The Significance of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the History of Opus Dei and the Church: Footprints in the Snow

Precis:

De-clericalizing the Priesthood. It was Our Lady of Mt. Carmel who awoke St. Josemaria to his priestly vocation – and that of all sons and daughters of the Church so as to cast off the  impurity of the present secularized acedia (supernatural sloth) that  has us entrapped in lukewarmness.

 Wear the scapular: the cloak of Elijah.

 

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

 

It is important to see that the contest between the solitary faith of the prophet Elijah and the unbelieving king of Israel – Ahab – is preceded by the formation of the land of Samaria – which is a land of unbelief. And yet, in the Gospels, the two most outstanding protagonists of faith in the teaching of Jesus Christ come from Samaria and are Samaritans: the woman at the well, and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus shows that although both are portrayed as infidel, there is sincerity (woman at the well) and mercy (Good Samaritan)  – privileged virtues in the eyes of Jesus Christ in contrast to the Jews who have sought themselves within the letter of the law [the apparent “faithful”]. Grave teaching for the righteous and orthodox among us today who reduce the truth of the living God to mere doctrine and morality. Jesus wants to teach the reality of faith as the gift of the whole self to the Transcendent Creator and Redeemer.

The Scriptural narrative for today’s Office of Readings [Monday of 15th Sunday, yet “providentially apposite for the feast of JULY 16th] tells of the evil done by Ahab, the king of Israel, evil worse than all the kings before him. To boot, he married Jezebel: “And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah.[1] Ahab did more to  provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”[2]

 

All Israel was trapped in the sinfulness of impurity, if not in deed, yes in ideology. It could not shake loose from the entrapment of impurity, normal and abnormal, under the rubric of the god, Baal. Baal was considered a fertility deity and one of the most important gods in the pantheon. “He” was the god –  Lord of Rain and Dew, the two forms of moisture that were indispensable for fertility soil in Canaan. I say “all” with regard to Israel, because the text of 1 Kings 18  reads that “Ahab (King of Israel) came to meet Elijah as the only person of faith in all  Israel. Ahab confronts Eliijah with “Is it you, you disturber of Israel?” and Elijah responds “It is not I who disturb Israel but you and your family, by forsaking the commands of the Lord and following the Baals.” Recall that the Jews are the followers of Abraham to the land of Egypt who prosper there, but they are slaves and released by the Lord as His People under the leadership of Moses. They are formed as a people by crossing the desert and given the Law of God to live precisely as a People. They were to cross the Jordan and take the land that was promised them full of false gods. They weaken, and as we see them here, they have lost faith and are trapped in sexual promiscuity, and because of that, lost faith in God. Enter the demon-god, Baal.[3]

Only one man-prophet remains:Elijah who is contentious with Ahab. 1Kings 18 reads: 17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?”

18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of [c]Asherah, who [d]eat at Jezebel’s table.”

This is the great moment. Elijah is not afraid to challenge the status quo. Everyone is tinged with impurity. The keen perception of conscience has been dulled. Evrerybody is doing it. Why rock the boat. But the point is that Elijah sees.

Elijah’s Mount Carmel Victory

20 So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel,[4] and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.[5] 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. 23 Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. 24 Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.”

So all the people answered and said, [e]“It is well spoken.”

25 Now Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull for yourselves and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.

26 So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, “O Baal, [f]hear us!” But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they [g]leaped about the altar which they had made.

27 And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry [h]aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with [i]knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. 29 And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. 31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32 Then with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord; and he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, “Fill four waterpots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood.” 34 Then he said, “Do ita second time,” and they did it a second time; and he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35 So the water ran all around the altar; and he also filled the trench with water.

36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.

37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.

40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

41 And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.

42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees,

43 And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times.

44 And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down that the rain stop thee not.

45 And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.

46 And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.”

 

Significance of the Carmelite Spirituality on St. Josemaria Escriva: Priesthood as Living Faith

 

Walking in the streets of Logrogno, Spain in December, 1917 or January 1918 – during Christmas vacations, Josemaria Escriva “came upon prints In the snow made by bare feet. His curiosity piqued, he stopped and stared at those white imprints so obviously left by one of the Discalced Carmelite fathers. Moved to the very depths of his soul, he asked himself, ‘If others can make such sacrifices for God and neighbor, can’t I offer him something?’”[6]

The footprints had been made by Father Jose Miguel. Following that snowy trail, the boy sought out the Carmelite for spiritual direction. He now had, very deep inside, ‘a divine restlessness’ that moved him to a more intense life of piety, manifested in prayer, mortification, and daily Communion. ‘When I was scarcely an adolescent our Lord cast into my heart a seed burning with love.’

This sharp change w as, however, just a brief prelude to greater demands o the part of our Lord:

“I began to have intimations [inklings] of Love, to realize that my heasrt was asking for something great, nd that it was love… I didn’t know what God wanted of me, but it ws evident that I had been chosen for something. What this was would come later… Realizing, at the same time, my own inadequacies, I made up that litany which is a matter not of false humility but of self-knowledge: ‘I am worth nothing, I have nothing, I can do nothing, I am noting, I know nothing…’[7]

He was set on fire with love, yet at the same left in the dark. By the light of our Lord’s grace he could see that he had been chosen, but for what remained obscure…

Looking back,he could see that from the very morning when he saw hose footprints in the snow, something had been leading him directly toward Love…

“Our lady of Mount Carmel was pushing me to become a priest. Until I was sixteen years old, dear Mother, I would have laughed at any one who said I would one day be wearing a cassock. It happened all of a sudden, when I saw that some Carmelite friar had walked barefoot in the snow… How obligated you are, sweet Virgin of the Kisses, to lead me by the hand like a little child of yours…

“Jesus undoubtedly wanted me to cry out from within my darkness, like the blind man in the Gospel. And I cried out for years, without knowing what I was asking for. And I shouted many times the prayer ‘Ut sint’ [Let it be!] which seemed to be a request for a new being.”[8]

“Wll this was obvioiusly not the result of a chance encounter with the footprints of a discalced friar. These was noting accien tal about this encounter, as Josemaria well knew. It was a gft from God. Therfore his commitment  had to be a total self-giving, without asking fro a proof or extraordinary sign. And immediately, after he made it, he began receiving an outpouring of graces that shortly brought his soul to a state of manifest maturity, to judge by his spirit ual director’s invit a tion to him.

“It was not, however, to religious life that God was calling him. He soon saw this clearly, and said so to the Carmelite….

“For years, starting back when my vocation first came about in Logrongno, I constantly had on my lips, as an aspiration, ‘Domine, ut videam!’ [Lord, that I may see!]. Iwas convinced that God wanted me for something, even though I didn’t know what the something was. I am certain that I expressed this several times to Aunt Cruz (Sister Maria de Jesus Crucificado) in ltters that I wsent her at ther convent in Juesca. The first time I ever mediataed on the passage in Saint Mark about the blind man whom Jesus crued, the passage where Christ asks himk, ‘What do you want me to do rfor you?’ and he answers, ‘Rabboni, ut videam’ [Lord, that I might see], this phrase became deeply engraved in my mind. And despite the fact that I (like the blind man) was told by many to keep quiet… I went on saying and writing, without knowing why,’Ut bideam! Domine, tu videam!; and at other times. ‘Ut sit! Let me see, Lord, let me see. And let it be.’

But, as Vazquez de Prada writes, this was basically a “base of operations.” Because on October 2, 1928, he is given the vocation to found Opus Dei which is the priestly vocation that is the identification to become “another Christ,” “Christ Himself” as self-gift to the Father and to all men. Priesthood means mediation, and the mediator –as in Christ – is the self giving, and the mediated is Christ. The giver is the self; and the given is the self. St. Josemaria will later write that we are “priests of our own existence.” And the only place to understand that is Hebrews 9, 11-14 where Jesus Christ – God/man – enters into the presence of the Father not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with His own Blood. This is St. Paul’s account of what it means to be “Son.” As “Father” is the action of engendering Son, Son is the action of obeying and adoring Father. The meaning of “Father” and “Son” as revealed by Christ as One (“I and the Father are one” [Jn. 10, 30]) and yet Distinct Persons (“The Father is greater than I [Jn. 14, 28]). Father, Son and Spirit are “One God” because each distinct Person is Relation.

So, what was being poured into Escriva was the Christian anthropology of Priesthood that is the same for every human person created in the image and likeness of the Son, incarnate in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ, extolled and lived by the first Christians, articulated by the Fathers of the Church and developed for the ending of the second millennium and beginning of the third in Vatican II. It is new and old.

For the “OLD” besides  Hebrews 9, there is the 5th c. Father, St. Peter Crysologus.[9] For the “NEW”, Luman Gentium #10.[10]  Therefore this date of July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is highly significant for Opus Dei and for the Church since it harkens back to Escriva’s abrupt vocation to the priesthood, but not as clerical – as religious or secular – but as the physiognomy of Jesus Christ, God/man, Gift of self and, as such, mediator of his own life and existence. Hence, the vocation of every man and woman is priestly forming a priestly people of God

[1] An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother-goddess Asherah, consort of El.

[2] Kiings, 1, 16, 31.

[3] Baalgod worshipped in many ancient Middle Eastern communities, especially among the Canaanites, who apparently considered him a fertility deity and one of the most important gods in the pantheon. … He was also called the Lord of Rain and Dew, the two forms of moisture that were indispensable for fertile soil in Canaan.

 

[4] Note the extent of the collapse of faith in the Lord. It was the whole of Israel, and Elijah was the lone believer.The problem is not the external formality of the faith and morals, but the inner adherence to the Person Who is the Revelation of the Father. Consider Francis in Evangelii Gaudium #39: ‘Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All the virtues are at the service of the response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is beig preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have ‘the fragrance of te Gospel.’”

[5] Notice they are afraid to expose themselves. Everybody is doing it

[6] Vazquez de Prada “The Founder of Opus Dei”, Vol. I,  Spanish original 1997 (69-73).

[7] Meditation of 19 March 1975

[8] Idem. Footnotes to p. 70.

[9] From a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus, bishop – d. 450 : “Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest I appeal to you by the mercy of God. This appeal is made by Paul, or rather, it is made by God through Paul, because of God’s desire to be loved rather than feared, to be a father rather than a Lord. God appeals to us in his mercy to avoid having to punish us in his severity.

Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no loss to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.

Listen now to what the Apostle urges us to do. I appeal to you, he says, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status.

How marvellous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

The Apostle says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Brethren, this sacrifice follows the pattern of Christ’s sacrifice by which he gave his body as a living immolation for the life of the world. He really made his body a living sacrifice, because, though slain, he continues to live. In such a victim death receives its ransom, but the victim remains alive. Death itself suffers the punishment. This is why death for the martyrs is actually a birth, and their end a beginning. Their execution is the door to life, and those who were thought to have been blotted out from the earth shine brilliantly in heaven.

Paul says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy. The prophet said the same thing: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me. Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.

 

 

[10] 10. Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men,(100) made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”.(101) The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.(102) Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.(104) Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.(105)

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

 

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