Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

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Augustine M. Esposito, O.S.A.
St. Thomas Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Readings
Is 56:1, 6-7
Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Rom 11:13-15, 29-32
Mt 15:21-28

Making a promise is a serious commitment because it means that someone else will be placing their trust in our word. No guarantee, no collateral, no real proof; just a promise received in faith. Promising something to a little child can be even more serious because their faith is so innocent, genuine and pure. Their faith is unwavering and can be powerfully persevering. Who would intentionally break a promise to a little child?

A number of years ago, I made a promise to a three year old little boy. He is my nephew. Every chance he had, he would ask me to come and visit him. And… every chance I had, I would do just that, even if for just a few moments. He never got tired of my visits with him. One day, I promised that I would visit him later that evening. Apparently I was not paying close attention to what I was saying to him on the phone because I was extremely busy and needed to get back to some project I was working on at the time. I should have paid closer attention to what I was saying – because apparently, he did! Well, I promised to visit and thus he “believed,” with no question, that I would keep my promise.

I went about my long and busy day and did not finish my work until nearly 10:30 in the evening. I was quite tired and anxious to go to bed. The phone rings at around 10:40 P.M. I answer, and a familiar voice on the other end of the line asks: “Did you by any chance promise your little nephew that you were coming to visit tonight?” I responded, “Hmm, now that you mention it, I think I may have…” Apparently, the little guy, whose bedtime was normally 8:00 P.M. was wide awake with excitement and the utmost confidence that his day was not going to end until I paid him a visit. His mother had been negotiating with him about an alternative options and how much more reasonable rescheduling the visit would be, since it was approaching 11:00 P.M. I too, had considered negotiating with him until his mother whispered in a low voice: “I asked him, why are you so sure that your uncle will be able to visit tonight? It’s already late and he is probably tired.” She said that by the look on his face he was shocked by her lack of trust and appalled that she thought I would renege on my promise. He was nearly scandalized by her “lack of faith.” She repeated the question. Why are you so sure he is coming? Quite baffled by her question, he responded, “Because he said so!” His response was impressively faith-filled.

Needless to say, I was in the car five minutes later and traveling forty five minutes to his house. I arrived, rang the door bell, his mother opened the door and his little smile lit up the entire room. He lifted his head, looked at his mother and gently said, “I told you he would come!” I picked him up, held him in my arms and within seconds, while carrying him to the living room, he was snoring away, and fast asleep! What faith, what confidence, what perseverance! With all odds against the reality of a visit, he believed! Is it any wonder that Jesus in the Scriptures often held up the example of a child like heart to teach us adults the true meaning of love and faith?

Because the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel truly believes in the healing power of Jesus, she begs Jesus for healing on behalf of her possessed daughter. This Canaanite parent shows great courage and perseverance and, of course, faith. This faith of hers is tested thoroughly when Jesus almost seems to respond with indifference as He comments “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The apostles are totally annoyed with her, Jesus appears to be uninterested in her plea, and the Canaanites were hardly held in high regard in those days by many others, especially the Jewish people. There were many reasons why the mother of this possessed girl could have easily despaired. Yet, she still believes in Him. She persevered unwaveringly and simply would not give up hope or lose faith in Christ.

Pope Benedict comments on this Gospel and reminds us that the Canaanite woman could have given in to defeat, but instead “faith lifts her from the heaviness of hopelessness and carries her to the ‘holy mountain’ which is Christ.” Truly, this Canaanite woman was one of those “foreigners” mentioned in the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, who “join themselves to the Lord, loving the name of the Lord” all because of her faith in Jesus.

On the day of our Baptism, we too received the gift of faith. This faith grows and is strengthened through the guidance and teachings of the Church. Our faith is nourished each time we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. And yes, our faith is also tested and fire-tried at times so that it will remain strong, unwavering and powerfully persevering as we journey through life. Our faith is tested and purified as gold in a furnace because our Heavenly Father knows that we need a solid and unshakable faith.

No doubt, our faith is being tested during these very times in which we live, as hatred and violence escalate all around us. No doubt, the senseless loss of lives including the lives of innocent children can shake our faith to its very roots. Yet, in the midst of it all, if we but cling in faith to the will of God who sent his only begotten Son to be our savior, no doubt, we will see peace at last reign in our hearts and gradually throughout the world. The greatest accomplishments that the Church and the world have ever seen started with faith as their foundation and guiding light. Bold, courageous, unwavering, persevering faith has always been at the very heart of every good deed, every great accomplishment and every miracle.

We must never deceive ourselves, however, by thinking that all we really need to do is sit and wait for everything to work out or to wait for God to perform magic and miracles. We must do our part to keep our faith alive, strengthen it and make faith the foundation of our lives upon which we stand firmly. Our faith is enlivened and sustained through meaningful prayer, generous sacrifice, and powerful witness to Christ the living God! The saints did just that. That is what made them saints! Their faith was nothing less than heroic as the followed Christ faithfully, especially in seemingly hopeless times.

Our Holy Father St. Augustine makes a powerful statement in his writings about faith when he states: “Faith is to believe in what you do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” This sums up the faith of the three-year-old little boy and the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel.

Our gospel from St. Matthew challenges us to believe in the healing power of Jesus Christ. It challenges us to believe not only in his healing power but also in his infinite love and protection and heavenly care. The gospel challenges us to trust in these most challenging times and at all times and that we must persevere in faith, no matter what. We are compelled to listen carefully to the words of the Church Fathers like Origen, who reminds us that “God is more concerned for our salvation than the devil is for our destruction because God loves us far more than the devil hates us.” Great reasons for clinging to our faith!

We are left with the challenging question: What do we actually do to protect and strengthen our faith and put our faith into practice? What more must we do?