On July 16th, we celebrate Our Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I have fond childhood memories of attending the Carmelite novena at the Carmelite Monastery in Clayton, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, and as I learn more about this title of Mary, I can see a common theme in my own life.
Mount Carmel, in the Old Testament, was the site of the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-45). It’s a story that gets repeated over and over again in Scripture: God’s people gradually drift away from God and begin to worship Baal, a false god. Baal has 450 prophets and Elijah is the only one of God’s prophets. They set an altar and see whose god will come down and light the fire on the altar: Baal, or the God of Israel. Of course, Baal doesn’t respond to his prophets, but the Lord sends down fire when Elijah prays that Israel might turn back to God again.
Fast forward to the 12th and 13th centuries: the Christian hermits living on Mount Carmel honor the Blessed Virgin by building a chapel in her honor. With the celebration of a special Mass and Office devoted to Mary, they were known as “Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”. From this devotion flowed those we know today as the Carmelites. The Carmelites claim St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux as members of their orders. According to tradition, St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite leader, received the Brown Scapular in an apparition from Mary and told him to spread devotion to it.
While the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Blessed Mother is the focus of this piece, I found my mind going back to the prophet Elijah’s story. There have been times in my life when I can see 20/20 in hindsight that God was working all things for my good. No, it wasn’t always apparent when I was going through what St. John of the Cross calls “a dark night of the soul” but, as I now stand on the other side of the fertility battle, I could look down from the mountaintop and see where God was leading me.
Through every valley, over every hill.
Through the desolate darkness of multiple miscarriages. Through the uncertainty of PCOS, never knowing if I would conceive again. Through multiple surgeries to correct issues that doctors couldn’t figure out. Through a plan to help me become pregnant and sustain pregnancy.
All of which finally found me as the mother of twin boys.
Now, I can think about my fertility journey in much the same way I view salvation history: as a beautiful story of God taking Israel by the hand and leading them to the mountaintop of salvation through Jesus Christ. God shows his love and his power through such events as Elijah on Mount Carmel. While we may never have obvious “mountaintop” experiences in our journey, I know that all points in our lives weave together as one love story leading us to the highest good.
Yes, even the ones we’d rather forget.
Yes, in the biggest crosses we ever face.
And yes, even in the blessings we find along the journey.
Besides my twins, the biggest blessing of this road I have walked is the amazing Body of Christ I have met along the way who sustains and encourages me to run the race of faith every day. So as you reflect on this feast, remember the victories that God has already brought about, as he did at Mount Carmel. Remember that he will bring about victories, even along the dry, dusty deserts of infertility. And remember that Mary, our mother, always journeys with you as a companion and guide to discipleship in Christ.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel,
There are many times on this journey when I'm tempted to give up on God or wander from him, when I question if He's there and even listening. Pray for me, that as the Lord did for Elijah on Mount Carmel, He would do for me now. Pray that He would make his presence known to me, that I too would see, even if just for a moment, that He is God "who answers by fire." Pray for me, for the gift of faith, that I may follow the Lord closely, even in my season of doubt and struggle. As Elijah said "if the Lord is God, follow Him." Our Lady of Mount Carmel, thank you for your example of trusting and following God, even when the road ahead is challenging and uncertain.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us!