“Blessed the [one] who takes refuge in [the Lord]." (Psalm 34:9)
She is around my mother’s age. She had just been brought to a rehab center and she wanted to see a priest and receive communion on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. I walked into her room and found her confined to a wheelchair carefully making rosaries. The tray above her chair had rosary beads, string, and two prayer books. I sat down at the edge of the bed next to her chair and gave her the sacraments. While I was doing this, she informed me that she had bone cancer and there was really not much more the doctors could do. She could go no further. Immediately I thought of today’s first reading. I read it to her and explained to her how Elijah felt in the wilderness when he thought he could not go no further and how angels brought him food to strengthen him on his journey. I told her that the same thing had happened today because she received something much greater than the bread Elijah received. She received what Saint Ignatius of Antioch called “the bread of angels, bread from heaven, medicine of immortality.” She smiled and told me that all she wanted was a happy death. She had accepted her reality. In our time together, she told me of her worries for priests, for the souls of purgatory, for the souls of dearly departed priest. She told me to tell people to pray for these things (done), but of all her worries, she was not worried about death. I told her not to fear death because she had received this heavenly bread which if we listen to Jesus in today’s gospel, guarantees us eternal life. Like Elijah, she had now been fed bread of angels and was on her way not to Mount Horeb but to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s amazing how much peace can emanate from someone who is dying. When you’re at peace with the Lord, what is there to fear?
When we think we can’t go any further, God somehow pushes us across the finish line. Elijah was fleeing for his life because he had defeated and killed false prophets which angered his enemies. He stood up for God and now his life was in danger. Now as he journeys through the wilderness he asks for death because he cannot go any further. Angels comes to minister to him and bring him bread to nourish him. This bread of angels will be given again by Christ for he is the bread of life come down from heaven. This bread will strengthen us as it did Elijah who finished his journey to Mount Horeb which is also known as Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic covenant was formed. The Eucharist is the sign of the new covenant that is ratified by the blood of Jesus. He promises to feed us on our journey home towards the Father. This food helps makes us imitators of God as the second reading implores us to be. But more importantly it brings us the peace that this woman felt in that rehab center this afternoon. Her Lord and Savior had come to be one with her as I brought her the bread of angels that we will receive later at this Mass. Now, I’m no angel, nor do I aspire to be. What I aspire to be is what this woman told me as I took my leave of her. I kissed her on the forehead, and she said, “Thank you, Father. You will be in my prayers so that you can be always be a holy priest.”