but then I found myself

Some years ago, during a weekend visit to the Lake Tahoe area, my wife went for a walk, an “into the woods” hike. As the afternoon wore on and she did not return, I began to be concerned; not overly much, as she often would take such treks to unwind and rid herself of the daily stresses that inevitably tend to overwhelm.

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

Nearing five o’clock, with concern quickly turning to serious worry, I received a phone call from her, immediately releasing my anxiety, turning concern to relief and then to joy. I will never forget what she said to me: “I was lost, but then I found myself.” And we laughed at the very thought of it.

Each of us is on a journey, born to a place and time not of our own choosing, but of God’s. The road we travel is never quite the same as another, and yet, each will ultimately lead us to the same destination.

What we too often forget or simply refuse to admit to ourselves is that each and every one of us is lost, for no one knows what lies beyond the moment. In our arrogance and presumptiveness, we assume too much, we refuse to ask for directions; we keep walking, looking for the familiar to ease our anxiety, to approve our self-confidence, to assure ourselves that “we were lost, but then, we found ourselves.”

Only God knows the way. Only God holds the map. God is the perfect GPS, always knowing where the road will take us, warning us of detours, roadblocks, pitfalls, and dangers that loom ahead, if only we will listen to his voice, if only we will allow him to point the way.

We too often forget: “Lost is a place too!” We may not know where we are, but God does. We may not know how to find our way, but God does.

To this point, Father Ron Rolheiser writes:

To be saved, we have to first realize that we’re lost, and usually some kind of bottom has to fall out of our lives for us to come to that realization. Sometimes there’s no other cure for arrogance and presumption than a painful loss of certitude about our own ideas about God, faith, and religion.1

Each of us, at some point, suffers such painful loss of certitude. We find ourselves confronted by the darkness, abandoned, alone, and frightened; we realize we are lost and don’t know which way to turn.

Spanish poet, mystic and Doctor of the Church Saint John of the Cross, OCD named this experience of seemingly losing one’s faith, “the dark night of the soul,” a time and place where God’s presence, once solidly and warmly felt, now lies fallow and absent, leaving doubt and uncertainty in its place. Even Jesus experienced such darkness on the cross when he cried out: “’Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’2

The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel is, in a sense, a model of loss, of living in darkness without hope, without faith, without God; all alone, a woman among men who viewed her as something less than a dog, an enemy and a pagan.

There are times when what is written in the Gospels falls flat and distant. We struggle to understand the meaning of what has been written, it seems so hard, so unchristian, so harsh. Today’s Gospel is one of those instances where we find it all too difficult to reconcile the words with the idea, the human with the divine. Jesus refuses to heal the woman’s daughter, telling his disciples and referring to her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Allison Sullivan, in a wonderful short story written from the person of the Canaanite woman, adds insight into the passage, showing the remarkable determination and courage of the woman in the face of her own doubts and the antipathy of the disciples surrounding Jesus.

After standing outside the house where Jesus was staying, she thinks to herself:

“I understood Jesus had no obligation to me. Responding to me was not his immediate mission, nor was it his larger one; I was not a disciple, I was not a Jew. But I believed. And I was there to gather one last stone for my baby. So, I caught my breath, called his name, and begged like any mother would.

Lord, I shrieked, Son of David! I paced the perimeter of the house speaking of my daughter, screaming her name, screaming the name of the Lord until finally a burly man with curly black hair surprised me, blocking my path.

Standing like an armed guard, his hands on his hips, his barrel chest out, he said emotionlessly, Listen, I’m sorry about your daughter. But we are trying to get rest and it keeps getting interrupted. First in the desert. Then in Gennesaret. Now this. This isn’t what we are here for. You aren’t who he is here for. You understand, right?

I could hear the disciples inside pressing Jesus. This is exactly what we were trying to avoid. Send her on her way.

Then I heard Jesus speak. I knew it was him by the way they quieted down. With something in his voice, I cannot name—guidance, challenge, merriment—he said with deliberate words, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.

I was straining to hear, my ear as close to the house as physically possible when the black-haired man appeared again and startled me…. He walked toward me shaking his head, helped me up without eye contact, and began to lead me inside. Once I realized what he was doing—he was letting me in!—I tried to remember what Jesus had said. What were the words that caused this gruff man to extend mercy? … I ran inside, … crawled to his feet on my hands and knees, wrapped myself around his ankles, and begged, Lord, help me!

Sitting me down beside him, … he gripped my hand tighter and changed his smile from them to me, softening his eyes so the corners fell into their familiar lines…. He leaned in close and said tenderly, It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs. When he said ‘children’, he gestured to the other men in the room. When he said ‘dog,’ he nodded towards me.

With an earnest smile and the slightest cheek, I challenged him, But Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.

I don’t know if it was accepting his metaphor, going back and forth with him, or believing his left overs were plenty for me, but with deep affection, he scooped me up and commended my faith. Placing my head on his chest, he smiled over his shoulder, the direction of his disciples.

Then with his hands on my shoulder, he extended his arms to look me in the eye. Without words, I told him I knew who I was—a beggar in desperate need. In His eyes, he told me who He was—a compassionate Savior with every answer to any pain. I knew my daughter had been healed.”3

What is key to understanding this narrative is not the differences but the commonalities in which we all share. It is the persistent hope which we find when we place our lives and our trust in the healing power of Jesus Christ.

What is key to understanding this verbal dual is to recognize the unshakeable faith Jesus found in the Canaanite woman: a love divine, a hope unquenchable. Jesus tested her, insulted her, even humiliated her, and yet, she refused to yield, refused to accept the scandal; she shared her humiliation with Jesus rather than give up.

Jesus could have healed the woman’s daughter without first putting her to the test, but then her faith would have been weaker by the lack of it. For the more we lose the more we win; the more we give, the more we receive; the more we are humbled the greater our glory; the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We must lose ourselves to find ourselves in Christ Jesus.

For this reason, the great spiritual writers tell us that God, at certain moments in our journey, removes our certainty and deprives us of the comfortable feelings which come with sure and certain faith. While disconcerting, God will guide us through it if we but listen to his voice.

Amen.

Homily #136
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

 


1 Ron Rolheiser, In Exile: Faith, Doubt, Dark Nights, and Maturity, The Sunday Website of St. Louis University.
2 Matthew 27:46.
3 Allison Sullivan, Dark Devotional: Even the Dogs, Patheos, August 18, 2017.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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