Novena Day 8: Cloud of Mount Carmel
“Elijah said to his servant, “Go up [Mount Carmel] and look out to the sea.” He went up and looked and reported, “There is nothing.” Seven times Elijah said, “Look again.” The Seventh time the youth reported, “There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.” – 1 Kings 18:43-44
If you look up the word ‘typology’ in the dictionary, one of the definitions will be about finding an Old Testament antecedent for a New Testament image. For example, the three days Jonah spent inside the whale is a similar ‘type’ of story as the three days Christ spent inside the tomb. Or the manna of Moses is a ‘type’ for the Eucharist. Or the flight through the Red Sea in the Exodus from Egypt is a ‘type’ for baptism. The early Christians loved to find these types.
The early Carmelites took this practice to an extreme. In the passage from 1 Kings above, what did those early Carmelites see in the “cloud as small as a man’s hand”? They saw Mary! That little cloud was a prefigurement or an antecedent for Mary. In other words, the prophet Elijah had an experience or a premonition 950 years before the birth of Mary of Mary. There is a lot of old Carmelite art depicting this; namely, Mary appearing inside a cloud to the prophet Elijah as he stands on Mount Carmel. Whitefriars Hall, our seminary in Washington, DC, was remodeled in the early 1990s and the stained glass window, newly created for the remodeled chapel, depicts this scene. Even new Carmelite art uses this image. Yes, ask any Carmelite anywhere in the world what Elijah saw in the cloud and that friar or nun will say, “Mary!” But ask anybody else and they will say, “Huh?”.
What this image (Mary in the cloud) tells us is 1) pray even if it looks like your prayers are being ignored and 2) wait for it, it will come. In the above passage from 1 Kings, Elijah is praying that the drought, which he had called upon Israel would end. And he’s looking for the rain (actually he has his servant look) to show up. It doesn’t. So he prays and then looks. Nothing. So he prays some more and then looks. Nothing. He’s probably pretty discouraged by now, but he keeps it up, and on the seventh go-around (finally!) a small cloud shows up. But that’s enough for Elijah and he runs down the mountain to warn everybody that it’s going to rain. This tells us that God answers our prayers, but in God’s way and on God’s schedule. Yes, 1) keep praying and 2) it will come.
And what about Mary in all this? Well, she tells us how prayer works. Her “fiat!” tells us that we need to be open to our prayers being answered according to God’s will and not our’s. Her patience (I.e., she pondered all these things in her heart) and Elijah’s patience tells us to be open to God’s schedule and not demand our’s. Her “do whatever he tells you” tells us to unite our deeds, our prayer, and our confidence to Jesus.
As to Mary in that cloud? Well, let’s keep that just between you and me. Hey, it’s a Carmelite thing.
Novena Prayer composed by St. Simon Stock
O most beautiful Flower of Mt. Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of Heaven, Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in this my necessity. O Star of the Sea, help me and show me herein you are my Mother.
O Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, I humbly beseech you from the bottom of my heart, to succor me in this my necessity, there are none that can withstand your power. O show me herein you are my Mother.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us that have recourse to thee. (3 times)