God turns Sinners into Saints
Sometimes my mind is too tired or distracted to engage in detailed meditations during prayer time. I look for a simple image to focus on that will bring me into God’s presence and still my scattered thoughts. One of my favorite images is fire. I can easily imagine red flames in the dark. I think of the flames as God’s love, burning away my sins and attachments as I submit to Him.
The other day while praying in this way, I began to think of Elijah’s sacrifice on Mt. Carmel. Do you remember the story?
“Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let two bulls be given to us; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; and I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, and put no fire to it. And you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, he is God.’ And all the people answered, ‘It is well spoken.'” (1 Kings 18:22-24)
The prophets of Baal, not surprisingly, got no answer from their false god, no matter what they did. Then it was Elijah’s turn.
“And he put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, ‘Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood.’ And he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. And he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time. And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water… Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” (verses 33-35, 38)
As I was meditating on this, I began to see myself as the sacrifice, being consumed by God’s fire from Heaven. How many times have the waters of sin and failure poured over me? How many times have I done my will, rather than God’s? In spite of all that, God can ignite the wood, the stones, and even the water. He can use everything in my life, even my sins, to accomplish His will. Nothing can stand in His way.
But how do I get from where I am now to there, being a living sacrifice as St. Paul says in Romans 12:1?
The answer is through prayer and the sacraments. As the New Testament tells us,
“The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.” (James 5:16c-18)
We can pray and have the same results of Elijah. When we humbly ask God to accomplish His will in us, repenting of sins and receiving sacramental absolution when necessary, our past is no hindrance. In fact, it can work for our good and the glory of God. When people see our lives transformed by grace, they will know that God has performed a miracle for us, just as He did for Elijah. Only God could set water on fire. And only God could turn a sinner into a saint.
“The Lord, He is God!” Blessed be His name.
Art: Hl. Elias, José de Ribera, 1638, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.