There is a section in the First Book of Kings (17: 1-22) that tells the story of God working through one man pitted against great odds. It is the story of Elijah, the only surviving prophet of the Lord, against the 450 prophets of Baal
Think also of the marvelous story of Gideon in the Book of Judges (7: 1-22). The Lord had Gideon drastically reduce the number of his soldiers just before battle. The result-ing army was very small and had to be judged ineffectual.
What do those stories tell us that relates to our life, our concrete situation? As Oblates we are pained by the fact that we are greatly diminished in numbers. In the U.S. and in the congregation as a whole our numbers are not much more than 50% of what they once were. We are also a senescent population. We continue to experience defections. Despite great efforts and much prayer the number of new recruits is meager. It is per-haps significant that we speak of immense hope. Just plain hope seems inadequate.
Certainly it would be difficult to envision our loss of numbers as a good thing. Just as certainly that does not prevent us who remain from witnessing the values to which we are dedicated. As in the case of Elijah and Gideon the fact of our smaller numbers does not preclude doing great things with God’s help.
Think of our brothers working among the poorest of the poor especially in Haiti and Brazil Will they eliminate the grinding poverty that afflicts so many? Obviously not. But the meaning of what they do is sacramental and symbolic.
Those stories of Elijah and Gideon suggest an analogy with religious life. Namely that the power of religious life does not lie in numbers or in wealth or worldly status. It lies in the power of what we are as consecrated witnesses of the Kingdom.