In the world today and figuratively speaking, faithful Catholics are treated like kindling wood piled high in the furnace of progressivist animus. Many are being stripped of their station and voice, and being made to feel persona non grata in their own spiritual homes simply for holding opinions contrary to the politically correct mantras of madness that permeate the age. Yet the hunger for godly justice – that primal hunger that lovers of Jesus feel to defend the ground on which the very Cross of Our Saviour was planted – that hunger grows stronger among those who cling to the Faith of Christ and who increasingly realize that they are next in line to be sacrificed on the altar of concessions erected to placate the shrieking circus freaks who demand Christians abandon their roots, traditions, patrimony and dogmas.
The Day of Our Lord is approaching. That Day is illustrated in today’s Gospel when Saint Peter walks to His Lord upon the water but when he sees the tempest about him he loses faith and begins to sink. Likewise, we see it illustrated in our Old Testament lesson as Elijah witnessed the tempest in the mountain wasteland and knew God was not in the tempest). Peter and Elijah both recognized the Saviour – Peter saw Him vaguely, as it were a ghost, walking upon the water in the midst of a raging storm and Elijah heard the “still, small voice” in the midst of calamity.
I’ve spoken before of C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and can’t recommend it enough for your reading enjoyment. The second book in that series, Peralandra, depicts a scene that is meant to capture that Day of tempest. And if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to read a portion of it to you. To set the scene, we have our hero, named “Ransom,” who has been pursued and heckled throughout the story by a character who bit by bit morphs into the devil. Ransom finally having had enough, forcefully engages the creature, at which:
“the creature… [mockingly] throws back its head and crys in a voice so loud that it seemed the golden sky roof must break, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” And the moment it had done so, Ransom felt certain that the sounds it had made were perfect Aramaic of the first century. The [Enemy he was engaging] was not quoting; it was remembering. These were the very words spoken from the Cross, treasured through all those years in the burning memory of the outcast creature which had heard them, and now brought forward in hideous parody; the horror made [Ransom] momentarily sick. [And] before [Ransom] had recovered the Enemy was upon him, howling like a gale, with eyes so wide opened that they seemed to have no lids, and with all its hair rising on its scalp” (p. 130).
Lewis convincingly recreates the scenes of Elijah and Peter in the experience character Ransom has hearing the Voice of the Saviour crying out for succour from the Cross. On the one hand, we hear Our Lord’s “still, small voice,” on the other the mockery and howling rage of the evil one.
All of this I share with you as prelude to looking more closely at Elijah’s experience at Mount Horeb when he fled from Jezebel. Our Old Testament reading today quotes the famous “still, small voice” passage which, despite all the distractions Elijah was faced with on the mountain – the tempest, the wind, the earthquake the fire, the destruction – Elijah knew it when he was hearing God’s voice. God spoke to him with a “still, small voice”; a voice that like a search-light cut through the cataclysm taking place. Even though the mountain was coming down around him, Elijah heard the voice of His Master because he had spent his life attuning himself to hearing it. If he had not been listening for the voice of God or if he didn’t recognize it, he would have been lost in the chaos.
Only some 40 days before Elijah heard God’s voice on the mountain, he was praying down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice he was offering to God in challenge to the false prophets of Baal. The challenge and sacrifice were made on Mount Carmel (one of the world’s most holy places); and the fire Elijah called down from heaven that Day not only burnt up the sacrificial animal but it vaporized the 12 stones of the altar (representing the 12 tribes of Israel) and the 12 pots of water (perhaps representing the 12 Apostles) that Elijah had them pour on the altar. And after God had rained down fire, Elijah took up a sword and killed the 450 false prophets of Baal.
Just imagine the scene, an incinerating blast of fire from heaven – out of nowhere – so hot that it disintegrates flesh and stone; and then Elijah goes into a berserk worthy of Beowulf and single-handedly slaughters 450 men. Not bad for a day’s work.
After the carnage, the wicked king of the Israelites, Ahab, who saw the whole affair, went and reported, somewhat inaccurately, to his even more wicked queen, Jezebel, what Elijah had done to her prophets. But instead of either of them repenting in fear and trembling for the blasphemies and sacrileges they’d committed against the Most High God of Heaven, Jezebel is filled with blind hatred and vows to murder Elijah. Elijah gets scared and runs away.
Now, some might not excuse Elijah for running away (I’m always a little amused by the fact, being that he had just called down heavenly fire and massacred 450 pagans) but some might hold it against Elijah because he didn’t first consult God (maybe God wanted Jezebel to get a little bit more of the same treatment her priests received?). Even though his running away doesn’t appear to make sense, who can say that Elijah wasn’t acting under the guidance of The Lord? It’s clear that as he fled from Jezebel, God had a plan for his care in the wilderness – he made the 150-mile trip to Mount Horeb with only the clothes on his back. And when he arrived, in exhaustion, he threw himself on the ground and, in hopelessness, asked God to let him die. Instead, God sent an angel to feed him and the bread and water he was given were miraculous, not only because they were delivered by the Angel of the Lord (some Church Fathers believe this Angel was the pre-incarnate Christ), but that they were also to sustain him through a 40 day fast while upon the Mountain.
Before being miraculously fed by the Angel, Elijah as he lay under a bush “asked God that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers” (19:4). Elijah was worn-out, disappointed and demoralized. He wanted to die because he didn’t have any more fight left in him; and what’s worse, he thought he was the only person on earth that truly cared about God. He was a broken man and he felt utterly alone and lost in a world he didn’t want to be part of anymore.
And in his human brokenness, God refreshed Elijah. God sent him bread and water, God gave him shelter from the blasting sun and raging storm (first under the bush, then in the cave), and God gave him rest (he slept so soundly the Angel had to shake him awake). God supplied Elijah’s needs when Elijah was most hopeless. And, God will supply our needs when we are most hopeless.
When we most need God – His consolation, His refreshment and His presence – He will, of His pity, miraculously come to us and fulfil our needs – He will “never leave us nor forsake us” (Heb 13:5). We often don’t even need to express our needs clearly to Him; God knows our needs before we tell Him (Mt 6:8), He hears the groaning of our spirit when we cry “Abba, Father”, He satisfies us with the healing of His grace under the shelter of His Wings (Ps. 91:4). As Elijah was fed with a food that sustained him for 40 days, God feeds us in our brokenness with manna that sustains us through any necessity. He is our Spiritual Food and Drink in our necessity and want – “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Pt 5:7).
So, despite the chaos that swirls about us, we can always hide ourselves in God. Saint Paul tells us: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35ff). Saint Peter knew this as he sank into the storm-tossed waves and cried out “‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him” (Mt 14:30-1); and Elijah knew this when he heard the “still, small voice” amidst the tempest and earthquake and hid his face from the presence of The Almighty.