The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Homily: Monday, 10th Week in Ordinary Time

I've embedded a video of this daily Mass here -- a video which includes the homily text posted below.


Readings: I Kgs 17:1-6; Ps 121; Mt 5:1-12

How many times have I preached on the Beatitudes? And how many homilies have you heard addressing these wonderful words with which Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount? I’m guessing… a lot.

Anyway, I thought I’d spare you another and preach instead on today’s first reading. Actually, my homily really addresses only the first verse of the passage. 

It’s good for us occasionally to take a brief walk through the Old Testament, and our reading from 1 Kings is really pretty special. For today we are introduced to a prophet named Elijah.

How special is Elijah? God answered that question for us when, among all His prophets – and there were a lot of them – He chose Elijah to join Moses and be present with Jesus at the Transfiguration. I guess that sums it up. Elijah was special indeed.

Interestingly, most of the other prophets, the major and minor prophets, have books of the Bible named after them: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah, Daniel, and all the rest. But not Elijah. Although considered the greatest of them all, he appears in only the last few chapters of 1 Kings and the first two chapters of 2 Kings. 

Although his story may be brief, just a few chapters, Elijah’s presence seems to extend throughout all of salvation history. Even his name, Elijah, is in itself prophetic, and means “The Lord is my God” and always reminds me of Thomas’ recognition of the risen Christ: “My Lord and my God” [Jn 20:28].

Elijah's story begins when he presents himself to Ahab, king of the northern kingdom, Israel. Who was Ahab? Well, it’s enough to know what Scripture has to say about him: 
“Ahab, son of Omri, did what was evil in the LORD’s sight more than any of his predecessors.” [1 Kgs 16:30]
Elijah confronting Ahab
Yes, indeed, Ahab, influenced by his pagan wife, Jezebel, worshipped not the God of Israel, but Ba'al, the god of the pagans. Ahab and Jezebel were a dangerous duo, not good people. But Elijah, God’s messenger, goes to Ahab without fear, speaks God’s word, and inflicts a punishment on Israel. Listen again to what Elijah says to the king:
“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” [1 Kgs 17:1].
Elijah, you see, has presented himself to Ahab with two words: truth and service. Beginning with the truth – “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives” – he continues by declaring his relationship to God, one of service – “whom I serve.”

Truth and service. Elijah offers an example to those who follow him – a gift to all of us. For we, too, must always speak the truth, especially the truth to which Elijah points: to the living God, to "the way and the truth and the life" [Jn 14:6], to Jesus Christ. Like the prophet, who confronts Ahab, we must courageously speak the truth to the unbeliever, to those who have strayed, and to each other. But if our lives don’t reflect the truth we speak, if we don’t serve the living God, the truth will never be well-received, indeed, it will be rejected.

But the truth Elijah speaks cannot be rejected. His service to God is so apparent that he need not talk of any special command of God; he need not utter any words of proof. His mere presence is enough, for he embodies God’s power through his mission. God makes this apparent:

“…during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word” [1 Kgs 17:1].

…at my word,” Elijah can exclaim this, for God has given His power to the one He sends, to the one who serves Him. The prophecy begins with God and ends with Elijah and his word.

Israel, the nation, has fallen deeply into sinfulness. Were Elijah to preach, he would be ignored, just as Israel and Judah would ignore the many other prophets God sent to them. Israel’s sin has blocked the path to God; it has blokced "the way," and the people neither understand nor love.

Only through punishment will they learn to be open to God’s Word, a Word of both power and hope. The truth will become evident through the power of Elijah’s word – “…there shall be no dew or rain.” But then they are offered a slice of hope: “…except at my word.”

They hear the “except” – and realize it’s in Elijah’s hands, but he doesn’t tell them when and how. That will demand repentance and acceptance, but only after days and months and years, after seeing the truth of Elijah’s word unfold in a punishing drought. When they confess the truth, when they admit that God is truly the living God, when they return to His service, the mystery enfolding Elijah will be revealed.

In truth, it’s a call, isn’t it? A call to the acceptance of God’s gift of faith. The path Israel is called to follow is no different from that which lies before you and me, one that quite likely lies before many nations, including our own.

Afterwards we see Elijah acting in perfect obedience – “Leave…go east and hide” [1 Kgs 17:3] – for in perfect trust he knew God would care for him. Ravens brought him meat and bread and a stream offered refreshing drink.

Once again Elijah teaches us. His call, his mission, that which gives him power in the sight of men, strips him of that same power in the sight of God. And so, from Elijah we learn that to serve God is to obey, to abandon ourselves completely to His love, to develop an attitude of perfect submission.

Brothers and sisters, to better understand the Beatitudes, just look to Elijah. He shows us what it means to be poor in spirit – to look only to God for salvation and to trust in His mercy. Like Elijah, we become mere children in the presence of God. Like children, we own nothing, for everything comes from and belongs to God.

This is the spiritual poverty that Jesus asks of us.

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