O Woman, Great Is Your Faith!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

If you read the Confesssions of St. Augustine, which you should do as a Christian, you will see that his mother, Monica, also converts.  The Confesssions of St. Augustine was the first autobiography of its kind.  St. Monica’s incessant prayers for her wayward son made her a saint and Augustine became one of the greatest figures of the first millennium of the Church.  When you know more of their lives you might ask: why didn’t she have him baptized when he was younger, before his rebelliousness.  It seems that his mom had other priorities, like marrying him off to a wealthy family.

In the gospel we see another mother distraught over her child, who even leaves her pagan country and goes to Israel looking for Christ.  She was a Syro-Phoenician who stood for everything contrary to the Jewish faith and tradition.   In her greeting to Christ as Lord and Son of David, she doesn’t act as a typical Canaanite woman.  She is not politically correct and somehow in him sees mercy.  She begs for it for her daughter whom we will never see; however, she does not ask for a solution; she leaves it up to him.  His first response is utter silence!  Don’t panic when this happens to you!  And don’t fill the silence with empty noise.  Silence is a gift, a grace from God.  Sit with it for a while; persevere in your request as she did.

Christ’s second refusal is given when the disciples intervene for selfish reasons.  They say: get her off her back and Jesus’ response is: I came only to the lost sheep of Israel.  The third time, she changes her approach: she humbly prostrates herself before him and says: Lord, help me!  It’s much more intimate and personal prayer!! She puts herself in the most favorable spiritual position so that mercy may flow down from Christ.  Grace doesn’t flow upwards to the heights of pride, said St. Bernard.  The second reading tells us that God has delivered us all to disobedience so that he might have mercy upon all.  But even now Christ seems unmoved and says: it is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.  Non-Jews were considered as dogs by the Jews.  Jesus softens it and calls her a little dog, probably with a smile, but still refuses.

Now the fourth time, she comes back to him using the same metaphor and changes it to a parable of mercy.  This time she addresses him with indescribable sweetness. She says, yes, Lord, even the little dogs eat the little crumbs that fall from the masters table.  If I’m a dog then I belong to your house and the little crumbs will be enough.  It reminds me of the psalm that says: one day with you, Lord, is better than a thousand elsewhere.  I will take the little crumbs as long as they come from you.

Christ’s response is: O woman, great is your faith.  This is the only time ‘O’ is used in admiration in all the gospels; it is like a kiss.  It’s the strongest possible way of showing feeling and affection.  Earlier Jesus seems irritated but he really admired and delighted in her trust and humility.  Let it be done as you say, Jesus responds, which sounds like Mary’s response to the angel.

This meeting transcends any miracle of healing.  She has free access to Christ.  She personifies us: fallen humanity, and Christ brings her out of sin and darkness.  Song of Songs says: you are beautiful, O, that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth; I called him and he gave me no answer.  Her running, shouting, insisting, adoring, makes her heart grow in capacity to love, like St. Monica.  What will he not give us who is both all-powerful and has such joy in giving?  How beautiful you are, O woman, who never gives up!!

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