Refining our prayer
But will the people find God when they get into the church? That is the story in our Gospel today. Jesus had gone into the pagan territories of Tyre and Sidon, and a non-Jew, a Canaanite woman, calls out: “Have pity, Lord, Son of David.” Notice that she addresses him as Lord and Messiah (son of David), professing more precise faith than most of his own disciples. So how does Jesus reward her faith? He ignores her. “Send her away,” the disciples ask him, and then he denies her outright: “I was sent only for my own, the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman persists: “Lord, help me.” And he goes even further by insulting her: “why should I throw good food to a dog?” The woman does not miss a beat, nor take the insult personally, nor lose her faith: “Please Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ tables.”
Finally Jesus breaks, and I think he breaks into a big smile. She has passed the test, she has kept the faith. “O woman,” he exclaims, “great is your faith!” Had Jesus refused to answer her prayer until that moment? No, but he has answered her with silence, even with what seemed rejection and insult. Have you ever prayed for something with all your heart only to be met with icy silence? You say “God does not hear me. He does not answer my prayers.” Later, when you’ve thrown your tantrum, you begin to see how God refines our prayer by denying us immediate gratification, just the way you do with your children. Perhaps this woman was not ready to receive, to appreciate, to understand what Jesus was offering her. Healing her daughter is important, but infinitely more important faith and trust in the good God. This she received from Him precisely because he hid his face from her. We want to love God, not just his gifts. If he gave us everything we ask for immediately, most of which would not make us happy anyway, we would think of him not as a person but as a vending machine. Prayer would become magic, and our desire for control would overcome our desire for love. True love waits, and this Canaanite woman waited, by the grace of God.
Open churches, Open hearts
We’ve got to get the doors of our churches open, but conversion is not as simple as coming into a beautiful building or a supportive community. Ultimately, we learn to trust God and love others only through the Cross. Our prayer must be refined through adversity, even through what seems to be God’s indifference or rejection.
The next time you pray for something you don’t get, please don’t panic. Imitate Our Lady, who trusted rather than demanded. Learn from the saints, who learned to “give what he takes, and take what he gives.” It is through many trials of faith that faith becomes real, and we learn to live the second invocation of the Angelus: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”