Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga
Sirach recalls the memory of Elijah, a great prophet in ancient Israel. He is one of the non-writing prophets, whose words have come down to us through others, such as, in this case, the wisdom figure, Sirach. Elijah is the greatest of the non-writing prophets.
As we listen to Sirach’s recollection of him today, we understand why. Elijah was a prophet whose ministry of the word went to the quick and cut to the chase. He minced no words with those whom he addressed, usually those he was chastising. Many of these were in positions of power. But Elijah showed no fear.
He illustrates the role, and the advantage, of oral tradition in God’s revelation of Himself to us. Were it not for the oral tradition that preserved the prophetic ministry of Elijah, Sirach would have had no source on which to fall back in recalling, and transmitting, Elijah’s testimony. This strikes a chord in our contemporary society, enriched as we are by electronic media such as FaceBook and Twitter, which elevate the written word to a new level. And yet some among us have second thoughts about this evolutionary development, realizing how vulnerable the written word in electronic format leaves us before those intent on doing us harm. Leaving a trail of our words, whether paper or electronic, is not an unmixed blessing. Perhaps Elijah early on realized this.
Elijah, in Sirach’s version of his legacy, kept his message short and to the point, and is much in keeping with today’s gospel from St. Matthew, as he records an instruction from the Lord Jesus on how to pray.
We are not to babble when we pray, so as to gain a hearing before our heavenly Father. Our prayer is to be short and sweet, first recognizing and acknowledging God, especially for His work among us, then listing our basic needs: bread, forgiveness, protection and final rescue or deliverance.
This kind of prayer seems to be in keeping with what Elijah would have advised us, if we had approached him: something lean and clean. It counters the common wisdom that the longer we pray, the better our prayer. It fits the pattern of the saint whose memorial we keep today, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the young Jesuit scholastic who died at any early age, prior to his ordination, and whose life message to us is that a short life, brief and simple, is more than adequate to do what pleases God and serves our best interests.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.