Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Faith Must be Tenacious and Perseverant

XX Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Roman Rite – XX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – August 16, 2020

Is 56, 1.6-7; Ps 67; Rm 11, 13-15.29-32; Mt 15, 21-28


Ambrosian Rite – X Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 8.15 to 30; Ps 47; 1 Cor 3.10 to 17; Mk 12.41-44


1) Faith cancels distances.

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption in which the protagonist is the Virgin Mary, this Sunday’s liturgy presents to our meditation the figure of another woman as the protagonist along with Christ of a miracle. She is a native of Canaan therefore for the Jews including Jesus, a foreigner.

The distance between Christ and the woman of Canaan was only an exterior one. She had to go a long way to overcome the centuries of paganism that separated her from salvation. Between us baptized and the Lord instead there is often an inner distance due to the barrier of our spiritual laziness and mediocrity that prevent any contact. If only we could not isolate ourselves in the difficult moments of our life, but instead continue to ask, seek and beg God, we would have the chance to see our questions answered and get what we need for our good and the good of those we love.

In the same way, it happened to the Canaanite woman. The signs that had accompanied Jesus pushed her to him. She knew about Jesus, heard the announcement that gives faith because faith comes “from what is heard” (Romans 10:17), felt her heart struck, and raced to the source of Life. A pagan woman embarks on a journey of salvation moved by listening to an announcement and driven by the desire to give health to her daughter. It is the beginning of the transition from slavery to freedom. The situation has made her bold. The love for her daughter, hitherto powerless, met the Love that is Life, Health, and Salvation. This mother has come a long way, humbling herself in contempt of the “children” of Israel and of the shameful illness of her daughter. She saw that her mother’s love is unable to help and to give meaning to existence. There is no suffering greater than a mother’s love strangled by the inability to be salvation for her children.

This woman, who asked the miracle of healing for her daughter, had enormous courage because she knew that the fact of being a woman and a foreign was a big obstacle to the acceptance of her request for grace.

She was a woman, and to the ancients but not for the Bible that was a “necessary evil’, she was not Jewish but even worse she was a Canaanite woman, a descendant of Ham, the son who had an attitude of contempt towards his father Noah and therefore was cursed by him[1].

For Jesus, the fact that she was a Canaanite woman was not an objection, but a blessing. As it was in the beginning and continues to be today, a woman is a divine blessing as described in Gal 4, 4 where He” is born of woman”. The second objection has been dissolved by Christ-like snow in the sun in a unique way: He asks, then and today, to believe.

It is not by chance that in the New Testament faith comes first of all, from women: the Virgin Mary -that is the “kind”[2] of faith par excellence-, her cousin Elizabeth, the prophetess Anna, the disciples – in particular, Mary Magdalene – who follow Jesus wherever he goes, the women encountered by St. Paul (cf. Rom 16), Lydia in Philippi, to whom the Lord opened the heart to the Gospel (cf. Acts 16:14), the “many women and not a few men” (Acts 17: , 12) of Thessalonica, as well as Damaris, the Athenian woman who believed after the speech of Paul at the Areopagus (Acts 17: 34) and Priscilla and her husband Aquila in Corinth (Acts 18: 2).

This “blessed woman” from Canaan goes to meet Jesus and cries out to Him “Have mercy on me” (Mt 15, 22). Literarily translated this prayer reads: “Take pity on me, Lord, Son of David.” However, it seems that the Messiah does not let himself be moved by this cry and gives apparently a tough response, comparing this woman and her possessed daughter to “little dogs.” The Canaanite woman recognizes her situation of misery and alienation, but a motherly love pushes her and she dares a response intelligent and full of faith, which can be translated as: “Yes, Lord. In fact, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables “. Even those who are considered as dogs have a” right “to the” bread of the masters. ”

The Canaanite woman has passed the test, offering to Christ the confession that was born from her mother’s heart. The heart of Jesus was expecting just that, and then He speaks to the Canaanite using the noble title of “Woman (= Lady)”.

With her faith, this woman has recovered her dignity as a daughter of God in the Son of God, and in virtue of her faith, this dignity was communicated to the fruit of her womb. Her daughter was released from the demon that marred the image.

Let us ask the Lord this same faith and remember that the Lord places women as a blessing. To support this sentence, I quote what Saint John Paul II wrote in his Letter to the Women:

” As I wrote in my Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatemthe Church “desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the ‘mystery of woman’ and for every woman-for all that constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the ‘great works of God’, which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her” (No. 31)… This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity.

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.

Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.

Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic, and political. In this way, you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

Thank you, consecrated women! Following the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, you open yourselves with obedience and fidelity to the gift of God’s love. You help the Church and all mankind to experience a “spousal” relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures. (With regard to this subject it is important for the Consecrated Virgins in the world to meditate continuously on the answers that they gave at their consecration: Are you resolved to persevere to the end of your days in the holy state of virginity and in the service of God and his Church? I am.
Are you so resolved to follow Christ in the spirit of the Gospel that your whole life may be a faithful witness to God’s love and a convincing sign of the kingdom of heaven?  I am.
Are you resolved to accept solemn consecration as a bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God? I am. Bishop and all present: Thanks be to God.  (RITE OF CONSECRATION TO A LIFE OF VIRGINITY FOR WOMEN LIVING IN THE WORLD)

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic. (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, 1995)


Patristic Reading

Saint John Chrysostom

Homily 52 on Matthew Chapter 12: 21-22

“And Jesus went thence and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts and cried unto Him,1 saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.”

But Mark saith, that “He could not be hid,”2 though He had entered into the house. And why did He go at all into these parts? When He had set them free from the observance of meats, then to the Gentiles also He goes on to open a door, proceeding in due course; even as Peter, having been first directed to annul this law, is sent to Cornelius.3

But if anyone should say, “How then, while saying to His disciples, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles,”4 doth He Himself admit her?” first, this would be our reply, that what He enjoined upon His disciples, He was not Himself also tied to; secondly, that not in order to preach did He depart; which indeed Mark likewise intimating said, He even hid Himself, yet was not concealed.

For as His not hastening to them first was a part of the regular course of His proceedings, so to drive them away when coming to Him was unworthy of His love to man. For if the flying ought to be pursued, much more ought the pursuing not to be avoided.

See at any rate how worthy this woman is of every benefit. For she durst not even come to Jerusalem, fearing, and accounting herself unworthy. For were it not for this, she would have come there, as is evident both from her present earnestness, and from her coming out of her own coasts.

And some also taking it as an allegory say, that when Christ came out of Judea, then the church ventured to approach Him, coming out herself also from her own coasts. For it is said, “Forget thine own people and thy father’s house.”5 For both Christ went out of His borders, and the woman out of her borders, and so it became possible for them to fall in with each other: thus He saith, “Behold a woman of Canaan coming out of her own coasts.”

The evangelist speaks against the woman, that he may show forth her marvellous act, and celebrate her praise the more. For when thou hearest of a Canaanitish woman, thou shouldest call to mind those wicked nations, who overset from their foundations the very laws of nature. And being reminded of these, consider also the power of Christ’s advent. For they who were cast out, that they might not pervert any Jews, these appeared so much better disposed than the Jews, as even to come out of their coasts, and approach Christ; while those were driving Him away, even on His coming unto them.

  1. Having then come unto Him, she saith nothing else, but “Have mercy on me,” and by her cry brings about them many spectators. For indeed it was a pitiful spectacle to see a woman crying aloud in so great affliction, and that woman a mother, and entreating for a daughter, and for a daughter in such evil case: she not even venturing to bring into the Master’s sight her that was possessed, but leaving her to lie at home, and herself making the entreaty.

And she tells her affliction only, and adds nothing more; neither doth she drag the physician to her house, like that nobleman, saying, “Come and lay thy hand upon her,” and, “Come down ere my child die.”6

But having described both her calamity, and the intensity of the disease, she pleads the Lord’s mercy, and cries aloud; and she saith not, “Have mercy on my daughter,” but, “Have mercy on me.” For she indeed is insensible of her disease, but it is I that suffer her innumerable woes; my disease is with consciousness, my madness with perception of itself.

“But He answered her not a word.”7

What is this new and strange thing? the Jews in their perverseness He leads on, and blaspheming He entreats them, and tempting Him He dismisses them not; but to her, running unto Him, and entreating, and beseeching Him, to her who had been educated neither in the law, nor in the prophets, and was exhibiting so great reverence; to her He doth not vouchsafe so much as an answer.

Whom would not this have offended, seeing the facts so opposite to the report? For whereas they had heard, that He went about the villages healing, her, when she had come to Him, He utterly repels. And who would not have been moved by her affliction, and by the supplication she made for her daughter in such evil case? For not as one worthy, nor as demanding a due, not so did she approach Him, but she entreated that she might find mercy, and merely gave a lamentable account of her own affliction; yet is she not counted worthy of so much as an answer.

Perhaps many of the hearers were offended, but she was not offended. And why say I, of the hearers? For I suppose that even the very disciples must have been in some degree affected at the woman’s affliction, and have been greatly troubled, and out of heart.

Nevertheless, not even in this trouble did they venture to say, “Grant her this favor,” but, “His disciples came and besought Him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us.” For we too, when we wish to persuade any one, oftentimes say the contrary.

1 [R. V., “And Jesus went out thence and withdrew into the parts of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from those borders, and cried”. But Chrysostom agrees with the rec. text, in adding “unto Him.” There is some doubt as to the correct form of the Greek verb rendered “cried,” both in the New Testament and in Chrysostom’s text. —R.]

2 Mc 7,24.

3 Ac 10,15 Ac 10,20.

4 Mt 10,5. [R. T. “anyway.”]

5 Ps 45,10.

6 See Jn 4,49, and comp. Mt 9,18.

7 Mt 15,23.

[1]Cursed be Caanan! He lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers. He also said:” Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! Let Canaan be his slave. May God expand Japheth and may he dwell among the tents of Shem and let the Canaan be his slave” (Genesis 9, 25-27). In this curse Ham is also Canaan, and that was confirmed for a long time, as for example in (Deuteronomy 7, 2, where it is said not to grace the Canaanites.

[2] The Virgin Mary is the kind of faith because she is the kind of human encounter with God and represents from the very moment of the annunciation the basic situation of man before God. The Virgin Mary is the kind of faith and humility that should characterize our approach to the Mystery of the Incarnation.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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