This Week's Reflection
Oratory of Divine Love Reflection 477: Following More Closely: Reflection on 1 Kings 19:19-21
“Elijah set out, and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.”
Elijah answered, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?”
Elisha left him and, taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat. Then he left and followed Elijah as his attendant.” 1 Kings 19:19-21 NAB
The usual motivation for coming to daily Mass is that we want to follow Jesus more closely. But I think we really need to ask, “Do I want to follow the Lord Jesus perfectly?” That’s the question we should really be asking. We need to ask ourselves that question often because worldliness is very subtle, worldliness is very insidious, and worldliness has a way of quietly working its way into our lives. And whether we realize it or not, once worldliness works its way in, “following the Lord Jesus perfectly,” becomes, “I want to follow the Lord Jesus more closely, or just closely enough.”
I remember in seminary, the Dean of Men, an old Irish pastor from Brooklyn, New York, used to tell us, “When you’re in the parish, don’t make friends with the laity. Make friends with your brother priests, and only hang around with them. Hanging around with the laity will only get you into trouble because the laity are too consumed with the world, and you need to follow a life of the spirit.”
Well, with all due respect to our old dean, I believe he was dead wrong. Among my brother priests, I have found lots of men chasing after worldly things, and playing little games, trying to get red stripes on their cassocks and cardboard hats on their heads.
On the same note, I find lots of lay people chasing after gold halos. I like to hang around with people who are pursuing holiness, and it doesn’t matter to me if those people wear collars, or habits, or business suits, or jeans and tee shirts. People who truly seek the spiritual life, I find, are a lot of fun. They usually have a very good outlook on life and have a great sense of humor. However, holiness also requires a deep commitment, to want to follow God perfectly.
When the Lord sent Elijah to draft Elisha as his successor, Elisha was plowing his field. Then Elijah throws his mantle over him, a profound gesture in a Hebrew culture, meaning follow me. And Elisha makes what sounds like a reasonable request: “OK, just let me say goodbye to my folks.” And Elijah seemingly rejects him for that. “Go back! What have I done to you?” “Go back! You’re still thinking like a man of the flesh. Go back! If you’re not willing to make a total commitment, you’re not worthy. Go back!”
But Elisha doesn’t go back. Instead, he slaughters his oxen and sacrifices them to the Lord by building a fire out of his own plow. Remember this guy is a farmer. What’s more valuable to a farmer than his oxen and plow? To prove his total commitment, he destroyed his livelihood, and with it, any possibility of turning back. This scene begins with Elisha wanting to follow God more closely. It concludes with him wanting to follow God perfectly.
Jesus tells us that if we’re perfectly committed to God, it’ll show even in our language. We should be so sincere in our commitment to God that our word should be impeccable, and unquestionable. What does that mean? If our word carries that much weight, it means we’re people of perfect integrity! We go to daily Mass because we want to follow the Lord more closely, but how badly do we want to follow him perfectly? How much of the world are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of the gold halo? Are we willing to be charitable until it hurts? Are we willing to be humble till it hurts? That’s the virtue I have a problem with, humility! I still want to put myself first. There’s still too much of my own ego in my ministry. There’s still too strong a desire in me for admiration and applause and praise. Pray for me, because I can never be confident of my salvation while I know I still continually fall to this sin.
It is my prayer for all of us today, that we always seek not just to deepen our commitment to God, but perfect it, by shedding our worldly tendencies, because what our church
needs more than anything else in this modern age, is a lot more gold halos. Blessed be God forever. Father Michael Anthony Sisco
Quote from a Saint
“When a friendship has for its object the service of His Majesty, it at once becomes
clear that the will is devoid of passion and indeed is helping to conquer other passions.” -St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection
O MERCIFUL GOD, grant that I may eagerly desire, carefully search out, truthfully acknowledge, and ever perfectly fulfil all things which are pleasing to Thee, to the praise and glory of thy Name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
What is the difference between striving after perfection and following Christ “just enough”?
In what ways can we get caught in thinking like men of the flesh as we try to serve God? How can we overcome these areas?
Think of an example from a saint or person you admire of a radical renunciation of material possessions to follow Christ. How did that person’s life change as a result?
How much of the world are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of a gold halo?
What are some ways in which you might still be putting yourself first?
How does your commitment to God (or lack thereof) show in your language?
What sort of friendships do you have?
Do your friendships help you conquer unruly passions and better serve Christ?
Why is it important to ask for the grace to strive for perfection? -Erin Wells