Homily, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8); Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
My homily at the 10:00 Mass at Holy Ghost today.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I believe one of the themes of today’s readings is quite clear. All three readings speak to how we should treat those who are different from us; those who are outsiders. They also speak of the importance of allowing Jesus to take us outside of our personal comfort zones to encounter him more fully.
Today’s readings speak of his Church being a place for EVERYONE, not just those who share our personal political beliefs, ethnic origin, language, or culture. They each speak to treating EVERYONE with love, respect and dignity. This includes the homeless, immigrants (both legal and illegal), those who are mentally and physically handicapped, prostitutes, felons, drug addicts, the rich and the poor.
EVERYONE is loved by God and welcome in the Church, regardless of their social status or lifestyle choices or circumstances. Listen again to the conclusion of the first reading: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples.”
In today’s second reading, Paul is speaking to the Gentiles, the pagans, who were considered throughout history to be outside of God’s plan of salvation. Every good Jew knew that God’s love was exclusive to his chosen people, the Jewish people. They certainly can’t be blamed for not understanding that the Gentiles, too, were to be included in God’s plan of salvation. Even Jesus in today’s gospel reading seems to struggle with this idea.
Here we witness Jesus rebuking a Canaanite woman who is seeking healing for her daughter who is tormented by a demon. Because she is not a Jew, he tells her not to bother him. He understands his mission is to his people, the Jewish people. He refers to her as a dog, which is the term the Jews used for the Gentiles at the time. But when she replies that even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table, he looks beyond her status as a pagan and praises her for her great faith. He answers her prayer and heals her daughter.
In this encounter with the Canaanite woman, we learn from Jesus that everyone belongs to him and can receive his healing, regardless of their social status or their past mistakes. He shows us that everyone has a right to worship him and petition him in prayer for their needs.
Jesus tells us that “Whatever you ask from the Father in my name, it will be granted to you.” However, we must ask with HUMILITY, PERSEVERANCE & CONFIDENCE, as did the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel. Your prayers may not be answered immediately, but God will grant them at the right time, in his infinite wisdom.
The word “catholic” means universal. All people from all backgrounds belong in the Church. The Catholic Church is not a white, black, Asian, African or Hispanic Church. The Catholic Church is not an American church, a European church or a democratic or republican Church. No, the Catholic Church is the universal Church.
All people are welcome and belong here. Saints and sinners belong here. People who are living exemplary lives belong here, as do those who are lost and bound within the depths of sin. None of us should ever feel that we don’t belong coming before the Lord, regardless of who we are and what we have done or what we have not done.
People who are seeking to live better lives belong here. Aren’t we are all in THIS group? We don’t go to church because we are so holy. We go to church because we are seeking holiness. There are many people here today, especially myself, who come every week asking God to heal us. We are seeking to be sincere in our practice of the faith. We belong here. The Lord said “Come, ALL you who are weary and find life burdensome.” He didn’t exclude anyone. He said, ALL YOU who are weary.
We the Church are the body of Christ. And so people come to us demanding food, sustenance, friendship, love, shelter, and liberation. Often we are tempted to do what Jesus does initially and what the disciples do: tell them to back off. We’re overloaded, busy, preoccupied. We simply can’t be bothered by their needs.
But the whole of the Christian life consists in remembering the suffering and need of the other, especially the annoying other. We must remind ourselves that it is Jesus himself who presents himself in the distressing disguise of the poor and in those who are different from us in some way that we might consider repulsive or annoying. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta would say, “each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”
Nothing is more difficult than focusing on the needs of others we normally wouldn’t care about. This is the ‘holy moment’ we can all find ourselves in. This is the leap of faith that transforms. Jesus, by commanding us to love those we’d rather ignore or hate, gives us an opportunity to lean on his grace and love instead of our own understanding and power.
By actually caring for people who are down and out, or even those we see as being different from us in some way, we are given the opportunity to show Jesus we are letting his love empower us and make us do things we’d normally not do. In other words, loving unlovable people is an opportunity to step out in faith and let Christ’s love move us. There are few experiences as powerful as this.
Let us pray that we are welcoming and supportive of ALL people within and outside of our faith community. Let us do our best to embrace our cultural differences, rather than using them as an excuse to avoid contact with those who are “different” from us.
How can we do this? Well, we might plan to attend the Mass and celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December, a feast that is so important to our Hispanic brothers and sisters. By participating with them in these sacred events we tell them by our presence that they are important to us and that we value their membership in our community.
Or perhaps you would consider participating in our Bridge Ministry to the homeless. We’re meeting this coming Saturday morning at the Rescue Mission downtown to hand out hot dogs, chips and snacks. It’s a great opportunity to serve those who have nothing and to meet Jesus in his distressing disguise.
The bottom line is that we must make an effort to show all of our brothers and sisters, in spite of the language barriers and our cultural differences, in spite of their physical appearance or their addictions, that we love them. We must let them know that they are loved and make an effort to let them know that they belong here, that they are welcome here at Holy Ghost.
The Lord said “Come, all you who are weary and find life burdensome.” He didn’t exclude anyone. He said, ALL YOU who are weary. And so, we come before Him this Sunday and every Sunday. We come before Him with simple faith.
Like the Canaanite woman, we ask Him for healing. And we trust Him. For His mercy and compassion are infinitely greater than our sins. We look at the image of our Lord on the cross. We meditate on what He has done for us. And in complete humility we say, “I belong here, and so does everyone else who calls this place their spiritual home.
As we receive the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist today, let us pray as to how we can become more welcoming and accepting of everyone who is part of our faith community. Let us love everyone as Jesus has loved each of us.
Are you going to let Jesus guide you outside of your comfort zone today?
God bless you.