JEREMIAH 31:1-7; MATTHEW 15:21-28

On this Feast of Saint Dominic, who modeled himself so ardently on the Savior, we have just had occasion to observe from this Gospel passage how Jesus could be decidedly stern on occasion yet remain accessible to sympathy.  He boldly adhered to his Father's will as it was revealed to him and did not hesitate to make his position clear even when it led to confrontation.  He at first treats this pagan woman with considerable harshness, telling her that "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."  The woman he addressed this rebuke to was already suffering considerable distress due to the acute attacks that tormented her daughter.  He seems to have felt that her importunate request for a healing represented a temptation for him who so readily responded sympathetically to human misery.  Her pleas for a cure touched him so that he felt, perhaps, inclined, to act contrary to his divine mandate and so produced an interior struggle between compassion and the duty of obedience to his Father's plan.  When, however, the distraught woman, instead of wilting before his harsh refusal displayed such courage and wit in her reply, Our Lord experienced her trusting faith as approval from heaven.  Freely giving scope to his strong sense of compassion he responded with words of healing that were immediately effective.  "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

An obvious lesson we are expected to learn from this text is that persevering trust and prayer made with bold faith on our part prove effective in obtaining God's favor.  This remains true even in the face of seeming refusal or indifference on God's part over a period of time.  No prayer goes unanswered when made with a trusting heart, though the form the answer takes may be disconcertingly different from our request.  No less a friend of God than Saint Paul had to come to terms with the paradoxical way that God often hears our prayer.  Paul was sorely tempted by some suffering whose nature he does not reveal.  He had repeatedly prayed for deliverance from this trial but it persisted...  His prayer was heard, but not in the way he had asked for:  "He (the Lord) said to me:  'my grace is sufficient for you.  Virtue is made perfect in infirmity'."  Rather than healing he was given the grace to remain patient and trusting in his struggles.  The mystery of grace is hidden deeply in the human heart, acting often in ways that we remain unconscious of at the time.

Regularly it happens that here at Bethlehem persons are on retreat who, like the Canaanite woman in today's gospel, do not share our Catholic faith.  Yet, they speak openly to a priest concerning their life of faith and prayer with a sincerity and trust that strongly suggests that they are friends of God.  Jesus himself expressed surprise at the strong faith of this foreign woman who trusted strongly in him.  As we offer this Eucharist where we recall the faith of this pagan woman, may we imitate her persevering trust that even in spite of our defects and many weaknesses, the Lord in compassion hears our prayer and gives us favorable hearing.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger