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A few good men (and women)

Today's first reading from the Book of Genesis gives us an account of a biblical "art of the deal." The scene of Abraham bargaining with God carries echoes from our own life when we have sought to negotiate with God. This account carries some important truths for us.

Abraham's bargaining with God was successful. The city would not be destroyed if 10 good men could be found within its walls. The tragedy is that not even 10 good men could be found there. What difference could 10 good people have made? They could have been witnesses to another way. Every society, every community, every organization needs people who are unwilling to succumb to the "group think" of the prevailing culture. These are the spiritual and moral marines who are on a mission to transform society.

When people say that everyone cuts corners, they say that they don't. When people say that everyone cheats, they say that they don't. When people say that everyone gossips, they say that they don't. When people say that everyone skips church on Sunday, they say that they don't. When people say that everyone lives together before marriage, they say that they don't.

A few good people are like a speed limit sign. We may be hurtling down a highway at 80 miles an hour. We see a sign that says 70 and we are reminded that we are breaking the law and our speed is dangerous. We may or may not follow the speed limit. But at least we know we are doing wrong.

Every great social movement of our time that has changed society began with a few highly dedicated individuals. Conversely, movements that embody social and moral decline also begin with a few dedicated individuals. Revolutions, conversions, transformations and cultural shifts don't just happen. They begin, grow and spread here on earth. What difference could 10 good people have made in the sinful city of Sodom? A lot. And so can we.

Despite the sinfulness of Sodom's inhabitants, which Abraham surely detested, he still intercedes for them. Our reading shows us the potential of the prayer of intercession. We should be intercessors for the people of our time. Abraham's persistence teaches us to never give up on anyone. However horrible their sin, however wayward their life, whatever their past, there is still that crack in every person's life through which God's grace can enter. Even a deathbed conversion is still a conversion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes intercession as "characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy … The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries. It is for all men, for kings, and all who are in high positions, for persecutors and for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel" (n. 2636).

The prayer of intercession changes our view of others. When we pray for someone who is hostile to us, we start to see him or her less as an enemy and more as a human being in need of grace. We come to see the bully less as someone fearsome but as one of the walking wounded among us in need of healing. St. Paul writes to the Colossians that just as we were raised from the death of sin to new life in Christ, the same can happen to others.

The Lord's call to us to be persistent in prayer keeps us from being changed by society even as our prayer releases invisible streams of grace into our world. Persistence in prayer also entails persistence in the witness of our lives.

Are we willing to be one of the few good men, Christ's marines, today?

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016