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Union of Heart

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

There is a detail in today’s Gospel that I want to focus our attention on this week. We just heard how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever, how Jesus drove out many demons, and how Jesus cured many who were ill with disease… but in these healings it was not the person in need of healing who came to Jesus nor even Jesus himself who sought those people out. It was Simon and Andrew, along with James and John, who told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law and her fever… and it was the entire town gathered at the door, not just the sick, and as the Gospel says, “they brought to him all who were ill and possessed.” So these miraculous healings that Jesus performs were the result of people who are healthy and who recognize Jesus as a healer bringing the ill and the possessed to him. These people – these intercessors – are who we are called to be today. Our place in the gospel is not just to be healed, but to bring others to healing.

Identifying who we need to intercede for is easy enough. On a basic level they are exactly who you would think: the elderly in poor health, those suffering with chronic or serious disease, and those who are trapped by serious sin. There are also those who have been broken in other ways. Think about that first reading from the book of Job. “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?… I have been assigned months of misery… [m]y days… come to an end without hope.” That sounds like someone in need of healing.

The harder question that we must put effort into training ourselves is how… how to be the intercessor. Now obviously the first way is to directly help the person. If we can bring them some measure of healing by listening to them, by being present with them, by doing some task or some work of charity for them… then that is what we should and what we must do. But oftentimes that will not be possible, or not be enough. How do you lift a friend out of depression for anything more than a moment? How do you get someone to wake up from an addiction to alcohol? How do you bring real hope to someone when their future is filled with only scary uncertainties? That frustration of knowing the limits of our own strength should be for us a moment of humility… a moment when instead of giving up and giving into a despair of our own, our hearts instead cry out to Jesus as we bring them forward.

This is intercessory prayer in its truest form. Rather than a word of assurance that we will pray for someone or a momentary thought offered to God in prayer that a particular person needs His help, the fullness of intercessory prayer is a union of hearts… an approaching of the Divine with the same desperation, the same longing, the same words that the person we care for would offer themselves before God. Our goal is to be that person in prayer. Prayer like that is exhausting, taking concentration and profound empathy and emotion. But it is beautiful.

I know a priest who in his family had many nieces and nephews who he knew no longer came to church or practiced a life of faith. You may know that pain in your own life, and you can imagine how much it weighs on a priest. At every mass he holds one of them in his heart as he says the Eucharistic Prayer, in the hope that somehow his presence will connect them to Christ in the Eucharist even though they aren’t physically present themselves. That is a prayer of intercession. That is the prayer of someone who brings the ill to the Lord, knowing that his healing touch can restore what we ourselves cannot.

I hope that in your lives you take up the mantle of being an intercessor, that you create the habit of heart to always pray deeply and persistently for those who are in need.

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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.

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