Appropriate Grovelling

map Phoenicia ZarephathA Canaanite woman begged Jesus’ help (Matthew 15:21-28). Or a Syro-phoenician woman. However you put it: Not Jewish. Pagan.

But she recognized the Son of God when she saw Him. She called Jesus the “Son of David.” In other words, the Messiah, the anointed One. [Spanish]

She prayed to Him, with faith in His power. This was no mere man, not just another wandering rabbi. She knew she wasn’t talking to a simple Jew. She was talking to the God of the Jews, the Creator of heaven and earth.

She believed He is God. So she did not hesitate to humble herself. Faith and humility go together. You cannot separate faith and humility from each other, any more than you can separate peanut butter and jelly or Starsky and Hutch.

Then the Lord put her humble faith to the test a little bit. Let’s imagine the whole scene unfolding not in Palestine, but at our local WalMart. She’s in the baby-food section. He walks by, in his blue vest.

‘Lord, heal my daughter!’

‘Not just now, ma’am. They need me on Aisle 3.’

‘No. Please. Have mercy. She’s tormented by a demon, and I know You are the Lord of all angels and demons!’

Oh, I forgot to mention one detail, in this re-imagined version of the story. The woman comes from Dallas. She’s wearing a Cowboys COVID face mask. She’s begging God for mercy through a Dallas Cowboys mask.

Cowboys face mask

Put yourself in the shoes of the Christ. We know His Heart beats with infinite merciful love. But even if you came to the earth to save sinners, you might hesitate.

The Lord put the woman’s faithful humility to the test. He made her beg. He made her grovel. She had to acknowledge explicitly the superior power and dignity of the One with Whom she spoke.

She did the right thing. No one should ever grovel before a fellow human being. We all have equal dignity in God’s eyes. If someone tried to make me grovel for something really important by insulting my allegiances, by saying something like: ‘Ok, you can have what you ask for. But only if you change your mask for this here New-York Yankees mask.’ In such a situation, you would have to stand up for yourself and resist.

ALCS Yankees Angels BaseballBut not with God. He made all the Cowboys fans and Yankees fans; He made all the different fans, in the first place. He holds them all in His sway. He knows better than we do what will do us the most good. Compared to Him, we are literally nothing. He made us out of nothing, to give Him glory by being who He made us to be.

The Lord insisted on this kind of humility from the Canaanite woman. She showed it, in full. He insisted on her humility not because He despised her, but because He admired her.

He saw her zealous motherly love. He saw how her focus on her daughter put everything else into perspective, including herself. She did not let her self, her ego, get in her own way.

‘I know I’m no Jew,’ she thought to herself. ‘I know I don’t have any rights in this conversation. I am begging God for pity, for mercy, for kindness.

‘I’ll carry your price-gun to Aisle 3 for you, Lord. I’ll do anything. Just help me.’

She withstood the test of humility and faith. God said: “Let it be done for you as you wish.”

In the beginning of the world, He had said, “Let there be light.” And there was light, because the light was humble enough to let itself get brought into existence out of nothing, by the infinite power of God.

Now He said to the Canaanite woman, “Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter breathed free. Because the woman knew she was dealing with the same Person, Who had made the light in the beginning. And she prayed to Him accordingly.

Today we have a guest reader for the video version 🙂

(Tenemos lector invitada hoy dia)


Human Cry to Christ

The Canaanite woman approached the Lord. “My child is possessed by a demon!” I’ve heard this myself, many times. “Father, an exorcism, please! This child is possessed.” Meanwhile, Bamm Bamm comes trailing along on the way out of church after Mass, Tonka fire engine and rubber Tyrannosaurus Rex in tow. [Click here for Spanish.]

Bamm Bamm RubbleSo we can relate to the Canaanite mother. What the devil has gotten into him? Or: what the devil has gotten into all these people? We might be concerned about our little ones, or medium-sized ones, or just this whole crazy world! So we cry out to the great high priest, Who alone can overcome all evil with the power of His infinite goodness. We cry, “Have pity on us, Lord, Son of David!” Have pity on us, divine Messiah! Heal us. Calm our hearts. Pacify our souls.

Babies seem very cute. But it doesn’t take long for the “issues” involved in the operation of the human heart to begin to surface. Newborns seem simple and cherubic. But one year olds? Two? Three? Neither simple nor cherubic.

I don’t remember, of course, but my mom tells me that I had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night in my crib, standing up, and then rocking the whole crib against the wall, banging it—as if it were a little ship that I was trying to navigate out of the harbor of the dark room, into some imaginary wide-open sea. I mean, I was a good little baby. But I had wild dreams, I guess, and I experienced our perennial human dissatisfaction with the limitations of earthly existence. Who says we can’t sail to the South Pole right now? Why not?

Anyone ever see the movie “The Truman Show?” Jim Carrey the comedian actually played a pretty profound character. He was trapped in a geodesic dome the size of a town. He had been there his whole life. He was the star of a reality show–had been since birth–and he didn’t know it. Everyone he knew was a paid actor. He alone, in the town-size set, didn’t know that it was a set. He was the most-popular tv star on earth. Everyone watched his show, since he was so sincere on camera. Naturally–he didn’t know he was on camera.

Truman’s life progressed pleasantly enough, for thirty-some years. Then a profound dissatisfaction began to stir in his soul. The town was supposedly on an “island.” He wanted to set sail. The producer of the reality show tried all kinds of desperate tricks to keep Truman from getting on a boat, but Truman outsmarted him. Next thing you know, Truman sails out, towards the horizon. Then his boat slams into the cinderblock outer wall of the dome, which is painted sky blue. He literally crashes into the sky. And now that he’s up-close to it, he sees that there’s a stage door. So he opens it. He turns his back on everything familiar—his whole world. Then he walks out the door.

The Truman ShowThat is what we are like. Desperately, destructively dissatisfied—without the peace and grace of Christ. Without the promise that life in Christ offers us.

The devil seduced the human race with an appeal that hit home. Be like God! Our First Parents succumbed to the temptation of wanting to be like God precisely because God Himself made us for the express purpose of being like Him. Satan could not have led the great race of squirrels into sin with such a seduction. “Squirrels! Turn away from the Law, and follow me, and you will be like God.” Silence. Blank little squirrel stares. Acorns crunching in their mouths. No takers.

Because squirrels don’t have “being like God” in them. But we do. So we can also wind up with the devil in us, big time. A sharp, well-proportioned knife can do both great good and great harm. A human being is a sharp, well-proportioned spiritual knife.

So: Have pity on us, O Christ of God! Pacify our tortured souls. Gather us into Your flock and guide us with Your own infallible words. Succor us with the life-giving nectar that flows from your own wounded Heart—wounded for us, wounded unjustly, so that You could heal our self-inflicted human-heart wounds.

This is mankind’s cry, from the depths of our terrestrial life. The cry begins to sound out from our throats, in a jumble of desperate dissatisfactions, before we even learn how to distinguish right from wrong.

Jesus Christ is the balm for it, the medicine. He heals mankind unto eternal life. Also: He is a Jew of the Jews, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a member of the most-elite and ancient nation, the nation that God gathered to Himself first. Do we have standing to call out to the Messiah of Israel, and hope for an answer and some help? Can we sick goyim go to this Jewish doctor?

Well, apparently, we have to say Please. We have to humble ourselves. We don’t really have a right to address the Christ. But we can do it anyway.

The Canaanite mother didn’t think twice about begging or even groveling. He’s the Christ, so why should I stand on ceremony? she thought to herself. He’s got what I need. I will beg. Because I believe in Him.

O woman, great is your faith! He said to her. If He could say the same to us, as we implore His grace and mercy during Holy Mass, then our healing unto eternal life has already begun.

Morals Free of Pharisaism

Can His Holiness dunk?
Can His Holiness dunk?

As we read in the New Testament, St. Peter gave many moving and penetrating speeches. At the Council of Jerusalem, he articulated a particularly consoling idea. To my little mind, this idea is one of the most wonderful, beautiful, captivating, and invigorating ideas in our religion.

Peter said to the brethren, the shepherds of the Church: “We cannot place on the shoulders of our people a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear.”

Now, to what exactly did St. Peter refer, when he spoke of this ‘unbearable yoke?’

I think it is clear that he did not mean the Ten Commandments themselves. Nor did he mean simply the ritual of circumcising baby boys.

What he meant by ‘unbearable yoke,’ I think, is: A way of conceiving ‘justice’ or ‘righteousness’ that departs from the innate freedom of every human individual to follow his conscience and live as a child of God.

da Vinci “Head of a Pharisee”
Pharisaism had gotten the Jewish nation to the point where an ordinary human life could not possibly meet the standards of righteousness.

A system of moral judgments had been built which no one could, in fact, successfully navigate without departing from the basic principles of morality that naturally arise in a human conscience.

The Lord Jesus referred to this in one of His arguments with the Pharisees, when He excoriated them for teaching people to designate their property as korban, ie. consecrated to God. In practice, this meant that their family members couldn’t have any of it.

What I am trying to say is: One of the things that the New Covenant does for us is to restore us as individuals to the point where we can operate with an honest conscience. The natural moral principles of mankind are spelled out in the Ten Commandments—not as something coming from on high; the Ten Commandments articulate the fundamental distinctions between right and wrong which arise in our consciences.

In my humble opinion, the zeitgeist of our age sags under the burden of a Pharisaical system of artificial morality that the Pharisees of old could only wonder at with amazement. The New Covenant in Christ frees us completely from the complicated moralism of all the contemporary ideologies. I think this is a wonderful and revolutionary idea, really: We do not need to establish our righteousness according to any set of contemporary moral principles, be they ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’ We can have peace and live simply and freely by the Ten Commandments.

(I will try to come back to this subject and give some examples of what I mean, from both liberal and conservative sides, if time permits me.)

God Providing

Francis Xavier Therese stained glass

“I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they should collapse.” Matthew 15:32

Reading the holy gospel gives us an insight into the Heart of Christ, which in turn gives us an insight into the eternal will of the Almighty Father.

Christ looks at us, and He sees halt and lame individuals, blind and dumb. Perpetually in danger of collapses. Always a split second away from choosing to become the ‘loser version’ of ourselves.

Our Creator made us to succeed at kindness. But we teeter at the brink of being mean all the time. He made us to bear witness to the truth, discretely and courageously. We can lie, though, and quail, and blab, at a moment’s notice. He made us to love selflessly, with chaste self-control. But: dissipation of our affections in a thousand fruitless directions–we lurch that way all the time.

seven swansIn His Sacred Heart, as we read, the Lord does not condemn. He does not exult Himself over our pathetic weaknesses. To the contrary, He longs only for our welfare, does not pause to measure our failures–He acts instead for our well-being in the most minute details of life.

He fed 5,000 with how many loaves? Five, with two fish. This time, with all the newly healed halt and lame people, He Himself initiated the business of feeding them. He had seven loaves. As many as the days of the work of creation, as many as the sacraments He gave to His Church. As many as the swans a-swimming, as many as the gifts the Holy Spirit gives. Seven loaves to restore the strength of 4,000 men, with their women and children. Seven baskets gathered up afterwards.

The Heart of God longs to provide what we need. He provides grace, invisible and supernatural and everlasting. And He provides all the attendant material things that we need along with it, while we are yet pilgrims on this earth.

St. Francis Xavier lived and died to share the grace of Jesus Christ with people who had never heard of Him. He died 462 years ago today, after spending himself for the good of others’ souls and bodies. He is one of the two heavenly patrons of the evangelical enterprise. The other, of course, is: Therese of Lisieux.

Because we trust altogether in the will of God to provide us with what we need, we can share the grace and the food.