Bottom line: The Canaanite woman gives us an example of focused, persistent prayer - but God sometimes answers prayer by sending a puzzle.
I don't know about you, but today's Gospel contains my most common prayer. I pray it more often than the Our Father. It is the simple prayer, "Help me, Lord." I say it in the morning as I think about the coming day. And I find myself saying it often in the course of the day.
Interestingly enough, the prayer was expressed by a non-Jewish woman - a Canaanite. She lived in the sea coast region, just outside of Israel. When Jesus came into that territory, something about him caused her to place her trust in him - and ask for a favor, the healing of her tormented daughter. She got a negative response - and the disciples wanted to brush her off, but she did not give up. She kept saying, "Lord, help me."
This beautiful woman gives a lesson in respectful perseverance. An early bishop named John Chrysostom used to remind his congregation about the man paralyzed thirty-eight years before Jesus cured him. Perhaps, he said, you have not spent 38 years bound by some vice - anger, lust, laziness or some other spiritual paralysis. "Just so," said John Chrysostom, "if you keep asking with faith in your Redeemer, you also will receive healing."
The Canaanite woman did not have to wait 38 years, but she did have to keep asking with faith, "Help me, Lord." And Jesus did answer her plea.
St. Vincent de Paul relates that when he was a young man, he was always gloomy and critical. He realized that his lack of amiability would keep away from him. So young Vincent prayed that God would give him a kind heart and pleasing way of treating others. And with a smile, he said, "I have to admit that my prayer has been answered well."
If we keep asking - like St. Vincent, like the Canaanite woman - God will answer our prayer. Now, we might not always recognize the answer because - as a wise man observed - God often disguises the answer as hard work.
There is a reason for this. Let me make a comparison. I have family members who love a game called sudoku. They will spend hours in concentration trying to solve the puzzles - the harder the better. And it is a good thing because studies show that people who spend time solving crosswords, sudoku and other puzzles actually have a lower rate of Alzheimer's. We humans are designed to solve problems.
Well, God sometimes answers prayers not with a simple answer, but by sending a puzzle. The solution requires every ounce of concentration and patience a person can muster. Do not give up. I knew a man who was very depressed because he had lost his job.* He decided that instead of holing up in his home, he would get out as early as he could and spend the day walking, talking to people, thinking, praying and knocking on door where there might be information about job openings. It took him some time, but he found an opportunity. It was God's grace that enabled him to get up, get focused and get busy. God answered his prayer by sending a puzzle and helping him solve it.
The Canaanite woman gives us an example: she knew what she wanted - the healing of her child. She did not get discouraged, even in the face of put downs. And she heard from Jesus those wonderful words, "Great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you desire."
*A real person. If you wish to use this example in your homily, you can simply say, "I read about a man..."
Note for 2011: Why was Jesus so reluctant to give the Canaanite woman a hearing? Could it be that he did not want to give the appearance of approving her religion? Like many coastal peoples the Canaanites tended toward syncretism - a blending of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and other gods. This inclusivity is a natural tendency, but it often has a bad aftertaste. (Like male cooks who try improve a dish by adding every spice they find in the cupboard.) Worse than the flavor of syncretism were the practices it tolerated. In this case, child sacrifice and temple prostitution. It might seem beyond imagining, but parents actually offered their babies and small children in sacrifice to a god named Moloch. Their rituals included sexual enanctment involving both female and male (homosexual) prostitutes. In light of these beliefs and hideous practices, one can understand why Jesus said that his mission was to lost sheep of the house of Israel. Concentrate on the people who worship the true God so they can be a leaven to the nations.
General Intercessions for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)
From Archives (for Twentieth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Bulletin Insert from Bishops on Marriage & Same-Sex Unions, Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, New Staff Members)
Letter to U of Mn President regarding desecration of Eucharist by biology professor
Preaching Schedule (August - December 2008)
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album
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