Holy Land Pilgrimage

Why are you here, Elijah?

February 13, 2020

Recently, my classmates and I had the opportunity to visit the Mount Carmel mountain range in the Galilee region for a second time. On our first trip, we were on the mountain of Muhraqa, where the prophet Elijah challenged over 400 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20 – 40). This time around we visited the Carmelite Convent that houses the shrine to Our Lady Star of the Sea (Stella Maris). The early members of the Carmelite Order built this shrine on top of the cave where, according to tradition, Elijah, the eighth century (BC) prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, spent some time hiding from those wishing to take his life. The first book of Kings relates the following concerning this: “There he [Elijah] came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the Lord came to him: Why are here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs 19:9) In answeringthis question, the prophet gave witness to his faithfulness and steadfast resolution to carry out the work that the Lord had entrusted to him. However, those who, up to that point, had been unfaithful to God remained opposed to changing their ways.

Put differently, a sense of discouragement had started to overcome Elijah, making him feel unable to continue his God-given mission to the people of Israel. The words he had so far pronounced in the name of God had born no visible fruit, and the only viable course of action for him seemed to be to just stay in that cave. But that penetrating question came once more: “Why are you here, Elijah?” This time, even though the prophet responded the same way as before, the Lord God commanded him to leave that cave and “take the desert road to Damascus” where he would anoint the next king for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As I sat there contemplating this very cave, I reflected of the numberless times God has silently put forth the same question: “Why are you here?” One could give a thousand different answers and perhaps present a myriad excuses for why we have not yet taken that step that the Lord is asking us to take. Certainly, God had to ask this question to the Prophet Elijahtwice. After that, the prophet responded with action. Is it time for you to get up, exit that cave and spring into action?

Leonel Sepulveda

Archdiocese of Chicago

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