I’ve been listening to the Hobbit on audiobook — probably because I hate Amazon’s ‘Rings of Power’ show so much and wanted to ‘return to the sources’ so to speak — and I’m at the point in the book where Bilbo and the dwarves are lost in Mirkwood… a terrible, dark, evil-infested forest.
If you’ll remember, there’s that one scene where Bilbo climbs up to the top of the trees to see how much further they have to go in order to escape the eaves of the forest.
When his head pops above the canopy, his heart drops. All he can see for miles and miles all around are just more and more trees.
He reports the depressing news to the dwarves down below, and they begin to despair. They’re exhausted. They’re low on food and water. They can’t go on much further.
What they didn’t realize, however, was this: Bilbo’s view from the top of the trees was obscured by hills all around them. So what looked like an endless series of trees was really just a kind of bowl or gulley. In reality, they weren’t very far from the edge of Mirkwood at all…
But instead of persevering, the Dwarves panicked. They stopped their forward progress, and began wandering off the trail in hopes of finding fresh supplies. I’ll let you read the book yourself to find out what perilous adventures they land themselves in from there — but the point I’m making is clear:
That was NOT the time to stop!
No, that was precisely the time to push forward confidently — to persevere. It was time to keep moving on together as a team, supporting one another and encouraging one another… If they had done that, they would have easily broken through Mirkwood and been on their merry way…
If only somebody would have encouraged them:
“Now is NOT the time to stop!”
Maybe that’s what Aaron and Hur said to Moses, as they saw his arms start to weaken and droop lower, and they noticed the battle with the Amelikites beginning to go worse and worse the lower his arms sank.
“Just a little longer, Moses! Hold up those arms! Persevere! Keep praying! Keep interceding! Keep offering yourself! Our troops are going to break through and win… if you can just keep praying a little more! We’re so close! Don’t stop! The LORD is fighting for us!!!!”
And what do they do? They jump in and help Moses, right? We read that “they supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” What a beautiful reminder that we need one another — we need the whole Church! — to keep us on track. To persevere…
Pope Benedict once compared the image of Moses, standing with his arms continually raised up on the mountain ….to Christ, with His Arms raised on the Cross.
What a powerful truth to meditate on! — Jesus, standing as though slain with his arms held up by nails. He’s there, persevering on the Cross, so that we might win the battle for our souls down below… So that we might fight the good fight of faith here in this valley of tears…
Because… whether we want to admit it or not, we’re in a fierce battle right now. We have an enemy that is set against us and our families…
In the Gospel we just heard proclaimed, the widow cries out to the Unjust Judge over and over until he finally answers her: “Render a just decision for me against my Adversary!”
We have a very powerful Adversary. He’s smart, and he absolutely hates us. Most of all, he hates that there’s still hope for us to be reunited with God forever in heaven one day.
This reality of our Enemy, the Devil, is supported by clear Church teaching and all of Sacred Scripture, which Paul in our second reading says is “inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
We read in the First Letter of St. Peter one of the clearest warnings of the existence and activity of this Adversary whom we are fighting against:
“Be sober and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
What does this mean?
It means that the devil has a whole arsenal of temptations at the ready to try to distract and destroy us — Fears, anxieties, doubts, and discouragement that he and his minions are actively trying to use against us. To what purpose? To make us forget that we are loved by God! To convince us just to give up… to despair… to STOP relying on the help of God in prayer.
But we aren’t going to let that happen, are we?
We know, as our Psalm said so beautifully that “our help is from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!”
We know the now is NOT the time to stop!
The world needs Christians who are out there persevering in the Faith, resisting temptation, and overcoming sin in the Name of Jesus! We need Catholics receiving the Eucharist and allowing it to set their lives on fire through and through. We need disciples out there interceding boldly like Jesus on the Cross! Like Jesus, Glorified at the Right Hand of God!
Sometimes I think about that when we get to Prayers of the Faithful every Sunday at Mass after the Creed.
I find myself wondering: Do we realize what we are doing right now?
Do we believe God will give us what we asked for in these intercessions?
Do we REALLY believe that any of these prayers will be answered?
Or… are these intercessions just empty words to us? Are they just “positive vibes” directed towards the “humans in our lives?” Are we just sending out “thoughts and prayers” to this or that cause, this or that tragedy, this or that sick person?
Because in reality, when we pray together like that, we are raising our hands together as the whole Body of Christ — We’re fighting for the whole world! We’re pleading the Blood of Jesus upon all souls!!! — Confidently expecting to receive everything that we need from the hands of our Good and Just Judge!!!!!
And much better than a Judge — He is Our Father who art in Heaven!
As Jesus said in our Gospel: “Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
So, if you have faith — or if you really do want more faith — then keep your hands raised in prayer. Pray always without becoming weary! Hold on… Stand your ground… Trust and believe!
Because this fight isn’t over yet. Victory is near, even if it seems a long way off!
I know how hard it is to keep your hands raised until the final victory comes. It takes faith to be so “persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient,” as Paul exhorted Timothy in that second reading.
Most of the time, it would be a LOT more convenient for us to just drop our arms, stop praying, stop coming to mass, leave the Church, abandon our responsibilities and obligations, and just pretend like none of what we believe is actually true…
But I urge you: Don’t give up. Don’t panic.
You’re almost through Mirkwood!!!! “Our help is in the Name of the Lord”
Now is not the time to stop.