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Aaron and Hur

During Ordinary Time, the first reading at Mass, usually taken from the Old Testament, is chosen in function of the Gospel. Today’s Gospel gives the little paragraph about the wicked judge and pestering widow that Jesus told, Luke says, to illustrate “the need to pray always without becoming weary.” The first reading was chosen to provide an example of perseverance in prayer in the story of Moses standing on a hill holding up a staff and watching a battle between Israelite and Amalek forces the outcome of which depended on whether Moses could hold the staff up high. When he grew weary, his assistants Aaron and Hur stepped in and held his hands up, and Israel wins the battle.

Not having a good commentary on Exodus in my personal library, I consulted the New Jerome Biblical Commentary about the passage and was again disappointed. Its rigorous constriction of its interest to the literal meaning of the biblical texts often dissuades a preacher from choosing a text like today’s for his sermon or homily. So I went on the Internet and looked under “Aaron and Hur.” Most of the sites were Protestant, although there was an extended rather allegorical interpretation of the passage in a blog  on the website of the Archdiocese of Washington. I wonder how many Catholic preachers referred to today’s OT passage and what they made of it.

I also discovered that in some American Protestant churches there were and perhaps still are “Aaron and Hur Societies” whose purpose was to pray for one another and in particular to support their ministers lest they grow weary. (One suggestion was that they meet for an hour before the service to ask God’s blessing on the word.) I suppose they were like the prayer-chains one hears of today, which send out word when there are people in special need of prayers. But I must say that I do like the thought that there could be Aaron and Hur societies to pray for me and other ministers of the Lord. I recognize that I don’t pray enough for my fellow priests, don’t often enough offer them a steadying and strengthening arm. And I think that deacons, priests, bishops, and popes would be strengthened by the very knowledge that there was an Aaron or a Hur nearby to help them.  I remember that Pope Francis before giving his first blessing on that balcony asked that people to pray for him.  He was asking for Aaron and Hur.

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When I was a kid, I heard the Exodus reading just as a weird story ("arms up we win, arms down we lose"), the lesson of which, if anything, was that God used meaningless criteria in choosing how to respond to human desires.  Today I had the honor of proclaiming the reading at mass, and was quite moved with the message that came through to me: the imporance of praying, and the reality that we can grow weary and find it difficult to pray, at which point we are carried by the prayers of those around us.  In a season with a barrage of bad health news for many friends and family members, when sometimes I feel like Aaron/Hur and other times like a tired Moses, that message was a real comfort.

On the subject of "Aaron and Hur Societies" and praying for our priests:  Before mass I was writing some prayer requests in our book of intentions, and stopped to read the others.  A combination of bad handwriting and my lack of eyeglasses led me momentarily to misread "For my family" as "For my homily."  That led to a brief pre-Mass discussion with the presider about his preferred mode of preparing for preaching.   :)     (My family does pray nightly for our priests and our bishop.)  

 

At the Mass I went to today, the homily was about Mission Sunday (which is today) and about how many people from that parish had gone out as missionaries to serve people in need and evangelize  in other countries.  The priest said that one of the greatest supporters of the Missions was St Therese of the Little Flower; that she had wanted to be a missionary, but because of ill health she joined a cloister instead. She prayed her whole life for missionaries,  and she received many letters of thanks from missionaries for her prayers and support, and that today she is a patron saint of missions.

I thought it was a pretty good sermon.

When somebody offers to pray, and they are totally sincere, and when you know they are actually doing it, that is incredibly comforting and moving. It really is an act of love.

 

Prayer chains and Aaron and Hur societies seem to have a protestant flavour and so sometimes feel a bit foreign to me. But we are missing the boat on it. I think the key is that it needs to be done with pure heart and right intention. So powerful. Hard enough to do for are friends and loved ones and even more difficult for enemies!!

Fr. Tom Shelley said Mass at our parish today and gave a homily about persistence in prayer, but prayer broadly defined, constancy in love. He cited the persistence in "prayer" of Fr. John Grange, whom we've heard about below, Fr. Joseph Fitzpatrick who built the Hispanic ministry of the archdiocese, two sisters who run a half-way house for women recently released from prison, parents who care for a disabled child or relative. I couldn't help but think of Fr. Shelley himself and his sister Mary, who have cared for their own disabled sister, Helen, for many years. She died this past week. RIP

I pray for pope Francis, and sometimes for Benedict, and for this or that priest, and for this or that parish. I never think of praying for bishops because, with their formal wear and remoteness, they don't seem like real people.

 

But I worry that my comment will derail this thread and cause the comments to start listing our bishops' faults. Please let's not go down that road again here!

Claire:

I see your issue less as bishops and more praying for those for whom we do not have a kind of natural or invested affinity. Aaron and Hur were on the same side. And it is easy enough, in a sense, (although it is an investment in time, love, and energy) to pray for those in or circle. More difficult for those more remote, and even more difficult for those we do not like. 

Some years ago a friend suggested that I try praying for my boss (total barraccuda!). I could not bring myself to do it. The less time she could occupy in my mind the better!!  So I am not there yet! Pray for me my friend!!

George D. --

Try praying for "all the evil ones".  That way the miscreant gets lost in the shuffle:-)  (I'm serious.)

The idea that Moses' raised hands indicates that he is praying in this scene is unfounded.  What prayer does he utter?  One should think of this gesture in relation to other similar gestures in Exodus where Moses stretches out his hands as in Exodus 9:22, 10:12, 14:16.  in the war between the gods that the Exodus is, Moses is likened to a god (Exodus 7:1) and in the plague narratives the power of God flows through him to counter the magic of the Egyptian magicians.  If the text was arranged in the lectionary in relation to the Gospel, then that arrangement mis-identified what is going on in the Exodus text.  Had those who arranged the lectionary paid more attention to the literal sense of the text, it probbaly would not have been chosen for today readings. As Fr. Fitzmyer is wont to say pace  Fr. Komanchak.

"Aaron and Hur Society" sounds too macho for the Catholic Church.  I think the cult of martyrs has altered, perhaps even transformed, how Catholics think about manly virtues and military prowess.

I'd think the Catholic Church would be more likely to identify women martyrs who showed great perseverence, and name the society after them.  The Agatha and Cecilia Society?

 

 

Gregory the Great, who has a lot of imagination, says that Moses represents the law and the rock he sits on prefigures the Church, so the law is resting on the Church but has heavy hands because it's a law that is hard on the people. Fortunately Aaron and Hur are there. Aaron means "mountain of strength", a reference to Christ, and Hur means "fire", a reference to the Holy Spirit, and between the two of them they make the law lighter on us, more bearable. In other words, when Christ replaced the burden of the commandments by the strength that comes with the profession of our faith, he lightened the hands of Moses.

I find his creativity delightful. 

The text I saw is in French: http://home.nordnet.fr/caparisot/html/exoddixseptfin.html

Prof. Mitchall:

Your note is more informative than what was said in the NJB Commentary.

It would appear that those who constructed the Lectionary were deriving a spiritual sense for the episode to illustrate or anticipate the Gospel. From the existence of Aaron and Hur Societies and other indications, they weren't the first to make the association. 

Your post could suggest an interesting question: In preparing a homily on the first (O. T.) reading at a Sunday Mass, should a preacher restrict himself to the literal or historical sense or may he read it in the light of the Gospel? 

What was Fr. Fitzmyer wont to say that prompts your "pace Fr. Komanchak"?

Father Kononchak,

I am sorry. I was just having a little fun referencing your CUA colleage.

In part, I wrote what I wrote because of the homily I heard yesterday at Holy Trinity.  The celebrant started by raising the quesion of what woses  was doing and making a joke about how the Pentagon budget could be reduced greatly had they a Moses of their own.  He then said, "Let's agree to pass over the first reading." And so he preached about the Gospel.  I think he was caught in the dilemma of your question about how one should preach on a curious OT text.  I don't know if he chose the right way out of it, but it underscored the problem you raise. I would not want to restrict the celebrant to the literal sense of the text, but it would take a bit of explaining to speak about it in light of the Gospel.

Father, do you know of the website, http://www.textweek.com? It has extraordinary exegetical resources.

Dr. Ford:   No, I hadn't known of the website.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It does indeed have a lot of material that would be useful in preparing a sermon.

Prof Mitchell:  Joe Fitzmyer deserves special applause for his vigorous defense of the historical critical method in the preparation of the document on "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church."  I do wish, however, that he had been more theologically venturesome in his commentary on Luke...

Father Joseph Fitzpatrick was an amazing man, so dynamic and engaging. He was teaching Sociology when I was at Fordham, but he managed to draw students from all sorts of majors into his orbit. He had us taking beginner's Spanish, going to the annual San Juan day celebrations at Randall's Island stadium, and sitting in on his cultural assimilation class. His enthusiasm for the Hispanic ministry was contagious. It's nice to know he's not forgotten.

I'm staying in Rome at the moment, not far from the Church of St. Peter in Chains. The other day it occurred to me that St. Peter's escape wasn't made alone.

"So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him."

Susan:  We've been talking about Fr. Fitzmyer, not Fr. Fitzpatrick, both happily named Joseph, and both deserving of praise.

Susan Gannon,

I knew Fr. Fitzpatrick when I was an undergraduate at Fordham.  I actually thought he was a saint because of his devotion to the Hispanic poor. Thank you for reminding us of his great charism.  And yes, he is not forgotten.

Margaret mentioned Fr.Fitzpatrick.  When I was in school, I had a part-time job as a receptionist at his residence. A very, very nice man and it is just great so many people know and remember him. 

Number of people (priest at confession, our spiritual advisors) have said that when people hurt you, or act unreasonably with you, to look at it as that person needing your prayers. When you look at it that way, praying sincerely for them becomes easy.  And it works.

Would not Moses' gesture in this reading, and the other references to the plagues etc, be 'epicletic' ? -- acting as an evident 'catalytic pathway' for the great works of God?  Thereby being a fertile source of explanation of what this gesture is for when found in each of the Sacraments and most commonly evident at the Mass Liturgy?  [The aid and actions of Aaron and Hur fit into this dynamic too.]

In the Gospel it is not a gesture which is the emphasis but rather 'persistence'.  Moses' gesture only 'worked' when it was persistent in calling upon the Lord's action.  The widow's persistence calls to persistence in prayer etc. 

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.