It is often helpful to read the verses prior and the verses following the selection used at Sunday Mass to come to a better understanding as to what is happening. This is particularly true in this week's first reading from First Kings. Prior to this excerpt, Elijah had been engaged in a contest with the prophets of Baal to determine who had the true God. Elijah won and the prophets of Baal were executed. In the verses following this week, Elijah is on Mount Horeb and encounters God in the small quiet sound. In the verses we hear on the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Elijah is running for his life. The authorities weren't pleased with the victory of Yahweh over the prophets of Baal and were seeking to capture Elijah and execute him. We hear of his weariness, to the point of wishing for death. The angel of the Lord offers him food and drink for strength and encouragement to continue the journey.
There is an important lessen for us in these verses. Faith involves work. It is a commitment to a relationship with Jesus Christ. It requires effort to engage in the work of conversion, of turning our hearts and minds more and more to God. We can become weary and feel like taking a rest or even quitting, giving up on ourselves and on God.
That is why we have the Eucharist, food to strengthen us body and soul. The Eucharist is received within a communal celebration that involves a liturgy of the Word. Like the story in this week's first reading, the Lord nourishes us and encourages us to continue on. That is what the Mass is all about.
We also are told that Elijah's eating and drinking allowed him to persevere for 40 days and 40 nights to his arrival at Horeb, where we will be told in the next group of verses he encounters God. The angel's encouragement was to motivate Elijah to prepare himself for the encounter with Yahweh. The question this presents to us is, how do we prepare for our encounters with the Lord?
At the celebration of Mass we encounter the Lord in one another, in the proclamation of the Word and most especially in the Eucharist. How do we prepare for that encounter? Easter and Christmas are major celebrations in the life of the Church. We take weeks to prepare for these celebrations. While a Sunday in Ordinary Time is not as "big" as Christmas or Easter, it is a celebration of the Resurrection and (repeating myself here) we do encounter the risen Lord. A pretty big deal.
For this encounter to be most effective, we ought to prepare for it. Certainly an important part of this preparation is the time leading up to the celebration. Do we give ourselves time to collect our thoughts and quiet ourselves down before Mass begins? Do we take anytime in the hours leading up to Sunday Mass to prepare? Perhaps we can read the readings that morning, or have a conversation with a family member on some aspect of the readings. Sunday is the sabbath and should be different from the other days of the week. What spiritual practice can we incorporate in the time before Mass to help us prepare?
This is a pretty big moment if you think about it. We are encountering God. There is not one greater or more powerful or more loving in the world. Perhaps our preparation should begin a day or two before hand. Fr. Robert Barron (soon to be bishop) releases an audio of a reflection of the Sunday readings about midweek. I hope to have a similar reflection like this one also posted each week. You can purchase a Sunday Missal and read over the readings and read the commentary that is included with many missals. There are websites that also provide exegesis and commentary on the readings, for example the Sunday Website at St. Louis University (http://liturgy.slu.edu).
Perhaps taking time to read some of the collects and other prayers from the Missal for that particular Sunday could be helpful. Each week there is a psalm used as a response. The great thing about psalms is that they were written as prayers. A great way to help prepare for the upcoming Sunday is to use the psalm being used as part of your daily prayer.
The more we prepare for Sunday Mass, the more we get from the celebration. I realize many have a lot going on. Parents find it very difficult to focus at Mass or arrive early to pray because of the energy and demands of children. However, preparing in the days leading up to Mass may help them get a bit more from Sunday Mass than before. Anytime we can dedicate to God and open even a sliver of our mind and heart to Him is not wasted time and very beneficial.