+ HOMILY +
20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
17 August 2002
FR. ROB HANKEE
ST. MALACHY CATHOLIC CHURCH
Scriptual Reference: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

A Little Humility Goes A Long Way

       Towards the end of my second year in seminary I was approached by Father Lambert Riley, the Archabbot of St. Meinrad. He asked me if I would be coming back to school for a third year of studies. I said, "Yes, Father, I will be coming back to school in the fall." He just looked at me, shook his head and said, "It's true. It's true." Confused at his response, I asked, "What's true?" Still shaking his head, he answered, "It's true. All the good ones leave, which leaves God nothing but the rubbish to work with." I said, "Well, gee thanks." And then he said it, "No, you don't understand. That's good because it means God gets to do all the work."

       He's right, you know. It is good when God gets to do all the work. Yet, I know from my own experiences how I can get in the way of God doing his work. There have been so many times in which I have stood in his way because of my own pride, my own selfishness. These are times in which I have tried to do the work myself, seeking my own desired outcome. I can look to my own strengths and think that this is all I need to succeed. And yet, the truth of the matter is, on my own I can do very little. My own strengths, or what I see as my strengths, can actually keep me from doing God's will. What I have learned and come to know is that a little humility can go a long way. In fact, this is my prayer, that I might become a pile of rubbish, so that God can do all the work.

       Humility is what today's gospel is all about. The Canaanite woman knows that she cannot on her own make her daughter well. She admits that she needs help. How much courage she must have had to make this admission, that she is weak and powerless. How humbling it must have been to know this. And yet undismayed by this admission, she turns to Jesus and places her trust in Him. And it is this display of humility that allows her to persevere in asking Jesus for his help. She calls out to Christ, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David." Yet Jesus does not answer her, and so she cries out for help a second time. And when Jesus speaks to her rather harshly, she responds with great humility by comparing herself to a dog: "even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table...".

       Yet it is not just the humility of the Canaanite woman that is on display, but also Jesus' own humility. For it is not everyday that we see Jesus bested in an argument. Like a child arguing with a parent, the woman has a response to everything that Jesus says. Yet, the way in which she responds, Jesus is unable to argue with her. Jesus' own humility allows him to be so moved by the woman's faith that he grants her request. The humility that Jesus shows in this exchange, that is allowing himself to be bested in an argument, is especially beautiful. For in doing so, he not only allows the will of God to be done, but he also strengthens the faith of the Canaanite woman. A little humility does indeed go a long way.

       Cardinal Newman once said that at the most we are sinners trying to do good. He's right, you know. We are all sinners, we all have our own weaknesses. And yet, there is something actually beautiful in admitting that. For what we are truly admitting to is not just our sins and weakness, but just how much we really need and rely on God for help. That on our own we can do very little, but with the grace of God there is no telling how much we can do. Like the Canaanite woman before Christ, we too are to become humble. In doing so, we allow God to do his work. And so, our prayer life should echo that of the Canaanite woman's prayer, a prayer that is quite perfect: "she recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, she expresses her need in clear, simple words; she persists, undismayed by obstacles; and she expresses her request in all humility: 'Have mercy on me.' Our prayer should have the same qualities of faith, trust, perseverance and humility" . And this is why my prayer is to become a pile of rubbish, because the Archabbot is right it is good when God gets to do all the work. +



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