One can make the point that a subcontex of the First Reading and the Gospel today concerns dialog; good dialog and useless, sinful dialog. We see Christ teaching those around Him the meaning of His mission – and this is obviously good dialog; while some of those listening whisper against Him to which He tells them ‘Do not murmur among yourselves.’ – you guessed it, bad dialog. So with life so short the question we should be asking ourselves is what type of dialog should we be focused on?
In our first reading today we see the prophet Elijah retreating into the desert for safety and withdrawing from the mission God gave him. His life, since becoming a prophet, has been hard and at this point his life is in danger. Most, if not all, of the prophets share the same life – outcast, threatened, fearful. But Elijah does something else while in the desert – he talks with God. Not rote prayers but he actually talks, opens his heart. From the 1st Kings we heard: ‘he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers.”’. In response God, through an angel, comforts and urges him on – tells him what he should and so Elijah does it. Later (past the end of our gospel today) we hear Elijah, once again, talking with God in prayer: ‘”I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”’. Elijah is giving us a lesson in prayer – in dialog. A lesson that each and every one of us should put into action.
First, it is very important for each of us to participate in the corporate prayer of the church. It brings unity among us and strengthens our understanding of the ‘family of God’ as together we live, pray, and evangelize. With this type of prayer we are comforted that we are not alone – we have others who are there to help. Corporate prayer is essential in the life of a Christian and Holy Mother Church knows this. She gives us the form of the Mass, which is the source and summit of our faith – therefore our lives. She gives us the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours to help us extend the Mass throughout the day and enables us participate in the continual and universal prayer rising to heaven – thus sanctifying the day. We have been given by our ancestors great communal prayers that we all know and use. We have the Rosary in which we can pray using the life of Christ and seen through the eyes of His mother. God has even given us the community prayer par-excellence, the psalms, the prayers of Jesus Himself; which is the foundation of the Divine Office. We have a robust and powerful arsenal of corporate prayers at our ready. But God desires more.
Our Heavenly Father desires our communication, our dialog at all times. He desires us to open our hearts and lift up our thoughts, fears, joys, ideas to Him just as we do with a close friend. St. Josemaría Escrivá writes:
‘You seek the friendship of those who, with their conversation and affection, with their company, help you to bear more easily the exile of this world – although sometimes those friends fail you. I don’t see anything wrong with that.
But how is it that you do not seek everyday, more eagerly, the company, the conversation of that great friend who will never fail you?’
Brothers and sisters, this dialog, our prayer life is what leads us and strengthens us because it brings us into dialog with He who does these for us. Let’s take the example of Elijah, and all holy people, and train ourselves to be in a continual personal dialog with our best friend. Let’s offer to He who created us and loves us all of our heart and our mind by dialoging with Him. If it works for the saints it will work for us. We will be amazed how the troubles of our lives will be lightened and the loneliness that is within us will be washed away.
It is not hard to start – just talk to our Heavenly Father. Again, St. Josemaría Escrivá: ‘you don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray!” you can be sure you’ve already begun.’ And don’t murmur.