Excerpts, Catechesis on Prayer
Paul VI Audience Hall
Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Scripture presents Elijah as a man of crystalline faith: his very name, which may mean “Yahweh is God”, encloses the secret of his mission. He will be like this for the rest of his life: a man of integrity, incapable of petty compromises. His symbol is fire, the image of God’s purifying power. He will be the first to be put to the test, and he will remain faithful. He is the example of all people of faith who know temptation and suffering, but do not fail to live up to the ideal for which they were born.
Prayer is the lifeblood that constantly nourishes his existence. For this reason, he is one of those most dear to the monastic tradition, so much so that some have elected him as the spiritual father of the life consecrated to God. Elijah is the man of God, who stands as a defender of the primacy of the Most High. And yet, he too is forced to come to terms with his own frailties. It is difficult to say which experiences were most useful to him: the defeat of the false prophets on Mount Carmel (cf. 1 Kings 18:20-40), or his bewilderment in which he finds that he is “no better than [his] ancestors” (see 1 Kings 19:4).
In the soul of those who pray, the sense of their own weakness is more precious than moments of exaltation, when it seems that life is a series of victories and successes. This always happens in prayer: moments of prayer that we feel lift us up, even of enthusiasm, and moments of prayer of pain, aridity, trial. This is what prayer is: letting ourselves be carried by God, and also letting ourselves be struck by unpleasant situations and even temptations. This is a reality found in many other biblical vocations, even in the New Testament; think, for example, of St Peter and St Paul. Their lives were like this too: moments of exultation and moments of low spirits, of suffering.
Elijah is the man of contemplative life and, at the same time, of active life, preoccupied with the events of his time, capable of clashing with the king and queen after they had Nabot killed to take possession of his vineyard (cf. 1 Kings 21:1-24). How much we are in need of believers, of zealous Christians, who act before people who have managerial responsibility with the courage of Elijah, to say, “This must not be done! This is murder!”. We need Elijah’s spirit. He shows us that there should be no dichotomy in the life of those who pray: one stands before the Lord and goes towards the brothers to whom He sends us. Prayer is not about locking oneself up with the Lord to make one’s soul appear beautiful: no, this is not prayer, this is false prayer.
Prayer is a confrontation with God, and letting oneself be sent to serve one’s brothers and sisters. @PontifexTweet
The proof of prayer is the real love of one’s neighbour. And vice versa: believers act in the world after having first kept silent and prayed; otherwise, their action is impulsive, it is devoid of discernment, it is rushing without a destination. Believers behave in this way, they do so many injustices because they did not go to pray to the Lord first, to discern what they must do.
About our featured image: Elijah Runs Before the Chariot of Ahab is a work from the Old Testament series by artist James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) and followers. Tissot and followers executed the painting in gouache on board c. 1896–1902. This work is part of the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum in New York City; it is not on view.