Living as a holy man of God—what does that mean? In today’s first reading, we hear about the prophet Elisha and the woman from Shunem. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have been Elisha? And do you thirst to live as a holy man of God?
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
28 June 2020
In our reading from 2nd Kings, Elisha decides to reward the woman of Shunem for providing for his material needs. He’s not too sure about what kind of gift he should give her. His servant Gehazi (Ge-hay-zi rhymes with eye) suggests she would like to have a son, since her husband is old. When I was reading this, I was thinking, “wow,” that’s a tall order. But it seems an easily satisfied request for Elisha. Why? Well, the Shunem woman called Elisha a “holy man of God.” I think that’s where we find the answer.
Elisha calls for the woman and tells her, “This time next year, you will be fondling a baby son.” And in due time, she conceived and bore a son.
We’re all familiar with how Elisha’s story begins with Elijah. When Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, he dropped his mantle to Elisha. Elisha picks it up, and from then on he travels in the “spirit of Elijah,” so to speak, as a mighty prophet of God. With the power of God, he immediately begins working miracles. He parts the Jordan river (2 Kings 2:14), he makes the poisonous water of Jericho wholesome to drink (2 Kings 19:22), he causes water to flow into a dry stream for the king of Israel and his thirsty army (2 Kings 3:16 ff). He multiplies oil for a poor widow and her sons (2 Kings 4:1-7). He feeds 100 men with 20 loaves of barley and a few ears of corn (2 Kings 4:42-43).
If we read a little further in 2nd Kings, we find the Shunem woman’s son dies. What does Elisha do? He raises him from the dead.
Elisha is a holy man of God, which means God has his back.
There’s a story in 2nd Kings, chapter 2, about a group of rude and rowdy boys. Elisha is walking along, minding his own business, when these boys rush out of the city, follow him, and jeer at him, saying, “Go away baldhead!” Elisha turns and curses them. Suddenly two she-bears (sows) charge out of the woods and maul the boys. I imagine these weren’t simply young boys acting stupidly. Likely in their upper teens or even into their twenties, they had nefarious intent.
Wouldn’t you like to believe—really believe—that God has your back? I think that’s something we all want.
Elisha was a holy man of God, a mighty prophet. And he enjoyed God’s protection. I think we can sum up Elisha’s life by saying he lived for God.
Do you ever ask yourself, “What would it have been like to be Elisha?”
Actually, you know, you’ve been given something more than what Elisha had.
In his letter to the Romans (6:3-4, 8-11), St. Paul reminds us that we are baptized into Christ’s death, and, as a result, we are baptized into his life. While Elisha certainly enjoyed God’s favor, you have been integrated into the life of the sovereign Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ. Since you have died with Christ in baptism, you will live with Christ in unending life, for our Lord said, I came that you may have life in abundance (John 10:10).
St. Paul tells us that Christ lives for God. Of course, we know that Christ is God. The point Paul is making, is that we must live for God as well. Since Christ died to sin, “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus,” says Paul.
In our gospel today (Matt 10:37-42), the Lord Jesus reminds us that he must be our priority. He tells us:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
What is Jesus saying here? He’s saying commitment to him rearranges our lives, it changes our priorities. Each day we must renew our commitment to Christ and his kingdom, for only it lasts forever. If friends and family disagree with our faith in Christ, that will bring tension—and those are painful moments. Yet Christ must remain our priority. Even if our friends and family agree with our commitment to Christ, the world does not. The world is inundated with sin. When we are confronted with the temptation to be unfaithful, we must press forward in faithfulness. In those moments we must take up our cross and follow Christ.
Remember, our Lord said, “The world will give you trouble, but take courage! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
If we are to live as men and women of God, we must be willing to do so in heroic fashion.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan?
Cardinal Van Thuan was named coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon. Six days later, South Vietnam fell to communist controlled North Vietnam. Consequently, the Cardinal was soon arrested by communist authorities. For the next 14 years, Cardinal Van Thuan was harassed and tortured by communists in an attempt to force him to abandon his faith in Christ. They tried to “re-educate him,” moving him from camp to camp and prison to prison. They tried to integrate their own evil ideas into his thoughts and make him not only repeat them but believe them.
I should say a word about Communism here. Communism is an evil system. It’s unrelentingly averse to the principles America stands for, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and equality for all. Communism by definition is anti-Christian and irreligious—and with that comes darkness, destruction, and suffering. It’s responsible for murdering hundreds of millions of people around the world. It hates the Church and seeks to crush worship of Jesus Christ.
Communism is not a benign, unambitious force in the world that intends to reside peacefully alongside free societies. It’s just the opposite. It aggressively seeks to ingulf countries and nations and enslave their citizens. Ultimately, we must remember that Satan is behind it because communism is by nature atheistic. Those who support communism operate in the world as children of darkness who desire to spread evil throughout the world. It’s what they do.
Given that many of our young people today think that socialism is a kind of “savior,” people need to be aware of the fact that socialism naturally leads to communism. The Marxist ideologies we see being violently pushed in the streets of America today—which is nothing short of a political power-grab movement based on a “religious faith” in socialist principles—are designed to incite fear, escalate racial division, deconstruct America, and eventually bring about a new social order. Although many of the people participating in the rioting and destruction are ignorant of the forces driving the movement they’re swept up in, if our leaders do not stand up and put a stop to this orchestrated mayhem, we will soon see an end to the free America we once enjoyed. The America for which millions of American solders fought and died to protect is crumbling before our eyes.
One aspect of communism we see being pushed in the present, is the habit of conditioning people under force. Under a socialist and/or communist regime, people are forced to assent to lies, speak lies, and, finally, believe and live out those same lies. It’s a form of anti-truth control used to first sway public opinion and then crush it. Under extreme pressure, people are prevented from voicing any opinion that even hints at criticizing the socialist/communist agenda. If they should do so, they are punished—often severely. At present, this is happening precisely when people are mauled, accosted, fired from their jobs, or otherwise socially molested because they happen to voice even carefully nuanced concerns about leftist, Marxist viewpoints or criticize movements in the streets given to violent tendencies that trumpet ridiculous, illogical demands.
Cardinal Van Thuan refused to relinquish his faith in the Lord Jesus. When he was finally released by communist authorities, he was allowed to visit Rome. However, he was never permitted to return home to his country.
It seems a sad story. But there’s more. In the end, faithfulness to Christ is always rewarded. In the year 2000, the Great Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II asked Cardinal Van Thuan to preach the annual spiritual exercises to the pope and the other cardinals who work in the Vatican.
Later, the Pope asked him to publish a book on the moving reflections he shared at that retreat. He did so. It’s called Testimony of Hope.
In the book’s introduction, Cardinal Van Thuan shares with us some of the words he spoke at the conclusion of the annual retreat at the Vatican. His words speak of the power of faithfulness to Christ and carrying one’s cross. They remind us of the rewards of living as a man of God. Here’s what he said:
Exactly twenty-four years ago on March 18, 1976, on the vigil of the Feast of St Joseph, I was taken by force from my residence in Cay Vong, and put in solitary confinement in the prison of Phu Khanh.
Twenty-four years ago, I never would have imagined that today, on exactly the same date, I would conclude preaching the spiritual exercises in the Vatican.
Twenty-four years ago, when I celebrated Mass with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I never would have dreamed that today the Holy Father would offer me a gilded chalice.source: epriest.com
Beautiful words. But what do you suppose the Lord Jesus offered the good Cardinal? Well, let’s just say a gilded chalice can’t compare.
Elisha lived as a holy man of God and, in God, did great things. Today, we’re called to live faithfully as holy men and women in Christ, regardless of prevailing cultural dictates or darkness in the world. In doing so, these words of Christ become our reality:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.Matt 5:11-12
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.