Saturday, October 19, 2019

2019/10/20 Where Does Our Help Come From?

Before Mass:
There’s an obvious theme which ties all of the readings together today:  persistence or perseverence.  If you listen for that theme, you’ll get a clue why the Church put these particular readings together.  We’ll talk about that theme – but We’re gonna do something unusual today – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done it.  I want to focus on the Psalm.  In the first stanza of the psalm it says “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains; whence shall help come to me?”  Yeah – that’s weird english – basically it says, “I look up to the mountains – will my help come from there?”.

Let that question sink in for a moment…. Where DOES my help come from? 
In the readings today, we’ll hear three different takes on where help comes from.  With that question in mind, see if you can pick out the answers in each reading.  More importantly, be thinking about how this applies directly to you.  Not just where does OUR help come from, but where does MY help come from?  This is personal… in fact it HAS to be personal.  Do we even recognize that we NEED help?  If we don’t think we need help, we won’t even bother lifting our eyes to the mountains to LOOK for help.

Homily
Have you ever been utterly and completely helpless?  Well of course – we all have – we were born that way.  The only thing we could do without any help was fill our diaper, but then we needed help cleaning that up!

Once we got a little older, most of us became more independent… “self-sufficient” we call it -  It’s the American way – “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” – “be a self-made-man – or woman” – “if you want something done right, do it yourself”.  Even if we do bring God into it, he doesn’t get all the credit – you know – “God helps those who help themselves”.

But even with all of our self-sufficiency – we still get into situations that WE can’t control.  Like the Israelites, we are attacked and don’t really have a choice whether or not to get into battle.  When an army is running at you with swords, even the most self-sufficient person might look around for help.  OK – maybe most of us haven’t been in a sword fight – but every one of us has been in a battle where we need help - Like when the teacher said we failed our test.  Like when we skidded off the road in the middle of the night.  – like when the doctor said the cancer has returned.  Suddenly, we realize just how powerless we are.  Oh, our technology helps – we can pick up the phone and call a friend – find a wrecker – find a tutor - find a specialist doctor in another city.  But the fact remains that we NEED help. 

The question is – “where does our help come from”?

Imagine yourself on the battlefield that day with Israel.  The battle seems to be going well and you look up to the mountain – what do you see?  Moses standing there with the Staff of the Lord raised high in his hand.  You think, ‘we got this!’ 

Suddenly the battle takes a turn for the worse and you glance up to the mountain and see that Moses has dropped his hands.  What?  Don’t you see we’re dying down here?  Keep your hands up!  The battle takes another turn for the better and you glance to the mountain and see Moses sitting on a rock with two men holding his hands up in the air.  You feel a surge of confidence and you shout the battle cry and lead the troop in a sweeping victory.

There’s a whole bunch we can learn for this little story:  why did Moses go on the mountain?  Because they associated the mountain as being closer to God, so by climbing the mountain, it should give them confidence that God would be fighting for them.  Seeing Moses up there with the Staff would have bolstered the morale of the troops tremendously.  So, why did the battle go badly for a while?  Why would God let that happen if Moses is on top of the mountain with the staff?  I suggest that this was a learning opportunity for the Israelites.

Put yourself in their shoes:  where do you think THEY thought their help came from?  Some of them might have decided to put their faith in Moses – and they’d have good reason to- he talked to God – he led them out of Egypt.  So when Moses got tired, could that have been a way for God to show them that Moses was not the one who could help them.  Moses was only human after all.

Many of them might have put their faith in that staff of the Lord… and rightly so – this was the same staff that had parted the Red Sea – this was the same staff that turned into a snake in front of Pharoah – this was the same staff that touched the Nile, turning it to blood.  We CAN’T LOSE with that kind of weapon on our side!  Maybe God’s showing them that the Staff has nothing to do with it…. The Staff is not their source of help.

Then there’s the two guys holding up Moses’ hands and the battle goes well… what’s that supposed to teach us?  Lots of things.  First – as humans, we all need other humans to help us out.  No man is an island, as they say.  We know this… Every day you can find an example of how somebody in our parish is holding up someone else.  Despite our self-sufficiency, we are better persons when we help and are helped by others. 
Second – arms raised up signifies what?  Prayer.  Moses was interceding with God on behalf of the Israelites.  This was a call to be persistent in prayer to God.  As long as we are connected with God in prayer, we can’t lose.

Also – picture what you’d see if you looked up at that mountain that day:  A man with his hands up in this position….holding a piece of wood…. On a mountain….. ring any bells yet?  This is a prefiguring of Jesus who also went up on the mountains and lifted up his hands – but get this…to keep his hands from falling, he let them be NAILED to that piece of wood.  Because of this, he is FOREVER interceding with God the Father on our behalf.  When we look to the mountain, where will our help come from?  From those bleeding hands on the cross.

You know – I could jump to the other two readings to show that they too are telling us to be persistent in prayer – but there’s a deeper message right here in this first reading, so let’s spend our last two minutes here.

Who do you think represents Moses today?  It’s not a trick question…Think about it a second – who goes up the mountain, so to speak, and lifts his hands to God in prayer, interceding for us, the people?  Fr. Jeff.  OK – it’s not a mountain, but he goes up a couple of steps to the altar and there he raises his hands on behalf of the Church and her people.  Is Fr. Jeff as strong as Moses?  Stronger?  Weaker?  Don’t know, but one thing is sure… he’s human.  Like Moses, he cannot hold his hands up constantly without help.  Where does Fr. Jeff’s help come from? 

Just like the two men stepped in to hold up Moses’ hands, we need to hold up our Pastor.  Priests are under SUCH attack from outside the church, but often it seems like it’s open season on Priests from INSIDE the church.  I’m not even talking specifically about Fr. Jeff… I just constantly hear how this priest doesn’t do this right and that priest doesn’t do that right, (and I admit I fall into that kind of talk too easily.  I repent of that today. )

There’s a priest I heard of who was recently preaching about the need to go to confession, and some of the parishioners were telling him to his face that he’s wrong!  This priest is getting hate mail for telling folks they NEED the grace from the Sacrament of Reconciliation!  Yikes!  Priests are under enough attack without me or you – knocking them down further.

Instead, let’s actively hold up our priests.  Not to put them on a pedestal – that would be dangerous too – but stand by them and hold them up so that they can continue to raise their hands on behalf of the Church.  Seriously, make it a point daily to say even a 30 second prayer for Fr. Jeff and his brother priests.   I’ve put some prayers on our website if you’d like to print one off and join me in praying daily.  (*see below*)

But let’s wrap this up…  back to our question:  We look to the mountain, where will our help come from?  Does our help come from the mountain?  Did our help come from Moses?  Did our help come from the staff of the Lord?  Did our help come from the two guys holding up Moses’ hands?  Did our help come from Fr. Jeff?

The answer is found in the very next line of the psalm: 
"My help is from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."

Wherever we turn to for help in this life, we must recognize that ANY help given is ultimately from God alone.  Even if we help ourselves, it is the Holy Spirit working IN us that allows us to do anything good at all!!  That line from the psalm would be a good mantra to memorize and pray often… 
“My help is from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

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Prayer for Priests

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for the gift of our priests.
Through them, we experience your presence in the sacraments.
Help our priests to be strong in their vocation.
Set their souls on fire with love for your people.
Grant them the wisdom, understanding, and strength they need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Inspire them with the vision of your Kingdom.
Give them the words they need to spread the Gospel.
Allow them to experience joy in their ministry.
Help them to become instruments of your divine grace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns as our Eternal Priest.
Amen.
USCCB prayer-for-priests
Rosa Mystica prayer for priests
Catholic Company prayer for priests

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