How have you been feeling about the news lately? It seems like the majority of headlines this year have spelled out disaster in countless ways. On the Internet, there is no shortage of 2020-is-the-worst memes that, for many, might land just a little too close to home. Everywhere, there are reminders that things don’t seem so great nowadays. This constant barrage of doom-and-gloom headlines can easily make us feel hopeless, dejected, and left doubting that there is anything we can do to remedy the situation at hand.
The Old Testament reading from the prophet Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 19 is worth a quick read for reference, but basically after speaking against the worship of Baal in Israel and against King Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah flees under threat of death to Beersheba. Despairing at the lack of faithfulness of the Israelites, he wanders out into the wilderness, finds a tree to lay under, wishes for God to take his life, and proceeds to fall asleep. Twice, an angel of the Lord wakes him and says, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you.” The “journey” turns out to be a decidedly arduous trip (40 days and 40 nights, without food) to Mount Horeb where Elijah is told to stand before God on the mountain. Standing there, he witnesses three natural calamities: a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, which are followed by sheer silence. The Lord was not in any of the cacophonous events but was only heard by Elijah in the silence, through which he is instructed to go and anoint a new prophet, Elisha, to take his place. There is more to the story, but that’s where we’ll leave it for now.
So how does this story relate to us in our present age? What can this story of Elijah teach us about what to do when we are faced with the same feeling of despondency that Elijah felt under the broom tree? I think Elijah’s story presented in this reading is a good allegory for what we as men, and especially as fathers, should be doing as we face these trying times. This story resonated with me as I, along with many others, watch with apprehension the unfolding of current events. Many are now questioning what the future holds as we continue to become increasingly divided and hostile toward one another regarding issues of morality and societal standards. Witnessing the active promotion of sin, the rejection of religion, and the verbal (and sometimes physical) attacks on places of worship make it easy to be left feeling lost and hopeless just as Elijah was under that tree.
Just as the angel of the Lord urged Elijah to rise and eat so he’d have strength for his journey, we’re instructed to eat and be strengthened for our own journey. Where Elijah had a hearth cake and a jug of water, we have something much more powerful and lifegiving. Our journey is beyond that of a physical one; it is spiritual, and for that, we need spiritual food. This food is, of course, the Eucharist which “is the source and summit of the Christian life” and “is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life” (CCC 1324-1325). Just as Elijah needed those hearth cakes to sustain him on his 40-day trek to Mount Horeb, so too do we desperately need the Eucharist to sustain us as we live our lives as witnesses to the gospel of Christ.
Even if we receive the Eucharist regularly and faithfully, it can be difficult to hear the voice of the Lord over the other noise in our lives. Natural disasters, pandemics, violence, riots, elections, and even murder hornets (remember those?), though worthy of consideration and action, can drown out the voice of God. Elijah did not find God in the catastrophes he witnessed on Mount Horeb, and neither will we hear the voice of the Father amid the 2020 headlines. We must listen for God in the silence, however difficult it may be to come by. It is easiest to hear God speaking to our soul during prayer, reflection, and (where available) adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
The final point of this part of Elijah’s story that I want to touch on is regarding his mission. On Mount Horeb, God instructed Elijah to anoint Elisha to take his place as prophet. If there’s a single analogy to take away from 1 Kings 19, it is this: our mission, especially as fathers, is to live in obedience to God and to go and raise the next generation prophets to take our place. The answer to any despondency about our perceived inability to do anything to improve the world around us, a world that seemingly falls farther away from God every day, is to “anoint” and teach others to walk the Christian life with us and for us after we are gone from the earth. This is particularly true for our children, biological otherwise. We hear in the Catechism, “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law,” (CCC 2222, emphasis added).
Looking back on the year 2020, it’s impossible to have imagined all that has happened. There were so many seemingly world-ending and time-stopping events that most people, if not everyone, have had their outlook influenced negatively and found themselves lying under that same tree in the wilderness with Elijah feeling empty. This year has certainly been a large cross to bear, but we must be reminded that by sharing in Christ’s suffering and carrying our own cross alongside him, we will share in his resurrection and will be led to glory. With Elijah’s story in mind, our prerogative as Christians is to be nourished by the Eucharist and guided by the Spirit of God in raising up the next generation of Christians.