It was too late to scout around that first night, so we offered a brief Mass, had some soup, and went to bed. The next morning, rather early, I wandered the halls until I came to a steep flight of steps leading to a chapel topped by a small dome. At the base of this chapel was a small cave, on a lintel above which were inscribed these words: Hanc Aliquando Speluncam Incolvit Magna Ille Prophetarum Dux et Patrem Elias Thesbites (“at one time this cave held that great leader and father of all the prophets, Elijah the Thesbite”).
We had stumbled upon Elijah’s Cave, by some accounts the beginning of western monasticism, the birthplace of the Carmelite Order, and the sanctuary of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Certainly finding the Prophet’s Cave down the hall from my room was surprising, but even more so was the crowd I found praying quietly in front of that cave. It was six in the morning, and most of my fellow pilgrims were sitting in silence before the cave, before the tabernacle, before the precious tiarared statue of Jesus and Mary above the altar.
Our pilgrimage is typical. An aggregate from various walks of life battling jet lag, missing baggage, and stomach upset. We are thrilled to discover famous places dear to us. We are worried about getting robbed and sick and misunderstood in a foreign land. Our own landscape suffers irreparable change by what we see and hear, and we are not sure we want all that a pilgrimage imposes. And yet: each morning most of our number make their way to Elijah’s Cave to find silence. We can no longer see the sweeping horizon that he saw (as the medieval church blocks the raw elements without), but we know our need for silence. In that chapel, as in most any Catholic chapel, there is the fullness of silence. We do not find it on the bus, or at meals, or in the airport or on the plane (Lufthansa offered 1200 different pieces of entertainment from each of our seats). But we find it near that cave, and we long for it.
God still offers us silence in the noisiest the world has ever been. He offers it and we long for it. Thank God we are on a pilgrimage in which we can satisfy that longing.