19th S. 2020: Out of the Cave

ElijahToday’s reflection is for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 9, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome speaks loudly to many of us at this time of crisis in our country and in our world. St. Paul says, “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.” Us too, St. Paul. Us too.

Every day I speak to people who are angry, sad, suffering, and confused. There is violence and protests in the streets, there are officers accused of wrong-doing, politicians pointing fingers, lawsuits against governments and persons, grocery store shelves that are bare, COVID-19 cases and deaths on the rise, and parents asking, when will our kids get to go back to school?

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; with you I also have great sorrow and anguish in my heart. I suffer with you, our community, our country, and our world. I don’t have answers to all these questions, actually, I don’t have answers to any of them. What I do know, and offer to you, is that we are not the only ones who have suffered in this life, we won’t be the last, and the Scripture today offers not answers, but help and hope.

Elijah had done just what the Lord had asked him to do: to tell God’s people that they have not lived up to the covenant and they must change their ways! Of course, they did not want to hear it and sought to take his life. All the prophets have been slain and now the Israelites want to kill him too. That’s why Elijah is hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb today. Like many of us, he’s filled with sorrow and has anguish in his heart. God tells him, get out of the cave, Elijah, I’ll be passing by.

Elijah was confused, though, because he did not find God where he expected to find him. God was not in the heavy wind, the powerful earthquake, nor the raging fire…God was in the tiny whispering sound. And I think that is very important for us at this time in our history. Elijah did some very important things in this reading: First, he told God why he was in the cave in the first place–he named his anger, fear, and suffering. Secondly, he got out of the cave, and finally he listened for the tiny whispering sound and knew it to be God.

When we are angry or afraid we often go into panic mode–fight or flight. We start to complain, we find others who are confused and angry, and we join in the anger, complaining, and dissatisfaction. We post hurtful things on social media and we look to school officials, doctors, and government officials to solve this problem that we have–but that’s not what Elijah did. Elijah spoke his hurt to God, and so should we. These difficult times should cause us to pray more, not less. To receive the sacraments more, not less. To read our Bible and the lives of the saints more, not less. We need to talk to God. We need to cry out to him.

Secondly, we cannot stay in our cave. A cave is a dark, damp, sick place. It is a place of simply waiting to die. Elijah got out of there, and so should we. Go for a walk, talk to a friend, attend an outdoor event, Mass, or other celebration. We gotta get out of the cave–even if it’s only in your back yard–we gotta get out of there!

Finally, Elijah sought earnestly for God. He looked all around him, in all the obvious places. In the wind, the fire, and the earthquake, but if you don’t find God where you at first looked, look again. Our world is so full of noise. We never just have quiet time to reflect. We say, “God, if you’ve got something to say, you better say it now and very loud!” How often God’s children think that God is not near, because they can hear for all the noise that surrounds them.

In this crazy time of uncertainty and fear, I want to assure you that God has a special gift of grace for you. God wants you to see him passing by. He wants to encourage you and give you hope. But we have to take the time to pray and name our fears and anxiety and not be afraid to name our hopes and desires, like Peter did in the Gospel. Surrounded by waves and water, he yelled out, “Lord, save me!” And so should we.

Like Elijah, get out of your cave of suffering. There’s nothing but sickness and dis-ease there. Get out. Like Peter, get out of the boat! Step out in faith even as the waves crash all around us.

Look for God in the obvious, church, priest, Scripture, and Catechism, but be quiet and look for God in the poor, the children, the suffering, and the sick. God is there in the tiny whispering sounds of our ordinary life. Be open to that. I am often blown away when God speaks to me through the smallest moments. And for all that we go through in this life, be of great faith, and never doubt. Jesus will always reach out to us, God is always seeking to find ways to pick us up when we’re feeling down. I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie, have faith, this present wind will die down. Amen?