Sitting in my back yard, watching the sun dip below the swaying trees I feel the magnitude of God’s embrace. It has been a beautiful Summer day. As is our habit, we assisted at morning Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary at Holy Hill. This marvelous Shrine, entrusted to the Discalced Carmelites was a fitting place for today’s Mass. Today’s First Reading (2 Kings 2:1, 6-14.) is one of my favorites, and it deals with the glorious departure of the spiritual Father of the Carmelites: the prophet Elijah.
Elijah is about to be taken up into heaven in a whirlwind and Elisha is grieving at the thought of losing his friend and mentor. Elijah the holy prophet whose miraculous works include: defending the one true God against the idol worshipers of Baal, saving the widow of Zarephath and her son from certain death, confronting King Ahab over the murderous theft of the vineyard of Naboth, let alone calling down fire from heaven and raising the dead. Elijah is a pure instrument of God; his love is so deep that his unity with God allows miraculous events to unfold- even in ordinary times and places.
As Elisha and Elijah walk on toward the Jordan, a group of about 50 guild prophets trail behind to watch. As they are crossing the Jordon River to which God had been directing Elijah:
“Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up and struck the water, which divided and both crossed over on dry ground. As they crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask whatever I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha answered, ‘May I receive a double portion of your spirit?’ ‘You have asked something that is not easy,’ Elijah replied, ‘Still, if you see me taken up from you your wish will be granted; otherwise not (2 Kings 2: 8-10) .’”
I can only imagine Elisha’s grief and trepidation as they walked along. Elisha loved God, and knew well how perfectly Elijah conformed himself to God’s grace. He had witnessed firsthand God’s mighty works through this holy prophet. As they miraculously crossed the Jordon on dry land, Elisha had to have known that the most profound moment of his life was about to occur. He realized that as Elijah’s earthly journey was about to end, that a transformation in his own role as prophet and servant was about to occur.
It is thus that he asked Elijah for a “double portion of his spirit.” This was not a self-serving, prideful request to be greater than the master. No, on the contrary, Elisha revered Elijah as a spiritual father, and was requesting the grace to carry on as his heir. In keeping with the inheritance rubrics of the period, Elisha is merely asking to be recognized as the legitimate heir of Elijah. In those days it was the custom that the eldest son, the legal heir, be given a “double portion” of the father’s inheritance. Thus, if a patriarch were to leave behind 3 sons, his estate would be divided into quarters, with the eldest son receiving two portions, and the other sons each receiving one. Here, the estate that Elisha seeks is not a treasury of gold, but rather of grace.
Elijah makes it clear that this is a profound request. Yet, while they are conversing,
“a flaming chariot and flaming horses came between them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. When Elisha saw what happened, he cried out, ‘My father, my father! Israel’s chariots and drivers!’ But when he could no longer see him, Elisha gripped his own garment and tore it in two (2 Kings 2: 11-12).”
Like his garment, his heart must have been equally rent, yet with the grace from the Spirit of God, he was able to accept his role as heir and move on. He picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen from him, and walked back to the banks of the Jordon.
“Wielding the mantle that had fallen from Elijah, Elisha struck the water in his turn and said, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then Elisha struck the water; it divided and he crossed over (2 Kings 2:14).”
How often we find ourselves in the place of Elisha? God asks us to let go of what is dear, and trust that His grace will be sufficient. He calls us to journey with Him, and to accept the roles He envisions for us, His servants. It is then, that like Elisha, we must seek and call on Him by name, requesting a “double portion” of His Spirit. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote that she asked God for a “double portion” of the spirit of all the saints in heaven, so that she might have the grace to do His will. With the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, we too can have the grace to live as heirs of the Kingdom of God. At times, it is difficult to move past the human emotions that mark the passage of time, yet it is only in so doing that we can become the heirs to the grace and legacy that He has chosen for each of us from the dawn of eternity.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,