Pope Francis is now in Korea as I write this. The readings for today highlight something important regarding the Pope’s visit to this region.
The Catholic Church is everywhere. She is universal. This is what the word “Catholic” means. The readings today show how God incorporates all of humanity into His household, not just the Israelites.
In the first reading from Isaiah, we read how foreigners who join to the Lord, follow His commandments, keep His covenant will receive a place on His holy mountain. The sacrifices they burn will be made acceptable to Him. Isaiah who was a prophet, is inviting all to come and unite with the one true God of Israel. The reading closes with the statement, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” This is a foreshadowing of the Catholic Church; the new covenant of God made through the blood of Christ on the Cross. This house is the pillar and foundation of the Truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
The responsorial Psalm connects with the first reading reminding us that all the nations will praise God. It is telling us that God’s people are from all parts of the world, not just the nation of Israel. All the peoples on Earth will praise God. This is what we are doing at Mass. Catholics throughout the world from every nation are praising God. No other religion can do this since the Catholic Church is the only faith that is universal.
In the second reading, St. Paul communicates to the Romans and us today that the Catholic Church is the completion of all the things God promised to Israel. He tells us that his also includes the Gentiles, or those who are not of Israel. We read in this reading that the Jews rejected Christ just like Jews today. Some did convert and accepted the teachings of Christ; however, St. Paul hopes that all Jews or those of his race would join the Christian faith. Hopefully one day the Jews will recognize Christ as their messiah.
Lastly in the Gospel, we see a few things here. One, Jesus shows us how He includes the Gentiles and we also see how one must have faith and perseverance when praying. In this Gospel, we see Jesus seem to rudely ignore the Canaanite woman who is asking Him to rescue her daughter from a demon. The disciples then come and tell Jesus to tell her to go away because she kept going after them. Jesus replies saying that He came for those who were lost in the house of Israel. The woman was nearby and paid homage to Jesus asking Him to help. She kept insisting despite Jesus saying that He only came for the Jews. Jesus was obviously testing this woman’s faith to make an example of what true faith is. After the woman asked Jesus for help, He spoke to her strong words that it’s not right to give the food of kids to dogs. In today’s world, we would call that “fighting words.” Jesus is pretty much calling those who are not of the house of Israel, dogs! Nevertheless, the woman does not get angry and curse Jesus out or reply aggressively. Instead, the woman tells Jesus that even the dogs eat the leftovers that fall from the table. Jesus liked what He heard and said she had great faith and her request was immediately answered.
As an atheist, reading this passage gave me a different impression of Jesus. To me, He came across as a jerk or rude. This woman comes to Him asking Him to help her daughter. She probably heard of the miracles He has done or maybe even witnessed one herself and wanted Jesus to do something for her. However, after asking for help, Jesus ignores her and then pretty much calls her and the Canaanites dogs. This text is obviously much richer than that. Here we see Jesus testing the woman who is one of the foreigners we read about in the first reading. Jesus was being cautious. How many people pray to God only to get something and then never utter a prayer again? God to them becomes a genie in a bottle granting wishes. Many atheists today don’t understand prayer. They use the “God doesn’t answer prayers” or “prayer doesn’t work” claim in order to try to corner Christians into a dilemma that doesn’t exist. This Gospel shows how prayer must be a constant. It must have perseverance and true faith. We must not pray to God as if He were a genie or the Wizard of Oz who grants favors. God is much more. He is our Father.
God will not always answer prayers right away. He many not answer them in the way that we want. God answers prayers in the way you needed them to be answered; not how you wanted them to be answered. We know from Genesis (Adam & Eve) and elsewhere that God is like a scientist putting us to the test. Jesus wasn’t intentionally ignoring the woman, nor did He use strong language to offend. He was testing her faith especially since she was a foreigner or Gentile woman. Obviously she passed the test by showing that despite not being part of the house of Israel, she knew God was real, she knew Jesus was God and she knew how to trust in Him, have faith in Him and wait on Him. We too must be patient and trust God. We must not become like Moses who tapped the rock at Horeb again after God took His time to make water flow from it. (see: http://www.sacerdotus.com/2014/03/third-sunday-of-lent-reflection.html) God is not our personal genie where He waits for us to ask for wishes to be granted.
Moreover, we as Catholics must not fall into triumphalism, or believe that we are better than anyone else of another religion or believe that our faith is superior to others. This unfortunately seems too common among those who are still angry about the changes done by Vatican II. They often misinterpret “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” as meaning that the Catholic Church is an elitist club and if you’re not a member, then too bad, you’re going to hell. This is NOT what the phrase conveys. The Catholic Church is the normative means for salvation via Jesus Christ because she was founded by Him. However, this does not mean anyone outside of the Church cannot be saved nor does it mean other religions have it completely wrong. The catechism states:
843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”332
“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.337
848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”338
The Catholic Church is for all peoples. She is Universal. God brings all peoples of all nations to praise Him in His House. No one should be excluded from the Church or made to feel like he or she does not belong. As St. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.“