We come to the church to adore God in praise and thanksgiving for the many undeserved blessings we have received. The Canaanite woman who isn’t even supposed to get near Jesus because of apparent boundaries and restrictions for which she’s aware, has exemplified the power of persistent prayer. We should take up that responsibility and not simply leave our pending petitions to the prayer warriors, online or not. She remains unconvinced that her background is an obstacle to come to Jesus and bow in adoration. Prayer isn’t simply a ritual that needs to be followed by the letter from beginning to end. It involves sincerity, persistence and a strong belief that Jesus is Lord. Amen.
The dramatic encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman illustrates simply put, that our prayer must be sincere and persistent. It therefore demands detailed attention. The immensely troubling socio-cultural/political/religious factors involved and plain demographics are considerably significant as they set the background of this shocking story about going beyond the boundaries of race, class and religion.
After performing series of miracles, Jesus heads to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile territory, so to speak, to have some downtime, necessary in any form of ministry. He decides to have a quiet time off outside his domain where no one is supposed to know him. Now comes a pagan woman whose daughter is gravely ill and desperately cries out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! (oh, she knows how to address him and not afraid to ask for help) My daughter is tormented by a demon.” Life is at stake and needs no delay. Emergency can’t wait. I was taught to leave everything behind when my presence is needed asap at least by my own people, Catholics. Deadma is his response. He refuses to answer her request to heal her sick daughter, something not typically Jesus: friendly, polite and compassionate. Surprisingly, this is not the Jesus we normally know, someone who doesn’t run away from trouble and never leaves an issue unsolved. And worse, his disciples add, “Send her away for she keeps calling out after us” making it even more painful for her. She’s non-stop. Get rid of her. Anyway, she doesn’t belong to us.
Jesus replies with a cruel and harsh rebuff, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, meaning his mission is restricted only to his own people Israel. Done deal. No extension. No exception. Decision is final. The Jews and the Canaanites have a long history of animosity. They have no business dealings with one another in all aspects of life. Mine is different. I was sent to the lost and found Catholics and would be Catholics in St. James.
Discipline is key in Priesthood. I informed my staff early on about my intention to clearly set boundaries of time and space, make fair policies, follow directives and trust the system. I have learned to draw the line between personal/spiritual needs/obligations and work. It’s no fun making ourselves always available to people round the clock. It’s crucial to know the limits of our capacities and go from there. We can’t be everything to everybody. If we push ourselves beyond what what can do and contribute, we’ll be eaten alive without us noticing it. We’ll be burned out and next thing we know, quits.
It’s thursday and I’m out of sync. I stay in the rectory, get some rest, unwind, in safe and silent mode, forget St. James, let God take care of it and the phone rings. Number unknown, probably sales/marketing, decided not to pick it up and let it go through the voicemail. Check it out and ka ching!, a family needs my presence to administer last rites and/or anointing of the sick to an ailing person.
After all the drama, the woman stays and pleads, Lord, help me! She has obviously gotten into Jesus’ nerves. Enough with you Gentile. I can imagine Jesus robbing off his face with his hand. Do you hear what I said woman? It’s a double no and can’t go any further. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” a clear harsh and cruel rebuff of the woman’s request, such a putdown, comparing her race, culture and religion to nothing but dogs, less than a human being. Yet, she doesn’t budge and then pleads a second time, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Fine, Lord, I don’t mind being called dog so much to take the scraps/left over, do all the best you can please and let my daughter recover. This profound act of humility changed the tone of the conversation. Jesus adds, “O woman great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” From that time on, because of her unwavering faith, her daughter is granted healing.
This pagan woman, known as a believer of false gods, has exemplified how prayer requests must be done. If you’re asking for something, you have to be sincere and persistent. When people of other denominations and ecclesial communities, including the unbaptized, show their respect to our church by keeping silence and observing all sorts of protocol, I am just dumbfounded. Many of us Catholics unfortunately have forgotten the sense of worship and the proper gesture of reverence due to God at least upon entering the church doors. While there’s a social dimension in the Mass saying hi and hello especially before the celebration begins, conversations should be held in modulation. A number of times, you couldn’t tell the difference between watching a football game in the living room or partying in the backyard with our cellphones powered On, momentarily checking email and sending texts even during the consecration, the most solemn part of the Mass. This might be an exaggeration but if it happens, we have become corrupt by modern technology. I can probably understand if the person is On-call but if you’re just checking the score of your team, heck, by all means, shut it off.
On several occasions, I encounter people chewing gums while receiving Holy Communion, leaving it (gum) underneath the pew. The way we dress for Mass needs to be addressed. Maybe, I’m crossing the line but the outfits of some are very revealing often making me think are you going to club or what. It makes no sense to me showing much of that skin in a worship environment, sorta rated PG. In short, cover up and put something decent.