2nd Saturday of Advent
Sirach 48:1, 4:9-11 ; Matthew 17:9a,10-13
“In those days like a fire there appeared the Prophet Elijah.” These opening words of the reading from the Book of Sirach are particularly suited to this date of December 10th for it is the anniversary of the death of Fr. Louis, better known as Thomas Merton, to many of his grateful readers in a variety of countries, East and West. This same date also happens to be the birthday anniversary of Dom James Fox who founded this monastery, among a numbers of others, and who played such an essential role in Merton’s monastic life. Merton’s writings have spoken to the heart of many thousands of readers since the year 1948 when his autobiography first appeared in print.
Though there are large differences between the character of the prophet Elijah and Merton yet they did share certain characteristics. If Elijah is described as a burning fire, many who read or heard Merton lecture also felt an attraction emanating from his spirit that gave them a fresh experience of God’s grace. He continues to be read in many countries and in a variety of languages today, 44 years after his untimely death.
When Ben Sirach wrote of Elijah in such ardent language it was a number of centuries after the prophet was taken up in a fiery chariot to heaven, according to the account in the Book of Kings. However his influence and the events of his life continued to inspire the Israelite people. Certainly he was a colorful and complicated character, specially chosen by God to witness to His transcendent power and glory to the Israelite people. Surely one of the most remarkable of his achievements was the role he played in calling down a three year drought that caused so much distress to the people of the Holy Land. He also moved God by his prayer to bring relief in the form of rain. Interpreting the actual historical events of Elijah’s life by modern study has revealed his continuing influence in Israel centuries after his death. In fact, a couple of centuries passed before the writing of his activity was recorded.
In today’s Gospel passage our Lord tells his apostles that Elijah has returned in spirit, in the person of John the Baptist. It is significant that he made this evident immediately after his own transfiguration on the Mountain. For in stating this interpretation of the recent death of the Baptist our Lord invites us to read the Scriptures in a more sophisticated way, by pointing out that matters in revelation are multilayered and so require our earnest efforts to appreciate the various levels of their meaning.
This is also true of the Eucharist we are celebrating here this morning. There is much more to this sacramental mystery than first appears and today’s Gospel invites to keep seeking to grasp more fully its fuller meaning.