20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
“’O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.” (Matt. 15:27-28)
“(A)ll who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer, their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
When I was a child we were given pointers for identifying a Catholic church when we were traveling on summer vacation. One counsel was that if on entering the vestibule of the church you found there a cloakroom, then you knew it was not a Catholic church. Orders from Sister were to turn around and leave immediately!
What is a house of prayer anyway? Today there are some Catholic churches with cloakrooms and many more with greeters at the door; times change. Years ago a common excuse folks gave for abandoning their Catholic faith in favor of some other group was that at the Catholic church it was all too cold and impersonal (no cloakrooms and no greeters: no fellowship and no coffee and donuts!). What is God’s house of prayer supposed to be like? What is a house of prayer?
I don’t know if people still use that excuse of no fellowship, of our being too impersonal as a reason to turn their backs on us. Perhaps not on that account, but on another I am sure they still go away, namely when they disagree with Father. Instead of going to the next parish, some people get upset and offended when Father rubs them the wrong way and they abandon the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church altogether, in favor of something they might find user-friendlier, while trying to put the blame for their departure on the priest. Some stop going to church entirely with this same (sorry! dishonest) excuse. Go figure! In these peoples’ minds, no doubt, the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel would have been justified in stomping off in a rage, thoroughly offended by the treatment she received from the disciples and Jesus.
“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Faith and prayer: where are you at in terms of them? Can you compete or compare with the Canaanite woman in her tenacious supplication: “Have pity on me Lord, Son of David! … Lord, help me. … Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”? Faith! Tyre and Sidon is, as it was in Jesus’ day, foreign territory. Stranger as she was to God’s people yet she came to Him in her need.
How much could this woman have known about Jesus? What excuse could we possibly have for not depending on the Lord, Who has washed us clean in the waters of Baptism and strengthened us through the grace of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and Who tends us and absolves our sins through the ministrations of His priests, who feed us with the Body and Blood of the Lord? For us today, unlike the case of the Canaanite woman, Jesus and His disciples are not just passing through town but He, the Lord, is present in our lives and sacramentally present here in our parish church, our house of prayer.
There was nothing simple or superficial about this woman. She had faith and she faced the cold shoulders, the annoyed and puzzled looks of the disciples; she kept coming back, each time referring to Jesus as Lord, as Dominus, that is as God. Her faith, humble and sure, was in the Son of David and in His power to cast out the demon tormenting her daughter. Can we do any less than turn to the Lord, always so close to us, in every moment and regardless of our need?
“O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Desperation alone will not explain this woman’s tenacity. If faith were not present she would not have known enough to turn to Jesus. She took advantage of a surprising and unique opportunity, having discovered Jesus in her town. Maybe there is no such suffering in my life or in my family, at least not like there was in hers. Some would try to write her off as desperate and say she had nowhere else to turn. That is true enough, because who other than God Himself, God visible and present to our world in and through His Son, Jesus, who else conquers over sin and death? Who but God casts out demons? And what about us, do we have other options for life? Can we center our lives on anyone or anything other than Jesus? Can we trust anyone else to answer all our needs? Can we do without turning to Jesus and without doing so constantly, in every moment of our lives? Where does our sufficiency lie? Can we do without calling upon the Lord’s Name as if we had no need, or as if WallMart and Dillon’s were sufficient for our daily bread?
Do we pick our house of prayer for its fellowship, its cloakroom, its greeters, its rousing music and powerful preaching or because God’s Altar, His Tabernacle is there and the one acceptable sacrifice of the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ is renewed in unbloody fashion through the celebration of the Eucharist there? Isaiah said it so clearly and his words through the Church have lost none of their force as they are addressed to us today: “Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” The obedient and the faith-filled will see God in Christ, now and live with Him forever in Glory.
Simeon and Anna, as elderly people who prayerfully begged God to send His Messiah and deliver His people, spent all their time in the Temple. They were blessed with an encounter with Baby Jesus coming to the Temple on His Mother Mary’s arm. Simeon and Anna received the assurance that their prayers had been answered. You and I might have or certainly do have other duties which keep us from copying their example. Important is that we follow the example of the Canaanite woman, that we recognize Who our Redeemer is, that we turn to Him wherever we might be and that when, especially each Sunday, we have the opportunity to gather with His Church and return thanks to the Father with Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that we do so with that woman’s same focus and determination, confident in the Lord’s power to save us as well.
Faith and prayer: Holy Cross parish is indeed fortunate; you are indeed fortunate to have such a beautiful house of prayer, a place with the Tabernacle front and center, a linear and focused building where our eyes are naturally drawn to Jesus lifted high upon His Cross. The atmosphere is conducive to silence, which is what we need for prayer, for lifting our hearts and minds to God.
Stake out, claim this sacred space for yourselves and for all those you love, for all those who come here to pray. Help make this place God’s house and a ladder to heaven for you and for others. Do so by your reverence, by your posture and your silence; do so by the way you come and go, by being conscious of the importance of this place and of Him Who dwells herein! Wherever you are however, wherever life takes you in the course of a week, live in the presence of God. Don’t miss an opportunity to spy Jesus as you go about your duties at home, at work, at school, wherever. Turn to Him in all your need!
“Have pity on me Lord, Son of David! … Lord, help me. … Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI