was executed on wood panel in 1627 by Dutch artist David Colijns. As Elijah ascends to heaven in the fiery chariot, you can see Elisha in the foreground. We read the story of Elijah’s ascent into heaven in 2 Kings 2:1-12.
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.