Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
29th Sunday: The Community of Prayer
Moses held up his staff, and the Hebrews began to win the battle against the Amalekites, the forces of evil. This scene in today’s first reading is not really about a battle. It is about prayer. You see, by holding up his staff, Moses was assuming the ancient position of prayer. His hands were held up to the Lord, depending on the Lord’s power.
But Moses couldn’t keep his arms raised up for a long period. You can imagine that after an hour or so his muscles were cramping. So, he had to let his arms down. But every time he let his arms fall, the Amalekites started winning the battle. Moses had to keep his arms up, but how could he? It was painful. Then he called on two of his trusted companions, Aaron and Hur, and asked them to help him. They got on each side of Moses and helped him stay in the position of prayer. And the children of Israel won the battle.
We need to pray, and we need to pray every day. We need to stay united to God. We need to call upon God for help throughout our day. But we can’t do this alone. We need the help and support of others. We need others to hold our arms up. We need our community of prayer. We need each other.
Jesus formed us into a Church, a community of people united to Him as our head. He knew that we are dependent on others to stay united to God. That’s why it is so important that we come to Church on Sundays, supporting each other, holding each other up when our prayer life starts drooping like Moses’ arms. That’s why it is so important that we have people in our lives with whom we are comfortable praying. Young people seeking to marrying, look for someone with whom you can pray. Husbands and wives; make praying together part of your lives. Remember, your sacrament, marriage, is the union of the two of you with Jesus Christ. You need each other to find Him.
Wherever we go in life, we have to find a prayer community. We need others to be accountable to us, to care for us, and we need to be accountable to others. When God’s people pray marvelous, wonderful things happen. United with Jesus as their Head, through the mediation of a priest, the Lord becomes present in the Eucharist. He is offered to the Father for our sins. He is united to us closer than our skins.
When God’s people pray, the weak are made strong. There is huge strength in numbers. There is a powerful spiritual strength in the number of people who are praying. Perhaps you have been at some sort of spiritual event where there are thousands of people praying together. If you have, then you can feel God’s presence in the Word, in the Sacrament, and in each other. The community at prayer is a great gift of God’s love. God loves us so much that He gave us each other.
We need a prayer community even when we are not in Church. For example, someone has a sick child. That person needs the support of others to stay united to God. Or, we have just had a death in the family. We can hardly think, let alone pray. We need others to help us to pray. We need each other. Sometimes a friend says to another friend, “I’ll always be there for you.” This is what we do for each other in our prayer life. We are there for each other, helping each other continue in prayer. We hold each others arms up as God defeats the forces of evil.
God hears our prayers. He's not busy elsewhere with other people. He's not too busy with people with problems more difficult than ours. He's infinite. He has infinite love. He has infinite power, and he hears the prayers of the Mom asking God to keep an eye on her children at school just as he hears the prayers of the Pope asking him to help the world leaders turn from selfishness and aid the poor in their countries.
We need to pray continually. If we are convinced that God loves us than we must be convinced that he is hearing us. A good God will answer our prayers and make the best of even a terrible situation. We may be afflicted with sickness, death, family or marital turmoil, unemployment or what have you. If we put our trust in God, if we pray to him then he will write straight even with the crooked lines of life.
I have heard people say, “I prayed to God, and He didn’t hear my prayer.” That’s wrong. God does hear our prayers. He is our Loving Father. “But, I didn’t get what prayed for,” we might complain. Well, sometimes God hears our prayers and says “No.” Loving parents hear the pleading of their children to have something, or to do something. As loving parents, they also recognize that this or that might not be the best thing for their children.
I love that old country and western song that Garth Brooks wrote many years ago called, “Unanswered Prayers.” In it he tells how when he was in high school he prayed every night that a pretty girl would be his. She was popular. She was beautiful. And she wanted nothing to do with him. Life went on; he matured and found the true love of his life. He married that woman who stole his heart and gave him her heart. They had children together. One Friday he took his family to a football game at his old high school. And there she was, the former Miss Gorgeous. He looked at her; she was still beautiful. But then he looked at his wife, and felt his love for her well up within him. Then he looked at his children. And he thanked God for unanswered prayers.
We need to pray. We need to pray for our children, our spouses, and our families every single day. We need to say a prayer for our children when they go off to school, or our spouse when she goes to get the kids at soccer. A quick "Jesus watch over her" puts the simplest most routine actions in God's hands. If our children have moved on, we still need to pray for them (and perhaps thank God that they have moved on.)
And when we are feeling weak, when we feel we just can’t pray any more, we have to remember Moses on the hillside overlooking that battle. He couldn’t pray alone. He couldn’t keep his arms up alone. But he wasn’t alone. He had support for his prayers. With the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses kept his hands up in prayer, and Joshua defeated the forces that were attacking the people of Israel.
Like Moses calling upon Aaron and Hur, we need each other. We need others to help us hold our arms up to God. We need each other to be people of prayer.