Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Feast of St Elijah

"In divine contemplation the spirit is often abstracted to such a degree that it is already granted the joy of partaking a little, in image as it were, of that eternal freedom which eye has not seen nor ear heard, but then, hampered by the weight of its own mortality, it falls back into the depths and is held captive in penalty for its sins. It has glimpsed the delights of true freedom and longs to escape from its captivity but, since it cannot, it keeps its gaze fixed upon the imprisoning doors. This is why, when the Jews had been freed from slavery to Egypt, each of them stood adoring in the doorway of his tent when God spoke and the pillar of cloud was visible.

Wherever we direct our mental gaze, there we may be said to stand. That is why Elijah said: The Lord lives, in whose sight I stand. He did indeed stand before God, for his heart was intent on God. That the Jews gazed at the pillar of cloud and stood at the doors of their tents in adoration has this meaning: when the human mind perceives these high and heavenly things—albeit in image— the elevation of its thought has already lifted it free from the limits of its bodily habitation, and although it is denied sight of the divine substance, it humbly adores him whose power it can already see by spiritual illumination.

This is why Elijah is described as standing at the mouth of his cave and veiling his face when he heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him; for as soon as the voice of heavenly understanding enters the mind through the grace of contemplation, the whole person is no longer within the cave, for the soul is no longer taken up with matters of the flesh: intent on leaving the bounds of mortality; one stands at the cave’s mouth. But if we stand at the mouth of the cave and hear the word of God with the heart’s ear, we must veil our face. For when heavenly grace leads us to the understanding of higher things, the rarer the heights to which we are raised, the more we should abase ourselves in our own estimation by humility: we must not try to know more than is fitting; we must know as it befits us to know. Otherwise, through over-familiarity with the invisible, we risk going astray, and we might perhaps look for material light in what is immaterial. For to cover the face while listening with the ear means hearing with our mind the voice of him who is within us, yet averting the eyes of the heart from every bodily appearance. If we do this there will be no risk of our spirit interpreting as something corporeal that which is everywhere in its entirety and everywhere uncircumscribed.

Beloved, 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 toward the door; let us mentally turn our backs on the corruption of this temporal life, let us keep our hearts facing toward the freedom of our heavenly homeland. 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."

-- From a homily on Ezekiel by Saint Gregory the Great

1 comment:

Mark said...

What a profound reflection! Many thanks for posting this. I've learned more about the wider Carmelite tradition from your blog than from anywhere else, and am very grateful to you for providing this wonderful resource.