Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Elijah and the Prophets of Baal

The 1st Mass reading proper to today's season (Wed after the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time) was suppressed in favor of the Feast of St. Barnabas. The suppressed reading (1 Kngs 18:20-39) is one of my favorites, so I am going to post it below, with a few words to follow.

So Ahab sent to all the Israelites and had the prophets assemble on Mount Carmel. Elijah appealed to all the people and said, "How long will you straddle the issue? If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him." The people, however, did not answer him. So Elijah said to the people, "I am the only surviving prophet of the LORD, and there are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. Give us two young bulls. Let them choose one, cut it into pieces, and place it on the wood, but start no fire. I shall prepare the other and place it on the wood, but shall start no fire. You shall call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The God who answers with fire is God."

All the people answered, "Agreed!"

Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one young bull and prepare it first, for there are more of you. Call upon your gods, but do not start the fire."

Taking the young bull that was turned over to them, they prepared it and called on Baal from morning to noon, saying, "Answer us, Baal!" But there was no sound, and no one answering. And they hopped around the altar they had prepared.

When it was noon, Elijah taunted them: "Call louder, for he is a god and may be meditating, or may have retired, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." They called out louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until blood gushed over them. Noon passed and they remained in a prophetic state until the time for offering sacrifice. But there was not a sound; no one answered, and no one was listening.

Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." When they had done so, he repaired the altar of the LORD which had been destroyed. He took twelve stones, for the number of tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the LORD had said, "Your name shall be Israel." He built an altar in honor of the LORD with the stones, and made a trench around the altar large enough for two seahs of grain. When he had arranged the wood, he cut up the young bull and laid it on the wood. "Fill four jars with water," he said, "and pour it over the holocaust and over the wood." "Do it again," he said, and they did it again. "Do it a third time," he said, and they did it a third time. The water flowed around the altar, and the trench was filled with the water. At the time for offering sacrifice, the prophet Elijah came forward and said, "LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things by your command. Answer me, LORD! Answer me, that this people may know that you, LORD, are God and that you have brought them back to their senses."

The LORD'S fire came down and consumed the holocaust, wood, stones, and dust, and it lapped up the water in the trench. Seeing this, all the people fell prostrate and said, "The LORD is God! The LORD is God!"

Ok. A few thoughts:

1. Prophecy is not speaking the future, but speaking on behalf of God. The prophets of Ba'al claimed to speak on behalf of God, and in fact, they recognized Ba'al as the one and only God (kind of). But their 'god' was not the same as the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who called himself Yahweh. Yahweh means "I am," and refers to the absolute necessity and eternity of God - He is the one and only thing that necessarily, must exist, and always has and always will exist. It is the same God that revealed himself to Abraham and to Moses and in love made lavish promises to them.

2. "Ba'al" on the other hand means "master," and refers to that demons desire for us, to master and dominate us through stealth or force. If not the same being that deceived Adam and Eve in the garden, to whom unredeemed Man has ever since been in bondage, the two beings are clearly closely related.

3. Discernment is the art of distinguishing what comes from God, and what does not. In this account we are given a model from discernment. No matter how hard the false prophets shouted, hopped, and gashed themselves with knives, the darn sacrifice wouldn't burn: there was no one to hear them. Their works, prayers, etc., were all futile because they were not from God and to God.

4. The Christian life might be seen as a sort of preparing oneself, or letting the Church prepare us, to be a living sacrifice. We must carefully discern the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to conform ourselves to the will of God. Firstly me must learn to avoid sin. We must learn to fulfill the obligations of our state in life. We must allow our mixed motivations to be purged. Ultimately we must grow to let all our acts originate, be permeated by, and aim at love. As we are conformed to Christ, the Holy Spirit will descend on us like fire from on high and set us ablaze, but, like the Burning Bush that spoke to Moses, we will not be destroyed by what consumes us.

5. In the process, we will increasingly radiate God's love and show His people and the world the right way to follow the Lord.

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