YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’” (Matthew 15:28)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: Matthew 15:21-28
Making rounds through the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit some years back, a nurse caught my attention with a request. “When you have a moment, could you stop by Room 727 to see the mother and grandmother? They were asking earlier if there was a priest in the hospital.”
Knocking at the doorway of Room 727, I quietly asked the silent figures fingering rosary beads if I might come in. The two women, Baby Mark’s mother and grandmother, motioned me to join them at the bedside where I learned from them that it had just been discovered that one-month-old Mark had a congenital and usually fatal heart defect. Mom now beginning to weep softly, Grandmother continued, “The doctors are saying that there’s nothing to be done for him. He probably won’t live very long. We asked the nurse earlier if you were around because we’d like him to be baptized.”
Assuring them that we could certainly baptize Mark, I sat with them for a bit at the foot of the crib as they related more details about this tiny child’s first month on earth, about the many hopes and dreams they still held for him, and about their own intense fear as all around them other young lives struggled to remain earthbound.
In the course of conversation, I learned that Mark was his mom’s firstborn, and when I gingerly inquired about his father, the instant blush to her face was answer enough. “I really don’t know who his father is,” she admitted simply. Hand on her shoulder, I replied, “God loves your son and will take good care of him.”
Then, inviting mother and grandmother to stand with me around the tiny crib, I opened a small vial of sterile water preparing to baptize Mark. Then it happened! A sign, surely, that God was powerfully present with us; sign, too, that month-old Mark assented to what we were about to do for him.
As we three encircled the crib, Mark remained motionless before us, his breathing assisted by the gentle, rhythmic “whoosh” of a respirator as intravenous lines and electrical monitor cords extended from his tiny body to hanging bags of liquid and blinking machines mounted above. Then it happened! As I invited Mom and Grandma to open their hands in prayerful gesture, I did likewise, my open palms beside the small still figure before me. And with the first words I spoke, “Dear God, be with us this morning,” a tiny foot sneaked out from under the blanket to deposit itself right in the middle of my open-palmed hand. So deliberate seemed Mark’s movement that I lost all train of thought and, feeling tears coming to my own eyes, I just stared at that foot in silence for some seconds.
A month passed since the morning of his baptism, and Mark continued to struggle for life while mother and grandmother kept watch, rosaries in hand. While the doctors had not been able to give this family any hopeful news about his survival, the image of that tiny foot joining so intimately in prayer communicated powerfully something of the faith with which we prayed at crib-side that morning. A baby’s tiny foot resting in my palm communicated the strength of faith of his family and the mighty will to live in this child.
In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus encounters a mother who, with the same insistence as Mark’s mom, pleads for healing for her daughter. The woman in the gospel is a Canaanite, a class of people shunned by respectable Jews, and though the disciples try to keep her from Jesus, so strong is her faith in his power to heal her daughter that he finally calls her to him. Affirming both her faith and her scrappy persistence in obtaining healing for her possessed daughter, Jesus says to her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:28)
No less vibrant was the faith of Mark’s mother and grandmother. While a deeply blushing Mom confessed that she didn’t know who her child’s father was, beneath her embarrassment and shame lay a deeper truth: indeed, God was Mark’s father. And her request for baptism was to be a celebration of that deepest reality.
While the daughter of the gospel’s Canaanite woman was healed at once, Mark continued to wait. His mom and grandma sat in vigil beside him, the movement of rosary beads through their fingers in sync with the metronome-like “whoosh” of the respirator still assisting his breathing. Though the doctors continued to offer little hope, I was among the few most blessed to watch this tiny boy take his first earthly step, placing his right foot squarely in the palm of eternity, claiming himself to be God’s son even before the waters of baptism could do so.