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My dear friends in Christ,
In the 1st Reading this weekend we see the account of Elijah, following God’s directive, appointing Elisha as his under-study and God’s apprentice prophet. The mode of appointing him is interesting! There is no conversation, no letter of appointment, Elijah simply throws his cloak over him – “you’ve got the job!”
Another term for Elijah’s cloak is mantle. Typically, it was a large, loosely fitting garment made of animal skin, probably sheepskin. It had a very practical use of course, keeping its wearer warm on chilly middle eastern evenings and protecting them from the elements. It also served a symbolic purpose, in the case of the prophets, showing that they were called by God and therefore wrapped in His authority. A number of the Old Testament prophets wore a cloak.
Some early theologians saw the mantle as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Hence, as the mantle falls upon Elisha, so God’s spirit falls with it. This makes sense, as it is God’s spirit who empowers us in the service of God.
We might say then that God’s mantle was thrown upon us in Baptism. There is a parallel here with the baptismal shawl, where we are ‘putting on Christ’ who is our new life. I suppose the question is to what degree do we live out our noble calling? To what degree do we follow in the footsteps of Christ?
The gospel gives us some guidance in this matter, albeit rather radical!
I’m off on retreat for the next 10 days. I have been naughty because I haven’t had a retreat for the last few years and I should be doing one every year! A retreat is a special and important time where I try to focus only on God and my vocation. Please pray that it will be fruitful for me and that I may wear that mantle with integrity and love.