In the eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings, we read a compelling story of God’s power to miraculously transform the most hopeless of situations into something for good. The Israelite king Ahab had introduced and allowed the worship of a false god, Baal, among the people of Israel. The prophet Elijah challenged Ahab to a sort of duel between himself and 450 prophets of Baal, which was to take place on Mount Carmel, to see whose was the true God. Elijah challenged the 450 false prophets to build an altar with a bull on it, and to call upon their god to consume the bull offering with fire. The Scriptures then tell us that they began to call on Baal, “O Baal, answer us!”1 “But there was no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made.”2 The false prophets were so desperate that they began even to injure themselves in order to get their god’s attention and to move him to action. “But there was no voice, no answer, and no response,” the author of 1 Kings writes.3
Finally, the so-called “troubler of Israel,”4 as King Ahab called Elijah, stepped forth and beckoned all the people of Israel to come closer to him. He prepared his altar, set the bull on the altar, but then added a few things. Namely, he added a deep trench around his altar filled with seed, and then had four jars filled with water to be poured over the altar. He had this done three times, soaking the bull, the altar and filling the trenches with water. The author of the passage goes on:
Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God.”5
Many of us might feel as though our lives are much more similar to the situation of the 450 false prophets of Baal; perhaps our daily lives don’t seem to give much substance for rejoicing, for peace or joy. Whether it be our jobs in the workplace (or lack thereof), our health issues leading to chronic pain, or our struggles among our friends and family, perhaps it feels as though there is “no voice, no answer and no response.” Perhaps we don’t see the transformative power of Christ in our daily lives, and think our lives rather ordinary.
And yet, the Church calls the faithful to be “missionary disciples” in the world, encountering Christ in our daily lives and bringing faith, hope and love to those around us in his Name. How can the call of Christ and his Church to us be fulfilled in the midst of struggle, hardship, and ordinary obligations of life? Fortunately for us, the power of Jesus Christ – his life, death and resurrection – is what transforms all of that “stuff” of our daily lives into something for our good and his glory. Unlike the 450 false prophets of Baal, and instead much more like Elijah, we can call on the name of the Lord, and he can consume with fire all of the matter of our lives, transforming it into a sacrifice acceptable to him.
Similarly, just as the Apostles received power at Pentecost, by virtue of our baptisms into Christ and strengthened through confirmation, the “fire of the Lord” – the life of grace in the Holy Spirit – is made available to us. First, by encountering the loving embrace of God through Jesus in the sacraments, especially in Penance or Confession and the Most Holy Eucharist, where the fullness of his presence resides, we then allow Christ to enter into our daily lives. Then, he accompanies us in every moment of our day, even when we believe those moments unimportant or useless, and he accompanies us through struggle and periods of suffering. Living in his grace, Christ suffers with us and in us as members of his Body, the Church. Then, through prayer and speaking with Jesus each day, we begin to recognize him more and more in faith, filling each of those daily moments with hope and love. We begin to recognize him in others. And others begin to see Jesus in us, as we go about our life at home with our families or throughout our work day.
It is precisely in the moments of our daily lives that Christ acts and moves. Suddenly, much like the water-soaked altar that Elijah built, our lives become a living sacrifice for God and for others to witness his presence in our lives, that Christ himself lives. Then, we can proclaim with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”6 Through humble trust in Christ, the fire of the Lord is sent down upon us and God gives us grace to strengthen us, to fill us with his virtue and holiness as we imitate him, granting us peace and joy surpassing all understanding.
1 1 Kings 18:26 NRSVCE
3 ibid., 29
4 ibid., 17
5 ibid., 36-39
6 Galatians 2:20