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The Everyday Prayer

printable version

Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

1 Kings 18,20-39

Ahab called all Israel together and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah stepped out in front of all the people. 'How long', he said, 'do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If Yahweh is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.' But the people had nothing to say. Elijah then said to them, 'I, I alone, am left as a prophet of Yahweh, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given us; let them choose one for themselves, dismember it but not set fire to it. I in my turn shall prepare the other bull, but not set fire to it. You must call on the name of your god, and I shall call on the name of Yahweh; the god who answers with fire, is God indeed.' The people all answered, 'Agreed!' Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal, 'Choose one bull and begin, for there are more of you. Call on the name of your god but light no fire.' They took the bull and prepared it, and from morning to midday they called on the name of Baal. 'O Baal, answer us!' they cried, but there was no voice, no answer, as they performed their hobbling dance round the altar which they had made. Midday came, and Elijah mocked them. 'Call louder,' he said, 'for he is a god: he is preoccupied or he is busy, or he has gone on a journey; perhaps he is asleep and needs to be woken up!' So they shouted louder and gashed themselves, as their custom was, with swords and spears until the blood flowed down them. Midday passed, and they ranted on until the time when the offering is presented; but there was no voice, no answer, no sign of attention. Then Elijah said to all the people, 'Come over to me,' and all the people came over to him. He repaired Yahweh's altar which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of Yahweh had come, 'Israel is to be your name,' and built an altar in the name of Yahweh. Round the altar he dug a trench of a size to hold two measures of seed. He then arranged the wood, dismembered the bull, and laid it on the wood. Then he said, 'Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.' They did this. He said, 'Do it a second time;' they did it a second time. He said, 'Do it a third time;' they did it a third time. The water flowed round the altar until even the trench itself was full of water. At the time when the offering is presented, Elijah the prophet stepped forward. 'Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel,' he said, 'let them know today that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, that I have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Yahweh, answer me, so that this people may know that you, Yahweh, are God and are winning back their hearts.' Then Yahweh's fire fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this they fell on their faces. 'Yahweh is God,' they cried, 'Yahweh is God!'


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

King Ahab finally meets Elijah and accuses him of ruining Israel. But Elijah reminds him of his guilt in distancing himself from God and in having involved the entire people in apostasy. This was actually the true cause of the country’s descent into that terrible famine. The situation was so serious that it drove Elijah to confront the priest of Baal openly. And Elijah chooses Mount Carmel, the exact place where the altar built by David had been destroyed to make room for Ahab’s altar to Baal. The scene is grandiose: on the one hand the large group of Baal’s priests and on the other hand Elijah, alone—an incredibly disproportionate juxtaposition. Elijah wants the people to leave all ambiguity and choose God again as their one true Lord. The kingdom of the north was living indeed in an ambiguous atmosphere. Obadiah, a minister to Ahab, remains faithful to the king, even if he had saved one hundred of the Lord’s prophets when Jezebel wanted to exterminate them (v. 13). But the people too, lived far from God, to whom they reserved solemnity. They had left the concerns of ordinary life left under the protection of Baal (asking for rain, fertility of the land, beasts and family). Elijah denounces this. It is not possible to serve Baal and God; you cannot have a divided heart. Elijah wants to re-establish the integrity of the covenant and asks the entire people: "‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions?’" In Deuteronomy the Lord says, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (6:4-5) The precept from which everything flows affirms: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me" (5:6-7) The God of Israel, as every page of Scripture shows, is a jealous God, who cannot tolerate other gods. God is a single and indivisible God who asks for our hearts to be just as whole and indivisible as He is. And if the people do not remember the history of love with which God accompanied them, they must at least allow themselves to be touched by His strength. Baal is mute and powerless. The Lord speaks and is strong. The prophets of Baal "cry" their plea in vain. Elijah mocks them and establishes himself as the new Moses who prays to the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel" and who restores the covenant. Like Moses, in fact, he builds an altar with twelve stones, symbol of Israel’s unity. On Mount Carmel the people of Israel find their heart again through Elijah and direct it again toward the Lord who saved them from slavery in Egypt and now from that of the many idols of this world.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets