20th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel –Matthew 15:21-28

"
Persistent or Passive Faith?"

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 17th August 2014

Fr Francis Xavier Chu Shis-de, a Jesuit priest returned from France to China immediately after he completed his doctoral studies, in 1953.  As he expected, upon his return he was jailed for his faith.  He remained in jail for 30 years and died in 1983.  Four years before returning to China, he wrote this letter to his brother.

He wrote, “Every day many people are escaping from China to Hong Kong.  Yet I cannot find any one, apart from myself, who is preparing to leave Hong Kong for China.  Everyone laughs at me . . . and in the eyes of the world, I am indeed the biggest fool ever to be born!  When a merchant cannot make a profit in one place, he will move somewhere else.  But, as a priest, my life is to serve my flock.

As long as there are Christians left in Shanghai, I must return there.  Even if there is only a single Christian left in Shanghai.  I must still return there because I am a priest.  I represent Christ and His Church.  Wherever I am, the Church is.  I am willing to stay in Shanghai, to let the Communist Party know that the Catholic faith is still alive.  (Adapted from, “Thoughts of Chinese Christians”).

Fr Francis had a very clear purpose in life.  As a Jesuit priest, his goal was to serve the Catholic Christians in China.  Thus, he was willing to pay the price of imprisonment and even death for living and doing the work of Christ.

Today’s Gospel speaks of the faith of a lay person; a Canaanite woman; a non-Jew who was not of the Chosen race of Israel.  However, she like Fr Francis was equally determined that for Jesus to cure her daughter who was tormented by a devil.  She was not taking a “no” from Jesus; even if the “scraps” that fell off the table that were good enough for her.  She was desperate in her crisis; in her plea, she was willing to pay the price of embarrassment and rejection in public. She was also humble enough to know that whatever she is to receive from Jesus was better than nothing . . . In all of these, Jesus was amazed by her deep faith and persistence, and moved with compassion for her and performed the miracle that was not meant to be . . . and cured her daughter.

What about our faith?  Whether we are a priest or a lay person, Fr Francis and the Canaanite woman, today’s Gospel reminds us that God will answer all our pleas if we dare to entrust our whole lives to Him . . . Let us remember that if we were to reflect on our present needs and life, let alone what is to happen to us in the future, we will realise that our lives are beyond our control!  As a human person we are all limited, finite, weak and sinful.  Yet, at the same time, within our hearts, there is also the potential of unleashing the inner spiritual power that comes from God . . . like Fr Francis . . .

As in the Canaanite woman’s experiences, we too have a Compassionate God who is constantly present to us in our lives.  We have a God who cares for all our needs; who heals us of our woundedness; who protects us from harm, who guides us when we are lost; enlightens us when we are confused; encourages us when we are down; empowers us when we are weak; forgives us when we are repentant . . . and most importantly of all loves us unconditionally and at all times!  And to top this all, we have a God who wants us to live with Him and all the saints, in heaven in peace, joy and glory, for all eternity!

      

Can we really believe that this is the God that Jesus in the Gospel is proclaiming?  If we do . . . then, an important question that we need to ask ourselves very seriously is, “How sincere are we with God”?  How much of our daily living can we say is lived for God?  How much of our lives is spent on loving God?  And if we do love God deeply or at least allow God to Love us more fully, then we can be sure that our lives would change for the better; our peace will surely be deeper, and our hopes will clearly be founded on a certitude that nothing and no one in this world can ever give.

I like us to ponder on this image of a person’s experiences for a moment, as it may help us to reflect on our relationship with God in our lives too.  He shares, “Yesterday, as I was walking in the garden, I spotted a squirrel.  As soon as he saw me, he ran up a tree, stopping about five feet off the ground.  Curious, I walked closer to that tree.  As I did, the squirrel scooted around to the opposite side of the tree.  Then I started to walk slowly around the tree.  And as I did, the squirrel went around another tree; always keeping the tree between himself and me.  I felt as if I were playing hide-and-seek with him.  Just as I was determined to see and get close to the squirrel, he too was determined not to allow me to get too close to him.

Finally, I stopped and started going in the opposite direction.  Sure enough, I caught the squirrel coming around the other way.  Then, again when he spotted me, he flicked his tail and immediately, reversed his direction.  Around and around we went again for several minutes.

Later, I thought: that’s how I am with God at times.  I’m like the little squirrel, living a life of caution and scurrying.  Out of nowhere God enters my world. However, I am afraid to let Him get too close . . . yet, I am curious enough to want to see what it is like to see Him at close range and get to sense and know Him better . . . so, I don’t run away from Him completely.  Instead, I scurry up a nearby tree and cling to its solid trunk.  When God comes closer, I begin to run behind some tree to “protect” myself from Him getting too close to me.  It is not that I am terrified of God.  If I was, I would have run all the way up to the top of the tree and far from Him.  No, I am fascinated by God, but also not too comfortable with entrusting my whole life to Him.  And so, I keep a cautious distance from Him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, is this image of the squirrel’s behaviour a reminder of how we at times we relate to God in our daily living?  If so, then we have much to learn from Fr Francis and the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel.

In today’s Gospel, when Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith.  Let your wish be granted.”  And performed the miracle that He did not intend, Jesus was praising her for her great faith that was: persistent, positive and passionate – the three “Ps” we need to have a strong faith.

When the Canaanite woman was persistent in her requests, the crowds probably looked on her as a “nuisance”.  The disciples too might have considered her to be a “nuisance.”  So, they “pleaded with Jesus, “Give her what she wants as she is shouting after us.”

And so to conclude, let me add that when we seek for God and try to love and live in His Ways . . . we can be sure that there will be many obstacles and temptations that will discourage us from getting closer to God . . . the irony seem to be that the harder we try, the more “obstacles” we seem to face.  However, the challenge of today’s Gospel is that like the Canaanite woman, you and I are called to develop a strong faith of the three “Ps” of the Canaanite woman, which is to be: persistent, positive and passionate.

That first, when we are discouraged in life, be “persistent” and persevere in our faith regardless of how overwhelming the obstacles in life seem to be.  Second, that we be “positive” in the face of obstacles in life; this is because we are never alone; God is there on our side . . . He feels our pains, He knows our needs and is full of Compassionate Love for us.  Third, we need to be “passionate” in our faith.  This means that we need to find creative ways of deepening our relationship with Our Lord.

How do we live this?  We need to begin with allow God to get closer we need to allow God to get closer to us and not run away and hide like the squirrel story; we need to believe that deep in each of our hearts we can also be as holy as Fr Francis and as persistent, positive and passionate as the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel whom Jesus praised for her deep faith.

(cf. Adapted from: More Quips, Quotes and Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers, Anthony Castle, 23rd publications; a division of Bayard; 1994; p21.  Adapted from: Everyday Epiphanies, Seeing the Sacred in Every Thing; Melannie Svoboda,SND, 23rd publications; a division of Bayard; 1999; p60.)

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

                                  

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