"Woman, How great is your faith!"

Aug 17-18, 1996

Today we hear about one of the truly magnificent women of the Gospel. She was a Canaanite (part of the pagans who surrounded Israel) and she had one goal: the healing of her daughter who was gripped by a demon. When Jesus passed thru her territory, she pled her case with him. The disciples wanted to stop her, even Jesus seemed to brush her aside. "It is not right to take the food of the children and give it to the dogs."

Here is where we see her true greatness. She could have been discouraged, she could have been sidetracked by a seeming offense and said: "Don't call me a dog." But the word "dog" admits a positive as well as negative sense, like in English we speak for example about a "lucky dog." So she took it in the best sense and said,

"Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master's table."

And she received from Jesus his highest praise: "Woman, your faith is great!" And he healed her daughter.

Jesus always saw beyond the surface. He knows what is in the heart of each one of us. He sees us not as focus groups, but as persons.

A couple weeks ago a national study tried to lump Catholic women together in a group. The Guttmacher study of some 1000 women who had abortions, said 29% of the abortions were procured by Catholic women. And then they attempted to make a connection between that statistic and the Church's teaching on birth control.

However they downplayed some facts from their own study. A woman who describes herself as religious, that is who practices her faith, whether Protestant or Catholic, is only 1/4, 25% as likely to seek an abortion as the average. There is a big difference between a cultural Catholic and a practicing Catholic.

To use a personal comparison: I might sometimes say I am a "Croatian" because my mom's parents came from that country, but if I meet a real Croatian, I recognize a huge difference.

It is similar between someone who calls themselves "Catholic" and the one who is living and breathing their faith. Now, we don't reject a cultural Catholic, in fact, we're glad they acknowledge their baptism, but we want them to return to the full practice of their faith, start attending Mass, that makes all the difference.

A deep relation to Jesus through the Church he founded is what we offer. As he did for the daughter of the Canaanite, Jesus can free us. Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save. That applies even in the case of abortion. Some people have heard that abortion is one of the very few sins that incurs automatic excommunication. That is to underscore its seriousness--the taking of an innocent human life. However, you must also know the priest has authority to lift that excommunication in the sacrament of confession. What is more, in that sacrament Jesus gives not only his forgiveness but deep healing.

Since my return from Peru, I have seen how many of our young people, men as well as women, need that healing. Obviously not just for abortion, but a range of sins which affect our souls as was the case of that young woman gripped by a demon. Last month I announced that Fr. Peterson & I would be looking for better times to offer that sacrament. There is something in the bulletin this week about that.

I am encouraged by the way young people are coming to Jesus and his Church. We've seen some good signs right in our parish. Colin Sexton, our parish youth minister, brought back a great report from their experience in Tijuana, Mexico, as well as other youth activities. On a younger level I am happy to report that this year Holy Family school will be opening with our highest enrollment since 1980. I believe that same response will be matched in our C.C.D. or religious education program. Fr Peterson and I will be deeply involved in both programs. Our goal is not to form cultural Catholics, but ones who live & breathe & practice their faith. Who know Jesus, his saving, healing power.

Part of the orientation we want to give to our young people is an understanding of their sexuality. Why God created us male and female. Our society is in deep trouble because we have lost that orientation. The terrible plague of abortion which I referred to is one symptom. But I want to be clear. The solution to abortion is not more birth control. In that same Guttmacher study 57% of the women who had abortions were using birth control in the month before they got pregnant.

Those of us who are older can remember when the birth control pill was first introduced in the late 50's. It was presented as the solution to all our biggest problems: overpopulation, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, child abuse, large unhappy families, and above all marital tension between husband and wife. After 35 years years of massive use of the birth control pill and other forms of artificial contraception, I believe we are ready to ask: Is birth control really the solution or is it the problem?

An amazing article came out last month in U.S. News and World Report, not exactly a Catholic magazine. Lionel Tiger who is an evolutionary anthropologist asked why there has been so much family breakdown, male irresponsibility, single parents and abortion since the 1960's. He says the main reason is the massive use of the birth control pill.

There is an alternative. I had the opportunity to take the Creighton University course on Natural Family planning which they offer for doctors, nurse, clergy and NFP practitioners. There have been tremendous advances in Natural Family Planning since the 60s. I hope to say more about that in the future and certainly to share it with our engaged couples and any young married couples. I have also contacted some doctors, women gynecologists right here in Seattle who are willing to work with couples on using natural methods.

When I was in Peru I worked with a married couple and an obstetrician to teach Natural Family Planning. Some 100 couples participated. Also we offered a class for young adults, singles, who wanted to be Instructors or Promoters. Not only young women, but young men attended. Of course the boys could not keep a personal chart as the girls could. So they asked their moms if they could do a chart for them. The course lasted six months and when it was over I asked one of the boys what he had learned. He said to me, "Father, I learned respect for women."

That is what our society needs--and that is what Natural Family Planning promotes. I am convinced that Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church he founded are the solution to the problems of our society--and our own deepest personal needs.

Like the Canaanite woman we come to Jesus with our needs, with the needs of those we love. If we had her humility, we would also hear Jesus loving words, "Your faith is great. Your prayer is granted."


Natural Family Planning at the Mary Bloom Center in Peru

From Archives (for Twentieth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2011: Deep vs. Superficial Faith
2008: Help Me, Lord
2005: Culture Shock
2002: God's Favoritism
1996: Woman, How great is your faith!

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