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Homily for Sunday, 14 August 2011

20th Sunday: Is 56:1, 6-7. Rm 11:13-15, 29-32. Mt 15:21-28.

The readings this Sunday speak of the tremendous unity that should be among us as God's children. And that's among us all - black, white, yellow and red - Jew and Gentile - Christian and others - from Belfast or Beijing (Peking) - Madrid or Moscow! This co-incides nicely with the Pope's 'World Youth Day' of Aug 11-15 in Madrid.

The woman of Canaan would have been considered 'foreign' and 'gentile' to the Jews, but Jesus praises her. He opens to her in a special way. He manages to combine his 'yes' to her with a 'yes' to the Judaism of his people. He won't deny or criticize the Jews, and he knew well that they had something that 'gentiles' didn't yet have, but he also appreciated that the Canaanite woman had the main attribute for which God longs in us all: humble seeking. The image of dogs receiving scraps may seem very insulting, but it's applied by the woman to her own self and is a sign of the woman's humility. It's just a small part of getting the full message across. The full message is of Life and Love ...for everyone.

Christ brings about big changes in Jerusalem and begins a new family (Christians), but without turfing Judaism out of the window! God's mercy is Great News for us all - para todos - pour tous le monde - per ognuno - i gcóir gach duine. We've all been disobedient at some stage, but the story has a happy ending. And it's not a 'story'. 'For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all' (Rm 11:32). 'For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples' (Is 56:7) - and it's a big house! I'm very grateful for the fact that the Good News of Jesus somehow made it's way to my corner of the world. That took the work of many people over many centuries. Also I think that true gratitude implies a willingness to keep passing it on for future generations! Mary said 'yes' to God, and God says 'yes' to us, but He's longing for our 'yes' to Him! That means welcoming every brother and sister with love in every corner of God's world… God's family.

Jesus says this: "When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:31)... "I will lay down my life for my sheep and there will be one flock with one shepherd" (Jn 10:15-16). He did a lot more than preach to let us know how much He longs for this unity. The Jewish high priest, Caiphas, proposed Jesus' condemnation and as the Gospel says: 'Caiphas who was high priest for that year prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God' (Jn 11:51,52). Also St Paul writes this: 'Think of what the Bible says: 'God wants all mankind to be saved and to come to know the truth' (1Tim 2:4)... and all means all!

This makes me think of the solemnity of the Epiphany (Jan 6), which recalls the 'three wise men' who came from far away to worship the infant in Bethlehem. (Mt 2:1-2). The three kings that come to see the newborn in Bethlehem represent to me how the whole human family seeks love. It needs Christ. They may be nearby or far away - rich or poor - friend or stranger. We should be people who welcome arrivals but even beyond that, people who go out of their way to meet and invite others. Invite not as strangers but as family.

Do people who meet you really feel they're meeting a brother or a sister? The modern western world has it's cities with 'Chinatowns', ghettoes, streets of X and streets of Y, and we can end up drawing divisions between people in our own towns or workplaces. The visit of the Magi after Christmass speaks to me of how we all go together - and arrive together!...

When the disciples complained about other individuals that were 'casting out demons' but were not following their group, Jesus told them not to provoke divisions "Whoever is not against us is with us" (Mk 9:40). That's a call to us to respect and help ecumenism. Vatican II was officially an 'ecumenical' council - with representatives from many different churches and faiths present. The pharisees (Jewish leaders) were criticizing Jesus because his disciples were eating on the Sabbath, however Jesus made it clear that his religious path was a new one. He says "No-one sews a new piece of cloth on old cloth - the new will pull on the old. Similarly you don't put new wine into an old wineskin. The new wine will burst it... New wine is poured into fresh skins' (Mk 2:21+). That's teaching the world something about ecumenism. The image of wine goes beyond the wedding at Cana!

When some Jews said proudly to John the Baptist “Don't you realize that we're descendants of Abraham?”. He replied that God can raise children of Abraham from the stones! (Mt 3:9). In other words, we shouldn't be mundanely proud about the faith we've been given, but be thankful and humbly realize that deep down we're all on a journey seeking the Love of God.

With regard to the different religions and Churches in the world and even divisions within individual religions and churches, the truth is that we're all in the one Body of Christ. There are different parts, but we form one Body. The attitude of seeing one as over or below the other is a false discrimination that needs purification. The second Vatican council clearly proposed and began that for Catholics (it was an ecumenicl council), but it needs continuation. And it's a humble invitation. The challenge for Roman Catholics isn't to get others to change and become Roman Catholic, but to purify itself more and more so that it be truly Christian like Christ. Therein, the supreme prayer of Christ to the Father keeps calling: “May they all be one, just as you and I are one” (Jn 17:20-21). It's a prayer to his father, who's my father and yours and who's the father of A, B and C all over the world from north pole to south!

The writings of Luke open up to the gentiles (Gospel and Acts of Apostles). Mathew was writing for Jews and hardly deals with the subject. The book of Revelation doesn't touch the topic either. Luke does however begin and end in the temple. He puts Jerusalem as the centre of his new-found Christianity. The expansion of the faith to a universal public beyond Judaism is a feature of the Gospels after the resurrection much more than before it. So let's really celebrate the resurrection!

I was born into a Catholic Irish family. Someone else may have been born into an Indian Hindu or Chinese Buddhist one. The world has many 'religions' from north, south, east and west, but the truth is that we're all in Christ! One day, we'll realize it.

......... Dara.

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