Pastoral Sharings: "20th Sunday in Ordinary Time"

WeeklyMessage  Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS 
  Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time August 17, 2014

  In our liturgy today we are considering the tension in the
  early Church between the  Jews, the Chosen People, and 
  the Gentiles. This might not seem to us today to be a
  very important topic; we might think of it as an old 
  problem and something not really worthy of our

And yet arguments about who is in and who is out are just as relevant today as they have ever been. And in any case we are dealing with the scriptures, with the words and actions of Jesus and the problems of the first Christian communities and all of these must be relevant to any serious Christian.

The woman is a Canaanite. In the similar but briefer account in Mark Chapter Seven she is referred to as a Syro-Phoenician woman. In both accounts she is clearly a pagan but by calling her by the ancient and somewhat derogatory term Canaanite Matthew raises the question of the settlement of the Chosen People in the land of Canaan. The Canaanites were the dispossessed former inhabitants of Israel and any contact with them was practically forbidden.

I don’t want to be too controversial, but in the very same area today there are quite a number of dispossessed people. There are dispossessed people not only in Palestine but in many other parts of our world also. When it comes to the scriptures you never have to look very hard to find relevance!

Jesus uses very strong language, perhaps even shocking language to our ears when he refers to the Canaanites as “dogs not fit to eat the children’s food”. This is not characteristic of Jesus and here he is surely repeating the kind of language used to reinforce the discriminatory behaviour of the Jews.

Perhaps he does this with irony, though there is no indication in the text that this is so. Jesus knows he has come for the salvation of the Gentiles as well as the Jews, he knows that the Gentiles are not excluded from God’s plan. And he is normally open-hearted and welcoming to all yet here he is seemingly refusing to heal this lady’s daughter and using as an excuse the fact that she is not a Jew.

None of this squares with the Jesus we have come to know and love, so what is going on?

Let me suggest that this passage has some relevance for the community in which Matthew is living and for whom he is writing.

This community we know included both convert Jews and convert Gentiles and it is strongly suspected that there was some tension between them. Being converted to Christianity doesn’t change all your attitudes at once; it is a life-long process. And we often retain attitudes from our background culture which are in contradiction with our faith and yet we do not easily recognise this. So it is no surprise to find the tensions outside of the Christian community reflected also within it.

Even though they had become Christians the Jews quite likely still had the notion that they were of the Chosen People, and they were not wrong. They faced the problem now that they had become Christians of making sense of their chosenness. What did being a member of a chosen race mean when now as Christians they seemed to be on the same level as Gentiles?

According to the Jews the fact that they were God’s Chosen People meant that they had privileged role in God’s plan for salvation. The problem is that it is easy to go on from this to conclude that they therefore had a privileged place in the kingdom but this is not something that could ever be guaranteed.

Certainly God singled out the Jews to be his Chosen People. It is through them that he revealed himself to the world. But now in the new dispensation it is through Jesus the Jew that all come to be saved. This Jewishness of Jesus is very important for it is through him that the promise of Abraham was fulfilled.

This the first and perhaps the most important promise of God is fulfilled in the very person of Jesus. The Jews are the chosen people and Jesus the Jew is the Messiah. They are privileged because it is from among them that the Messiah comes but this does not mean that they have a free-pass to heaven; they have to work just as hard to get there as anyone else.

We Catholics risk falling into a similar trap. We know that we possess the fullness of the truth of the Gospel in the doctrines and traditions of the Church. In this we are greatly privileged; but that does not mean that it is any easier for an individual Catholic to gain entry to the Kingdom of Heaven.

We are chosen by God; singled out to be bearers of the Good News in the world today. In this we are the most fortunate of people. But we still have to live our life in accordance with these values and that is just as difficult for us as it is for anyone else.

What is important is our faith. Not how much we have but what we do with what we’ve got. The Canaanite woman was a pagan but Jesus commends her faith and gives her what she wants. The Pharisees are filled to the brim with beliefs and doctrines but Jesus condemns their hypocrisy.

Certainly Jesus wants faith but it must be sincere faith; faith with humility and love. He is attracted also to people with needs. This Canaanite woman has all these things and she is in real need for her daughter is dreadfully afflicted and because of the love she has for her daughter she is prepared to cross all sorts of boundaries to find healing for her.

Her persistence and astuteness is rewarded by Jesus because it reflects the depth of love she has for her daughter. She seeks no privileged place in the Kingdom, she is a member of no chosen race, rather the contrary. She seeks nothing for herself and it is precisely because of these things that Jesus compliments her on her faith and restores her daughter to health and wholeness.

The lesson for us is clear: our Catholicism is not our key to the Kingdom but a sign for the world. It is on how well we perform our task of being a sign for the world and on how well we live out the Gospel that we will be judged. The label is not a ticket it is a responsibility.

Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
August 17, 2014

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A—August 17, 2014
Today, as Jesus travels away from Jerusalem toward the region of the Gentiles, He meets a Canaanite woman who desperately needs His help. Why did He give her the cold shoulder?

Gospel (Read Mt 15:21-28)

To best understand this Gospel episode, we need to know that it follows a description of the great opposition Jesus faced from the Pharisees in Jerusalem. Even though He was performing amazing miracles of healing (read Mt 14:36), the Pharisees could only find fault with Him (read Mt 15:2). Jesus got frustrated with them, calling them “blind guides” (Mt 15:14). He decided to leave the city and head north, up to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These were cities in Phoenicia, territory that was primarily Gentile, not Jewish. It almost seems as if He wanted to get as far away from the hard-hearted Pharisees as He could.

Twentieth Sunday: The Humility to Experience His Love in Others
The initial reaction I had to this Sunday’s readings was: Huh? Here we have Paul speaking in circles to the Romans,  “you have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.” Huh?  Then we have the incident of Jesus and the Canaanite women.  She has a real need, and she cries out to him.  But He refers to her people as  dogs and says that he came only for the lost sheep of the House of Israel.  Huh?

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time , Cycle A
Matthew 15 : 21 – 28

This Gospel account involving the Canaanite woman is similar to the story earlier in Matthew of the Centurion. In both of these accounts you have a Gentile approach Jesus asking him to heal someone. For the Canaanite woman it was her daughter, and for the centurion his servant. In both cases Jesus reaches beyond the mission which his followers assumed was to the lost sheep of Israel, and honors the faith of the Gentile. Taking the message of Jesus to the Gentiles was a mission that the Apostles and early Christians struggled with and oftentimes resisted. How did the Apostles finally follow the example of Jesus and break out of their narrow vision into the broader vision of Christ’s mission?

On Praying for our Children – Reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.

Our Savior, willing to be conquered by the prayers of the Canaanite woman, did not disdain to free her daughter from demonic oppression. This mother’s prayers won the mercy of Jesus and inspire all parents as they entreat our Lord for every good thing for their children.

How is it that our prayers for others can be of value? What can a parent do to pray more effectively for his children? Why does God seem at times to ignore our petitions for the conversion of children, relatives, and friends?

The example of this woman will profit is greatly as we answer these questions.

Why We Must Pray
Why do people not pray enough? The answer is partly because they do not want to make the effort to begin, and partly because they do not know how to go on once they have begun. A lot of this difficulty would be cleared up if people would only understand that prayer comes from God, is kept going by God, and finds its way back to God by its own power. All we have to do is to lend ourselves to the process as generously as we can, and not put any obstacles in the way.

Why Be Catholic? Patrick Madrid Has All the Answers
Have you ever read a book by Patrick Madrid?  If you have, I’ll bet you haven’t stopped at just one–that his easy style, clarity and humor captivated you, and you’ve picked up another of his titles along the way.

I’m a fan, and here’s why:  Patrick is a master of Plainspeak–not lofty theological prose which only a doctoral candidate could wade through, but clear, direct explanations for Catholic teachings and traditions.  He writes apologetics for the masses, and I think he’s just what the doctor ordered for most folks who are casually inquiring about the Faith.

Ten Helps to Grow in Prayer
The following is a short article to encourage all of us to desire to grow in our prayer life, seek the means to grow, but especially to persevere in this most important of activates—our salvation, the salvation of our families and loved ones, and the salvation of the whole world depends on men and women who have decided to dedicate their lives to prayer, which is the key to heaven.

Turn the Other Cheek
As a father of eight (two in heaven, and six on earth), I have the perfect excuse to watch children’s movies. “I just happened to be nearby and just happened to see…”

Prepare Your Heart to Pray
Prayer is, as it were, being alone with God. A soul prays only when it is turned toward God, and for so long as it remains so. As soon as it turns away, it stops praying. The preparation for prayer is thus the movement of turning to God and away from all that is not God. That is why we are so right when we define prayer as this movement. Prayer is essentially a “raising up,” an elevation. We begin to pray when we detach ourselves from created objects and raise ourselves up to the Creator.

Wanted: An American Missionary Church– Soon
Pope Francis is shaking up the Catholic Church – that much is clear. But to what end? Opinions differ: To make it a Church of the poor and the marginalized; a Church more of mercy and perhaps less of law. A Church in which collegiality is a fundamental principle of governance.

These are indeed things Francis hopes to accomplish. But he also has another aim in view, embracing the rest: to reshape the Catholic Church as a Missionary Church. He said as much in the first chapter of his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which set out the program of the pontificate, under the heading “A Church Which Goes Forth”:

The Sound of Silence
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

These are the words that appeared on Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s “business card” while she still walked the earth, and it deeply shapes the spirituality of the order she founded. Working with the Missionaries of Charity in the Bronx this summer has given me opportunity to reflect on these words. To me the most striking line of the card is the first one. While most Christians who take their faith seriously recognize their need for prayer, faith, love, service, and peace, it is easy to forget the importance of silence.

When Jesus was on Earth, did the Demons know Jesus was the Messiah?
Father Fortea, when Jesus was on earth, did the demons know He was the Messiah?

As we have said, demons do not know everything. They do not even know all that happens in this world; they are among us, but they come and go. The demons watch over the saints in a very special way, and they knew that Jesus was a man who was especially holy. They could see that He had never committed a sin or even an imperfection. The devil, though steeped in sin, is the consummate appraiser of virtue.

The Only Acceptable Rebellion
Come on, we know better than the Church, don’t we? After all, this is the twenty-first century and times have changed. Modern man is fully capable of deciding what is good and moral on his own, right? All the really smart people in the media, government and academia who encourage us to embrace abortion, contraception, euthanasia and same-sex marriage can’t be wrong, can they? After all, everyone knows that new and fresh ideas must clearly trump nearly two millennia of Church teaching. Right?

How Can I Strengthen My Will and Grow in Holiness?
We all need to remember that, when it comes to pursuing spiritual maturity, our own efforts are never enough. On the other hand, St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us many centuries ago that “grace builds on nature,” and that means that we can do a lot to create a favorable climate for God’s grace to be fruitful, to take root in our souls and bear abundant fruit, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:8).

Be Who You Are: Embracing Your Own Kind of Sanctity
“Be who you are, and be that well.” – St. Francis de Sales

Have you ever admired someone? I mean to the degree that you want to be just like them.

For years now, I’ve admired, even venerated, G.K. Chesterton—and I don’t mean just his writing, as brilliant as that is, but Chesterton as a man. Chesterton is what I would like to be, if I had my way: joyful, witty, hilarious, humble, brilliantly insightful, imaginative, poetic, an effortless writer, childlike, prolifically productive, encyclopedic, a friend to all, even his intellectual and spiritual enemies—and the list goes on.

Good vs. holy
In nearly 30 years as a journalist, one of the most interesting phenomena I’ve seen occurs in courtrooms, when a person found guilty stands before a judge and says, “I’m a good person.”

It is not uncommon. Ask a prosecutor. It does not matter if the convicted person stole a car, plotted a bank heist, committed voter fraud or broke into a house and throttled some old lady before grabbing her jewelry and cash. When the judge asks if the guilty person has anything to say before the sentence is imposed, “I’m a good person” is typical.

Good Non-Catholic Christians– Is There Salvation Outside the Church?
The sudden death of Tony Palmer–the friend of Pope Francis–has raised the question whether he could be saved even though he never converted to the Catholic faith.

Some Catholics would shake their head sadly and quote the famous phrase, Extra Ecclesiam nulls salus- Outside the Church, No Salvation.

Does this mean that everyone who is not a Catholic will go to hell?

Let’s think it through.

A Mother’s Tears
Why do mothers weep? What pain crushes their hearts the most? And when do they cry out to heaven in supplication, in total surrender and confidence to the divine will of God?

It is when their children are in trouble.

The Culture of Envy
Götz Aly’s Why the Germans? Why the Jews?recounts the rise of anti-Semitism in the territories that became the German Republic. He describes some historical trends prior to the 1930s and his study might have a wider application even in this country – since we still have not learned everything that we can from the history of modern Germany. The route from sophistication to savagery is a parable for many countries like the United States that already calmly countenance the slaughter of countless unborn babies as just one of the acceptable costs of modernity.

Spiritual Warfare: Why We Are Losing
In recent decades, we have seen Satan engage the world as never before. In all of human history we have never witnessed evil promoted so effectively, while virtue, character, and morals are roundly mocked and rejected. Meanwhile, it could be said that the Mystical Body — the Church — has never been so unprepared for and unengaged in the challenging mission of spiritual warfare. It is obvious that Satan’s forces are well trained and well organized, while ours clearly are not. At the very beginnings of our great nation, Sir Edmund Burke warned, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

What were weddings like in Jesus’ day?
The word family had a wider meaning in both Aramaic and Hebrew than it does in English today. The Hebrew ah and the Aramaic aha could be used to refer to those who were brothers, half-brothers, cousins, and even other near relations. Extended family networks were both insisted upon and essential for survival. To have these ties and be dependent upon them was every Jewish person’s duty, and an absolute necessity for survival.

Fifty Answers about the Catholic Church
1. How do we know that Jesus of Nazareth was God come to save us?

There is no more important teaching of the Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God. In our Creed, which goes back to the 5th century, fifteen hundred years ago, we say every Sunday at Mass that Jesus was “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father”.

How does the Church Respond to Suicide?
The news of Robin Williams’ death is heartbreaking, as is any news of the death of one of our heroes. Just as was the news of mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s son’s suicide.

I can understand Williams and I feel pity and sorrow for those souls. I really can and do. Between the time I was 14-17 I tried on three separate occasions to kill myself. All three times I couldn’t even overdose correctly. That, or my guardian angel was purifying the poison I had consumed inside my body. That was an awful time of my life; I hated who I was, what I was addicted to, and certainly believed I had no reason to live and didn’t want to.

“Worshipping the Devil by Default”
In his very first homily at the Missa Pro Ecclesia in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis quoted the famous words of Leon Bloy, stating “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” Nature abhors a vacuum. Our experience of the material world tells us that things tend to occupy vacancies; substances naturally move into areas of lower pressure, with less competition for space and survival.

The same is true with spiritual things. Where God is made absent due to human exclusion (remember, even in his omnipotence he does not overpower our free will), the Enemy seeks to fill the void.

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