Thursday, June 21, 2018

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

(Sirach 48:1-14; Matthew 6:7-15)

Although no book of the Bible bears his name, Elijah may be considered the preeminent prophet of Israel.  As a prophet, he received revelation from God, spoke on God’s behalf, and suffered because of God’s message.  However, he was not martyred, which was considered the prophet’s fate.  Rather, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot.  Pope Benedict in his book Jesus of Nazareth writes that the people of Israel awaited Elijah’s return so that he might experience a true martyr’s death. 

Because of his expected return, some thought Jesus himself was Elijah reincarnated.  When he asked his disciples who the people were calling him, they answered that some considered him to be Elijah.  But Jesus had another candidate for the Elijah role: John the Baptist.  John, like other prophets, was beheaded after telling the truth about Herod Antipas.  For Jesus, John’s death anticipates the prophetic “Day of the Lord,” the day of reckoning. 

Christians understand the prophets as foretelling Jesus’ coming.  How did Elijah do this?  There are incidents about Elijah that parallel experiences in Jesus’ life like providing food for the widow and her son prefiguring Jesus’ feeding the multitude.  Perhaps more indicative, however, is the story of the Lord God coming to Elijah as a whisper at the mouth of a cave.  We see the whisper as Jesus, the full revelation of God in the quite unassuming figure of a carpenter from Nazareth.  The cave too invokes Messianic meaning. It is the depth of being from which Jesus talks with the Father with whom he is one.