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St. Elias (Elijah)

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“With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of host… He lives in whose presence I stand” (1 Kings 19:10; 18:15). These were the ringing words of a brave and inspired man who lived in the 9th century before Christ. St. Elias spoke them to his fellow Israelites who wanted to play it safe by following both Yahweh and the false god, Baal. He challenged the priests of the false god to come to Mount Carmel, and to see who could call down fire from Heaven on their sacrifices. The god who would answer is the true God. “Agreed!” said all the people. Well, we know the outcome. It was Yahweh who answered the prayer of Elias, and sent fire on his sacrifice and so strengthened the faith of his people that the God of Israel is the true God.

While Elias was the champion of the true God to his people, his life also teaches us about prayer. After his defeat of the priests of the false god, Baal, and the promise of revenge from Queen Jezebel, Elias fled for his life. He was so discouraged that he wanted to die. God sent his angel to nourish him with mysterious bread. On the strength of this bread he walked 40 days until he reached Mount Horeb. The early Church Fathers saw in this bread a prophetic symbol of the Eucharist which gives Christians the strength and courage to continue their journey to Eternal Life.

When he came to Mount Horeb, Elias prayed to Yahweh in the silence of a cave. Thunder and lightening came, then a terrible wind that ripped rocks off the mountain. But God was not in any of these signs of power. Then there came the sound of a very soft breeze. Elias knew that God was in this peaceful silence. We need to make our hearts silent and peaceful so we can hear the whisperings of God in our hearts.

God gave His faithful prophet Elias the gift of prayer, as the following example shows. When the land of Israel had suffered a drought for three years, Elias climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and prayed fervently for his people. Finally, he saw a small cloud rise from the sea, which brought the rain so needed to revive the land. The early Carmelites saw in this small cloud a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary who would bear the Saviour of the world.

St. Elias has always been such a model to Carmelites that he is considered a spiritual father to the Order. Carmelite spirituality strives to live in the presence of God, as Elias did. He was a man ardent for God, and He lived for him alone. St. Elias also sought God in prayer and contemplation in solitude and silence. All these ideals of Carmel are well portrayed by this fascinating prophet of the Old Testament.

The feast day of St. Elias is celebrated by the Carmelite Order on July 20th.