A Prophet’s Legacy

"The Prophet Elias" by Daniele da Volterra

“The Prophet Elias” by Daniele da Volterra

Have you ever been the excited recipient of an inheritance? If so, you may have received money, property or a treasured family heirloom. As a high school student I became one of the beneficiaries of my paternal grandfather’s inheritance. Knowing that I had intended to go on to a Teacher’s College, he had investigated the tuition for the four years, which came to a grand total of $600.00. Obviously that dates me! Gone are those days however!  But I was able to enter and complete college without any financial concerns, thanks to his departing gift to me. As welcome as these legacies are, more important, however,  would be the inherited treasures left by St. Elijah, prophet of the Old Testament and inspiration for the Order of Carmel.

In ancient times, as we can see from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it was the elder son who came into the greater part of an inheritance. So too with Elisha, the successor and spiritual son of Elijah.  As Elijah was ending his earthly sojourn he rose in a fiery chariot and cast his mantle to the ground which was caught by Elisha. The mantle symbolized the two-fold spirit of Elijah whose ministry would now be carried on by his successor. Thus this particular prophetic legacy was handed on (2Kings 2:9-12).

Did Elijah leave anything else?  What is there for us to inherit? Actually, Elijah left quite a voluminous legacy.  We will take a look at some of these treasures and then leave you to explore the Book of Kings to find other gems.

First of all, who was this mysterious figure who suddenly seems to come out of nowhere, makes a dramatic appearance, challenges King Ahab, and then disappears in 1Kings 17:1 ?  Scripture identifies him as a Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, which was probably  “the rocky region” that lay on the east of Jordan. We learn nothing of his parentage or background. We are confronted only with a man of unusual courage who takes to task the king, who has abandoned the one true God of Israel to pay homage to the pagan idols of his Phoenician wife Jezebel.

Legacy: Courage

Elijah identifies himself to King Ahab as God’s servant—sent to do His Will. “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1Kings 17:1). Elijah  is a man of prayer, a witness to God’s love. Discerning the signs of the times in which a spiritual drought has fallen upon Israel, he reminds Ahab that as king he should also be a servant of the one God of Israel. Instead he has given in to his pagan wife and has not shepherded his people but rather is leading them astray. As a man of prayer Elijah is likewise a man of action. The word he speaks is effective and he informs the king of the impending drought which will last until, through God’s power, Elijah will withdraw it. From his mouth comes the “fiery” word which will burn the earth and plunge it into a 3 1/2 -year period of no rain. The spiritual drought which has seared the souls of God’s chosen people will now likewise scorch the earth.

As God’s servants we are also sent to do His Will—to discern prayerfully the signs of the times, to become responsible Christians of action—to be courageous in a world that often challenges our moral convictions; to be faithful to our word  even when it is unpopular.

Legacy: Prayerful Solitude/Compassion

As suddenly as Elijah appeared God ordered him to hide. “Depart from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, that is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1Kings 17:3-4). As a servant Elijah was ready to embrace the next mission entrusted to him. He was also a man of compassion. He knew his gifts and strengths and put them at God’s disposal, but in his humanness he also knew his weaknesses which we will consider later. In the ancient world the most vulnerable and often neglected persons were children and widows. God sends Elijah into a place of remoteness and solitude, a place of prayer and growth in charity, a place of dependence upon the poor provisions of a widow and her son, but also for this man of action a place of opportunity for compassion as protector of the poor and suffering. It is here that the exchange of receiving and giving will open the heart of the widow to faith and the heart of Elijah to his future missions (1Kings 17:8-24).

God sent Elijah into a place of solitude, where removed from the turmoil swirling about him, he would be prepared through prayer for the next intense phase of his mission. God used the circumstances of the unfortunate to teach Elijah not to be so self-reliant. As he would give so must he be willing to receive. Elijah helps us to be conscious of the circumstances of others and to realize that others, even those less fortunate than ourselves, have something to offer us.

Legacy: Faithfulness

In the third year of the drought Elijah received a new command from God: “Go, show yourself to Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth” (1Kings 18:1). Sound simple enough?  Not if  you read Chapter 18 of 1Kings! During Elijah’s absence Queen Jezebel had the prophets of the Lord killed; not a pleasant woman to do business with. In trying to set up a meeting with King Ahab, Elijah was putting his life on the line. Time was running out and the king could no longer straddle the fence between the God of Israel and his wife’s idols. Elijah, the fiery prophet, challenged Ahab—he, the Lord’s Prophet against the 450 prophets of Baal. Both sides would offer sacrifice but not set fire to them. Whose prayer would be answered and whose sacrifice would be consumed by fire sent down from heaven (1Kings 18:20-40)? On that day the people of Israel fell on their faces  in worship to the God of Israel who had shown through Elijah that the Lord is God. And the prophets of Baal were put to death!

The rains fell and the drought came to an end (1 Kings 18:41-46).

Elijah, faithful preserver of the covenant, is called forth from his time of intimacy with the Lord to stand strong and alone against the prophets of Baal to rekindle the faith of God’s people.

Most of us will not be called to put our life on the line, but we may be called to put our reputation on the line, to experience misunderstanding, hostility or rejection. We are called to enter into the Paschal Mystery as God’s witness and faithful servant.

Legacy: Fullness of Charity

The tension of such a dramatic event and the subsequent threat from Jezebel to take the life of Elijah sent him fleeing into the wilderness. Totally spent and utterly exhausted he lay down under a broom tree asking to die. For him the journey was over; he could not rise. Here was Elijah, the man of strength, now in the doldrums of weakness and despair. He had just experienced rejection, fear, and total discouragement. He had entered into the depths of darkness. How much could one person endure? He had forgotten that he was called to be a witness to the living God, not to be successful in every venture. Even a prophet cannot necessarily see the outcome of his endeavors. God sent an angel to interrupt his darkness and to sustain him with food for the next leg of the journey. Have you ever felt that you could not take even one more step? Unknown to Elijah just yet, he still has a 40-day journey to make to Mount Horeb (1Kings 19:1-8).

Elijah was now experiencing in his human weakness a deep purification, a realization that God’s will was not going to be accomplished by self-reliance. To experience God’s Presence is pure gift; God’s will is the fullness of charity within our heart, given over through sacrifice and total self-surrender. Elijah reminds us that God’s grace works through our human nature.

Legacy: Zeal

At the end of his 40-day journey Elijah entered a cave on Mount Horeb. Within the darkness and seclusion of this dwelling the Lord questioned him as to his purpose there. Elijah responded with his timeless answer, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts…” (1Kings 19:10). Thus he summed up, not only his purpose in coming to Mount Horeb, but the purpose of his very life. Painfully he still felt the sting of human defeat and complained to God. Taking him where he was God came to his assistance by sending him to the mouth of the cave. There in God’s majestic creation Elijah listened to the mighty wind, the powerful earthquake and the roaring fire expecting to hear God’s voice. Creation was shouting out  but God was silent. God turned Elijah’s expectations around full circle and brought him back to his wilderness experience where he must wait on the Lord. The Lord, rather than shatter the silence, entered into it as a small whispering voice and again questioned Elijah as to his purpose there. He then sent him back into the wilderness with directives, one of which was to anoint Elisha as his successor (1Kings 19:9-16).

Elijah’s zeal was enkindled by his strong awareness of God’s Presence. He teaches us to be still, to listen and to sift out all the many voices calling out to us in order to recognize God’s  still small voice among the others. Where in your own circumstance can you find the “dwelling” that will enable you to be still, to  hear God’s voice and to be aware of His Presence?

~ ~ ~ ~

The Will and Testament of Elijah offers numerous other legacies besides the ones mentioned above.  See for yourself by reading slowly and prayerfully the Book of Kings.

By Sister Mary Colombiere, O.C.D.
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

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Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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