A Message from Father William

This Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) gives us a clear illustration of perseverance in prayer, and how God always hears and answers our prayers – with answers that include: “yes” and “no” and “Not right now, I have a better idea.” Jesus teaches us in the Gospel, through the example of the Canaanite woman and her real-life story, that we need to persevere in prayer, to believe in God’s mercy and love, to realize that prayer is communion with God.

A Canaanite woman, a Gentile, begs Jesus to deliver her daughter from a demon .People frequently came to Jesus, asking Him for physical, emotional or spiritual healing. But, instead of answering her request immediately, Jesus does something surprising. He replies in what some people might consider a rude way. At first, He seems to ignore her. Then He tells her that His mission at this time was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and it did not include Gentiles. Then He refers to her and her people as “dogs” (a term used by Jews to describe people who did not believe in God). And to make matters more difficult, the Apostles ask Jesus to dismiss her! Yet, at each step, the mother remains undeterred. She perseveres. She persists until Jesus finally says, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” – and the woman’s daughter was healed (Matthew 15:28).

Why did Jesus respond to the woman in this delayed way? One explanation is that He was testing her faith, as well as testing the Apostles’ faith, and making sure that everyone knew how much He treasured persistent, trusting belief in Him. And that’s what the Canaanite mother showed. She was a Gentile, labeled as an outsider, yet she believed in Jesus Christ, calling Him Lord and Son of David, and she refused to be ignored, sidelined or denied. She comes to the Lord (Isaiah 56), weighed down by the trials of her ill daughter – and her faith, expressed in her loving trust in Jesus Christ, lifted her from the heaviness of hopelessness. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said that Faith makes us light, enabling us to escape our own gravity, which drags us down. In persevering prayer, the Canaanite mother seeks to escape the gravity of grief and despair as she seeks God’s healing mercy. She began with a request, and ended on her knees in worshipful prayer. She was persistent. She persevered – and so must we!

Like the Canaanite woman’s faith, our faith gets tested at times, in the physical, emotional and spiritual trials we face, and in the evil we see people doing in the world. When our faith is tested, let us remember that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is calling us to a stronger faith by challenging us to trust Him even when we think He is ignoring or rejecting our request, our prayer, or that He seems distant at times. He is present (“I am with you always…” Matthew 28:20), for He is with us in our prayers, in His Church, Word and Sacraments, especially and substantially in the Holy Eucharist. So, let us persevere in faith that makes us light, that enables us to escape our own gravity – because no matter how it appears, Our Lord will not give up on us! Jesus Christ calls us to believe in His mercy and love, to know, love and serve Him, to be in communion with Him, with the Only Savior of the world, as He gives us the grace each day to pray, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

With peace and prayers in Christ,
Fr. William Vernon