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Feastday/Memorial Mass Readings   

Feastday – 20thJuly

Scripture presents the prophet Elijah as a man of God, walking continually in God’s presence and fiercely defending the worship of the one true God. The hermits who came to live there and became The Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel drew inspiration from Elijah.

St Elijah as a zealous man of God who was eager to do the work of God.  At this time, the people were given to idolatry and were worshiping false gods.  Ahab was king of Israel (1Kings 16:29).  He married Jezebel, a Sidonian princess, and began to serve her god Baal and to worship him.  He built altars and temples to Baal in Samaria, provoking the anger of God.

At this time, God was preparing Elijah to be his voice to the people who were sinning so gravely against Him.  Elijah went through a series of events which led up to his big work, in fighting the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel.  God sent him on a retreat of sorts to prepare him for his work and taught him to rely on God's providence alone for his physical and spiritual sustenance.  God brought about a drought on the land, and sent Elijah to the wadi (river) Cherith, east of the Jordan.  Here he was fed by the ravens and given water to drink from the stream. (1 Kings 17:2-6)   The feeding of Elijah by the raven is a 'type' for the feeding of mankind with the Eucharist.  God himself provides the heavenly food, brought down from heaven to sustain us spiritually.  This image showing Elijah receiving food from the raven was used during the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin as a symbol of how we must be attentive to the contemplative side of the Eucharist, to the dialogue of communion, the mystery of love, faith and hope into which it leads participants.  So when we receive the Eucharist, the bread of life we contemplate on the wonderful sacrifice of Christ in giving us His body as spiritual nourishment at every celebration of the Eucharist. (more on IEC 2012)

From here the Lord sent him to Zarephath, in Sidon.  Here he met a widow, and performed a miracle of multiplication of grain & oil, trusting that the Lord would provide.  He also petitioned for the life of the widow's dead son who was brought back to life.  Elijah was truly a man of God, and the parallels between the miracles that God performed through him as very similar to the type of miracles that Christ performed during his ministry on earth.

Jezebel during this time was openly slaughtering the prophets of the Lord.  Obadiah, the master of the palace who was a God-fearing man, placed the prophets in a cave and secretly fed them.  Elijah met Obadiah and told him to announce to Ahab that he was there.  Elijah presented himself to Ahab who accused him of bringing Israel to ruin.  However, Elijah replied that it was Ahab himself and his family that was destroying Israel because they had deserted the Lord God and given themselves to idolatry.

Elijah proposed a contest between the Baal and the Lord God of Israel, to prove that the Lord is God.  Both Elijah and the prophets of Baal were to erect altars, with timber and a slaughtered bull, and to call down fire to consume the offering from their respective gods.  The people agreed to the context.  The prophets of Baal prepared the offering and began to call down fire on it from their god.  They cried and cried, and danced and mutilated themselves as was the custom of their Baal worship.  Elijah mocked them, saying that they must call louder as their god must be away on a journery, or busy or asleep and had not yet heard them.  But they received nothing.  (1 Kings 18:20-29)

Then was Elijah's turn.  He reconstructed the altar of the Lord, placed the timber and bull upon it, but he also had a trench dug around the altar, and ordered that the entire offering be drenched with water until the trench was filled.  Then he said: 'O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let them know today that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, that I have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, Lord, answwer me, so that this people may know that you, the Lord, are God and are winning back their hearts.'

At this, the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the offering and the people fell to their faces saying: 'The Lord is God.'

Elijah then proceeded to slaughter all the prophets of Baal.  He sent Ahab away and went to the top of Mount Carmel to await the rain.

When he ridiculed the Prophets of Baal and showed their god up as being false, he gained many enemies.  Queen Jezebel wanted him dead, so he ran away in fear.  Elijah at this point was in crisis.  He had fulfilled the Lord's commands yet he was persecuted.  He entered a dark night akin to the dark night of St John of the Cross.  He was despairing so much that he wished himself dead.  However, the Lord is in all and sustained him with food to bring him to the Holy Mountain, Mt Horeb, where he would receive his spiritual sustenance after a period of silent prayer.  There, at the mouth of the cave he had hid in, he found the presence of the Lord in the sound of a gentle breeze.  The Lord had quietened his soul throughout his dark night of suffering, the 40 day journey to Mt Horeb and the time spent in the cave alone and in fear, so that he would be able to hear the gentle voice of the Lord speaking to him.  In the silence of his heart he found the presence of the Lord. 

It is in this temple of the Holy Spirit that we too are called every day to find the presence of Christ.  God has put the Spirit of His Son into our hearts so that we may call out 'Abba Father' at any time and find him  However, it the the trick of finding inner silence that allows us to actually hear Him that we must learn.  We can always look to Elijah and all of the other Carmelite saints to help us learn this trick, as they are the experts in finding the presence of the Lord through prayer.  It is only when we find His presence within, that we are able to say with Elijah: 'I am filled with jealous zeal for the Lord God Sabaoth' and go forth to serve Him as His servant Elijah did.

2012 (c) Fionnuala Kane