Friday, July 20, 2018


In the Roman Martyrology, today is the Church's commemoration of the prophet Elijah: On Mount Carmel, the holy prophet Elias. In the Western Church, for historical reasons presumably related to the early connection between the veneration fo saints and the presence of their relics, Old Testament saints, while mentioned in the Martyology are not normally commemorated in the Mass or Office. In the traditional Carmelite Rite, however, Elijah is celebrated today as a patronal feast of that Order. The statue of Elijah on Mount Carmel (photo) on the supposed site of his confrontation with the prophets of Baal commemorates his connection with the Order.

The Transfiguration story suggests that Elijah in some sense personified the prophetic dimension of Israel's history (as Moses personified the Torah). Although not the author of any prophetic book, Elijah was obviously a powerful prophetic figure at a critical time in Israel's history. He appeared on the scene, virtually without introduction, in the Northern Kingdom during the religiously disastrous reign of King Ahab in the 9th century BC. His story is told in a series of incidents beginning in 1 Kings 17. It is a story of faith versus the political corruption of religion that remains radically relevant in every era - and especially our own.

Elijah's battle against the cult of the pagan god Baal puts him in direct conflict with the King, who calls him you troubler of Israel (1 Kings 18:17), in today's terminology comparable to calling him an "enemy of the people" or a spreader of "fake news" in today's world. Elijah's mission included incidents of great success but also experiences of seeming defeat and the discouragement that accompanies constant conflict with popular worldly power. So when Jesus expresses his own sense of having been rejected (Luke 4:24-27) he refers back to the example of Elijah.

But rejection and discouragement can never be the end of the story. Saint Paul recalled God's answer to Elijah's complaint to show that that God will not in fact forsake his people (Romans 11:2-6). And James cites Elijah's fervor as a model for individuals to imitate in more ordinary situations (James 5:16-18).

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