The Manly Task of Intercession

(Homily for Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Bottom line: As priests and family leaders, intercession is our primary task.

Today's first reading illustrates the power of intercessory prayer. Before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites faced a major battle. The Amalekites - a fierce desert tribe - attacked them. The Israelites, led by Joshua, fought back. Moses, who was now a very old man, did not enter directly into the battle, but from a place above, held up his arms in prayer. As long as Moses kept his arms extended, the Israelites advanced. But when the pain became too great and Moses let down his arms, the Israelites took a beating. Finally two young Levites, Aaron and Hur, sustained Moses' arms and the Israelites won a decisive victory.

We are in a similar situation today: not a battle with swords and spears, but nevertheless we are in a battle that will determine our future and the future of our children. A powerful enemy has attacked us. That enemy wants to annihilate our families, our parishes, our souls - especially the souls of our young people. We have to fight back. In this battle we need men like Moses, Aaron and Hur, who will lift up their arms and intercede for us.

The task of intercession belongs first to priests. Moses, Aaron and Hur were members of the Levite tribe. They had no land, but rather "the Lord was their portion." They dedicated their lives to intercession. So do our priests today - and we should recognize that our first duty is to intercede for our people.

The task of intercession, of course, does not stop with priests. I like to remind bridegrooms that they are priests to their families. Their most important role is to intercede for their spouse and children - to bring them to God.

Regarding intercession we have to be honest. The battle is not going well. Many of us priests - and many other men- have let down our arms. Maybe we even say, "let the women do the praying." It is true that women can be powerful intercessors like the widow Jesus speaks about today. Still, we have to face a fact which is clear in the Bible: God charges us men, as priests and family leaders, to take up the role of intercession.*

Last summer Pope Benedict gave priests authorization to celebrate the John XXIII Mass. It was the form of the Mass used during the Second Vatican Council. I have celebrated that Mass a few times and although it will not become the common form, it does have something to teach us. Like a laser, the John XXIII Mass focuses on intercession - the priest leading the people in prayer to the Father. The current Mass of Paul VI does that as well, but it sometimes gets lost: we can think the Mass is something we do to build community. No, the Mass is God's work - a prayer, an act of worship made possible by Jesus. Out of that will come community.

In the Mass- and in the prayer in our homes - we take up the noble task of intercession. It is a manly task. We are in a fierce battle and every day we suffer more casualties. That can change. Before I die, I would like to see the enemy on the run. If we keep our arms extended, the tide will turn.


*When it comes to prayer, many people (especially young men) do not know how to begin. John Tauler - a 14th century spiritual master - has good advice: "When you have found the form of prayer that best suits you, even if it is the remembrance of your sins and faults, persevere in it and make it your own." The important thing is to get started. Out of one form of prayer, for example repentance and sorrow for sin, will emerge other forms: thanksgiving, praise, petition, etc.

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Twenty-Ninth Sunday, Year C):

2016: Boots Laced Week 5: Little People
2013: Focus on Prayer, Part Two: Persistence
2010: Persistent Prayer - The Eucharist
2007: The Manly Task of Intercession
2004: A Significant Battlefront
2001: Such a Home Is Prayer
1998: All Scripture is Inspired

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