Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday Ordinary Time Year A (August 14, 2005)

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday Ordinary Time Year A (August 14, 2005)

[NB: This is the way I originally wrote the homily; those of you who heard me preach today heard something similar, although not exactly identical. Thanks for your understanding...]

The gospel for this weekend presents a compelling interaction between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. Matthew portrays the scene quite vividly, setting the stage with a location for Jesus’ ministry: the region of Tyre and Sidon.

This is the only time in Jesus’ public ministry that he ventures outside of Jewish territory, to these northern coastal cities. Tyre and Sidon were powerful and great cities of trade, but what is important to note is that they were Gentile cities – unbelieving cities. How surprising then, to find a Canaanite woman (a woman from that region, obviously not a Jew), addressing Jesus as “Lord” and “Son of David”. But this is exactly how she approaches our Lord.

Another curiosity is Jesus’ reply to the apostles; why would Jesus be in Gentile territory if he “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”? Not for the first time would the apostles now be utterly confused at the words of our Lord.

But the central focus of this fabulous interchange is the word-play between the woman and Jesus. He tells her directly, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Even though the word Matthew uses in Greek means “little dogs,” the truth of Jesus’ meaning is clear: the children are the Jewish people, and theirs is the Covenant. They deserve the graces of the Incarnation first; Christ has come to His own people, to proclaim the Good News.

But the woman is not offended; she does not depart in a rage, huffing: “How dare He speak to me in those words…!” Not at all – in fact, she responds with one of the most moving (and clever) answers to our Lord: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

What is the virtue, what is the grace that permits her to respond like this to such an apparent insult? Humility. Humility.

The virtue of humility had so transformed her heart that she, a “pagan” after all, could recognize Jesus as Lord, and furthermore, that she could endure such apparent harshness. Humility is truly the foundation of all the virtues, for even the slightest hint of pride taints all our good works. Pride darkens our hearts, obscures the gospel, and prevents us from seeing the truth about ourselves and others. And pride does not need to be absolute, demonic pride such as caused the devil or our first parents to sin. No, pride can be subtle and very comfortable, encouraging us to believe the lie that we are self-sufficient and worthy of God’s grace.

Not one of us is worthy of God’s grace. Not one of us is worthy to enter into eternal life. Honestly, we’re not even worthy to eat the scraps of grace that fall from our Master’s table. But how many of us are prepared to really admit this? Can we, with the Canaanite woman, admit our unworthiness? Do we believe with all our hearts the words we recite before Holy Communion?

“Lord, I am not worthy that I should receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Or do we secretly believe in our hearts that we are worthy? That God owes us His grace in abundance, and with explanations for our hardships besides?

The Blessed Virgin Mary, whose glorious Assumption into heaven we celebrate tomorrow, is our premier example of humility. Even she who was created sinless through an extraordinary mercy of God knew that she was not worthy of the grace to be the Mother of God.

Through her intercession, we must beseech God for the virtue of humility; ask Him to destroy your pride, to humble you – so that you might be raised up. For this is the amazing gift and greatness of God: he humbles us, only to exalt us. What is his response to the Canaanite woman? He doesn’t just give her the scraps meant for the dogs; He gives her a share in the Kingdom of Heaven, the entire Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

This is what He desires for our souls as well; but when we remain in our pride, in whatever form it takes, His grace cannot take root. Our hearts become closed to the voice of the Father, and we reject Him, “put off” by the virtue of humility.

How then, can we grow in this crowning virtue of the spiritual life? By desiring it, asking the Lord for it, and humbling ourselves before Him by admitting our sins. Our Lord will grant this virtue, if we but ask; and by receiving the Sacrament of Penance regularly, we give Him the opportunity to transform our hearts in this virtue. Admitting my guilt, my unworthiness, my sins can be a great challenge, but only then can Jesus break my pride.

Am I prepared to admit my need for salvation? Am I prepared to admit my absolute dependence upon grace, and my utter unworthiness to receive it? Am I prepared to accept the table scraps meant for the dogs?

Lord Jesus, break our hearts of sinful pride; help us grow in the virtue of humility. Give us the strength to Confess our sins and so be welcomed by you into your Wedding Feast, where we may truly be exalted by your power, and share in your Kingdom for all eternity. Amen.