Several times a day, Poor Clares pray with arms outstretched in what we call the “Cross Prayer”. I always smile to see a new postulant gradually getting used to this usually unfamiliar prayer position. They must be told what it is not: it is not calisthenics (one, two, arms above your heads, touch your toes…), it is not ballet (I have seen lovely coronals), it not an act of defiance (hands raised in the air clenched as fists or pushing out), it is not wimpy (elbows bent and sinking—come on, you can do it!). No, it is none of these, but it is an act of penance offered in union with our Lord’s Passion on behalf of all our suffering brothers and sisters.
I think of the Cross Prayer whenever we have today’s reading from Exodus that describes how Moses climbed a mountain to pray for Joshua and the Israelites as they fought their enemies. When Moses raised his hands,
Israel had the better of the fight,
but when Moses lowered his hands, the enemy had the battle go their way. As Moses grew weary, his companions, Aaron
and Hur supported his hands so that Joshua was able to finally win the victory.
In this story from the Old Testament we have a foreshadowing of the entire Church. Contemplative monks and nuns pray on their mountains of solitude for the Church militant fighting the battles of salvation. But monastics need the support of the hierarchy, represented by Aaron the priest, and their good benefactors, represented by the layman Hur. Although we do not literally hold our hands up in prayer continuously, yet our whole lives are spent as a sacrificial offering for the embattled Church. We are ever grateful to our faithful priests who give us the inestimable sustenance of the Sacraments as well as their instruction and advice. We are likewise grateful for our friends who sustain us in our material needs. Without the support of our Aaron and Hur, we could never live our monastic, contemplative lives. Nor could they well do the tasks God asks of them without the vivifying grace that flows through the channel of our prayer. Whatever our diverse vocations, let us be united in the Heart of Christ for the furthering of His Kingdom!