In his general audience, held this morning in St. Peter's Square, the Pope resumed his series of catecheses dedicated to the subject of prayer, focusing today on the Prophet Elijah "whom God sent to bring the people to conversion".
The Holy Father explained how "upon Mount Carmel Elijah revealed himself in all his power as intercessor when, before the whole of Israel, he prayed to the Lord to show Himself and convert people's hearts. The episode is recounted in chapter 18 of the First Book of Kings".
"The contest between Elijah and the followers of Baal (which was, in fact, a contest between the Lord of Israel, God of salvation and life, and a mute and ineffective idol which can do nothing for either good or evil) also marked the beginning of a confrontation between two completely different ways to address God and to pray". The oblations of the prophets of Baal "revealed only the illusory reality of the idol ... which closed people in the confines of a desperate search for self".
On the other hand, Elijah "called on the people to come closer, involving them in his actions and his prayer. ... The prophet built an alter using 'twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob', ... to represent all Israel. ... Elijah then addressed the Lord calling Him Lord of the fathers, thus implicitly recalling the divine promises and the history of choice and alliance which had indissolubly united the Lord to His people".
The prophet's request "was that the people might finally and fully come to know and understand Who their God is, and make the decisive decision to follow only Him. Only in this way could God be recognised as Absolute and Transcendent". Only in this way would it be clear that "no other gods could be placed at His side, as this would deny His absoluteness and relativize Him".
Benedict XVI highlighted how "believers must respond to the absoluteness of God with absolute and total love, a love involving all their lives, their energies, their hearts. ... In his intercession, Elijah asked of God what God Himself wished to do: to show Himself in all His mercy, faithful to His nature as Lord of life Who forgives, converts and transforms".
"The Lord responded unequivocally, not only burning the offering but even consuming all the water that had been poured around the altar. Israel could no longer doubt: divine mercy had responded to its weakness, to its doubts, to its lack of faith. Now Baal, the vain idol, was beaten and the people, who seemed lost, had rediscovered the way of truth, they had rediscovered themselves".
The Holy Father concluded by asking himself what this story has to tell us today. "Firstly", he said, "is the priority of the first commandment of God's Law: having no god but God. When God disappears man falls into slavery, into idolatry, as has happened in our time under totalitarian regimes and with the various forms of nihilism which make man dependent on idols and idolatry, which enslave". Secondly, he continued, "the main objective of prayer is conversion: the fire of God which transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God and living for Him and for others". Thirdly, "the Church Fathers tell us that this story is ... a foretaste of the future, which is Christ. It is a step on the journey towards Christ".
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