Sunday, August 16, 2020

Do I allow the circumstances of life to bring out the worst in me, or do I allow Jesus Christ to bring out the best in me?


Thankfully, this is NOT the parking lot at St. Pius, St. Mary's or St. James!

(Twentieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on August 16, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  It was also given at St. Mary’s Church in Carolina and St. James Chapel in Charlestown on the same weekend.  Isaiah 56:1-7; Psalm 67:2-8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Read Matthew 15:21-28.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twentieth Sunday 2020 ]


Do I allow the circumstances of life to bring out the worst in me, or do I allow Jesus Christ to bring out the best in me? 

That’s the question I believe the Lord would want each of us to reflect on this morning. 

Do I allow the circumstances of my life (especially the negative and difficult circumstances of my life)—do I allow them to bring out the worst in me, or do I allow Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior to bring out the best in me?

That’s a question, my brothers and sisters, that we all face every single day of our lives!  In fact, it’s a question that we face many times each day.

Some of you, for example, might face it right there in the church parking lot after Mass, if another person cuts you off as you’re trying to exit (not that such a thing would ever happen here, but I’ve heard it has in some places!).  If you let Jesus bring out the best in you at that moment, you’ll give the perpetrator a little wave with your hand and maybe even a little smile; if, on the other hand, you let the circumstances bring out the worst in you, you’ll give the person a different gesture with your hand.

(That’s all I’ll say about that!)

All of us have faced this question countless times since mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic began.  Most of you, I’m sure, spent a couple of months at home with your families at the beginning of this crisis, which, on the one hand was very nice (people don’t often spend enough time with their families these days); on the other hand, I’m sure it was also a big challenge!  An almost total lockdown: no work for many adults; schools closed; no extracurricular activities for the kids; churches closed; no large gatherings permitted—just the same routine every day, with the same people, in the same house.  That can get a little stressful after a while!  People—even people who love each other deeply—can begin to get on each other’s nerves.  In situations like this, it’s very easy to let the stressful circumstances bring out the worst in us.  That, incidentally, is why there are so many articles about this issue on the internet right now.  The other day I googled the words “family dynamics during COVID” and I got 412,000,000 hits!

Obviously it’s an important subject to an awful lot of people in our country at the present time!

Now, why do I mention all this today?  Well, it’s because of the Canaanite woman in this gospel who seeks a healing from Jesus for her possessed daughter.

This woman is a great role model for all of us, because in her encounter with our Lord she never—ever—ever allowed negative circumstances to bring out the worst in her!

And she easily could have!

First of all, Jesus ignores her.  He acts as if she isn’t even there.  Then she hears the apostles talking negatively about her: “Jesus, get rid of this woman.  She’s a big annoyance and she’s driving us crazy!”  Then Jesus tells her that his mission is not to Gentiles like her, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (which certainly didn’t make her feel very special).  And finally—last but not least—he likens her to a “dog”!  Now biblical scholars tell us that Jesus was only testing the woman; they tell us that he probably had a smile on his face when he said this, and that these kinds of verbal exchanges were very common in those days.

But given the woman’s distress over her daughter’s condition, it would have been very easy for her to have responded to Jesus by saying, “Hey, mister, who do you think you are?  I’m not in the mood to kid around.  My daughter needs help!  And who are you calling a dog?  Forget it, Jesus, I’ll try to get some help from someone else.”

But that’s not what she did!  Through it all—throughout her entire encounter with our Lord—this incredible Canaanite woman continued to look to Jesus.  She continued to believe that he would respond positively and give her what she needed.  She even bowed down at one point to worship him!

Instead of allowing all these circumstances—all these negative, difficult circumstances—to bring out the worst in her, she allowed Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior to bring out the very best in her.  And Jesus affirmed her in that: “Oh woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Let’s pray that the grace of God that we receive at this Mass—especially in and through the Holy Eucharist—will help us to respond to the negative and difficult and stressful circumstances of our lives in the very same way.