Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab: ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.’
For the next three years not a single drop of rain fell on Israel. Let that sink in.
People, livestock, and wild animals died of dehydration or starvation. As the drought continued people had to slaughter their livestock for food (and so slaughtering part of their livelihood); they had to forage for food hoping to find some little plant with meager fruit; they had to dig deeper wells not knowing whether or not they would come upon water lower in the earth. Parents watched their children die; infants sucked at barren breasts crying with no hope of satisfaction.
And, yet, all this was but a reflection of a much more severe drought: a drought of the spirit. The people of Israel (the northern kingdom after the division) had turned their backs on the One Who Is and Who is the All-Sufficient One. They turned their backs on He Who brought them out of Egypt and gave them their inheritance though they deserved nothing He did for them. Under the influence of their kings beginning with the first of the northern kingdom, they abandoned their God. They gave themselves to false gods, to fictions that do not exist. Their hearts within were drier than the land without. Under the influence of that most wicked of women, Jezebel, they did not simply turn to Baal; in addition, the prophets of the one true God were put to the sword. There was a violent revolt against those faithful to Him, the Lord God of hosts. So the Lord gave them what they wanted: a life without Him and His provision for them. But this is not an abandonment on the part of the benevolent One. No, now He is providing what they need most of all: knowledge through experience that He alone is God and He alone is able to provide for them. If they want to worship Baal and receive from it, and put the Lord’s faithful prophets to the sword, then let them see what Baal can provide. The answer, of course, is nothing.
In the third year, the drought became so bitter that even the king with all his provisions and stores had to scour the land for grass that he may not have to slaughter any of his own livestock. That things had come to such a state and the people had not cried out to God for forgiveness and to return to them shows how stiff-necked, stupid, and shallow these people were. I draw attention particularly to the fact that they were shallow because of what event finally brought them to acknowledge the Lord God as the one true God: the contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal (850 if we include the 400 prophets of Asherah). It was no secret that the rains ceased when Elijah, a prophet of the Lord God of hosts, proclaimed that they would. It was also no secret that the rains would come again at the word of that same prophet. For three years Baal and all the other so-called gods that the people gave themselves to were wholly impotent. With their very lives on the line, you would think this would be enough to make the people realize their folly and turn back to God. But no. Instead, a contest was held on Mt. Carmel. A contest in which the sacrifice offered to Baal went the whole day unconsumed by fire; and the sacrifice offered to God was immediately consumed by fire from heaven. The people saw a sign; the people were entertained; the people in their shallowness now turned back to God. The prophets of Baal were promptly put to death by the people. Shallow as the reason was, the people did turn back, and the rains came again. Without rain they had no life, no sweetness, and no hope. Now with the rains returning they would.
‘There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.’… In a trice, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and a heavy rain fell.
This cloud, which at first was seemingly nothing, was seen from the top of Mt. Carmel after the prophets of Baal had been put to death, and is the cloud from which the heavy rain fell. The Carmelite order, which yesterday (July 16) celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, has always seen in this cloud a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As the world approached the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the progression of the Jews became ever more quiet. Not the quiet of peace, but the quiet of a drought, a stagnation. Gone were the patriarchs, the kings of the line of David, the Ark of the Covenant, the prophets, the judges, and, finally, in the last few decades leading to the birth of Christ, gone also was the inspired writing of Holy Scripture. The Jews had once again lost their independence. They had a false king, that devil on earth named Herod, and were under the rule of the Roman Empire. It is in this situation that “a cloud as small as a man’s hand” was sent to us. She was a young woman, perhaps as young as 13, who was of low birth to insignificant parents in an insignificant town. A young woman who no one cared about in her own day and should have been lost to history as so many billions upon billions of other men and women have. But from this woman, who is full of grace, came the greatest grace upon humanity that there ever was: the Incarnate One, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, God made man, the Son of God and Son of David, the One Who is life itself and fount of all life, the One Who is the only hope of all mankind. He and she are the linchpin, the turning point of the whole of human history. He is our life, our sweetness, and our hope; but He only comes to us through her, His mother. They are inseparable and, so, she too is our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
This is not just a matter of a particular event in the past though. This is also the truth in our own lives today. How stiff-necked, stupid, and shallow I have been in my life, just as the Israelites in the days of Elijah who wanted to be entertained, and the Jews in the time of Jesus who wanted the same in addition to their stomachs to be filled though they had no need of it. But I and we do not need to be shallow, or stupid, or stiff-necked. God has given us eyes to see and ears to hear. Let us have the honesty to see the drought that is our lives when we are without Him, and the humility for that to be enough to cry out to Him. So let us cry out together: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us, save us, bring us to rest in the heart of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, hiding within His pierced side, and never letting go of He-our-Love.
Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. (Is 35:1-2, Morning Prayer, Solemnity of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel)