It is hard to resist today’s oft-quoted, beautiful and powerful first reading. It is about the tired, disheartened and doubting prophet Elijah.
He was a prophet during difficult times in Israel’s history. King Ahab had married Jezebel, a pagan, who brought her pagan gods of Baal and their priests with her. Ahab went over to the worship of Baal and toppled God’s shrines giving them over to idolatrous worship. Elijah confronted the pagan priests in an unusual competition of worship. In front of the priests and the people he prayed to God and called down fire from heaven, which consumed, not only his sacrificial offering, but the wood for the sacrifice which he had drenched with water. Quite a display of God’s power! Then he had the awestruck people seize the pagan prophets and put them to death.
Previously King Ahab met with Elijah and called him, "you disturber of Israel." What a powerful description of a prophet – one who disturbs us, shakes us out of our lethargy and opens our eyes. Elijah called the people away from their pagan ways and unfaithfulness. He was a "disturber."
Don’t you wish God’s Spirit would descend on other chosen ones to be "disturbers" in our nation, church and community? But that is exactly what God has done. We have been blessed with great voices for the rights of the voiceless in our world; they have been "disturbers" of the status quo that tolerated or worse, inflicted injustice. Name your favorite "disturbers." I’m thinking of Ghandi, Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, the four religious women martyred in El Salvador, Oscar Romero, Sojourner Truth – to name just a few.
It is encouraging to know that the age of prophecy did not cease with the last chapter of the Bible. Add to the list by recalling your own favorite prophetic voices and praise God for them at this Eucharist. They are reminders that God is with us and speaks, with love, through them. Even though these modern prophets show signs of God’s presence in their words and actions they, like the great prophets of the Scriptures, often meet opposition and even violence as they speak the truth to power.
The mission of the prophet is often difficult and wearisome. Elijah’s triumph over the false prophets enraged Jezebel, who swore she would have him killed. He ran for his life. Today’s reading finds him in the desert. He is so discouraged that he prays for death. He felt his work was a failure since he had not driven idolatry out of the land. Not only was he discouraged over what he saw as his failure, he even began to doubt his ministry and God’s involvement in his task, "This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers" (19:4).
To speak a word of truth in a world that closes its eyes and ears is a tiring and disheartening task. Don’t you admire people who have stayed faithful to their commitment by challenging government, churches, institutions and individuals about their compromises and out-right neglect of what is just for nations, religions, exiles, minorities, the poor and the earth itself?
The desert wasn’t just a hideout for Elijah, it was the place where God had led the Israelites who were fleeing slavery in Egypt and where God nurtured and nourished the people. The location of today’s passage is important: Elijah was at the mountain of God, Horeb, where God spoke to Moses and provided daily bread and water for the people. It was also where God revealed God’s self to Moses and formed the Israelites into a nation dedicated to God.
A new revelation of God is about to happen on Horeb. I imagine that Elijah was very aware of the significance of the desert for Israel and, in particular, Mount Horeb in Israel’s spiritual history. Perhaps the frustrated and fearful prophet hoped God would reassure him with powerful signs of might. When you are down you want God to be powerful, forthright and come to the rescue. A theology professor once told us, "The best prayer we can pray is [and here he shouted] – Help!"
Initially it looks like the God of wonder and might is going to come through for Elijah with great acts of assurance. But the dramatic signs of God’s awesome presence, wind, earthquake and fire, do not manifest God to Elijah. Instead, God reveals God’s self in "a tiny whispering sound." Other translators have it as, "the sound of sheer silence," or "the voice of silence."
Was Elijah initially disappointed? Where was the drama, fireworks and grand display of God’s might? Maybe that would have been too much for the weary prophet. He might not have been able to take too much drama from God. It was God’s quiet presence that caught the prophet’s attention. He was fleeing a tyrant; escape and safety were what he wanted and needed. He is at his weakest and most vulnerable time. Yet, it is precisely at this moment that God will ask Elijah for commitment to mission.
God had not abandoned Elijah, but showed him a different and surprising presence. Elijah may have thought he was on his own but, in reality, God was guiding him the way God guided the Israelites through the desert. The Elijah story reminds us that God can work even amid our fears, isolation and despair. Despite his fear Elijah will be called back into action, to do the task God gave him. When our mission becomes difficult; when we meet resistance, or just plain indifference and when we find ourselves withdrawing to nurse our wounds, tempted to give up what we have been called to do, we recall God’s previous presence with us and proceed to the next steps in our vocation.
Elijah’s encounter with God teaches us to listen more carefully; for God may be speaking in the silence, if we make space to listen.
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Justice shall walk before him, and prepare the way of his steps.
Psalm 85: 14
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) that has been called the "Magna Carta on development." Paul VI is the pope who brought Vatican Council II to its conclusion and brought the Church into the modern world. His encyclical is marked with his global vision for economic justice, development and solidarity.
Fifty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI stresses that ending poverty is a mandate: "The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every man to hear his brother’s plea and answer it lovingly."
Fifty years ago, he stresses that economic justice can only be achieved when the economy serves people: "It is unfortunate that on these new conditions of society a system has been constructed which considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation. . .One cannot condemn such abuses too strongly by solemnly recalling once again that the economy is at the service of man."
Fifty years ago, he stresses that "development is the new name for peace" while also noting that "Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every person and of all humanity."
Fifty years ago, he stresses that we must have commitment to solidarity: "There can be no progress towards the complete development of individuals without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity."
Fifty years ago, he stresses "Let each one examine his conscience, a conscience that conveys a new message for our times."
Blessed Pope Paul VI’s vision is summed up in his words: "Today the principal fact that we must all recognize is that the social question has become world-wide." This is the principal fact that we must recognize today.
Paul VI is also the pope who coined the expression, "If you want peace, work for justice." Do you want peace? We have a lot of work to do.
----Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s I Kings reading:
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Modern prophets are reminders that God is with us and speaks to us, with love, through them. Even though these prophets have shown signs of God’s presence in their words and actions they, like the great prophets of the Scriptures, often meet opposition and even violence as they speak the truth to power.
So we ask ourselves:
"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
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