Mount Carmel, rising above the modern port city of Haifa, has been considered a sacred area for thousands of years.
Of the various events that happened on Mt. Carmel, perhaps the best known is the contest between Elijah defending worship of Yahweh and the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:18-40).
(In a very loose paraphrase) Elijah said, “Let’s settle this. You bring all your Baal prophets to Carmel and we’ll see who is the true God – your 450 Baal prophets to just one of me. We’ll each prepare a young bull for sacrifice, but don’t light the fire.”
The Baal prophets prophesied from morning to evening, but no fire appeared. In the evening, Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord (previously destroyed). He then said, ” Fill four jars of water and pour it over the sacrifice.” When that was done, Elijah said, “Pour the water a second time, then a third time.” By that time, the sacrifice area was brimming over with water. Elijah said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, let it be known that you are God of Israel, and that I am your servant and do this at your word. Hear me that the people will know you are God and return to you.” The fire of the Lord came down and consumed the sacrifice, and the people returned to the Lord.
Even in earliest times, the caves of Mt. Carmel were places of refuge. Fast forward to the Christian era. Of the hermits living in Mt. Carmel’s cave, those would be become antecedents (if you can apply that word to people) of the Carmelite order claimed Elijah as their founder and had a devotion to the Blessed Virgin. (Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, should be a name familiar to Rochester readers.) The earliest definitive indication of the Carmelite order is a letter from the Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1206 to 1214.
The order began a transition from completely contemplative to being more active, but had difficulties gaining acceptance at first, and prayed for Mary’s intercession. In 1251, Mary, holding a scapular, appeared to St. Simon Stock and said that anyone wearing one at death would not “suffer eternal fire.”
To my non-Catholic readers, that might sound a bit odd. In fact, Catholics’ relationship to Mary sounds more than a little odd. It’s important to remember that Mary always points to Jesus, and Jesus to His Father. The more I’ve learned about Mary, the more my own spiritual life has grown stronger. The second part is that objects like the scapular, which are called sacramentals, are reminders of the need for constant prayer.
Back to the late 1300s, where sometime between 1376 and 1386 the Carmelite order received approval for their order. The order’s feast day was set on July 16, the date of Mary’s apparition to St. Simon Stock.
In the general Church calendar, today is an optional memorial using Marian readings. For Carmelites, it is their patronal feast day. (okay, so that’s from the Redundant Department of Redundancy, but my brain is fried already.) If you know any Carmelites, wish them a happy feast day.