Homily for the
in Ordinary Time
Today I preached without a written text. So here’s an oldie:
Aug. 11, 1991
1 Kings 19: 4-8
John 6: 41-51
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.
“Elijah prayed for death: ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19: 4).
Does anyone know why Elijah has gone into the desert?
It may seem strange, but he’s running for his life. Most of us wouldn’t try to save our lives by taking off into the desert without food or water. But wicked Queen Jezebel wants Elijah’s head. Although he has demonstrated the power of the true God, Elijah has gotten scared and run. A day into the desert, he apparently realizes his predicament and is ready to call it quits. He will not yield to Jezebel, however, but to his master, the Lord God.
Without our being prophets, life gets us pretty discouraged sometimes. We can’t land a job. Our health is shot. The neighborhood or the city or the state is going to pieces. We’re fighting with the boss or with someone in the family. We have a bad habit or an addiction that’s enslaving us. Someone is slandering our reputation. It’s the time of year when a lot of mothers are counting the days till school starts!
And if we are prophets, what problems we have! Breaking our backs or our bank accounts or exhausting our psychic energy on behalf of the homeless or the unborn or Catholic schooling or the hungry, or racism or sexism or war or pornography.
There are a lot of days when a long walk into the desert sounds pretty good. We all have those days. Probably, most of us have quite a few of them, for a lot of different reasons.
God came to Elijah’s rescue. He sent an angel with food and drink, strong encouragement and strong nourishment, enuf to sustain him until he came to the sacred mountain where Moses, his prophetic ancestor, had encountered God.
During these 5 weeks when we’re reading from ch. 6 of John’s gospel, we’re hearing how God comes to our rescue too. Last week and this week Jesus announced himself as the bread from heaven. He means himself, his teaching. When we believe in Jesus and turn to him, we find encouragement and nourishment for our tired, discouraged selves in our hot, arid world, when people or circumstances seem to be against us. We meet Jesus in the scriptures. We have to make the scriptures part of our prayer, our daily bread, “else the journey will be too long” for us (1 Kings 19:7).
In the last verse of today’s gospel (John 6:51) and in all of next week’s (6:51-58), Jesus goes further. The bread that he offers us and commands us to eat is his flesh. Ch. 6 is where John presents the Eucharist, instead of at the Last Supper like the other evangelists and Paul. The Eucharist is our communion with God thru the body and blood of Jesus. Unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we do not have life in us. We lose all heart, and we wither and die in the desert.
St. Francis de Sales, the patron of the SDBs, taught that there are 2 types of people who need the Eucharist. People who are holy need it, that they may remain holy. People who are not holy need it, that they may become holy. For all of us, the Eucharist is our fundamental food, our essential food, for the journey. We cannot reach the sacred mountain where God dwells unless we are nourished on the food that Christ himself gives us.
There’s one more aspect we should note about Elijah’s experience in the desert: God does not come to him personally, directly, at least not on this occasion. God sends an angel, a messenger. The angel brings the instructions and, apparently, the food and drink. The angel restores Elijah’s courage.
The role of the angel or messenger from God in one that God gives to each of us. We all know what it’s meant when someone has been an angel for us. To be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, means not only to hang tough thru our own deserts but also to guide and assist others on their journey. We need to be sensitive to the folks around us, to their burdens, their fears, their weaknesses, their guilt, and bring them the bread of Christ’s presence and Christ’s strength. “Be imitators of God as his dear children. Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you,” Paul enjoins us. “Be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Eph 5:1; 4:32).