Feeling a little subdued by (or furious at) the unfolding drama of the presidential race? Wondering how to handle the latest political news? Never fear: the Church always has the answer, lovingly drawn from her store of treasures, old and new.
During this week of the Republican National Convention, our mother, the Church, is not distracted from her busy life of fasting and feasting, and so it happens that, coinciding with the third day of our interesting American spectacle is the Feast (Solemnity, even!) of the prophet St. Elijah, celebrated with a proper liturgy in the Carmelite Order on July 20th.
Since you may not have the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours at your fingertips (though you can have it so, here) I’m happy to provide for you, from the Office of Readings for St. Elijah’s feast, the answer you’ve been longing for—though you may not have known you were longing—the solution to your political woes. If you are not politically woeful, I congratulate you on your detachment…but still, you may be interested in this beautiful and instructive passage from Pope Saint Gregory the Great. No doubt, he too had some depressing politics to deal with in his day…
About Pope Saint Gregory, Pope Benedict said in 2008, “Notwithstanding the many duties connected to his office as the Bishop of Rome, he left to us numerous works, from which the Church in successive centuries has drawn with both hands. Besides the important correspondence . . . he left us writings of an exegetical character, among which . . . the Homilies on Ezekiel and the Homilies on the Gospel stand out.”
Here, then, from his Homilies on Ezekiel, is the wisdom from Saint Gregory which Holy Mother Church offers us, with both hands, this week:
Beloved brothers, we have already learned through our Redeemer’s death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, what the joys of eternity mean, and we know that our fellow-citizens, His angels, have appeared bearing witness to His divinity. Let us therefore long for our King, and for those fellow-citizens we have known. While our feet stand within the walls of His holy Church, let us keep our eyes turned towards the door; let us mentally turn our backs on the corruption of this temporal life; let us keep our hearts facing towards the freedom of our heavenly fatherland. We are still encumbered, it is true, by the many cares of this corruptible life. If then we cannot leave the cave completely, let us at least stand at its mouth, and go out whenever we are granted the favor of doing so by the grace of our Redeemer who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.
My husband and I are third order Discalced Carmelites, which may in part account for the reluctance with which I attend to the modern political scene. This week I am, as I am sure many of you are, in the midst of this scene, surrounded by news of the Republican presidential nomination. Thankfully, I have to console me the doctrine of my “holy father” in Carmel, St. John of the Cross. I love to remember his advice in the Spiritual Canticle, stanza 28 in particular, where he defends Mary at the feet of Our Lord (as our Lord Himself did in last Sunday’s gospel). The Mystical Doctor says there: “Martha thought that she herself was doing all the work, and that Mary, because she was enjoying the Lord’s presence, was doing nothing [Luke 10: 39-41]. Yet since there is no greater or more necessary work than love, the contrary is true.” Best of all, he explains, “A little of this pure love [found in prayer and the union with God in this life that it makes possible] is more precious to God and the soul, and more beneficial to the Church, even though it seems one is doing nothing, than all these other works put together.”
Put into the context of history, we don’t have it as bad as we like to think. Elijah, himself, for instance, faced some pretty tough odds—a king and his queen were after the poor man, he had to contend with an enormous lot of priests of Baal, his job was to pray for drought (which did not help his relationship with the king)—and as if all this were not enough, he had his own seemingly depressive disposition to deal with. At a certain point he “went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” In answer to Elijah’s prayer, God sent an angel who touched him and told him to eat, twice, then sent him “strengthened by that food” on a forty day and night trek to the mountain of God, Horeb, where God then spoke to him, not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in a tiny whispering sound. In reaction to all this drama, “Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.” This is the passage from the First Book of Kings, chapter 19, upon which St. Gregory is commenting above (these Doctors of the Church tend to know Scripture inside and out, and it’s an easy transition from Ezekiel to Kings when one is on fire with the Holy Spirit), and it concludes with a voice asking, “Elijah, why are you here?” to which the prophet answers, “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord, God of hosts.”
So for those of us who are having a bit of a time with the political dramas of our own day, let us give ourselves (and the world) a break, turn off the news, tear our eyes away from the internet, go to the mouth of the cave (or in our room where we can shut the door) and spend a few minutes in remembrance of the Mysteries which save us. If you don’t know where to start, another Carmelite—one who will be canonized October 16—will be glad to help you.
As I said, the Church always has the answer. Thanks, mom!