Friday July 20, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Elijah
Reading (1 Kings 19:1-9a, 11-14a) Gospel (St. Luke 9:28b-36)
Today we celebrate the feast of the prophet Elijah. Elijah is the first of the great line of prophets. He is considered the greatest of all the prophets, even though he did not write any prophetic books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah; nonetheless, he is the greatest of all the prophets. Consider Elijah and all the things he did: Three times he called down fire from heaven, on one occasion he raised up a little boy who had died, on another occasion he prayed and the rain stopped. It did not rain for 3 ½ years in Israel, then he prayed again and rain came.
Now, we hear about what happened when he called down the fire and it consumed his sacrifice. Remember that he was at the bottom of Mount Carmel and there were 450 prophets of Baal. He said, “Fine. You take a bull, make an altar, call on Baal, and I will take a bull, make an altar and call on the Lord. Whoever answers with fire is the true God.” The prophets of Baal, calling on their demonic god, failed to do anything. Elijah called upon the Lord and fire came down from Heaven and consumed the sacrifice. He then put the 450 prophets of Baal to the sword. Queen Jezebel hears about this and says to Elijah, “If by this time tomorrow I do not kill you, may the gods do so to me.”
After all the things that had happened in Elijah’s life, all of these incredible things that he was able to accomplish, you would think that he would not be afraid of an angry woman. But he ran, he fled, he was afraid for his life. Rather than trusting in God, he was afraid of the queen. He goes all the way from the north (at Mount Carmel) to the south (at Beersheba) and out into the desert. We hear about how the angel awakens him. Elijah prays for death. What he recognizes is his sinfulness and he says, “I am no better than my ancestors.” This is because he ran away and did not trust in the Lord. After all the things the Lord had done, he got caught up in himself again. You can see that Elijah had not yet achieved perfection. The holiness that was there was not yet perfect.
So, God wakes him up; he eats the bread and drinks the water, which is symbolic of the Eucharist and the grace that we receive. He is able to walk for forty days and forty nights across the scorching desert all the way to Mount Horeb, which is the same as Mount Sinai. Remember that it was on Mount Sinai where the wind, earthquake, fire, and trumpet blasts were when Moses and the people of Israel had come out of Egypt. And it was in those things that they recognized God. Now we can see the progression for the people. We can also see the holiness of Elijah: When God did those same things, He was not in any of them; but when Elijah heard the tiny, whispering breeze, he hid his face because God was in the breeze.
It is the same thing that happens in our lives. At the beginning of the spiritual life, God gives us lots of wonderful things because we are not very advanced. There are lots of consolations and extraordinary kinds of things. It is kind of fun. As we progress, He takes all that away because we are not going to find God in the extraordinary. God wants us to go deep within and find Him who lives in the depths of our hearts. And He speaks there in silence. That is what we see with Elijah. After this, Elijah achieves perfection. From that point on, he is able to do perfectly the Will of God - even to the point that Elijah did not die. He was taken up into Heaven in a fiery chariot, in a whirlwind. He dropped his cloak down upon Elisha, his successor, who continued the work.
We are told also, in Scripture, that Elijah is going to come again. We are told that he will come before the Day of the Lord to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children back to their fathers.” In fact, we recall in the Gospel that the disciples even asked Jesus about that. They understood He was the Messiah and that Elijah was supposed to come first. Even to this day, the Jewish people - when they celebrate Passover - have an empty place at the table with a cup of wine and a place setting; it is called the Cup of Elijah. They are waiting for Elijah to come back to announce the Day of the Lord. But Jesus told His disciples, “Elijah has already come and he was John the Baptist.” John the Baptist, like Elisha, was in the spirit of Elijah. But Elijah will come again.
We saw Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus at the Transfiguration. If you read the Book of Revelation carefully, there are the two witnesses who will come down from Heaven. Read what happens with the two witnesses: One of them has the power to turn the water into blood and one has the power to stop the heavens so it does not rain. That is what Moses did in Egypt and it is what Elijah did. The two witnesses are probably Moses and Elijah. They are there to announce the Day of the Lord, to prepare the earth for the day that it will end. So we pray for Elijah to return. We look at what he has already done and to the spirit of Elijah, present in Elisha and Saint John the Baptist. We await the day that he will return again to prepare the hearts of the children of our heavenly Father, so that the children will be turned to their Father and the heart of the Father will be turned to His children and we will be prepared for the great Day of the Lord.
In the meantime, we need to work on our spiritual lives. We need to learn from Elijah how to listen to the voice of God, to be obedient, to grow in holiness, and to grow in the prayer life; so that no matter what God asks, we will do it. In this way, we will imitate the spirit and zeal of Elijah so that we will live our life zealously for God. On the day the Lord calls us home and we stand before Him and He looks at us and says, as He did to Elijah, “Why are you here?” - we will be able to answer confidently with Elijah: “I have been zealous for the Lord, God of hosts.”
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.