Jul 07, 2024 87 Deacon Jim McFadden

Food for the Journey

Tired of all that life is throwing at you? This super-food might be just what you need!

Homer’s Odyssey, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road…all have something in common—the main characters are making their way through their respective life journeys. They can serve as a reminder to us that we are also on a journey.

Winner Takes it All

At the high point of Prophet Elijah’s life journey, he faces down the prophets of Ba’al, the pagan god. Elijah is on the top of Mount Carmel with 400 pagan prophets and challenges them to a prophetic duel. He says: “Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.”(1 Kings 18:24) It’s a great confrontation, a real test. One can imagine how this duel would have been promoted on Pay-for-TV!

The priests of Ba’al really get into it: they pray and dance themselves into a frenzy as if they were at a rage gathering, all the while calling upon their god to do his thing. Nothing happens. Elijah taunts them: “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27) So, they dial up their effort. They call and call, slash themselves with swords and spears until they are a bloody mess…of course, nothing happens.

In contrast, Elijah calmly calls upon Yahweh just once, who brings down fire to consume the sacrifice, proving that there’s only one true God: Yahweh. With that, the crowd is astounded, and all the people fall prostrate as they exclaim: “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” (1 Kings 18:39). Elijah then commands the crowd to seize the pagan prophets and have them marched down to the brook Kishon, where he slits their throats. Talk about winner-take-all!

An Unexpected Twist

Well, one can imagine that the pagan Queen Jezebel was not a happy camper, having 400 of her prophets humiliated and slaughtered. She has to do something to save face and maintain her imperial prerogatives. If Ba’al is discredited, she will be as well, so she sends her secret police and troops after Elijah, who is now on the run. He is fleeing for his life, and if they catch him, they will murder him.

We hear that Elijah “went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:4) His life, which had just come to a high point with the confrontation of the pagan prophets, has now bottomed out. He’s discouraged, saddened, and so depressed that he wants God to take his life—he wants to die. He is tired of running.

The prophet’s prayer for death is not heard. His mission has not yet been completed. Then an angel of the Lord, a messenger from God, comes to him: “Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him: ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said: ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’” (1 Kings 19: 5-7)

The angel directs him to Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai, the holy mountain. Sustained by the mysterious food and drink, Elijah is able to walk for forty days, a very significant number as it signifies completeness in the Biblical context. He then receives a revelation, just as his ancestor Moses did. So, we have a story that begins with desperation and ends with the prophet once again actively engaged in the affairs of God.

Modern-day Jezebels

We may not be pursued by the agents of Jezebel, but we do have to contend with evil influences in our daily lives, so we can easily identify with the prophet Elijah. Many of us, especially those who have lived a while, reach this point where life is really difficult. We don’t have the energy that we once had when we were younger, and the enthusiasm for life has waned. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to get through the day, and that is before we had to contend with the pandemics, racial discord, threats to our democracy, and environmental degradation. Life has really beaten us up. There are only so many psychological blows that we can handle. On top of that, our religious practice has become way too familiar, even mechanical. Sometimes, it seems that we’ve lost our sense of direction or purpose. A lot of us have become like Elijah the prophet.

When we hit bottom like this, what do we need? The same thing Elijah did—sustenance for the journey and a renewed sense of direction and purpose. We find our sustenance in Jesus, who said: “I am the living bread … Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51). Notice two things: Jesus, the living bread, is both the means and the end. Not only is He our sustenance for the journey, but He is also the destination.

The Food that We Become

When we celebrate the Holy Mass, we offer ourselves as a gift to God, symbolized by bread and wine. In return, we receive the self-gifting Real Presence of Christ himself. As we consume the Eucharist, we don’t make bread and wine become alive, rather, that consecrated, Heavenly bread makes us become alive because it assimilates us to it! When we receive His body and blood, we are receiving His soul and divinity. When that happens, we are drawn into His Being, into His divine Life. We now have the means to see as Jesus sees and to live a life similar to His— to value all we do as serving the Father.

The Eucharist is also the end of our journey. We have a taste of Heaven on Earth because we enter into the mystery of God. Through the Eucharist, we experience Heaven in space and time. We experience oneness with God, each other, and all of Creation. We experience a fullness of self, which is what our heart desires now and forever!

If you want to have sustenance and courage for the journey, make the Eucharist, the living bread, the very center of your life. If you want the joy and satisfaction of a life fully imbued with God, receive Jesus’ gift of living bread.


Deacon Jim McFadden

Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He serves in adult faith formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.

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