Monday, October 17, 2016

Hands Up - Together

As a boy, I liked to look at the big "Family Bible" my parents owned. I especially liked the illustrations, which were all in the style of Catholic art popular at that time in bibles, missals, and prayerbooks of various sorts. One of them that I particularly liked (not the one pictured here but similar), depicted the scene recounted in the Old Testament reading at yesterday's Sunday Mass. That was Exodus 17:8-11, which recalled how Moses held his hands aloft, raised up in prayer, while Joshua engaged the Amalekites in battle. 

As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.

In the context of the Sunday liturgy, where we are encouraged to take our interpretive cue from the Gospel reading (Luke 18:1-8, the parable about the unjust judge), the story is intended to highlight the importance of perseverance in prayer, a theme well worth a preacher's attention to be sure. But the illustration in my parents' bible (a typical picture of bearded hunky guys in exotic clothes with transcendently expressive expressions that was then the style) highlighted for me the story's larger lesson, which was always about more than mere perseverance. 

Moses' hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady until sunset.

If ever there were a classic It Takes a Village story, this would be one of them! Joshua can't win the battle without Moses' prayers, and Moses' can't keep his hands raised up in prayer without help from Aaron and Hur. It is about perseverance in prayer, certainly, but about perseverance together, about the help we give and receive in our mutual dependence upon one another in a community of faith. But how descriptive that is of all human reality - how we live our lives as well as save our souls - the human reality in which we never get where we need to get on our own, but rather advance together in community!

This reality is relevant in all aspects of our lives, despite contrary tendencies that have increasingly predominated in our fractured world - ever since the Reformation replaced the priestly and sacramental mediation of the Church's communion of saints with the isolated individual pilgrim's progress through life, an image since secularized by modernity's corrosive approach to social and political order.

In a recent Statement on Civic Participation and the 2016 Election, the Paulist Fathers highlighted the classic Catholic conceptions of solidarity and the common good and their relevance for repairing our divided and polarized world.

As it has developed over the centuries, Catholic social teaching has highlighted several fundamental moral principles that constitute its very heart and are all critical for our political life. Among these constant principles are the principles of solidarity and the common good, which - without excluding any of the other fundamental moral principles of the Church’s social teaching - seem especially relevant right now in the context of our contemporary national and international circumstances and the corresponding issues that arise in our current political debates. 

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