One of my favorite scriptural passages to use during the Rite of Baptism is found in the Gospel of Matthew (19:13-15):
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.
In reflecting upon these (and other) verses, it is clear that Jesus loves children. So why did the disciples rebuke those who were bringing them? Perhaps they felt that Jesus was tired and in need of rest after a long, hot day of preaching and teaching. As such, by chastising those attempting to come closer to Jesus, the disciples were providing Jesus with their version of a human shield. Whatever the reason, we know the outcome. Jesus stepped through their obstacle and blessed the children.
On this 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, a similar behavior by the disciples is also present in today’s Gospel (Mt 15:21-28). With Jesus having ventured into the pagan region of Tyre and Sidon, we are told that “a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, ‘Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.'” Again, the disciples sought to shield Jesus. This time, however, we are told that they raised their voice and asked Jesus to send this obnoxious woman away from them so they could continue on with their work. After choosing to ignore their advice, however, Jesus approached her and responded: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” While Jesus’ response must have been satisfying to the disciples, any bystander would think it devastating for the woman. But still, she would not leave. In her persistence, she cried out: “Lord, help me.” And even after another round of words from Jesus that the “food of the children should not be thrown to the dogs,” the woman quickly noted that she would gladly take even the scraps. In an instant, Jesus declared: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” With his words, the woman’s daughter was instantly healed. Jesus’ love for children and deep regard for a mother’s dream are once more on display.
If we can once more envision this scene from the perspective of the disciples, what must have been going on in their minds and hearts? Having followed Jesus on his mission to the House of Israel, He has repeatedly found stubborn people that refuse to open their hearts and eyes to the Truth standing in their midst. Now, however, they see this unlikely woman who has not just come to believe in Jesus, but also adored Him. This woman has not only an unbreakable faith, but is persistent in what it might bring. They wonder. Perhaps faith and perseverance is what Jesus seeks? Perhaps also a mission (Mt 28:19) beyond the House of Israel is unfolding, too?
In our own lives, how often have we prayed for something only to find that our prayers have not been granted? We reason: If we can send a text message and receive a reply in mere seconds, shouldn’t the same logic apply to our prayers? After all, what kind of a God doesn’t keep up with technology? Years ago, the actor Jim Carrey starred in a movie entitled Bruce Almighty. For a time, God bestows his powers upon Carrey and takes a vacation. Shortly after assuming the “duties” of God, Carrey soon becomes exhausted as he begins to hear the many prayers being prayed throughout the world. To resolve this, he creates an email account for them and devises an electronic system whereby all the prayers are instantly granted. But, I wonder: Is this how God works?
Maybe, just maybe, our dear Lord knows what is best for each one of us. While we seek instant gratification, the heavens rejoice: “In God’s time!” The lives of the saints provide so many stories about the way our faith and perseverance in prayer has the ability to turn seemingly hopeless situations into hopeful ones. A most famous and powerful example may be found in St. Monica’s constant prayers for her wayward son. Through them, a mother’s prayer is once again answered as her son, Augustine, experiences a monumental conversion and becomes one of the great saints in the early Church. Indeed, it is clear that if we analyze the woman in today’s Gospel story and many like her throughout history, each has “put aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race that has been put before them.” (Heb 12:1)
Lately, however, it seems that not a day goes by where I have not spoken with parents worried that their children are abandoning the Catholic faith they have sought to instill in them. In closing, then, I would like to read you the advice of one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. Writing from his deathbed in 1948, Babe Ruth recounted his journey of faith. His message is for you.
Thanks to Brother Matthias I was able to leave St. Mary’s in 1914 and begin my professional career with the famous Baltimore Orioles. Out on my own… free from the rigid rules of a religious school . . . boy, did it go to my head. I began really to cut capers.
I strayed from the Church, but don’t think I forgot my religious training. I just overlooked it. I prayed often and hard, but like many irrepressible young fellows, the swift tempo of living shoved religion into the background.
So what good was all the hard work and ceaseless interest of the Brothers, people would argue? You can’t make kids religious, they say, because it just won’t take. Send kids to Sunday School and they too often end up hating it and the church.
Don’t you believe it. As far as I’m concerned, and I think as far as most kids go, once religion sinks in, it stays there—deep down. The lads who get religious training, get it where it counts—in the roots. They may fail it, but it never fails them. When the score is against them, or they get a bum pitch, that unfailing Something inside will be there to draw on. I’ve seen it with kids. I know from the letters they write me. The more I think of it, the more important I feel it is to give kids “the works” as far as religion is concerned. They’ll never want to be holy—they’ll act like tough monkeys in contrast, but somewhere inside will be a solid little chapel. It may get dusty from neglect, but the time will come when the door will be opened with much relief. But the kids can’t take it, if we don’t give it to them.
On this 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, may each of us pray for the faith and perseverance of the woman in the Gospel. And after doing so, may we trust that the matter is in Jesus’ hands.