Homily for the
in Ordinary Time
Aug. 14, 2011
Is 56: 1, 6-7
Matt 15: 21-28
Christian Brothers, Iona College
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants—them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer” (Is 56: 6, 7).
The mission of bringing the Lord God to the Gentiles is the common thread of the readings this evening/today. Altho Jesus makes it clear that his mission was to the Jews, when he elicited faith from the Canaanite woman and treated her with mercy, he was beginning the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied centuries earlier about foreigners—Gentiles—becoming part of God’s people, coming to worship the Lord on Mt. Zion and finding joy in the temple of the Lord. In his commentary on this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, William Barclay writes: “There are tremendous implications in this passage. Apart from anything else, it describes the only occasion on which Jesus was ever outside of Jewish territory. The supreme significance of the passage is that it fore-shadows the going out of the gospel to the whole world; it shows us the beginning of the end of all the barriers.”
Jesus and the Canaanite woman (image lifted from The Deacon's Bench)
One of the implications that Barclay draws out is that this Canaanite woman was more than merely some foreigner, some non-Hebrew. “She belonged to the old Canaanite stock, and the Canaanites were the ancestral enemies of the Jews. Even at that very time, or not much later, Josephus could write: ‘Of the Phoenicians, the Tyrians have the most ill-feeling towards us.’” Jesus is really pushing the barriers, opening a path that Peter and then Paul will follow in a few years, to bring God’s mercy to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13,30,32). Jesus’ mission is truly to be universal.
That universality is expressed, e.g., in our 3d Eucharistic Prayer: “From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.” It will become more evident when we start using the new translation of the Roman Missal in the fall. That passage is taken from the prophet Malachi: “From the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; and everywhere a they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering” (1:11). “From the rising of the sun to its setting”: this is geographical universality, covering the whole earth; it’s temporal universality, covering all day, every day.
Without the breaking of these barriers, Christ’s mission of salvation would have been very narrowly constrained. Not only were—and are—the Jews a very small people among all the people of the earth; but very few of them listened to Jesus and accepted him as the living Word of God, then or in succeeding centuries. If his mission were only to the Jews, then God’s salvation would hardly be universal.
Like the Canaanite woman, however, in Peter and Paul’s time the Gentiles came actively seeking that Word of life: Cornelius the Roman centurion sending for Peter and his Good News, the Greeks listening to Paul’s preaching in the synagogs and the streets of one town after another and seeking to “join themselves to the Lord, minister to him, love his name, and become his servants.”
So from its earliest days the Church, the assembly of God’s holy people, has been outgoing; has been missionary. [Your own Christian Brothers roots are missionary, resting spiritually and culturally as it were, on the island of Iona.] When the entire American Church was still officially a mission territory under the curial jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (which it was until 1908), the Salesians came here as missionaries—missionaries to pastorless Italian and Polish immigrants. For generations American dioceses have been manned by the FBI—the “foreign-born Irish” clergy who went out in wave after generous wave of missionaries all over the world, making real the mandate of our Lord to preach the Good News everywhere. Six weeks ago Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, celebrated its 100th anniversary—a celebration of the mission to the Gentiles: the Chinese, and then the Japanese, the Africans, priestless Latin Americans.
[You do so well to pray for your young confreres in India, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, and Latin America—the fruits of your missionary endeavors, the future “apostles to the Gentiles” of your congregation; and to bring young confreres here to Iona to broaden their educational experience and their formation as brothers. This is one way in which we, here at home, can indirectly follow Christ’s example of eliciting faith from the nations, can carry out his command to spread the Good News.]
If we can’t go to the missions, we can still be missionaries: by prayer for missionaries, after the example of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, patroness of the missions who never left her convent in Normandy; by financial support of missionaries and specific missions; by encouraging people to consider a missionary calling. Just last Saturday we Salesians commissioned 13 lay missionary volunteers who will be going out for a year of service in Bolivia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. We’ve been doing this for years, and many of these young people—and some aren’t so young—find their service among orphans and in our schools so fulfilling that they sign up for a 2d year; this year a young woman in Cochabamba, Bolivia, signed up for 3d year.
Finally, and most important, we can be missionaries by faithfully living out the Gospel of Jesus ourselves, for that is silent preaching that we have found joy in the Lord’s house of prayer, a house whose doors are open to everyone everywhere.
[Bracketed passages only at Iona College]