In his general audience Benedict XVI illustrates the biblical challenge of Elijah to the priests of Baal. "Idolatry is the constant temptation the believer, who fools himself into believing he can serve two masters, he tries to serve the Almighty also placing his trust in impotent man-made gods."
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Man should worship only God, because there where God disappears, man becomes the slave of idolatry, as shown by the totalitarian regimes in our time, the slave of idolatry and various forms of nihilism that make man an addict to idols and enslave him". This was Benedict XVI's warning drawn from the biblical story of Elijah the prophet, "moved by God to bring people to conversion", to thousands of people who attended the general audience today.
Continuing in his catechesis on prayer the Pope focused on the passage from the Bible that recounts the prophet's prayer on Mount Carmel, where "all of his power as an intercessor is revealed, when before all his people, he prayed to the Lord to manifest Himself".
In the ninth century BC, Israel was living in "open syncretism" and the people "alongside the Lord worshiped Baal, the reassuring idol who was believed to bestow the gift of rain, life to the fields, and fertility to the cattle: people sought safety in the god in the comprehensible and predictable from whom they expected prosperity in exchange for sacrifices".
Idolatry - said Benedict XVI - is the constant temptation of the believer, who fools himself into believing that he can serve two masters, who tries to serve the Almighty placing his trust in impotent man-made gods".
"Elijah challenged the priests of Baal: two altars are prepared and prayers are said: "the true God manifests Himself consuming the offerings with fire". They are "two completely different ways of praying" to "provoke God's answer the idolaters of Baal, dance, shout", they "rely on themselves," and "in an illusory attempt to bend him to their own will, they inflict wounds on themselves with spears, to the point of covering themselves in blood, a dramatically ironic gesture, because in seeking a sign of life from their god they cover themselves with blood, which is a sign of death". But the idol, "conceived by man as something to be used and managed by his won strength remains silent." "The worship of idols instead of opening the hearts to otherness that allows us to go out from the narrow horizons of selfishness, closes the person into the exclusive and desperate circle of the search for self."
Elijah, who has "the purpose of bringing the lost people back to God", built another altar using 12 stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. "These stones represent all of Israel and the memory of the entire history which the people have witnessed." "The altar is the sacred place that indicates the presence of the Lord, but those stones represent the people." "But the symbol needs to become reality, the people need to recognize their God, so Elijah asks God to manifest Himself." The stones are also a reminder of God's faithfulness. Hence the prayer "O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and convert their hearts".
"Elijah asks God what He wants to do, to manifest Himself in all his mercy and that is what happens": the fire descends burning all of the offerings and the altar too. "The fire, this element which is both necessary and terrible, now serves to indicate the love of God made manifest. The Lord answered unequivocally, even drying all the water that had been poured around. "
The episode, explained the Pope, points to " the priority of the first commandment: to worship only God", and then conversion, "the fire of God that transforms our hearts." Finally, there is "the shadow of the future", "a step toward Christ, here we see the real fire, love unto the Cross."