Twentieth Sunday of the Year 14 August 2011


My dear friends,

They say it is not possible to measure the power of love.  To love is to be filled with a power which will not be denied.  It’s extraordinary what parental love can enable parents to do and what sacrifices it can draw from them.  We see this especially in the case of a mother.  A mother will do anything, brave anything, suffer anything, endure anything for the sake of her child.

John Lonergan, Governor of Mountjoy Prison, said on one occasion, “In all my years in the prison service I have not met five prisoners who have not had a good relationship with their mothers.  The mothers never fail to visit and they never fail to take responsibility.  We see them every day, mothers with maybe more than one drug addict in the family, queuing to visit their son in jail, living out their lives with no resources, no support, nothing.  It is unbelievable considering the amount of pressure that mothers come under and the amount of torture they have to go through because their children get into trouble and into crime.”

Once during a particularly severe winter in the Arctic, all but two people in a certain camp died of starvation.  The two survivors were an Eskimo woman and her baby.  The woman began a desperate search for some means of obtaining food.  Eventually she found a small fish-hook.  It was a simple matter to rig a line but she had no bait and no hope of getting any bait.  Without any hesitation, she took a knife and cut a piece of flesh from her thigh. Using this as bait she caught a fish.  She fed her child and herself, saving the fish gut for bait.  She lived on fish until Spring when she could walk out of camp and make her way to another one.

It was no coincidence that the only adult to survive in that camp was a mother.  What kept her going was her concern for her child.  There seems to be no limit to what a mother will go through for the sake of her child.  A mother does not give up easily.  Parents often find that it is in bringing up and caring for their children that faith and love meet, and it is where faith and love are strengthened.

We see a wonderful example of this is today’s Gospel story.  There we see the unshakeable determination of a mother.  Although she did not belong in the sense that she was a Canaanite, a pagan and not acceptable to Jews, she refused to be put off or to give up.  She persisted and must have felt great satisfaction when Jesus finally granted her request.  It meant that all her trouble, her pleading and maybe even her embarrassment had not been in vain.  Her child’s welfare was paramount and no obstacles would block her in assuring this.

We are frequently reminded in the Scriptures that we are the children of God.  It is God who gives us life and sustains it.  It is God who guides us and gives us directions.  It is he who gathers us around this communal table and nourishes us.  He gives us all manner of parental care – bandages our wounds, heals our infirmities, seeks out those who are lost, forgives those who stray and rewards all the good deeds that are not paraded for the attention of others or done merely to stroke our ego.  The story of the Canaanite woman encourages us to remind ourselves of these truths, to act on them and to persevere in our approach.  A mother never gives up; the strength of love does not allow it.  Neither should it allow us to separate ourselves from what God’s love offers us.

Another reminder in today’s Scripture is that there is no room for possessiveness in God’s love.  The Jewish people of the time of Isaiah knew they had a special place in God’s dealings with mankind but his love for them was not exclusive.  At the time of Isaiah there were lots of foreigners in Israel who would have been very pleased to hear him remind the Jews “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples,” says the Lord.  The telling by Matthew of the experience of the Canaanite woman with Jesus is another much later reminder that the grace of God which Jesus brought us was meant for all people and is not exclusive to Jews and Christians.  God is the God of all peoples and his love extends to all.

+Liam S. MacDaid

14 August 2011 

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