In the Bible, Elijah appears suddenly, mysteriously, and in the end leaves on a chariot of fire that takes him to heaven (cf. 2 Kings 2:11-12). The prophet Malachi predicted that Elijah would return and usher in a great movement of repentance and a new movement of holiness (cf. Mal 4:1-6). Thus the prophet Elijah goes beyond the confines of his time, and is even present in the Gospels, appearing at Jesus’ side, along with Moses, at the moment of the Transfiguration (cf. Mt 17:3).
Pope Francis notes that Elijah is a man of faith, a man of integrity that he does not compromise. His symbol is fire, the image of God’s purifying power and of Elijah’s dramatic triumph over the priests of Baal (cf. 1 Kings 18:20-40). Faithful even when put to the test, Elijah is an example for us in times of temptation and suffering, and we see that his strength of faith comes from his prayer.
“Prayer is the lifeblood that constantly nourishes his existence. This is why he is one of those most dear to the monastic tradition, so much so that some have elected him as the spiritual father of a life consecrated to God. Elijah is the man of God, who stands as a defender of the primacy of the Most High.”
Yet Elijah experienced doubts and struggles, he is a great model for all of us who struggle to pray, who experience moments of aridity and trial. Yes, there are moments of exaltation that we feel God lift us up in prayer. But prayer is also letting ourselves be carried by God when we sense our own weakness, and in the unpleasant feelings and even temptations we experience.
Think of Jesus’ agony in the garden, his honest expression of painful emotions and acknowledging his deep trial. But Jesus does not end his prayer there… He ends by trusting in God, by conforming his will to the Father’s, even in a dark time.
So too, Elijah brings his complaints to God on the mountain, and the Lord manifests himself not in the fierce storm, not in the earthquake or devouring fire, but in “a still small voice” (cf. 1 Kings 19:9-13). When feeling overwhelmed, depressed, attacked and beaten down (sound familiar?), Elijah discovers a God who listens in our pain, then comforts and challenges us. In small ways, not in the dramatic, we are called to be faithful and find God in the whisper.
Pope Francis invites us to meditate on the prophet Elijah and be encouraged to remain steadfast in our faith.
- God Cares and Provides: 1 Kings 17 – The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry.
- Choose the One, True God: 1 Kings 18 – You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord.
- God Listens and Whispers: 1 Kings 19 – I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.
Elijah is venerated, especially by the Carmelites, as a model of prayer and unshakeable faith amid trials. Prayer and contemplation sustained the Prophet not only in moments of great success but also in adversity and persecution. May we persevere in prayer, strive to discern God’s will every day, and come to experience, even at times of uncertainty and trial, the consolation of his presence and providential care.