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The Gift of Faith

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Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

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There was no place in the Holy Land where Jesus could be safe from the dangerous popularity of the multitudes or the increasing tensions with the Pharisees.  For the first time since his flight into Egypt as an infant, Jesus leaves Jewish territory and goes to the town of Tyre and Sidon where the Phoenicians lived.

Jesus is not running away from his troubles.  He is seeking solitude before his coming hour.  He needs to prepare himself and the Apostles for the decisive battle with the evil one which was rapidly approaching.

Jesus’ exit from Jewish boundaries was the first glimpse that he is the savior of the entire world.  “…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56: 7).

But even in Tyre and Sidon, Jesus was not free from the demand of human need.

A woman had a daughter who was very ill.  She had heard about all of the wonderful things that Jesus was doing in Palestine and she was convinced that he was her only hope.

Let us contemplate five beautiful qualities of the Canaanite woman.

First of all, the woman was humble.  “Have pity on me.”  Humility is the most basic virtue of the Christian way of life.  Humility allows us to believe and humility allows us to love.  Humility is the fundamental characteristic which marks our relationship with God.  Saint Augustine once wrote: “Man is a beggar before God.”  Like the centurion who was also a Gentile, the Canaanite woman approached Jesus with profound humility.

Secondly, the woman of this Sunday’s gospel passage was a woman of deep faith.  As we carefully read the gospel passage, we note that she first addressed Jesus as Son of David.  This title meant that she looked upon Jesus respectfully in terms of earthly power and glory.

Her profound humility and faith allowed her to experience Jesus for whom he really is.  Her encounter brought her to understand with her heart that Jesus is the Lord.  Her experience allowed her to worship as she knelt before him in supplication and adoration.  She came to experience the whole Christ: Jesus, true God and true Man.

Thirdly, the woman was persistent.  She would not be discouraged.  Jesus tested her faith and she passed the test with an A+.  She came to Jesus as her only hope.  She came to Jesus with a passionate hope and a refusal to be discouraged.  Her prayer of supplication was not ritualistic in form.  Her prayer was an expression of her personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Her need was great and she trusted him whom she believed would give her what she needed.

Finally, as she retorted that “even the dogs eat of the pieces which fall from their master’s table,” we can see that the woman was joyful.  Within the circumstances of her need, she had a sense of humor.  Jesus could see in her eyes the light of hope and a smile which can dispel the gloom.

The Canaanite woman teaches us how our prayers can always be answered.  She brings to Jesus a profound love and a growing faith which allowed her to worship at the feet of the divine; an unconquerable persistence flowing from an invincible hope and a joyfulness which would not give in to discouragement.

Before we conclude our thoughts for this Sunday, let us consider some practical applications of this Sunday’s passage from the Gospel of Saint Matthew.

Faith is a gift from God.  “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11: 29).   Faith is a priceless gift which can be lost through our own personal negligence.  Faith must be nourished with a well developed spiritual life and with the continual study of our Catholic Faith.  Spiritual laziness, culpable ignorance and indifference can weaken our faith and even cause the loss of faith.

Parents have a solemn duty to pass on the gift of faith to their children.  Parents are the primary educators of their children and they must exercise this solemn duty with great responsibility.  Faith formation is much more important than any other activity such as sports and music lessons.  Parents must choose schools that will best foster the faith formation of their children.  For this reason, it is best, whenever possible, to have children enrolled in adequate Catholic schools or to educate their children at home through an appropriate homeschool curriculum.