05 July 2012

Are you an intercessor?

13th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The folks in the crowd are struck with awe when Jesus says to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home," and he does! Matthew tells us that the crowd “glorified God who had given such authority to men.” As praiseworthy as this demonstration of divine authority is, there's something else going on in this story that deserves more attention than it usually gets, something that we might just breeze over in a hurry to get to Jesus' confrontation with the scandalized scribes. What moves Jesus to heal the paralyzed man? Is it the man's obvious faith? No. Is it Jesus' compassion for his disability? Nope. Matthew tells us that Jesus entered the town, “and there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.'” Our Lord is moved to heal the man's paralysis because the people who brought him to be healed believe in and trust in Jesus' authority to forgive the man's sins and restore him to wholeness. We aren't told whether or not the man himself is faithful. Whether he is or isn't doesn't seem to matter to his healing. Jesus forgives and heals the man because his friends have faith; and out of love for him, they ask that he be healed. Thus, we are shown the power of intercessory prayer and the need for God's faithful priests to be intercessors. 

As a faithful priest, do you intercede for those in need? When we are baptized into the Body of Christ, we are made priests, prophets, and kings to serve one another in love so that God's love in us might be made perfect. Only a tiny percentage of God's priests are ordained as servant-leaders. The overwhelming majority of Catholics serve God and His people through their baptism as members of the Body. As baptized priests, you share in the ministry of the ordained priesthood by mediating, sacrificing, and interceding. You mediate God's presence as a living sign of His love and mercy. You sacrifice yourself so that you might grow in holiness. And you intercede for those in need. The special ministry of the baptized priest is exercised not in what you do but in where you do it: in the world, wherever you find yourself at any given moment. You are an intercessor at Wal-Mart, at home, at work, in your car. Those faithful souls in the crowd lift the paralyzed man onto his stretcher and carry him to Christ, confident that the Lord will forgive him his sins and bring him to wholeness. They offer his sins to Christ in sacrifice, and Christ makes him holy. It is because they believe and trust in the authority given to Christ that the man is restored. 

So, how do you go about interceding for others? Is there a formula or a liturgy for interceding? Yes and no. Yes, there is a formula and a liturgy for intercession. We call it “the Mass.” We even have a rite within the Mass called “the Intercessions,” or the “Prayer of the Faithful.” This is your chance to turn your full, conscious, and active attention to those in need and to bring them into the sacramental presence of Christ for his forgiveness and healing. So, yes, there is a formula and a liturgy for intercession. And, no, there isn't. Anytime, anywhere you lift up a broken soul—using any words that move you—anytime, anywhere you offer in sacrifice the hurt, the despair, the wounds of another, you mediate (stand between) that person and God, interceding on their behalf as a priest of God. By offering them up, both you and the one you offer grow in holiness and God's love is made just that much more perfect in you. You are—we all are—members of One Body, the Church, and we all share in the intercessory priesthood of Christ. Your priesthood is strengthened here, and tested, tempered out there in the world when you intercede for those in need. Therefore, make your faith into a steel blade and keep it sharp on the whetstone of prayer.

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  1. An unexpected take on the Gospel - I've never heard anyone even mention this! Intercessory prayer is so seldom talked about; it was nice to read this today. And the beginning was strong - as if you knew right where you were heading and wouldn't need to stop to ask for directions.

    Perhaps the second paragraph could have had more clarity? Such a broad topic, hard to condense it...maybe it deserves its own homily, just on what it means to be "priest, prophet, king.

    Final paragraph was strong as usual - practical and concrete advice and examples. And inspiring! I really wanted to like your final line, but I'm not sure it fit the tenor of the homily - I remember watching my Father sharpening his knives: slow, patient, concentrated, skillful...if prayer is the whetstone -- OK, I'll have to think about this! (that's good! ;-))

    1. No excuses today! I wrote it. I preached it. So there.

      Thanks for the feedback. . .as always.