The Widow and Elijah

elijah widow

She has contributed all she had, all she had to live on. (Mark 12:44)

If you are like me, Christ’s words here make you think of the first section of Pope-Emeritus Benedict’s encyclical on Christian hope. The poor woman at the Temple treasury gave all her “substance,” her whole livelihood, her material means.

In the first reading at Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear about the widow who had been reduced to poverty by a long drought. As she explained to the prophet Elijah, she was a woman of very little substance.

When the prophet asked for food, she said, “How can I provide for you, and my son, and myself, when all I have is a handful of flour, and no hope of getting any more?”

Pope Benedict XVI Castel Gandolfo good nightBut Elijah said: Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is a “substance.”

Actually, Elijah did not say that exactly. He said, Just give me something to eat. I am a hungry prophet. Give me a cake. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Have some faith, woman. God makes the sun shine and the rain fall.

Who wrote, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for?’ Right. St. Paul. The same apostle who also wrote: “Christ will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.”

In his encyclical, Pope Benedict posed the question: On what, exactly, does man live? What is the substance of human life?

Before we shout Faith! Love! Jesus! let’s pause. Hungry Elijah asked for bread before he got into matters of piety. As the Fathers of Vatican II put it:

A man can scarcely [attain a spiritual life] unless his living conditions allow him to be conscious of his dignity and to rise to his destiny…Human freedom is often crippled when a man encounters extreme poverty. (Gaudium et Spes 31)

So Elijah asked for food. At that point, he could not simply live on the words coming forth from the mouth of God. But the woman said: I don’t have any bread, man. No bread, as in money. And no bread, as in bread.

Elijah said: Woman, I feel you. I know you’ve got problems. So do I. But give me something to eat. I have been fasting for days, months, years. I have walked all over kingdom come–east, west, north, south. Just trying to serve the hardnosed God of Israel. He is enormously demanding.

Why do think we have this endless drought in the first place? Because the king and the people of our nation have abandoned the faith. Listen, just give me some bread. Then we’ll talk.

Elijah map ZarephathElijah did not start with a sermon; he demanded a cake. The woman was also practical and no-nonsense. But did she respond to Elijah’s purely practical request with pure pragmatism of her own?

Did she say, “Look, Israelite. I don’t know what kind of math you Jews practice, but here in Phoenicia 1 + 1 does not = 3. I do not have three cakes worth of substance in my flour jar?”

No, she did not say that. She did not refuse him. His request made no sense; it didn’t add up. But she faithfully obeyed anyway. Her faith became the substance of the cakes she proceeded to make. She had enough faith to bake cakes for a year.

Do miracles happen? Or can science explain everything? Is our substance made merely of molecules? Or do we need another science, other than “science,” to explain what we are really made of? As in: the science of the saints.

What if the woman had spiritualized everything and said to Elijah, “I wish you peace, my brother! In the name of the Lord! Go your way. Stay warm and well fed!” What if she never handed over the cake? Would her praises be sung in the Scriptures then? Hardly.

On the other hand, down-to-earth as she was, her life had more substance that just the flour in the jar. Her faith reached out to something real, to a supernatural substance. She believed in God. She wanted, above all, to obey God. And she hoped in His providence.

God took care of her, and her son, and Elijah, bodily and spiritually.

What’s the greatest miracle? I think it is two-fold. One: The greatest miracle is that anything even exists at all—and that things, as they exist, do fundamentally make sense.

Why does 1 + 1 even = 2? Because God makes sense, and makes everything He has made make sense. That is the most awesome of all miracles, and that’s why we can even have math, or science, or modern medicine, or economics.

But ultimately God makes more sense than we ourselves can grasp right now. After all, He has a fundamental divine reason for making the universe. The second part of the great miracle is that God has taught us through Christ His fundamental reason—the reason why He has made everything that He has made. He made it all for us: for our salvation, for our perfect fulfillment. His whole plan has one goal: that we would live.

The Sign of Elijah’s Ride

Elijah fiery chariot

Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. (II Kings 2:11)

A dramatic exit, with fiery horses and a fiery chariot.

Elijah had spent his life insisting on the truth, accusing liars and cheaters to their faces, tirelessly serving the God of Abraham and Moses, even when everyone around him tried to forget the Ten Commandments. Certainly his dramatic exit from this world vindicated Elijah in all his efforts. The Lord brought the prophet’s work to a particularly eminent conclusion.

But the ancient Israelites understood Elijah’s ride into heaven in another way, too. They understood it as having something to do, not just with the past, but with the future. The fact that Elijah did not die meant that his relentless zeal, his unswerving insistence on faithfulness to the one, almighty Creator—the meaning of Elijah’s danger-filled life—it was not ending. Elijah’s earthly career came to an end, but his ministry of serving justice and truth was not over.

The Israelites knew that the fiery chariot ride meant that everything the prophet Elijah preached and hoped for would be accomplished and fulfilled. The Messiah would come from the heaven to which Elijah had ridden. Then an age of reconciliation, of peace and communion between Israel and God—the kingdom of God, in other words–would come.

Elijah rode into heaven as a sign that Jesus would come from heaven to us, and that all hearts should await Him vigilantly.

Pope on John the Baptist

At this time of year, we meditate on the mysterious role of St. John the Baptist.

Two brief insights from our Holy Father’s book about the gospels:

1. John the Baptist inherited the hereditary Old-Covenant priesthood from his father Zechariah.

Benedict Jesus of Nazareth InfancyIn addition to being hereditary, the old priesthood was also episodic. You ministered in the Temple for your period of service; then you went back home to your ordinary daily life.

In other words, you were not always a priest. Sometimes, you stood in the Temple to pray and offer sacrifice. The rest of the time, you did other non-liturgical, non-sacrificial things.

John, however, lived out his inherited priesthood in a new way. He consecrated himself for life—and for constant priestly exercise. John the Baptist offered God the sacrifice of his entire heart, mind, soul, and strength in the temple of the desert.

John thus formed the bridge between the priesthood of the Old Covenant and that of the New. The Lord Jesus inaugurated a universal priesthood that operates like John exercised his. All of us who have been baptized into Christ have received the priesthood by which everything we do, everything we are, everything we suffer—all of it can be offered to the Father as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. For the holy priests of the new People of God, there is no moment of human life that does not have eternal significance.

2. St. John fulfills the mission of Elijah, which is precisely to declare that the fullness of time has come.

All the preceding work of creation and history served as a preparation for the moment that had now arrived: God Himself was coming to the earth in Person.

Therefore, the appearance of Elijah, in the person of John the Baptist, means: Prepare!

When the in-laws come over for turkey or ham, we dust the house and straighten up. But the time has now come for the visit of Almighty God Himself.

…Click HERE for a compendium of all of St. John the Baptist’s sayings.

All Her Substance

She has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood. (Mark 12:44)

If you are like me, Christ’s words here make you think of the first section of Pope Benedict’s encyclical on Christian hope. The poor woman at the Temple treasury gave her whole “substance.” In English, this word “substance” means a number of different things. The same is true of Latin and Greek.

The substance of one’s livelihood refers to one’s material means. In the first reading for Mass, we read about the widow who had been reduced to poverty by a drought. As we hear her explain to the prophet Elijah, she was a woman of very little “substance.”

When the prophet asked for food, she said, “How can I provide for you, and my son, and myself, when all I have is a handful of flour, and no hope of getting any more?”

But Elijah said: Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is a substance.

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All-Demanding God of Elijah

The book of Sirach serves as a compendium of the wisdom of the Old Testament. Short, practical sayings comprise most of the book. Then it concludes with eulogies of the heroes of the history of Israel.

As we read, the prophet Elijah had the mission of confronting the nation’s descent into paganism. The Israelites had settled into the habit of neglecting the service of the true God. They had grown accustomed to dishonest compromises. And they sought power and luxury, rather than righteousness.

Elijah confronted the king, the queen, the pagan priests, the false prophets. He fearlessly stared them all down. But, before the awesome truth of God, Elijah meekly humbled himself.

Sirach reports how the Lord took Elijah up to heaven in a fiery chariot: a sign that another divine visitation was yet to come, that the justice which Elijah proclaimed would, in due time, come to fulfillment. In other words, the Messiah would come–the heavenly man, the Anointed, Who would reign as the Prince of Peace.

The Bible, Christ, our Church; our faith, our religion: these demand our most profound allegiance. We serve Christ all the time, everywhere we find ourselves, in everything we do.

What kind of religion would we have if it had to confine itself to the church building alone? If religion meant only ceremonies in the church, and everything outside the doors was really a totally different life, governed only by the laws of the state, and Christ our King had no power over us once we drove off church property?

Obviously, that would be no kind of religion at all, at least not as far as we are concerned. We practice the religion of the Bible, the religion of Elijah the fearless prophet, the religion of the heroes of Israel. We practice the religion which is due to the Creator and Savior of the world. His power and love extend everywhere. So we must serve Him everywhere.

Any human law which would impede the faithful service of Elijah’s God, the God of the holy Catholic Church—any law which would prohibit the service of this all-demanding God—that’s an unjust law, no law at all. That’s a law which any person of conscience must consider it his or her bounden duty to break.

Provocation to Humility

Mt. Precipice, Nazareth

Jesus said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.

“Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:25-29)

Last Sunday we read that the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and announced to the faithful Jews in His hometown that He is the Messiah.

We might think that this dramatic revelation would have led to immediate euphoria. We might think that, when the Messiah revealed Himself to the people who had known Him since He was a boy, everybody would have believed, and rejoiced, and smiled, and hugged, and said nice things about each other.

But this is not what happened. The people in the synagogue doubted. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

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Jet-Lagged but Eager

Very attentive pilgrims

Today we went to the Basilica of the Annunciation to meditate on a few things.

We considered three points:

1. Our Lady welcomed the Archangel Gabriel here with perfect humility.
2. God became man in our Lady’s womb right here.
3. He lived most of His human life here–His hidden life, the life He has shared with every human being.

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Pictures Worth…

When traveling in the Holy Land, you need a knowledgeable guide.

Raouf Karborani

IMG_0434We had a perfectly delightful trip on the bus…

We visited the ruins of Herod’s Ceasarea on the sea.

While we were there, we meditated on St. Paul’s explanation of his teaching, which the Apostle gave when he was being tried at Caesarea.

We headed north to Haifa, where we prayed at the cave of Elijah. Then we visited the beautiful Bahá’í Gardens.



IMG_0504From there, we went to Cana to visit the church of the Lord’s first miracle. He changed water into wine at a wedding.

All the married couples renewed their wedding vows.

Then we came to Nazareth to settle in for the evening. Tomorrow we will visit the place where the Lord became man, and where He grew up. We will also climb Mt. Tabor to visit the site of the Transfiguration.

…Without Father Golas and the photographer, today would hardly have been as memorable.

More to come…

By the way, I KNOW that I will miss the first two Hoyas’ games of the season. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land come first.

Elijah Anniversary

Elijah's cave, now in a church
Elijah's cave, now in a church
A year ago today, I was on Mt. Carmel in northwest Israel. I was with twenty-five other priests. Archbishop Raymond Burke was leading us on a pilgrimage of the Holy Land.

Archbishop Burke preached to us every day. Not long ago, he kindly sent us copies of all the homilies he gave while we were in the Holy Land.

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