BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa

One thing, which I remain grateful to God for, was the opportunity to have a glimpse of the Universality of the Church during my years of studies in Rome. The first week I arrived Rome (March 2003) was Holy Week and I participated in the Mass where there were close to a thousand concelebrating priests. Months later, in the same year, I saw hundreds of thousands of people who trouped to Rome in the month of October for the beatification of Mother Teresa. In my second year, I witnessed the funeral of John Paul II and the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI. At these moments of prayer people came in to the ‘Eternal City’ from different parts of the world. I could see how these significant ceremonies broke the political, social, cultural, racial, tribal and even religious barriers between people. The funeral ceremony of Pope John Paul II was really a glorious moment, which attracted people of different nationalities and religions. Leaders of countries at war were sitting side by side with their opponents. The Vatican became a house of prayer and a cradle of unity for the entire world.

The Church, like Jesus, is a universal institution that is open to receive everyone, irrespective of background, tribe, race, nationality or class. Jesus initiated this openness, as his presence and personality attracted everyone around during his ministry on earth. His presence broke barriers that separated people. His message made everyone to connect easily with him. This explains why the Roman centurion who was not Jewish and who was considered as a non- believer in God approached Jesus for the healing of his servant. The Canaanite woman who was also an ‘outsider’ came to Jesus begging him to heal her daughter.

Traditionally, as a Jew, Jesus was not supposed to talk to a Canaanite, and as a Rabbi, he should not be seen mingling with women. Jesus ignored the Canaanite woman at first, and soon after, he threw what may be called an expensive joke at her saying ‘The food of the Children must not be given to dogs’ – which was to say that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Naturally, this woman should have gone away sad and disappointed. Jesus apparently refused to grant her request immediately. An onlooker would have thought that Jesus was adding salt to the woman’s injury. Jesus initial response to the woman was deliberate. He wanted to put her faith to test by his action and words. Eventually, he responded positively and granted healing to her daughter. Though she was a foreigner and a stranger, Jesus extended his healing mercy to her daughter as an expression of his universal mission. This was the same command he gave to his disciples when he told them to go and baptise all nations beginning from Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. St. Paul emphasised the universality of the mission when he declared himself as the apostle of the gentiles (Romans 11:13-15). Secondly, Jesus’ way of responding to the woman’s request tells us something about praying to God – His delays are not his denials.

We can learn much from the persistent faith of the unnamed woman. She never gave up even when Jesus delayed in responding to her urgent request. She was a mother truly concerned about the well being of her daughter and would go to any length and endure all pains in order to obtain healing for her daughter. We learn something from her strong faith in Jesus; we learn from her humility in approaching him; we learn also about her perseverance. She never gave up even when Jesus ignored her; she never gave up when he annoyed her. She knew exactly what she wanted and never left Jesus until she got it.

I watched this kind of dogged determination during the visit of the Pope John Paul II to Nigeria in 1998. As soon as the Mass was ended, there was a woman in the crowd holding her baby who ran straight to the Pope to have him bless her baby. The security agents kicked and hit the woman to stop her from coming close to the Pope. Even when she fell, she rose up and kept running until the Pope laid his hands on her daughter. While I watched from a distance, I was amazed at the resilience and determination of this mother who was seeking for a blessing for her daughter against all odds.

Jesus was so impressed with the faith of the mother that he commended her: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:27-28) Jesus has always had great admiration for people with great faith. He is even much more impressed with people who are persistent in praying and those who persevere in prayer despite the road blocks set against them by the difficulties of life.

The Jericho pattern of prayer is something that we need to read and reflect upon when we want to understand what persistence in prayer is all about. The people of Israel were shut out from entering Jericho by strong walls that surrounded the city. They were instructed by God through Joshua to march around the city for six days and take over the city on the seventh day. They marched around the city with their trumpets and their ark with praises and prayers until they surmounted the obstacle that was set against them (Joshua 6:1-21).

It is the strength of our faith that takes us through the greatest challenges in life. There is a famous story of a successful businessman who lost almost everything in a fire incident. After the fire he put out a sign, which says: Shop burnt! House burnt! Goods burnt! But faith not burnt. Starting business tomorrow! The letter to the Hebrews clearly defines what faith is. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (11:1).
—————————————————– 20TH Sunday of the Year A;
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7;
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; and Matthew 15:21-28;

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