“When God disappears, man falls into the slavery of idolatry,” Pope Benedict XVI said at the June 15 General Audience in St. Peter’s Square.
This phenomenon, he said, is clearly “shown by the totalitarian regimes of our time and with various forms of nihilism, which make man dependent on idols and idolatry, which enslave.”
The Pope said that this “seduction” of “the illusion of being able to ‘serve two masters’” has been a “constant temptation to believers” throughout salvation history.
To make his case, Pope Benedict drew upon the Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah. He lived in the kingdom of Israel in the 9th century B.C. , during a time of famine. As a result, King Ahab and most people worshiped both God and the idol Baal who, they believed, brought life and fertility to both humanity and nature.
“While claiming to follow the Lord, God, invisible and mysterious, people also sought safety in a god who was understandable and predictable,” the Pope observed.
In response to Israel’s divided allegiance to God, Elijah proposed a contest to be held on Mount Carmel. Two altars were built on top of the mountain and Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to bring down fire upon the prepared sacrifice. The rival priests resort to even spilling their own blood to convince Baal to send fire, but to no effect.
Elijah then ordered that the altar to God be drenched with water three times and asked him to accept the sacrifice. Fire fell from the sky, and Elijah prayed intently for rain to fall to end the famine.
“In response to Elijah’s prayer, God reveals his fidelity, mercy and saving power through the consuming fire sent down from heaven. He also enables the people to turn back to him and to reaffirm the covenant made with their fathers,” said the Pope.
The story of Elijah, he said, should also remind people to pray for the conversion of others.
“As we look to Elijah’s example, let us be ever more convinced of the power of intercessory prayer, so that we can help all people to know the one true God, to turn away from every form of idolatry, and to receive the grace offered to us on the wood of the Cross and in the fire of the Holy Spirit.”
This was the sixth Wednesday audience delivered by Pope Benedict on the topic of prayer. His previous theme – the lives of the saints – took two years to complete.