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

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[“Christ and the Canaanite Woman” by Germain-Jean Druais]

        Jesus was a man with a mission. During His earthly life, Jesus had a specific mission to accomplish, and He stayed focused on that mission. He was to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and lay the foundation for the universal sacrament of salvation, namely the Catholic Church. As He says to the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus never traveled to exotic locations like Rome or Spain. Nor did He visit the great intellectual centers of the Roman Empire, such as Athens and Alexandria. Jesus was focused on the lost sheep of Israel, the Chosen People.
        Today’s Gospel can strike many us as rather un-Jesus like. Why is Jesus so cold and indifferent to the Canaanite woman? She is clearly a women who loves her daughter deeply and wants to see her set free from being tormented by a demon. How could Jesus turn a blind eye towards her?
        Of course Jesus was not being uncaring or mean. The reason behind everything that He does is the salvation of souls. What is necessary for salvation? The Canaanite woman demonstrates it: Faith in Jesus, humility before Him, and persistence. Jesus was inviting her to faith in Him, and to move away from some view of Him as a magical do-gooder.
        Jesus came to “undo the work of the devil” (1 John 3:8) which had brought the human family into its sinful, fallen state. As St. Paul wrote, God wants “everyone to be saved and reach the full knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), and as he says in today’s Second reading, “For God delivered all to disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.”
        This was one of the most revolutionary aspects of Jesus’ Good News. Many of the Jewish people thought that since they were the Chosen People, salvation from sin was only for them. God never said that. In today’s First reading, God says through the Prophet Isaiah “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Israel was the Chosen People in order to witness to the nations the love of God.
        With the coming of Jesus, this truth is definitively revealed. All people, all the nations are invited to hope for eternal life in the household of God. Jesus did not travel to all the countries of the world outside of Palestine because He knew that they would receive God’s truth and grace not from Him directly, but through His Mystical Body, the Church.
        Some may wonder, if God truly wants everyone to be saved and is working hard to make that happen, how do we explain the existence of Hell, which is a dogma of our faith? It’s simple, though tragic.
        God wants all of us to be saved, but He will not force us to be saved. To force us would be to destroy us, because it would mean taking away our freedom, without which we would no longer be human. Just as some of the angels rebelled against God, using their God-given freedom to separate themselves from God’s friendship and set up their own false ideas of right and wrong, so human beings are capable of doing the same thing.
        The fallen angels, Satan and his demons, rejected God’s offer of fellowship. Now they still exist, but they are permanently cut off from God’s love and truth. That state of existence is what is called Hell.
        Human beings were also given the gift of free will. By that gift we can either choose to obey the laws of God’s household and thereby enjoy the glory of His friendship. Or we can give in to the devil’s lies and follow in his footsteps – as concentration camps like Auschwitz prove. Fr. Candido Amantini, an exorcist in Italy, recounted an interesting experience that makes this point. As he was finishing up an exorcism one day, he said to the demon, “Now go back to the Hell which God has made for you.” The demon, seeing an opportunity for an insult, answered Fr. Amantini, “You know nothing! He didn’t make Hell; we did” (story is recorded in An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriel Amorth).
        This point is also highlighted in one of the changes in the upcoming new translation of the Missal. Currently, when the priest says the words of consecration over the chalice, he says, “this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins might be forgiven.” In the new translation, the priest will say, “for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for your and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This change from “for all” to “for many” certainly does not indicate a change in Jesus’ mission of seeking the salvation of all souls. Nor does it suggest a limit to God’s power to save. Rather, it is a recognition that we need to want to be saved; we need to accept the grace of salvation that Jesus has won and offers to all of us. It recognizes human free will, and the sad fact that some people do reject God’s gift of salvation.
        The fact that God wills everyone’s salvation is the source of our life-mission. As the Catechism says, “At every time and in every place, God draws close to man” (CCC #1). In other words, Providence is always at work trying to draw each person into His friendship, or to deepen that friendship where it already exists.
        One of the most important ways God does that is through inviting us to be partners with His Providence, to take part in this saving mission. Just as we share and collaborate in the concerns and projects of our human friends, so too the mature Christian, because he loves Christ and is living the life of grace, accepts God’s invitation to collaborate in building up Christ’s Kingdom, in helping others discover and experience the Gospel, starting with family members, friends, and colleagues.
        As Christians, this is our most important work, our life-mission, because as Christians, friendship with Christ is our most important relationship. Unfortunately, because the results of this activity – telling others about Christ, trying to build up the Church and Christianize culture – are not always immediate, we tend to push this responsibility to the back burner.
        Today Jesus is asking us to bring it to the front and turn up the heat. Many of our neighbors are in desperate need of the mercy, truth, and grace of God – just like the little girl in today’s Gospel. Our job is to connect those needy souls to Christ just as the Canaanite woman did, through our prayers, through our example of Christian living, and through our concrete actions.
        But first we have to reconnect ourselves to Christ – so let’s pray from the heart during the rest of this holy Mass, and ask God to give us courage and a renewed awareness of our true life-mission.

About Fr. JC

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Trenton, NJ, in 2004. Currently the Pastor of Resurrection Parish in Delran, NJ.
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