The Love of God Conquers All
Flannery O’Connor once wrote:
“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.
They think faith is a big electric blanket,
when of course, it is the cross.”
If you are anything like me, you may bristle at this statement.
Who in their right mind runs to the cross?
What makes it possible for us to embrace hardships, to put aside self-indulgence, and
indifference to the sufferings of others and the earth,
“to lay down our lives,”
for the people we love and for the common good?
What strengthens us when, like Jesus,
we experience the cross in the overwhelming forces of evil and death that
threaten our human flourishing and
the well-being of our planet?
The prophet Elijah, whom we meet in our first reading,
hints at an answer.
We first encounter Elijah in the prime of his prophetic mission
born by God into a fierce battle against the king and queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel.
These power-hungry rulers violate the Covenant,
desecrate the sacred altars,
kill the prophets, and lead Israel into
worshiping false gods.
While Elijah witnessed with mighty signs the
power of God among the people,
Ahab and Jezebel are not converted and
vengefully seek his death.
In terror, Elijah flees the cost of discipleship.
He is paralyzed by fear and despair, his spirit crushed.
He tells God, “It is enough; I am done; take my life now.”
Wishing to escape reality and all its pain,
he sits under a solitary tree and falls asleep,
wrapped in his electric blanket.
You may be as surprised as I was by the next scene.
With a gentle and humble heart, God looks upon Elijah with compassion and
offers him no rebuke, no reprimand.
Instead, God sends a kindly angel to
strengthen him with warm cakes and water and then to
accompany him across the desert to God’s mountain.
After Elijah has rested,
God greets him and seeks to know his heart’s desire.
God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah pours out his story, and God listens with loving kindness.
Elijah is told to wait on the mountain for God to “pass by.”
On the mountain’s edge, he experiences a
ferocious wind, an earthquake, and a fire;
God is not present there but in a “gentle whisper.”
Wrapped in awe and reverence,
Elijah enters divine communion.
God asks him again: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Recalling his scrape with death, this one question
provokes an avalanche of questions for Elijah:
What do you value most?
What gives you meaning and purpose?
Who are you, and whose are you?
What larger story are you a part of?
God poses the most vital spiritual question
every human being must answer: What are you doing here?
Can you hear God asking you this question? What are you doing here?
What supreme reality can claim your whole heart and
free you to live for one another, to love at any cost?
Elijah answers these questions not with words but with his life.
He has rested in the warmth of God’s loving arms.
With spirit renewed, liberated from fear,
he rededicates himself to participate in God’s saving plan for Israel.
In his darkest hour, he discovers that “God is Love,” as John’s first letter states,
“those who abide in love,
abide in God, and God in them….
We love because God first loved us” (1 Jn 4:16, 19).
Elijah whispers to us across the centuries,
what strengthens us in the shadow of the cross
is God’s ever-present, unsurpassed love,
making us “participants in the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4) and “friends of God, and prophets” (Ws 7:27).
Likewise, Jesus assures us as he did Peter and his disciples
tossed on the deadly storm at sea,
“Come to me. Don’t be afraid.
Step into the troubled waters; I am holding you by the hand.
I am with you always, and our friendship has no end.
Wrapped in God’s love, perhaps we will become like Jesus, whom Catherine of Siena called a
“mad lover” who ran to his cross.
“It was not nails, she says, but love that kept him on the cross.”
Sara Fairbanks, OP
Sara Fairbanks, OP
Dr. Sara Fairbanks, OP, is an Adrian Dominican Sister. She is currently a professor of homiletics at Aquinas Institute in Saint Louis, Missouri. Before going to Aquinas, she taught systematic theology for twenty years at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Sara holds a Master of Theology from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis and a Doctorate in Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College, the Toronto School of Theology in Toronto, Canada. Her areas of expertise are homiletics, theology of lay ecclesial ministry, theology of preaching, practical theology and Christian anthropology.
Sara published Fully Human: Understanding Christian Anthropology:12 Lectures on DVD and CD.Bethesda, MD: Now You Know Media, 2017.She has published extensively on lay ecclesial ministry and lay preaching in numerous scholarly journals, such as, Worship, The Way, Liturgical Ministry, and Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture. She is a contributing author to the series Feasting on the Gospels—Luke Volume 1: A Feasting on the Word Commentary(Westminster John Knox Press, 2014). She also contributed two chapters to Theology: Faith, Beliefs, Traditions(Kendall Hunt, 2010).
Sara has given numerous lectures to different organizations, such as, the Catholic Theological Society of America, the National Organization of Continuing Education for Roman Catholic Clergy, the Giving Voice Conference and the Pollok Lectures at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sara also works every summer at the Dominican College Preaching in Action Conference as well as the Dominican High School Preaching in Action Conference offering students workshops on the art of liturgical preaching.
Sara has also served as the Director of Vocations for the Adrian Dominican Sisters and publishes“Disco: Discernment Conversations,” a bi-monthly video blog on vocational discernment.