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Time to Decide – A Reflection on a Question from Elijah

July 19, 2017

In this week’s Office of Readings comes a crucial question from Elijah. It came at a time of widespread apostasy among the Jewish people. Elijah summoned a multitude to Mt. Carmel in the far north of Israel:

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 (1 Kings 18:21).

The Baals were the gods of the Canaanites. It had become expedient and popular to worship them because the ruling political leaders, the apostate King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel, had set forth the worship of the Baals by erecting altars and sacred columns. All who wished their life to go well and to have access to the levers of prosperity were surely “encouraged” to comply. Jezebel funded hundreds of prophets of Baal and the goddess Asherah. She also had many of the prophets of Israel killed and forced others into hiding. Through a policy of favoritism and fear, the true faith was being suppressed and false ideologies were being promoted.

At a critical moment Elijah thus asked his question. In effect he told them that they needed to decide whether to serve the Lord God out of courageous fidelity or the Baals out of cowardly fear.

We, too, must decide. In our times, the true faith has been undermined in the hearts of many by plausible liars, cultural war, and political correctness. Those who strive to hold to the true faith are called hateful, bigoted, and intolerant. A legal framework is growing that seeks to compel compliance to the moral revolution and abandonment of the biblical worldview. Social pressures are at work as well, seeking to force compliance through political correctness, through suppression of speech and ideas, and through the influence of music, cinema, and art.

The same question must be asked of us:

How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow him (whatever the cost). If Baal is your god, follow him! If you prefer what is popular, trendy, politically correct, and safe, go for it. But understand that if you do so, your decision is increasingly for Baal, not the Lord. In a culture that insists you celebrate fornication, homosexual acts, transgenderism, abortion, euthanasia, and all sorts of intemperance, realize that your decision to comply amounts to a choice for Baal.

Some claim that they are not really making a fundamental choice against God and for the modern Baals. Rather, they prefer to think that they are being “tolerant,” that they are pleasant moderates seeking to build bridges and keep the faith “mainstream.”

Today the lines are starkly drawn. The choices required of us are clear. The ancient maxim has never been more true: tertium non datur (no third way is given). Jesus says, You cannot serve God and mammon (Mat 6:24). James adds, Adulterers! Do you not realize that a friendship with the world is enmity at God? (James 4:4) Elijah’s question cannot be watered down. There are two sides in the moral battle of our times: choose a side.

In Elijah’s time, the people did not want to answer. The text says that they just stood there, silent. But silence does not make the question or the choice go away. Indeed, prolonged silence to so fundamental a question becomes an answer in itself. Silence and fence-sitting are not valid answers when the lines are so clearly drawn.

To the fence-sitters is directed this warning in the form of an old story:

A man once refused to take sides in the critical and disputed matters of his day, nobly declaring that he was tolerant of all views. Taking his seat on the fence he congratulated himself for his moderation and openness; others did too. One day the devil came and said, “Come along now, you’re with me.” The man protested, “I don’t belong to you. I’m on the fence!” The devil simply replied: “Oh, but you do belong to me. I own the fence.”

“How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.”

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Comments (18)

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  1. Many will become angry and lash out and persecute Christians – they see themselves backed against a wall that is not of their own making (but it is). As society moves further and further away from God Christians will become the enemy of the majority. We all are in for a very rough time in the coming years. There will be many more martyrs.

  2. Douglas says:

    Thank you, Monsignor Pope.
    Seems we are called to daily express our love for God. To awaken with “Open my lips Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.” But that doesn’t really seem to be a burden. On the contrary, over and over again throughout the day we get to say “I want to be with Him.”

    There was a Ted Danson movie, with Macaulay Culkin, where at the end of the film Macaulay, the son, challenged his ex-con dad, Ted. If you want to be a criminal I’m leaving. If you want me to stay, give up the life of crime. We rarely get to a point like that movie. Instead we have multiple opportunities every day to affirm our love for God, or deny Him.

  3. GARY DE LASALLE says:

    “Silence and fence-sitting are not valid answers when the lines are so clearly drawn.”

    Ironically the elephant in the room is ignored here together with any acknowledgement and responsibility for its continued impacts on the faith and the faithful.

    Monsignor, a scandalized Church more than all the ideologies, cultural wars, trends and political correctness – more than all these combined – continues to undermine the faith.

    Equally, we “who strive to hold the true faith” are impugned with the moral terrorism of being considered complicit in that scandal or at least tolerant of it. Now THAT’s a social pressure …. and, within that context, “courageous fidelity” continues with a new and heavy yoke imposed by the Church itself.

    For the first time in my life I’m currently blessed with the opportunity to discern a religious vocation. Being male, celibate, chaste and Catholic (for me now 12+ years) – now more than ever attracts a secular response that is frequently unconscionable. Any priest will no doubt be well familiar with it. All the more reason not to ignore it.

    Even here in Australia the considerable increase in “no religion” in the its national census, together with decreased numbers now identifying as Catholic or Christian – is considered by Church leaders more as an opportunity for new evangelism rather than acknowledged as an impact of its lost moral and spiritual credibility.

    In failing to do so many will choose the wrong path. Men, and in particular fathers, are repulsed from the pews because to align themselves with what many “in the world” now describe as a “paedophile ring” is simply not an option. We know from studies that without fathers in the faith – the children will not follow. The impacts are deep and intergenerational.

    Our Church will continue to ignore this at its peril for no amount of (re)/new evangelism will be effective without addressing it and reconciling with hearts and souls who justifiably feel betrayed and deceived.

    • John says:

      The sex scandal in the Catholic Church shook me up to a considerable degree. Not an historian Church or otherwise, but the breadth and scope of this massive sex scandal involving clergy of the Catholic Church has to be the worst moral and public relations nightmare that it has experienced since the founding of the U.S. No, saying that the priests and others involved are human and are susceptible to sin will not placate those who oppose the Catholic Church and many who are among the ardent faithful. The wounds suffered by the abused and those who can be found weekly in the Church pews will not be healed in quickly due to the egregious crimes that were and are being committed. There is a saying “time heals all wounds,” which in this matter mandates a significant years or decades before this will occur. Also, it has to stop and how this will happen is beyond my expertise. Just last week a report on EWTN detailed a Vatican priest who indulged in drugs and homosexual behavior with young men. If this can happen at the Holy See what is occurring in far flung third world nations that have corrupt/unstable governments and lack freedom of the press? These thoughts have entered my mind and hope what has occurred in the Western church is not happening in countries that are plagued with low educational levels and poverty.

      • Sue says:

        John, the most urgent need right now is for all the innocent, falsely-accused priests to be vindicated & their accusers indicted & forced to serve prison time for robbing the Catholic Church of some very good, holy priests & tens of millions of money that was given by the faithful for the promotion & teaching of the Faith! Yes, there are guilty priests & they certainly belong in prison to endure the fate that all child abusers suffer in prison. But, it’s now coming out that many “victims” weren’t. They are criminals who saw an easy “mark” (the Church) & made lots of money on unproven accusations! Look to Philadelphia, look to St. Louis, look to Manchester, NH, look to countless dioceses where bishops abandoned their priests & just paid money because that’s what the INSURANCE COMPANIES told them to do! Ruined the lives of many innocent men! I was sexually abused as a child by relatives of my mom (family members are the largest group of sex abusers) & believe me–you never ever, “forget” it! I repressed it so I could function, but did I remember it? You bet I did! And I remember who did it to me too. Anyone accusing a priest who claims they didn’t “remember it until now” is lying! Something that traumatic you can’t forget no matter how hard you try! But healing from sex abuse comes only with forgiving the abuser. Doesn’t mean it was OK, doesn’t mean I want to see them again, doesn’t mean I like them at all. It means forgiving them & leaving it up to God. He knows better than I do what punishment is most suitable.

        • RLG says:

          Thanks, Sue…
          I think your assessment and comments are on target…

        • Tami Vasquez says:

          You are right about addressing these issues. People are very aware and they know when tough issues are being ignored and appreciate when they are open to discussion in hopes of hearing some sort of resolution for a little peace of mind. People need some answers to move forward with healing. The re/new evangelization must reach these areas. The re/new evangelization must be our main focus moving forward. Like a hospital that has sick people in it, the hospital is not a bad place, it is good and it is there for healing. Our holy Mother Church is a Grace on Earth for the broken, she is here to heal the sick and never gives up even when new diseases arise! And thanks be to God she will prevail despite all the atrocities! God bless you and your discernment for the priesthood Gary. I pray you will become a Holy Catholic priest. May Jesus and His Holy Mother Mary draw you into their beautiful hearts and show you the best mission for your life 🙂 Please pray for me as I find my place in evangelizing through music ministry within the St.John Paul ll Foundation for The New Evangelization team, newly forming in the San Fernando, California region. God be with us and guide us, for the salvation of souls to the greater Glory of His Kingdom!!!

    • Bob Mithell says:

      Scandals have been a part of God’s Church from its inception. One of the twelve betrayed the Christ. The Rock denied knowledge of the Christ and on and on … The sex scandal is atrocious for sure and nothing can be said to contradict or soften its scandal. But, scandal is not what God or His Church teaches. Scandal is man’s invention. Scandal cannot change the truth and it will be a poor man who use’s scandal as an excuse at the end. Too much focus on scandal is just what the evil one wants. It creates doubt and doubt, as I was told long ago by a Sister of Mercy, is the window you leave open for the devil to come into your life. How he, the devil, must be dancing for joy as we question the Church, the truth, because of the horrendous administration by past and current management.

      Also, this “sex scandal” is much larger than Church priest and religious. This “sex scandal” is the product of the times, it is societal wide. Even as far back as the 30’s there were those who promoted the kind of illicit mentality that could lead to such atrocities. We are bombarded daily by the “anything goes” preachers who are now reaping what they’ve been sowing. Those involved in the scandal will have their judgment day. Don’t be a participant in their judgment day because you decided to judge them too. If you judge the law you cannot be its follower. I surely do not want humans judging every little aspect of my short comings at the end (and for the most part throughout ) my life. I surely want individuals to remind of the right and wrong so I can make proper choices. That is what the Church is, the repository of the Truth, God’s Truth. The Church is not the administrators.

      The scandal is not God’s teaching but man’s weakness. God’s Church is an easy target because of its universality. Strengths always are also weaknesses in war. Thank you Monsignor Pope for telling us there is a black and white; light or darkness choice. Take back the really important narrative. Don’t let the evil one control the narrative. The scandal doesn’t change the choice. In fact, the scandal makes the choice really clear for if you make the wrong choice, you’re really choosing the scandal.

  4. Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    Some fear that they might be accused of being Manichean should they acknowledge the choice between right and wrong, good and evil, baal and God.

  5. Jimi says:

    It really is that simple. Of course, for those who respond to “Scripture cannot be set aside” with the answer “bigot” as they do it, then that soul must be in great conflict or given over to ruthlessness since it is impossible to silence the voice of God. As we know, when you tell them the Truth and they refuse, it is not just you they are rejecting. The many idols of today seem to compel hysteria as they demand obedience, so I do not quarrel with them. I only sow.

  6. Todd says:

    Straddling the issue is like straddling the fence. As one of my favorite preachers used to say: God is about to reach down take hold of that fence and shake it violently. And those straddling the fence are going to be found on one side – or the other.

    I believe we’re currently seeing this play out in the Holy City of God – the Church and in society. A great trial seems to be ongoing. Who do you say that Jesus is?

    Son of God and God. Lord of Lords, and King of Kings! The Word, the Truth, my Savior. Now I just have to live it – which is literally impossible for me – but I know Who all things are possible through, with, and in – Jesus The Christ.

  7. Tom O says:

    Terrific post, Monsignor. As always, God bless your ministerial Priesthood.

    I agree with Jimi. As members of the royal Priesthood, we should humbly acknowledge that we can only plant the seed in sharing the Good News and leave the quarreling to the stiff necked and hard hearted. If persecution and martyrdom are some of the costs, then so be it.

    We should also humbly and carefully study the history of the Church. Being led by humans, it has rarely if ever been free of scandals caused by individuals, not the Church herself. This checkered past began with the Apostle Peter and our first pope who, shortly after being appointed the head of the Church, denied its founder three times after fleeing the company of those to whom he could have testified.

    And Gary, if you are called to be ministerial Priest, I wish you Godspeed and His blessings. Be forwarned, however, if you are timid about confronting scandal and excercising the Matthew 18: 15-18 principle, then your priesthood may not be what you envision. For instance, as a seminarian you will study the prefacing directives and the rubrics of the Roman Missal. At least here in the US and has one who travels extensively, my bride and I frequentyly see priests ignore them as if they are the emcee on stage. If you detect these shortcomings, you will have many opportunities to strengthen your resolve to help hold your brother priests accountable no matter how popular you become, or not.

    • Jimi says:

      That’s sort of what I meant but not entirely, though you have said well enough. Peace

    • GARY DE LASALLE says:

      Hey Tom thanks for your good wishes – they’re much appreciated. I’m surprised anyone would read timidity into my post but I’ll accept the intention as constructive. As for ministerial priesthood – following His lead doesn’t leave room to “envision.” If made manifest, it will ultimately no doubt be measured by how well His sheep were fed and loved.
      Blessings to you and yours +

  8. Douglas says:

    Thank you again, Monsignor.
    About fence sitting. More and more we find issues about which there is no neutrality. As the quote goes, ‘you may not care about communism, but communism cares about you.’ Just as St. Thomas More was not allowed to not approve of King Henry and his misdeeds, we are not allowed to not approve. We will be made to care. To care that this person is the first open homosexual to hold this position, or that person is transistioning from a this to a that, or … and the list goes on. In another blog I read of the Left’s hamburger problem. The left in America is worried we eat too much transfat, or too much sugar, or don’t exercise enough. They care about us enough to stick their nose in all our business. In Iowa, I have been told, an official of the state will come and visit the home of homeschooling parents. They will verify the presence of books supporting the state decreed curriculum, and a place to study, and work completed. They will come looking for us, and will not allow fence sitting.

  9. Joseph says:

    I thought the Bishops were going to put a spotlight on child abuse outside the Church too. Have they forgotten, or am I mistaken? The Church is just the tip of the child abuse iceberg.

    • RLG says:

      Absolutely…If you read articles posted by the Catholic League in newsletters and online, the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was dealt with years ago and is almost non-existent today except for an occasional accusation, mostly unsubstantiated or outright false…The anti-Catholic media, however, refuses to let it go and completely ignóres the existence of ongoing sexual abuse of children in public institutions (schools), and other non-Catholic religious institutions…