The following is the homily I gave this past weekend. Enjoy.
Poor Elijah. He’s not having a good day. He’s tired. He’s discouraged. He just doesn’t want to go on. To appreciate how he feels, we have to backtrack a little in his story. Elijah is the only true prophet in Israel at this time. In the episode that comes before today’s reading he’s come across 450 false prophets of Baal. Baal was the god of the Queen, Jezebel.
Elijah challenges the false prophets to a kind of barbeque cook off. Each side would sacrifice a young bull. Whichever side’s god sent down fire for the sacrifice would be the winner, the true God.
Each side got a young bull and began praying to their god to send down fire. Evidently Baal’s lighter was out of gas, his wood was wet, or he couldn’t find any newspapers to use for kindling because his bull just lay there like a sack of wet laundry. Meanwhile, Elijah’s bull was consumed by fire.
After Baal’s no-show, Elijah had all 450 false prophets put to death. Needless to say Queen Jezebel wasn’t happy and ordered that Elijah be killed. The prophet runs for his life and that’s where we pick up the story today.
Elijah’s gone a day’s journey into the desert and we find him sitting under a broom tree. He’s praying for death. Then he lays down and goes to sleep.
I think at one time or another we’ve all felt like Elijah. We get tired and discouraged. We’re surrounded by negativity. TV and the newspaper are full of bad news. The economy’s in the dumps. Unemployment is at record highs. People are dying in wars and at the hands of ruthless dictators. Hurricanes and tornados are destroying lives and property. Who wouldn’t be discouraged?
Crazy people are going on shooting rampages in movie theaters and houses of worship. Earlier this week, a mosque in Joplin (as if Joplin doesn’t have enough problems) was burned to the ground.
As Catholics our faith is constantly under attack. Our own government is telling us what we should believe and how we should practice our faith. Just up Broadway a group of religious sisters is meeting to decide whether or not they should obey the Holy Father. In Friday’s paper, the GOSSIP COLUMNIST posted an editorial on the sisters’ meeting, as if she knows anything about it.
Then there’s the child sex abuse scandal, a story that just won’t go away. No matter how much good the Church does, no matter how many people we help, the media always come back to the abuse scandal. Somehow, 40-year-old cases make front page news, meanwhile other cases of abuse involving non-priests get little or no coverage.
Things happen in our own lives that can be even more discouraging. Maybe you, or someone close to you has lost their job. Maybe you can’t make the mortgage or the car payment. Maybe your grown children have stopped coming to mass. Maybe you’re having a hard time praying. Maybe you don’t think God’s listening to you anyway.
It’s enough to even make you want to sit down under a broom tree and pray for death. I think we can all relate to this reading from the 1st Book of Kings.
God answered Elijah’s prayer, but not in the way he expected. An angel touched him and said “Get up!” and left him a hearth cake and a jug of water. But he wasn’t going to be discouraged from his discouragement. He ate and drank and then lay down again. But the angel came back and ordered him again to get up again and eat, otherwise the journey would be too long for him. So, he did as he was told and walked 40 days to the mountain of God. Notice that the angel didn’t suggest he get up and eat, he (or she) wasn’t giving advice. The word used in the reading TWICE is “ordered”. God was demanding that Elijah continue his journey.
OK, deacon. That’s all well and good for Elijah, but what about me? What do I do when I get discouraged?
The answer to that question is in John’s Gospel. Jesus tells the Jews, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews didn’t understand how this Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, could be the bread that came down from heaven. It defied everything that they knew. They knew the story of our first reading. They had no problem with an angel bringing Elijah food and drink under the broom tree. The knew all about their ancestors eating the manna that fell from heaven. But this was something new; something unheard of. How could this man, whom they had watched grow up in Joseph’s carpenter shop, somehow be bread!?
You and I know the answer. We can sit under a tree for the next month and an angel isn’t going to bring us anything to eat and drink. We can stand in the desert until the cows come home and manna’s not going to fall from the sky. If we want to receive nourishment for our journey, all we have to do is walk up to this altar. God gives us everything we need to make the journey. It’s called the Eucharist.
That’s how we deal with discouragement. That’s how we face the realities of living in the 21st century. That’s how we get the strength we need. Just walk down this aisle. When Father or I say to you “The Body of Christ” and you say “AMEN”, you’re acknowledging that Christ is truly present in the consecrated host.
Now I’m going to say something that may seem as outrageous to you as Christ’s words may have seemed to the Jews. But it’s true. It’s Church teaching and it’s sound theology. If you don’t believe with every fiber of your being that the consecrated bread is really the body of Christ; if you don’t believe there’s a very real difference between the hosts in this chalice and what’s in the tabernacle, if you don’t know it to be absolutely true, then stay in your seat. When you respond to the words “The Body of Christ” with the word “AMEN”, if you don’t really believe it, than you’re lying to yourself, and worse, you’re lying to Jesus.
If you’re not in a state of grace, if your soul isn’t free from sin, stay in your seat until you’ve taken advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation. Otherwise, you’re just piling sin upon sin. As Saint Paul said, anyone who receives the Body of Christ unworthily is guilty of the Body of Christ.
If you had a cheeseburger ten minutes before you came to mass, stay in your seat. You’re supposed to fast for one hour before you receive the Lord into your body. Considering the pre-Vatican II regulations about receiving the Eucharist, an hour really isn’t much to ask.
If you and I are going to survive in a world that offers us very little encouragement, we NEED the Eucharist. It IS the true Body and Blood of our Savior and He gave it for you and me.