Wednesday July 16, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Reading I (Kings 18:42b-45a) Reading II (Galatians 4:4-7)
Gospel (St. John 19:25-27)
Today as we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we recall that this mountain of Carmel (which is really a 26-mile long mountain range up in the northwestern part of Israel) is the place that people were dedicated to Our Lady from hundreds of years before Our Lady was even born. Because the people of Israel recognized that the Messiah was going to be born of a woman and born under the law, as Saint Paul told us, to redeem from the law those who were subjected to it, there were hermits that lived in the caves on Mount Carmel for hundreds of years and they were devoted to the future Mother of the Redeemer.
It goes all the way back to the prophet Elijah. That is why we heard that first reading of Elijah climbing up Mount Carmel and looking out at the sea. If you look at a map of Israel, the western edge of the mountain of Carmel is at a place that is called Haifa. You go right up the Mediterranean Coast; it is just that little part that sticks out into the water. That is where Mount Carmel is and that is where Elijah climbed up to see that after three years the drought was going to be ended, a symbol of the fact that for thousands of years people had been waiting for the Messiah. Now finally the Messiah was about to come, and He was going to be born of a woman. So it was a symbol of the drought and the rain that came to end the drought. Our Lady is seen in the symbol of the cloud; Jesus, of course, being the rain that falls to water the parched ground – which is our hearts and our souls – to fill us with the grace that God has brought to us through Him for our salvation.
Because of the fact that He is born under the law, these men were on this mountain praying for the woman who would be the one who would give birth to the Messiah. And in fulfillment of all of their hopes, we are told in Saint Matthew’s Gospel that when they returned to Nazareth from Egypt they went by a different route. They did not want to go through Jerusalem because that was where Herod’s son, the king, was, and so they steered away from there. They went up along the Mediterranean Coast and that would bring them right to Mount Carmel. Then if you turn inward from Mount Carmel, you go directly to Nazareth. At that point, then, Our Lady stopped at Mount Carmel to show to the hermits who were living there the Messiah whom they had been longing for and to show herself as the woman for whom they had been praying for all of these hundreds of years as they prepared Israel for their Messiah.
So too for us, she always brings us to the mystical mountain, that is, to Jesus Christ Who is the Mountain Whom we are to climb to be in union with God. She is also the one whom Our Lord has given us, as we heard in the Gospel reading, to be our mother. So it is not merely that the Messiah was born of a woman and born under the law, but it was to free those who were subject to the law. As Saint Paul makes very clear in the reading where he talks about the two different mothers, talking about Hagar and Sarah, that one is the slave woman and one is the free woman, he tells us that we are children of the free woman. This is critical because we too would be subject to the law except that Jesus, on the Cross, gave us His mother. We then have the freedom of the children of God because we have for a mother the one who is the Mother of God and thereby we are incorporated into the Son of God. We are then children of God and children of Mary, freed from the law so that the law that we have to live under is a new law, that is, a law of love, not a love of subjection any longer.
The commandment of Jesus is a very simple one: to love. That is the call that is ours. And the way that we learn to love more perfectly than any other way is to go to Our Lady, who will bring us to her Son. She is the one who loved Jesus perfectly. She is the one who will form us. She only had one Son, so she knows how to form only one Person. She will form each one of us into the perfect image and likeness of her Son, which means that she will teach us how to love perfectly.
And so we need to turn to her. We need to be like those hermits from Mount Carmel who were devoted, not only to the future Messiah, but to the Mother of the Messiah. We need to turn to this extraordinary woman and ask her to form us to be true children of God so that on the day we are called from this life we will have been made perfectly into the image of Jesus Christ and we will be prepared to enter into the fullness of life which is symbolized by Mount Carmel, the glorious union with God which is not only possible for eternity but is possible even in this life, to have complete union with Jesus Christ. The only way to do that is in and through His mother. So if we are willing to enter into her heart and enter into her maternal womb to be able to be formed there, then we too can be another Christ and we can be united with Christ in the Immaculate Heart of His Blessed Mother.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.