Mt. Carmel. It is an amazing place. A mountain resting against the edges of the Mediterranean Sea, it is surrounded by water, and overlooks the harbor which is now cradled by the citizens of Haifa. When on top of the mountain, you feel as if you can see everything you need to see.
Mt. Carmel is significant in Biblical literature for many reasons, but especially because of the prophet Elijah. The ascent to Mt. Carmel is filled with small caves. The Bible, in 1Kings 18, says that Elijah hid in these caves to escape from King Ahab. Legend has it that since the time of Elijah, there have always been hermits who have lived in these caves, meditating on God’s wisdom, in the tradition of Elijah. In the 13th century, these hermits were organized into a religious community by St. Baronius. The religious community became known as the Carmelites. They are still very prominent in the Church both in men and women religious societies. It is clear why hermits, and men and women of religious contemplation, would chose Mt. Carmel as a place to meditate, when on top of the mountain, you feel as if you can see everything you need to see.
The Bible also has a story that takes place on the mountain between the priests of the god Baal and the prophet Elijah. They had a “God-duel” to see whose god was real. The real god had to consume a sacrificial wood pile with fire, without the assistance of human intervention. The priests of Baal did their best, but nothing happened. To mock them, Elijah poured water over his own sacrificial wood pile before beseeching God to start the fire. God came in the fire, and even consumed the wood of the priests of Baal. By this, the God of Israel was glorified and many had come to believe in him. The people had seen everything they needed to see.
At the top of the mountain, sits the Carmelite monastery where the monks who follow the tradition of Elijah still reside. They have a beautiful church. I wanted to go to this church so that I could tell a good story about it to the students at Carmel High School in Mundelein, IL. I have given retreats there the last several years and intend to again. I thought it would be good if I could relate something specifically for them. I entered, and having the time to sit and meditate, I recited the rosary. I then got out my camera and began to take pictures, and even though other people were taking pictures before me, and there were no signs to say that we couldn’t, the nice man at the door decided to throw me out of the church for taking pictures. I guess I had seen everything that I needed to see.
To see the four pictures of the church that I was able to take before getting kicked out, the caves along the mountain where the hermits in the tradition of Elijah remained, and other pictures from the day, you will first need Google Earth downloaded onto your computer. Then click here.
I headed down the mountain into Haifa where I knew that a Latin Mass would be held at 6:00 PM. On my way I saw several caves, and saw the place which is said to be THE cave in which Elijah remained when he escaped King Ahab. The cave is revered by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Since it is Friday, and the Jewish population is, in general, preparing for the Sabbath, the cave was closed. I considered jumping the fence to take pictures of the cave, but figured getting thrown out of one place was enough for one day, I didn’t want to get thrown out of Israel too.
Heading into Haifa brought me to the garden of the Bahai temple. The Bahai movement is a religion which seeks the unification of all mankind, and all religions. I know only a little about the religion, but everywhere they have a temple, they always have very nice gardens.
Finally, I made it to Mass at St. Joseph’s in Haifa. The Mass was full, but I was also shocked to see Greek Orthodox priests in the Mass. I found out that they were there to celebrate the month of May as Mary’s month in unity with the Catholics. Their presence was a very beautiful sign of hope for the reunification of the Churches.
I also met a parishioner who helped me let go of my bitter feelings about getting kicked out of yet another church earlier in the day. When we learn to bless our persecutors, we have truly learned the peace that Christ wants us to have. It is not easy, but reconciliation must be sought in all cases. But of course, in the conversation we were having, we were discussing the bigger issues facing Israeli Palestines, not irate Carmelite monks.
A mountain, a church, caves, ocean, Bahai, Greek Orthodox, Mary, Mass, and reconciliation. All in Haifa. I think I’ve seen everything I’ve needed to see.