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God Always has his "Seven Thousand." A Meditation on hope from the Story of Elijah

June 13, 2012

In the first reading at Mass today (Wednesday of Week 10), we have recounted for us one of the great prophetic actions of all time. It takes place at Mt. Carmel on the beautiful slopes overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Elijah Calls the Question – Grieved and angry that his own people had largely abandoned the Lord God, and gone over to the worship of god Baal (the god of the cruel and oppressive Queen Jezebel), Elijah called the question:

How long will you straddle between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him! (1 Kings 18:21)

Then Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, the Canaanite god, to a kind of prophetic duel. Both he and they would prepare sacrifices and see whose deity would respond. After many hours of calling on their god to no avail, and even being taunted by Elijah, the prophets of Baal were told to stand aside and watch a real God go to work. And Elijah prayed, and God sent fire from on high to consume the sacrifice:

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).

The passage ends darkly: Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kings 18:40)

As you may have guessed, none of this pleased the wicked Queen Jezebel much, and she announced that Elijah must die. Elijah fled into the desert and there began to despair.

And here is where it may be of some benefit to stop a moment and ponder a possible inner struggle of Elijah, one that we all likely share from time to time. For it is too easy in times like these to fear that all are falling away, that all is lost, and that there is little hope for recovery. And even recalling the promise of the Lord that hell would not prevail over the Church (Matt. 16:18), yet still, many remembering the days of full churches and schools, seeing the increasing emptiness may wonder, “Whither the Church?”

Did Elijah struggle in this way? It would seem so. For, even as he boldly challenged the prophets of Baal he said,

I am the only surviving prophet of the LORD, and there are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. (1 Kings 18:22).

Whether this was literally true is dubious, as we shall see later. Yet it is Elijah’s sense that he is all but alone and that the whole of the people and even the religious leaders have all defected.

As he flees his despair deepens:

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life…. He went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep…..All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”

So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night…..

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:3-12 varia)

Thus we see Elijah’s despair and his sense of being all alone. And some among the faithful today struggle also with this to one degree or another.

But note how God answers Elijah.

Yet I have seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:19)

In other words, you are far from alone Elijah. I have seven thousand like you though your despairing eyes see them not!

God then says,

“Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu..” (1 Kings 19:15-18

In other words, find these seven thousand and go rebuild my people, go rebuild my Church. Now is not a time for despair, now is a time for action. Gather them, appoint leaders and I will be with you to win this battle and reestablish the faith in glory.

In speaking this way to Elijah, the Lord also speaks to us. Though all seem in decline, and losses mount, Yet God still has “seven thousand” who have not bent the knee to Baal of this present evil age, who have not departed. And from this faithful remnant he expects us to draw hope and continue our work.

Most of you who read my blog regularly know that I have often chronicled the decline in numbers and, like most, insistent on the need to evangelize. There is indeed much to be sober about when glancing at the downward trend in Mass attendance, the closing of parishes and schools and the weak faith evidenced in our culture.

But to be sober is not to be in despair. For God has accomplished revivals before, and he can and will do so again. There are any number of famous figures who pronounced the end and doom of the Church. Yet where is Caesar now, where is Napoleon, where is the Soviet Socialist Republic? And when the latest neo-gnostic, rationalist, materialist, and atheist movements of the post Cartesian West have run their course, the Church will still remain, and still be speaking of Jesus. It is for us to stay the course and for God to win through to the end.

There have been times when the “practicing” Church got very small. On Good Friday all but five had fled: Mary of Magdala, Mary Clopas, Mary Solome, Mary, Mother of Jesus and John. And there they were with Jesus. They even added a sixth that day, the repentant thief. Small, and things looked pretty grim, but still the Church at worship, looking to Christ her head.

Yes, like Elijah we can sometimes think there is little hope, that we are all but alone. But it was not so for him, and it is not so for us. God always has his “seven thousand.”

Image Credit: McNichols Icons

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Comments (21)

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  1. Diane at Te Deum says:

    Very good reflection.

  2. Stephen from New Orleans says:

    This is one of my favorite scriptural passages. I really appreciate the taunting part of that scripture….a little too much maybe.

    “He can’t hear you…he must be sleeping…chant louder….march faster.” I’m a natural smart alec and can relate, but probably shouldn’t. I do find the taunting part humorous though. I can’t help it.

  3. josh says:

    Very encouraging.

  4. Gretchen says:

    I don’t think it is merely coincidence that I read your entry today as I am discouraged today. It is so hard at times to feel hopeful or even slightly optimistic at the state of the world. It sure seems to be a never-ending battle! I don’t want to write another email stating that I am withdrawing my financal support from yet another company because of their misguided corporate policy undermining the family. Today, the other side looks so big and powerful and I feel so small and ignored. The outlook for my children and my children’s children seems bleak to me today. I am battle weary and exhausted. I can’t tell if I am making any difference at all. I will re-read your reflection a few more times throughout the day in an attempt to find my courage and my strength. Thank you for the insight and I will try to look for and see the seven thousand.

  5. Annette says:

    Thank you for recalling the entire story for us, because in my Parish the Deacons and Priests did not even attempt to explain these readings. I don’t know if they were avoiding an uncomfortable moment, or if they simply had words on the Gospel already planned. But I just needed to hear this so much because so few in our family pratice the faith anymore, and I completely identify with Elijah and his desolation and isolation. Thank you for the words of encouragement to all who choose to practice their faith in season and out of season.

  6. RichardC says:

    Neo-gnostics is a good term. People who claim to answer the question of why is there something rather than nothing by resorting to mathematics are neo-gnostics.

    Like Gretchen, I get discouraged and like Steven, I really like that story.

  7. Spera Rose,OCDs says:

    I share the sentiments of those who have replied above. I wept a little listening to the words of the video: “Hide me Now under your wings and I will soar with you above the storm. Find rest my soul in Christ my Lord!

    The Eucharist was prefigured as the food that strengthened Elijah for the rest of his journey: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” An angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

    How often my Confessions and Holy Communions have given courage to live one more weak one more day of battle. The story of Elijah with the Food that strengthened him for the journey brought to my mind the prophetic vision of St John Bosco. Who saw the church battling many storms but those who were united to the pope were brought to safely to anchor and safe haven between two pillars: One with the Blessed Sacrament on the top the other with the Immaculate Virgin. The church found safe haven between these pillars as the storms raged around her! Read more:http://icxcmary.wordpress.com/st-john-boscos-vision/

    We see it is through the grace and power of the Holy Eucharist, and the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, specifically in the Fatima Message, along with the courageous leadership of the Popes, that the Church will weather the storms and attacks of this age and be guided safely to the haven of salvation. Let us LIVE the Fatima Message Rosary, Brown Scapular as a sign of Our Consecration to Mary and Eucharistic adoration and reparation. The devil hates the Eucharist and attacks Our Lord in this sacrament.

    Yes often when the trial becomes more pressing on our shoulders I am tempted too there is little hope, that I all alone. But it was not so for him, and it is not so for us. Yes God always has his “seven thousand.” Today it is with those who are Living the Message of Fatima and Consecrated to the Blessed Mother wearing the brown scapular and praying her rosary these will bring down the prophets of Baal in our day and help obtain the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart and an era of peace for humanity! Let us pray for each other to continue to persevere in HOPE!

  8. tom gathman says:

    You state that…Mary,the Mother of Jesus and John……Is John Mary’s son?

    • Stephen from New Orleans says:

      I think the monsignor just forgot to punctuate with a comma. (-5 points…still an A paper though !!)

      • Maureen says:

        Perhaps the Monsignor was reminding us that Jesus gave John to Mary as his mother (and thus ours too), from the Cross?

  9. stefanie says:

    Good reflection, Monsignor — thank you! I love dwelling upon the life of Elijah — those of us in the trenches of parish/Church life — need to dwell upon it — even in one’s discouragement. Later — in his desperate need for comfort, Elijah finds out that God’s real Self can only be known as a ‘small whispering sound’ (1Kings 19:11-12)

    @Stephen – yes, I love that part, too! I’ve read some translations that indicate Elijah was saying things like, “Maybe your gods are in midst of relieving themselves” (!!!) And people think that the Bible (or God) doesn’t have a sense of humor. Sheesh.

  10. stefanie says:

    Oh, and also, this story reminds me that we all need to spend more time before our Lord in the Tabernacle in silence.

  11. Helvidio Morales says:

    Ever since, God had spoken to us, and history shows how His Church has grown since them.
    Even, our Lady, has started her silent journey among those whom preaches his son words , from the same mount. And there alway be seven thousand more.

  12. Cynthia BC says:

    Msgr! How could you not post something from Mendelssohn’s Elijah!!! The coffeepot’s boiling, so I’ll rummage through youtube later.

  13. Gloria Schotten says:

    Thanks Monsignor, I needed to read this today as like most of us faithful in the trenches it gets discouraging
    at times.This reading of Elijah hit the nail on the head and gives me sustenance to carry on, we know God is at the helm. God is using you to impart these insights to us, no doubt about it.

    Gloria Schotten.