THE NOW WORD ON MASS READINGS
for June 16th – June 21st, 2014
HE was one of the most influential prophets of the Old Testament. In fact, his end here on earth is nearly mythological in status since, well… he didn’t have an end.
As they walked on conversing, a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. (Wednesday’s first reading)
Tradition teaches that Elijah was taken to “paradise” where he has been preserved from corruption, but that his role on earth has not ended.
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses. You were destined, it is written, in time to come to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD, To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons, and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob. (Thursday’s first reading)
The prophet Malachi likewise echoes this theme, giving a more precise time frame:
Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day; He will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction. (Mal 3:23-24)
Hence, the Israelites had a great expectation that Elijah would be a key figure who would bring about the restoration of Israel, heralding in the reign of the expected Messiah. So during Jesus’s ministry, the people often questioned whether He was in fact Elijah. And when Our Lord was crucified, the people even called out, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” cf. Matt 27:49
The expectation that Elijah will return has been, as mentioned, clearly enunciated in the Church Fathers and Doctors. And not only Elijah, but Enoch, who likewise did not die, but “was translated into paradise, that he may give repentance to the nations.” cf. Sirach 44:16; Douay-Rheims St. Irenaeus (140-202 A.D.), who was a student of St. Polycarp, who in turn was a direct disciple of the Apostle John, wrote:
The disciples of the Apostles say that they (Enoch and Elijah) whose living bodies were taken up from the earth, have been placed in an earthly paradise, where they will remain until the end of the world. —St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, Liber 4, Cap. 30
St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that:
Elijah was raised into the aerial, not the empyrean heaven, which is the abode of the Saints, and in like manner Enoch was carried away to a terrestrial paradise, where he and Elijah, it is believed, will live together until the coming of the Antichrist. —Summa Theologica, iii, Q. xlix, art. 5
Hence, the Church Fathers saw Elijah and Enoch as the fulfillment of the “two witnesses” described in Revelation 11.
The two witnesses, then, shall preach three years and a half; and Antichrist shall make war upon the saints during the rest of the week, and desolate the world… —Hippolytus, Church Father, The Extant Works and Fragments of Hippolytus, “The interpretation by Hippolytus, bishop of Rome, of the visions of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, taken in conjunction”, n.39
But what of Jesus’ words regarding Elijah as having already come?
“Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matt 17:11-13)
Jesus provides the answer Himself: Elijah will come and has already come. That is, the restoration of Jesus began with His life, death, and resurrection, heralded by John the Baptist. But it is His mystical body that brings the work of redemption to completion, and it is this which will be heralded by the man, Elijah. The prophet Malachi states that he will come before the “day of the Lord”, which is not a 24 hour period, but symbolically referred to in Scripture as a “thousand years.” cf. Two More Days The “era of peace” then, is the restoration of the Church and world, the preparation of the Bride of Christ that the Two Witnesses help bring about by their incredible intervention at the peak of evil.
…when the Son of Perdition has drawn to his purpose the whole world, Enoch and Elijah shall be sent that they might confute the Evil One. —St. Ephrem, Syri, III, Col. 188, Sermo II; cf. dailycatholic.org
It is “before” the Day of the Lord, or at least its apex, that Elijah is to appear and turn the hearts of fathers to their sons, that is, the Jews to the Son, Jesus Christ. cf. The Coming Wave of Unity Likewise, Enoch will preach to the Gentiles “until the full number of the Gentiles comes in.” cf. Rom 11:25
Enoch and Elijah… live even now and shall live until they come to oppose Antichrist himself, and to preserve the elect in the faith of Christ, and in the end shall convert the Jews, and it is certain that this has not yet been fulfilled. —St. Robert Bellarmine, Liber Tertius, P. 434
But just as John the Baptist was “filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” and went forward “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, so too I believe God is raising a small army of “witnesses.” Souls who are being formed in the womb of Our Blessed Mother to go forth in spirit and power beneath the prophetic mantle of Elijah, of John the Baptist. St. Pope John XXIII was one such soul who felt called to begin the restoration of the people of God, to make them into a holy people prepared to meet the Bridegroom:
The task of humble Pope John is to “prepare for the Lord a perfect people,” which is exactly like the task of the Baptist, who is his patron and from whom he takes his name. And it is not possible to imagine a higher and more precious perfection than that of the triumph of Christian peace, which is peace at heart, peace in the social order, in life, in wellbeing, in mutual respect, and in the brotherhood of nations. —POPE JOHN XXIII, True Christian Peace, December 23rd, 1959; www.catholicculture.org
It is also significant that Our Lady of Medjugorje has allegedly come under the title “Queen of Peace” — apparitions that began on the feast day of John the Baptist. All of these signs may very well be forerunners for when Elijah returns, and perhaps sooner than many think.
Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace… Fire goes before him and consumes his foes round about. His lightnings illumine the world; the earth sees and trembles. (Thursday’s first reading and Psalm)
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