Elijah was downcast, discouraged, depressed and despairing. It seemed that all he had worked and sacrificed for was going to come to a sudden and dangerous end.
Queen Jezebel had just ordered his death. There was a price on his head.
Just a few days earlier, Elijah had found himself in a moment of triumph. He was jubilant. He had just outdueled 400 prophets of the false god Baal. He had humiliated them and their outcome was their death. Yahweh, the one true God of the Israelites proved himself true. Jezebel was infuriated.
In a matter of days, Elijah went from jubilation to discouragement, from triumph to tragedy, from inexpressible joy to utter despair. He went from fearless confidence in God to fearing for his life. He went from feeling like the special messenger of God that he was, to feeling like a fruitless and worthless vine.
It was so bad, that he prayed for death. “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
In this dire moment, God responded. God sent some food and drink as well as an angel to help Elijah. “Get up and eat,” the angel said, “lest the journey be too long for you.”
At first Elijah ate, but then went back to sleep, exhausted and depressed. It was then that the angel once more awoke him and told him to eat and drink. It was then, nourished by this heavenly food from God that he was able to journey for 40 days and 40 nights to God’s holy mountain, to the place where he would encounter God face to face.
Like Elijah, we all experience moments of jubilation and triumph as well as moments of discouragement, disappointment, dejection, disillusionment and despair is itself. We have all stood in the bright light of God’s love and, I suspect, have also been lost in the darkness, wondering what happened, questioning and asking, “Where is God?” We too cry out, “Where are you God when I need you?”
As a priest, I have had the blessing of journeying with people in moments of ecstasy as well as at times of tragedy, despair and utter hopelessness. I have experienced the joy of new life and the sadness of death. I have walked with people who have lost confidence, lost a job, lost a marriage, lost their homes, lost their way, and lost their faith. I too, at times in my life have been lost.
What can be done at times like these? My response: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
In today’s gospel, the third of five Sundays of reading the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches the people who are once again murmuring and complaining, “I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Even greater than the food that God provided for Elijah, Jesus offers us living bread, his own very flesh, the total gift of his very self. Jesus gives to us his very self for our journey when, like Elijah, we want to curl up and give up.
Jesus offers his own life at every Mass, in every Eucharistic celebration, in every moment of Adoration so that we don’t ever have to lose hope.
Jesus boldly and truthfully calls out to us in those moments when we feel we are starving for meaning and hope and invites us to feast on his flesh, to be refreshed by his blood given for us in the Holy Eucharist.
Allow me to share a moment on my journey.
It was a year and a half after my mother died. I was in my first year of theology with Maryknoll. My life was so dark. I was depressed. I didn’t understand the emotions that were swirling in my heart. My mind seem like molasses and I could barely concentrate on my studies.
One night I sat, not under a broom tree, but on the edge of my windowsill at the seminary, on the top floor looking down, looking into darkness, looking for a way out. I wanted to simply fall into the darkness, into death. I wanted to die. It was simply too painful to live.
Then came a knock at the door. My classmate Dan Maguire simply walked in, saw me, came over, put his arm around my shoulder and brought me back from the brink.
What got me through the following months were two things: the compassionate guidance of an extremely fine therapist, Dr. Richard Malone and secondly the care of my classmates who made sure that I got to Mass every day.
I share this with you, not to focus on me, but to shine the light on Jesus who tells us that he is the bread of life, that if we eat his flesh and drink his blood in holy Eucharist, we will have strength for the journey, no matter how dark or how painful.
As we take and eat, Jesus can minister to our fearful and broken hearts. This seemingly simple act can inspire us to hang onto our faith even if it’s only with our fingernails. Every Sunday Mass, every daily Mass, reminds us that Jesus is with us and offers himself to us no matter where we are at. He is there with us, offering himself, his body and blood, his soul and divinity, his very self.
My sisters and brothers, today, at this Mass, at this holy altar, come. Eat his body and drink his blood. Jesus longs to give us his life so that we might have strength for the journey no matter where it might take us.
“To the heights!” This was a call of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. This was the call of God to Elijah. This is the call, the invitation, to never give up, to trust always, to allow Jesus to be our true food, our true drink for eternal life. Amen.