Thursday December 11, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 41:13-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:11-15)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord tells us that if we are willing to accept it Saint John the Baptist is Elijah. Now what exactly does that mean? You recall that the prophet Elijah was the first of the major prophets and he is considered to be the greatest of all the prophets. Elijah, you recall also, did not die. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot while his successor, Elisha, was with him. Elisha asked Elijah for one favor: that if it would be possible he would receive a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. When Elijah was about to be taken up, he told Elisha that this would be a possibility if he saw Elijah go up. If he saw him go up, he would get a double portion of his spirit; if he did not see him go up, then he would not because it was for the Lord to give that, not for Elijah to do. Indeed, Elisha did watch as the flaming horses and chariot came and scooped up Elijah and off he went up into the heavens, and he received a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. From that point on, there was the realization that the spirit of Elijah was still present and able to be received by others. And so when John the Baptist came into this world, he also received a portion of the spirit of Elijah.
Now it was promised by the prophet Malachi that Elijah would come before the day of the Lord. So even to this day, at the Passover Supper the Jewish people have an empty seat and they have a cup filled with wine that is called the cup of Elijah because every year at the Passover they look forward to the day that Elijah is going to come back to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers and to prepare for the day of the Lord. But what they did not understand is that because the spirit of Elijah was given by God to others that it was not absolutely essential that the actual man Elijah would come back, but rather that someone in the spirit of Elijah would be able to come and would be standing in the place of Elijah himself – and that man was John the Baptist.
God took Elijah many years ago and put him in a cave and He had him all by himself. As he had called down a famine on the land, for those years of the famine Elijah was living basically as a hermit. Saint John the Baptist, too, was called by God out into the desert, and there he lived as a hermit until the time for his public appearance. The same was true of Elijah. When it came time, God would send Elijah to the places where He needed him to work, whether that was to speak to the king and tell him what was going to happen, whether that was to offer sacrifice on Mount Carmel and slay the prophets of Baal, or whether that was to climb Mount Carmel at the other end of the mountain and look out over the Mediterranean Sea to see the cloud coming up out of the ocean as the famine was about to end at the end of the three years and the rain was about to fall once again. It was to prepare the people, to show them that there is only one God and that there is only one true God, and to prepare the hearts of the people to receive the Savior. That is exactly what Saint John the Baptist did. He prepared the hearts of the people. He turned the hearts of children to their father – to their heavenly Father – and in calling for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, in essence, one could say that he turned the heart of our heavenly Father to His children through the forgiveness of their sins and through the purification of their souls.
There is also one whom we trust is going to come in the spirit of Elijah prior to anything major that God is going to do in the world. We know that Elijah himself is going to return before the time of Moses, and he is one of the two spoken of in the Book of Revelation: the two witnesses who come down and give witness to the people. They will be slain, both of them, and then they will rise on the third day in front of all the people, two guys whose bodies they left lying in the streets and they all partied since they were dead because what they were preaching irritated the people. Then, once again, they will see the truth as these two men prepare the way for the coming of Christ at the end of the world.
As we prepare now for the coming of Our Lady’s Triumph, she also is going to have her heralds. It does not have to be merely one person who has the spirit of Elijah, but many could be in the spirit of Elijah. It is for those who are trying to turn the hearts of the children to prepare the way for the day of the Lord, in this case, the day that the Lord is going to send His mother. And so each one of us can also pray to this great saint, whether it is John the Baptist in the spirit of Elijah, the greatest man born of woman; whether it is Elijah; whether it is Elisha; or whoever it may be. We can ask their prayers as we strive in the midst of this society that has strayed from its God. We can ask them to turn our hearts and to help us to turn the hearts of many so that they will be prepared, that they will be repentant, and that their hearts will be opened on the day of the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.