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Sunday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

My dear encountered couples:

“Father! Will you pray for my mother? She has cancer and is going to have an operation tomorrow.” A request like that is made many times a week by people to their priests. “We are trying to sell our house, Father. My husband is starting a new job in another state and we have to move. Will you pray to St. Joseph or somebody so we can sell it by next month?”

Priests and nuns, ministers and rabbis, Tibetan monks and the local tribal spiritual leader are often thought of as being closer to God than people in the regular walks of life and, therefore, should have more pull in the halls of heaven, greater influence with the power that brought all our galaxies into being. Since we have devoted our lives to God, we are expected to be people of prayer.

We are expected to have mastered the art of divine communication. In other words, our prayers are expected to get better results. There was a time when I thought that too. But let me tell you: That isn’t necessarily so! And I think that’s a point Jesus wants to get across to us in today’s gospel story.

This Canaanite woman came to make a request of Jesus. Her daughter was “terribly troubled by a demon” and she wanted to get her cured. And she wanted Jesus to be the one to get the job done. Whether or not she really knew who Jesus was makes no difference. Was she asking him to pray for her daughter because she considered him a man of prayer, a holy man who had greater influence with the invisible powers than she did? Or did she suspect that Jesus himself was God? Makes no difference exactly what she thought. What took place here gives hope to all people who have something they are in need of, or even merely desire.

This Canaanite woman was a pagan. Her people had some very weird ideas of gods. They created their own out of their fears and superstitions - some very frightening gods. You wouldn’t want them around your children. It was only the Jews who worshiped the true God. They were the chosen people, the sons and daughters of the Master of the Universe. Everybody else and their gods were looked upon as trash, on the level of flea-bitten, disease-filled, homeless curs (dogs) that roamed the streets in search of discarded morsels of nourishment, (or something that might have fallen off a passing gravy train). In other words, the Jews looked upon the pagans as dogs. (Please note that dogs were not held in high esteem as they are now. They were more apt to be eaten than to be fed. Yuck!)

Therefore, this woman being a Canaanite, a pagan, was considered like a dog to the Jews - worthless and destined for an eternity in hell. And here she was asking Jesus to cure her daughter. His disciples were embarrassed and urged Jesus to “get rid of her.” But she kept at it. So … taking advantage of the uncharitable idea the Jews nearby probably had about this woman, Jesus decided to say to her what might seem to us not a very nice thing to say. Let’s listen to the conversation he had with her.

“My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus told her. That didn’t stop her. She came forward and did him homage while making the plea, “Help me Lord!” But Jesus answered, “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.” “Please, Lord,” the woman insisted, “even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their masters’ tables.” Jesus then said in reply, “Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass.” And it did! “That very moment,” we are told, “her daughter got better.”

The point I believe Jesus is trying to put across is that anybody who asks will receive - anybody who seeks will find, anybody who goes to God will not come back empty handed. No matter what type of person you have been, no matter what religion you are involved in, no matter if you are not even involved in any religion at all, no matter what lifestyle you are living, if you have something to request of God, REQUEST IT! God loves you! And it would really make his day if you came to him with a request.

Maybe some people are living lives of prayer and virtue much more so than you. Maybe other people are more knowledgeable in age-old or new-age forms of praying than you are. But to God, that makes no difference in regard to you. Like the Canaanite woman, he wants you to bother him, to chase after him, to keep bugging him for what you want. You don’t need a professional prayer person.

Sure, we should all pray for one another. And “where one or more are gathered together” Christ is there praying with them. But believe me! Christ is there praying to his Father for your request whenever you are making one, whenever you really and sincerely reach out to heaven for help.

Jesus cured the Canaanite woman’s daughter whether this went against the thinking of the Jewish people around him, whether this shocked his disciples with him. Jesus loves you, his Father loves you, and their Holy Spirit is always trying to move you to take the step to pray for yourself, to pray for others.

I’d be glad to pray for your intentions. So would most priests and nuns and ministers and rabbis, Tibetan monks and the local, tribal witch doctor. But God wants you to pray on your own: first, last, foremost and always.

“Help me Lord,” prayed the Canaanite woman ... “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their master’s table.” “Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass.” And that very moment her daughter got better. Never hesitate to turn to God - and pray.

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