According to statistics, the mortality rate is 100%. Four exceptions to this rule are recorded in salvation history:
Seven generations after Adam, Scripture records that “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).
The prophet Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind with a flaming chariot and horses (2 Kings:11).
Death could not hold the Lord Jesus Christ, who rose on the third day after his crucifixion and ascended into heaven forty days later.
Traditions East and West affirm that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. (The East believes she “slept” peacefully before being assumed; the West believes she did not die.)
Enoch interrupted the downward spiral after Adam’s expulsion as a ray of hope piercing the darkness. Once a pattern sets in, human consciousness begins to accept it as normal and “natural.” However, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). As long as there is one exception to a rule, the rule is not absolute.
Enoch and Elijah kept alive in human consciousness the possibility of bodily resurrection, foreshadowing by their mysterious translations the resurrection of Christ and the assumption of Mary. The Sadducees, the high priestly class, had already given up hope in the resurrection, effectively nullifying the witness of Enoch in the first book of the Pentateuch which they revered. The flame of hope is so easily snuffed out in a fragile humanity grown old.
It takes the heart of a child to believe in Jesus’ promise of eternal life: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
In praying the Our Father today, we may contemplate Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Saints Enoch and Elijah in whom his will was done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The curtain separating heaven and earth was torn in two on the Cross, and the transfiguring Light of the Trinity shines everywhere. May we be granted eyes to see it.
“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Jesus’ command sounded strange to his hearers then and now. How can one hand be ignorant of the other?
Or if we ask the question in reverse: How does the left hand know what the right hand is doing? Why are humans self-conscious?
The injunction follows the exhortation not to perform righteous deeds in order to be seen or win the praise of others. Pure actions proceed spontaneously without ulterior motives or self-satisfaction. Children of the Father are good without even knowing it.
In the paradisal state, goodness is not even a category. The mind recognizes “good” only because it also recognizes “evil.” Consciousness of the good spiraled out from the “knowledge of good and evil,” the splitting of the original, one-pointed mind. Communion in the deified state will know nothing of either goodness or evil, love or hate, kindness or unkindness. When the Trinity is all in all, distinctions and categories disappear. Love is a reality, not a category.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Distinctions between an “inner” and an “outer” room also resulted from Adam’s breakdown. In personal communion there are no outside individuals to impress. We commune with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit as one Body of Christ. In the silent prayer of the heart, we can begin to quiet the senses and let go of the vanity of public image.
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
We are called to develop a hidden interior life in the heart of the Father. Life in the Trinity is a personal friendship, and intimacy is a privilege of persons. Jesus gave us a hint of what this means when he refused to divulge John’s destiny to Peter (John 21:22). Each of us is called to a particular and unique friendship unlike any other—a secret known only to the Father. We are wasting time when we look for human applause or compare ourselves with one another. The way to unity among human persons is to turn to the Person of the Father first. In the Father’s heart, personal union and communion are forged.
Elijah’s glorious assumption into heaven shows us that heaven is not so far away. We can begin to find heaven in our heart and in our midst through hidden prayer today: “For behold, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21).
After a long, thunderous showdown with the prophets of Baal, ending with their destruction, Elijah was a prophet on the run from the wrath of Jezebel. The Lord listened to his complaints under a broom tree, fed him, and strengthened him for a long journey on foot to Mount Horeb. Alone and in silence during his forty day trek, Elijah had a lot of time to reflect on the events that had just taken place.
He apparently received no directive to hide out in the cave because the Lord asked him, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
He answered: “I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.”
No mention was made of the killing of the prophets of Baal. Elijah’s zeal was interrupted by an unusual theophany:
Then the Lord said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.
Theophanies to Moses on the same mountain involved thunder, lightning and fire. The same God came to Elijah in a gentle whisper. Is this a contradiction?
God is beyond contradictions and paradoxes. The Trinity is infinite and incomprehensible. Yet the infinite took form in finite flesh. The God of thunder and lightning began to be in the womb of a Virgin as a helpless embryo. The God of the silent sound denounced hypocrites. The Word made flesh spoke in figures about the unspeakable.
God cannot be put into a box. Not even the finite form of Christ remained in its earthly state in perpetuity. The destruction of his body released the Triple Light that opened the way for a transfigured humanity.
All the violence and passion of Adam and his progeny were given free rein to strike God on the Cross. The innocent Lamb called us to wholeness and singleness of eye. Dramatic language about discarding an eye or a hand that causes sin underscores the nothingness of earthly attachments compared with the transfigured life for which we are made. The Triple Glory of the Transfiguration and the Cross is the apex to which a person of single (spiritual) eye is fixed.
“Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8b-9a).
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
In the legalistic society Jesus grew up in, he witnessed the meticulous ways in which people carried out their ritual purifications, food laws, and Sabbath regulations. The heart and soul of these minute rules was love, Jesus pointed out earlier to the wise scribe (Mark 12:28-34). He had no battle to pick about words and letters in the law. Such scholarly disputations were a hindrance to his simple yet inexhaustibly profound message from the Father’s heart: the only-begotten Son of God is the Law made flesh.
All of the sacrifices of the Old Law were nailed to the Cross in Jesus Christ. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not live. Seen in the light of the Trinity, Jesus showed us that the way to authentic personhood and communion is self-emptying. By detaching from ego and its illusory, finite possessions both material and spiritual (“mine”), persons are released into the infinity of the Triune Love (“all mine are thine, and thine are mine”).
Spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually, over centuries and generations, as humanity crawls from babyhood to adulthood as one man. In the dramatic episode of Elijah’s glorious defeat of the prophets of Baal, the lukewarm children of Israel returned to their God. However, zeal and fanaticism led Elijah to kill his opponents. With the heat of Jezebel’s threat on his neck to take his life in return, he fell into depression under a broom tree, begging the Lord to let him die. He was not fully aware of the reason for his slump, but it probably came from his excessive zeal.
No prophet ever died for his enemies but Jesus Christ. All of the arrows, violence, scorn, beatings, and hatred of the scattered children of Adam were hurled upon the Cross. And Jesus said, “I thirst.” He thirsts for our love and unity. He thirsts for our ultimate happiness which can only be obtained by dropping our arrows and emptying our hands. We are one, he told his disciples at the Last Supper. If you hurt one of the least of my brethren, you hurt me, he told Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus.
In the childhood of humankind, the line between good and evil was drawn outside in the world of material extension. “Us” versus “Them,” “friends” versus “enemies,” “I” versus “You.” The line between good and evil, however, is found within the human heart, the true altar of sacrifice. The message of the Beatitudes is conquer yourself. The battle with sin and evil is within. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is replaced by, “Love your enemies.”
Stories abound from the desert fathers and mothers about the discovery of God’s universal love for all without discrimination, a realization obtained only after a great interior battle and purification.
Let us pray with the Psalmist, “Teach me your paths, my God, and guide me in your truth” (Psalm 25:4b, 5a).
“You are the light of the world”—a torch lit by the transfiguring Light of the Trinity. All things seen in this Light reveal hidden mysteries beyond our cosmic frame of reference.
The story of Elijah and the widow opens a window onto eternity. The poor woman is appointed by God to take care of Elijah’s needs because his brook had run dry, but she is at the end of her rope. She has the heart to do all she can for the prophet, but reality stares her in the face. Her cupboard is empty except for “a handful of flour” and “a little oil.” She and her son are about to die, she tells Elijah.
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
The miracle of the self-replenishing jar and jug is a snapshot of life in the Trinity, where Persons are always empty yet always full. On earth individuals live a “balanced” life divided between self-care and care for others. If we do not take time to be alone, eat, sleep and recuperate, we “burn out.” Giving and receiving in the earthly condition entails energy loss. In the Trinity, however, solitude (unique distinction) and communion (mutual indwelling of diverse persons) are simultaneous without any loss.
How is this so? Each person is whole and entire, not a part of a whole. In ultimate reality there is no such thing as “coordination,” which is a harmonious functioning of parts. The Trinity is Whole-Whole-Whole, not a harmony.
“The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God,” the Athanasian creed states. Each Divine Person is the Whole Divinity. Each human person is the whole humanity. Persons of the deified humanity in Christ are brought into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is nothing in the spacetime continuum that can serve as an example because all things in material extension are in a condition of parts outside of parts. Nothing escapes it except persons, who transcend it. Individuals in time exhibit all the properties of parts. Individuals coordinate, cooperate, subordinate, etc. A close examination of language, which is linked to matter, reveals the fact. The prefix co- of coordinate means “together” or “jointly,” indicating a harmony of parts. Persons are not coordinated or subordinated, but Wholes dwelling in Wholes in a condition Jesus calls angelic (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25).
Because absolute diversity and absolute identity (oneness) are simultaneous without coordination, subordination, or any kind of “connection” between the two, they are always in mint condition without loss. There is no balancing act in the realm of personal communion. There are no scales or measures. There is no gain or loss. There is no burn out. Diversity and unity are complete, whole, absolute, and without mixture. Not even a preposition connects them: “the Three One God,” in the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 40.41).
Ultimate reality exceeds the limits of thought which is inextricably tied to matter. To think is an action in time. There is a beginning and an end to a process of thought. Logical strings and logarithms, musical scores and poetic meters—any kind of thought requires time. Time is inseparable from space and matter. Therefore thought itself vanishes in ultimate communion where the Trinity is “all in all.”
Diversity is preserved in communion without spatial dimension and separation. In spacetime, diversity requires a condition of parts outside of parts. The properties demonstrated by Jesus’ resurrected body, however, indicate that spiritualized matter has some of the qualities we now attribute to mind. For example, while in New York we can think of California and travel there mentally. A spiritualized body may be able to pop here and there instantaneously, at the “speed of thought,” to use a limping figure. (How can there be speed beyond spacetime?)
The widow’s jar is a figure of persons—jars of clay containing the infinite treasure of the Triple Light. “Let light shine out of darkness… to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).
“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20), Jesus promised. In the Trinity, the Light of Three Faces will shine upon us and we will rejoice “more than when grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7).
May the salt of divine grace season our hearts and minds, and may the Light of the All-Holy Trinity shine in us that the world may glorify the heavenly Father.
In a world of individuals where people scrape and fend for themselves in order to survive, the image of a ragged Elijah in haircloth being fed by ravens seems unreal. Elijah is a type of monk or hermit—St. John the Baptist was compared to him (Luke 1:17)—and is claimed by the Carmelites as their founder and inspiration. Freed from self-care, Elijah was able to focus all of his energy on God.
In the third century after Pentecost, a wave of Elijah and Baptist imitators swept across Egypt and Syria as men and women fled the cities to seek God alone in the desert. The clothing worn by the two prophets inspired their simple habits—sleeveless tunics, belts and sandals—and signified their renunciation of the pomp and vanity of this world.
Like Elijah, the early Christian ascetics lived simply and relied on Divine Providence for their daily needs. They earned only enough to sustain bare necessities in order to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade” (Psalm 121:5), they believed, receiving bread from the Father’s ravens.
The prophets and ascetics in salvation history demonstrate with their own lives that the kingdom of heaven is not of this world, but begins in the human heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” was the motto of the desert. In a world of measurable distances, corners, edges and surfaces, we need not travel an inch to find the infinite space for the divine within the heart, the dwelling place of the Trinity.
In the blissful state of heavenly communion—when “all mine are thine, and thine are mine”—all persons will be freed from self-care, rejoicing in the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can begin today by trusting in the Lord to provide for our needs and those of the whole world.
16 Sat Weekday
1 Kgs 19:19-21/Mt 5:33-37 (364)
Our first readings this week and next are from the Book of Kings–the story of Elijah, the prophet, who challenges Ahab the King of Israel and his notorious wife Jezebel. Elijah is a powerful prophet, one of the greatest of the prophets, who raises people from the dead and brings fire from heaven on his enemies, yet he left no writings; we know him mainly from the life he led.
In the First Book of Kings, Elijah is on the run most of the time, Ahab and his wife in pursuit. We follow him from water hole to water hole, hiding in mountain caves and isolated wadis in the desert, with scarcely enough to eat.
A difficult, humbling flight. Elijah appears in an icon hand to his head, wondering if he will make it, even as a raven hovers behind him bringing bread for the day. He makes it through a desperate drought, thanks to a poor widow who helps him out.
The powerful prophet is helpless, but God keep him going. And Elijah learns from experience how to see, so he sees God’s redeeming presence in a tiny far-off cloud and the whisper of a wind that says God is here.
Three holy people are remembered this week. St. Barnabas, a companion of Paul, is remembered on Monday. The Passionists remember Blessed Lorenzo Salvi on Tuesday, and the popular St. Anthony of Padua is remembered on Wednesday.
Our first readings this week and next are from the Book of Kings–the story of Elijah, the prophet, and his interaction with Ahab the King of Israel and his notorious wife Jesebel.
Elijah is a powerful prophet, one of the greatest of the prophets; he raises people from the dead and brings fire from heaven on his enemies. Yet he leaves no writings, which means we know him mainly from the life he leads.
According to the First Book of Kings, Elijah is on the run most of the time, fleeing from Ahab and his wife in pursuit. We follow him from water hole to water hole, hiding in mountain caves and isolated wadis in the desert, with scarcely enough to eat. Most of our readings for the coming days are about a fleeing prophet.
It’s a difficult, humbling flight. A popular icon of Elijah pictures him hand to his head, wondering if he will make it, as a raven hovers behind him bringing bread for the day. He’s living through a desperate drought that the king and his enemies see him responsible for. He scrounges for food, even relying on a poor widow with almost nothing of her own.
The powerful prophet is helpless. He’s living through a drought, which God alone can lift. He needs food, which God alone can give. He has to wait for God to act.
Yet Elijah learns from this experience. It trains him to see. From experience, the prophet learns to see what others may not see, and so he sees God’s redeeming presence in the far-off tiny cloud that promises rain and the whisper of a wind that says God is here.
In Jesus’ time, people were hoping for a Messiah. Elijah was one type of Messiah some hoped for. He’s closest to the kind of Messiah Jesus was.
Isn’t Elijah in the drought like Jesus in the mystery of his Incarnation and Passion? “He humbled himself, taking on the form of a slave.” That humbling led to death on a cross. He was a rejected prophet, yet God raised him up in power.
Following him into the mystery of his Incarnation and Passion do we also gain a wisdom to see grace in weakness and death? In the small whisper where God can be found?
For the past few weeks the Old Testament readings at Mass on Sunday from the Book of Exodus have focused on the journey the whole Israelite community made through the desert after being freed by God from enslavement in Egypt. Today, the Old Testament reading at Mass from the Book of Kings recalls the journey of one man, the Prophet Elijah, who fled from the wicked King Ahab and his notorious wife Jezebel.
The Book of Exodus reminds us that God is with us as a people making our way to the Kingdom. The Book of Kings, as it tells the story of Elijah, reminds us that God’s with us individually as we make our personal journey through life.
Elijah is one of the greatest and most powerful of the prophets. He raises people from the dead and brings fire down from heaven on his enemies. He causes the rain to stop in punishment for unbelief. At the time of Jesus people wondered if Jesus weren’t Elijah appearing again. When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, Moses and Elijah, two great figures from the Old Testament, appear at his side.
Yet, Elijah leaves no writings, as most of the prophets do, which means we know him mainly from the life he leads.
According to the Book of Kings, Elijah spends most of his life fleeing from Ahab and his wife Jezebel, his mortal enemies. They follow him from water hole to water hole as he flees south from northern Israel. He has to hide in mountain caves and isolated wadis in the desert, with scarcely enough to eat. Elijah may be a powerful prophet, but most of time he’s a prophet on the run.
It’s a difficult, humbling flight. A popular icon of Elijah pictures him hand to his head, wondering if he will make it, as a raven hovers behind him bringing bread for the day. He’s living through a desperate drought; the king and his all his followers are after him. He scrounges for food, even relying on a poor widow with almost nothing of her own. He wishes God would end it all.
The powerful prophet is helpless. He’s living through a drought that God alone can lift. He needs food that God alone can give. He has to wait for God alone to act.
Yet Elijah learns from this experience. It trains him to see. From experience, the prophet learns to see what others may not see, and so he sees God’s redeeming presence in the far-off tiny cloud that promises rain and the whisper of a wind that says God is here, or in a poor widow whom most would say is useless.
In Jesus’ time, people were hoping for a Messiah. Elijah was one type of Messiah some hoped for. He’s closest to the kind of Messiah Jesus was.
Isn’t that true? Isn’t Elijah on the run like Jesus in the mystery of his Incarnation and Passion? “He humbled himself, taking on the form of a slave.” That humbling led to death on a cross. He ended his life a rejected, helpless prophet, yet God raised him up in power.
Elijah invites us to learn from the journey we make, particularly from our experiences of weakness and death. We learn to see through the mystery of the cross. We gain the greatest wisdom through this mystery. What wisdom is better than the wisdom that sees God’s power in a tiny cloud, the slight whisper of a breeze, the helplessness of the poor? That’s a wisdom our times can use.
Jesus came into a Jewish world expecting a Messiah, but what kind of Messiah were they hoping for? Some Jews of the time expected a royal Messiah, the Son of King David. You see that expectation in the Gospel of Matthew which begins by tracing the human origins of Jesus back to David. “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David and Son of Abraham.”
Hope for a Messiah like the warrior King David who would free the land of Israel from its oppressors grew stronger among the Jews after the Roman occupation of Palestine by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC. It can be seen in some of the Essene writings discovered from Qumran in recent times.
The Gospel of Matthew indicates that ordinary people too were hoping for a kingly messiah at the time of Jesus. “Can this be the son of David,” the crowd says after he cured a man who could not see or speak. (Mt 12,23) “Hosanna to the son of David,” the crowd says as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Mt 21,9) That causes the leaders in Jerusalem to become angry, because a claim like that could fire revolution and they feared what would happen because of it. (Mt 21.15)
Jesus never claims to be a political revolutionary, however. He refuses to fit neatly into that kind of messianic expectation. He will not lead an uprising against the Romans. He’s not John the Baptist come back from the dead. “Jesus is not confined to playing an already fixed role–that of Messiah– but he confers, on the notions of Messiah and salvation, a fullness which could not have been imagined in advance.” (Pontifical Biblical Commission)
If we ask what messianic expectation of his time Jesus comes closest to, we might find it in the hope for a prophetic messiah like Elijah, who is featured in our readings this week.
Like Elijah, he will speak the truth against the powerful, he will help the poor, he will suffer persecution; he will raise the dead.