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Bishop's Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

August 20, 2017

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

[St. John the Apostle & Evangelist Church, Mililani (with Marriage Convalidations)
St. Roch Church, Kahuku (Parish Centennial)
St. John the Baptist Church, Kalihi (Spanish Mass)]

Sometimes when we approach the God who has willfully made himself our servant, we are tempted to approach him as his masters.  If God wants to work miracles for us, then we may be tempted to think that all we have to do is snap our fingers, and we should obtain what we want.  Perhaps this was the problem that the Canaanite woman first encountered when she presented her request to Jesus by shouting after him.  We might imagine it was with a demanding tone of voice.  She obviously had heard of his other miracles, and so she wanted to get some of this for her daughter.  She was not of the Jewish people, so she did not worship the true and living God who had revealed himself to the Jewish people.  So perhaps Jesus ignored her because she was seeking a commodity -- albeit a good one -- rather than putting her faith in God.  But after this very difficult and challenging encounter with Jesus and his disciples, she must have come to a real faith, humbling herself before Jesus.  And it was then and only then that he recognized her faith and healed her daughter.

Even we who are brought up with faith in the true and living God and who try to nurture that faith can be tempted to fall into this consumerist mentality by which we approach God, snapping our fingers, and expecting him to respond as if out of some sense of entitlement.  The Lord does want to hear our prayers and answer them, but the first step is to go to worship him on his holy mountain, to recognize that we are not entitled to what he may give us, but we can only receive his gifts rightly when we have grateful hearts.

Our Judicial Vicar, who deals with many petitions for annulment, has noted that one of the major causes of a failed marriage is when the attitude of either spouse or both is "What's in it for me?"  Marriage is seen sometimes as a place where one's needs are to be fulfilled, and if they cease to be fulfilled for a significant amount of time, then the marriage is seen as worthless.  If we first worship the true and living God, however, we will realize that self-giving is the key to a happy and life-long marriage.  The more we worship God, the more we become like him in his self-emptying love, a love that embraces us for better or for worse.  The more we worship ourselves, the more we are bedeviled with the demon of loneliness.

Our country is acutely and painfully aware of racism these days.  We shout for peace and harmony, but it seems the more we shout the worse things become.  The shouting often keeps us from losing our perspective, and we fall into the trap of labeling everyone as either heroes or villains.  Yes, we should always deplore white supremacy.  But in doing so, we can forget that anyone with a race can be racist.  I have been in parishes where African Americans shamefully treated Hispanics as second-class citizens or where certain Asian groups thought they owned the place and everyone else was simply tolerated as a guest.  I have seen white people here in Hawaii being put down simply because they were white.  So as long as we approach things from our own perspective, we will be possessed with this demon of racism.  But if we first bow down and worship God, we are reminded in God's word that he has made his house a house of prayer for all peoples and nations.  And God is wise enough to gather us together so that whatever rivalies, prejudices, or legitimate grievances we have against one another can be healed by his saving grace and by his challenging responses to our demands.  St. Paul's many discourses about the Jews and the Gentiles in the early Church are but an indication that if we come to the Lord first, he may not always tell us what we want to hear, but in the end he will cast out our demons of pride and racism by realizing that Jesus is the Savior of all.

At the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl, there are murals mapping out the various battles of World War II.  On one of them, a general is quoted as saying that war is fundamentally a theological problem.  In other words, if we put God first, we may have conflicts, but they will lead not to destruction and violence but to growth.  As we look at the many divisions in our nation and in our world, and as we look at divisions within our families, we can shout out for solutions of our own choosing, but like the shouts of the Canaanite woman, they will probably go unheeded and unaddressed.  But if we first approach with faith and humility, going to the Lord's mountain to worship, the Lord will be only too happy to heal us and to cast out all our demons of selfishness and pride.  That is why what we are doing here is so important, not just for ourselves, but for the healing of the entire world.  Just as God chose the tiny nation of Israel as his instrument of revelation not just for their sake but so that his house could be a house of prayer for all peoples, our little voices of praise and thanksgiving here can be exactly what is needed for the transformation of our world.