Saturday, November 4, 2017

Humility the Antidote to Hypocrisy (31.A)

My great-aunt Dorothy lived to be almost a hundred years old by guiding her life according to a mysterious source of wisdom known as "they."

For instance, "they" say that eggs are bad for you.  And so, at 95, Aunt Dorothy decided to stop eating eggs.

Not that "they" is always right.  "They say coffee keeps you awake," she told me once, "but it's not true.  I never drink coffee yet I often have trouble sleeping."

Every once in a while "they" is completely off the wall, but there's no convincing Dorothy.  And of course it's pretty hard to refute an anonymous authority.

You and I might be too sophisticated to put much stock in what "they" say, but I'll bet almost every one of us likes to think about what "they" do.

Take today’s readings.  About whom are the first reading and gospel speaking?  Why "them" of course.  It's clear: the first reading is about Jewish priests, and the Gospel's about scribes and Pharisees.

Whew, that was close.  I'm not Jewish, or a scribe, or a pharisee.

But... oops.... I am a priest.  Maybe this passage is about priests, about religious leaders.  Not about them, but about me.  Perhaps I should preach about the faithlessness of the clergy, about hypocrisy and ambition in our ranks.

But there's two problems with that.  The first, of course, is that the betrayal of trust by a small number of priests and religious is something we've been dealing with for years, something that doesn't really need yet another analysis, however tragic and important that issue is.

But the second problem is that, for everyone except me and Father Giovanni, a homily about priests would be about "them."  They do this.  They don't do that.  If these texts are mainly to correct and instruct priests, they should be read on retreat, or in the breviary, or the clergy newsletter.

What's really important, in my view, is that each of us hear the Word as it applies to us, not to "them," not to others.

And these readings do apply to us: in a special way to us priests, certainly, but fundamentally to every baptized soul.   Because in baptism we are all called to a share in Christ's priesthood, just as by original sin we all have a share in whatever is was that made it easier for the scribes and Pharisees to preach faith than to practise it.

Today's liturgy puts before us those two scary H-words: humility and hypocrisy.  It challenges us to take a long and a hard look at ourselves.  Are we walking the talk?  Is our religious faith getting translated into daily life?

Today's scriptures offer caricatures of hypocrisy.  Priests who are so corrupt that they cause spiritual harm to their people.  Religious leaders who glory in social prestige and strut with self-importance.  Those things are easy to spot.  But what about the subtle, more pernicious, more soul-destroying kind of hypocrisy?  That's where we need to worry.

Some years ago, a newly-appointed member of the US cabinet urged the American people to "watch what we do and not what we say."  Unfortunately for him, the American people took him at his word and he went to jail.

But the credibility gap--the gap between our words and our deeds--is not just a danger for clergy or politicians.  I once knew a woman who attended Mass faithfully, donated regularly to the Church, and who ignored entirely the emotional and practical needs of an elderly relative living eight blocks away.  Is this not more dangerous than a fondness for titles or the seats of honour at a banquet?

Every once in a while we diagnose hypocrisy in a flash.  Like a bolt out of the blue I realize "my golly, I've got to do something about those long tassels on my phylacteries."  Much more often, we diagnose hypocrisy by self-examination, by reflection, by honest and prayerful thought.  We need to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit without having our defences in place.

But the diagnosis isn't the cure.  The antidote to hypocrisy is humility.  That's why today's psalm is crucial to God's message to us this Sunday.  It's about humility, the virtue that authenticates and orders all others.

You might call humility the DOS or the Windows--the operating system--of the spiritual life.  You can be filled with faith, hope or love and yet live in spiritual chaos if you take pride in these accomplishments.

I read once of an English archbishop sitting next to a nobleman at dinner who remarked “Your Grace, that chaplain of yours is a very extraordinary man."

The archbishop agreed, adding "Had he but the gift of humility, he would be the most extraordinary man in Europe."

We are all called to humility, not only because it is essential to authentic spirituality, but mostly because it is essential to the imitation of Christ—Christ, who did not cling to his equality with God but took the form of a slave, as St. Paul wrote.  And in the Gospel Jesus tells us directly: learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

Today's psalm is the prayer of a humble person.  But if we make it our own, if we pray these words with expectation, we will eventually make the psalmist's words our own.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Deliver the Invitations! (27.A)



We’ve all heard today’s Gospel story before and we think we know the message:  It’s not a good idea to turn down an invitation.  It’s even a worse idea to kill the guy who delivers it.  But if you do show up, follow the dress code.
Okay.  We probably know more than that.  Indifference to God’s call is a bad thing.  Rejecting God’s call is a worse thing.  And if we don’t want to come to his wedding banquet, God will find others who do.
Those are important lessons, and it would be good to ask ourselves whether we’re the ones who laughed at the invitation, the ones who killed the messengers, or whether we are wearing the wedding robe of obedience to God’s commands or not.  But just for today let’s take a very different look at the parable.
Let’s not focus on the king—we know that’s God our Father—or on his son—we know that’s the Lord Jesus.  Instead let’s take a look at the slaves, the servants who obeyed the king’s command to deliver invitations to this important wedding banquet.
Those servants had a simple enough job at the beginning.  They were first-century couriers.  And yet the task turned dangerous and they ended up dead.
The next batch of slaves faced a far greater challenge.  In the first place, the routine assignment was now perilous.  There was no guarantee they wouldn’t end up like the first group, dead.  But more than that, they now had to recruit guests for the banquet; that’s a much more demanding undertaking.
Can we put ourselves in the shoes—or sandals—of these servants?  Before you answer that, another question: can we see the banquet of the son as much more than a wedding reception?  Might we see it as the feast of rich food prepared by the Lord of Hosts for all peoples, the banquet that celebrates the destruction of death and the end of tears and sorrow?
Because if we believe that the Lord has prepared a table for us—a feast of fellowship here on earth and a wedding banquet in heaven—then the commission to invite others becomes crucial and urgent.
In earlier times, and today in other places, the brothers and sisters we call martyrs were willing to face a murderous response from those they invited to the wedding banquet of the Son of God.  Are we now ready to be sent out to the main streets of North and West Vancouver to extend an invitation to both good and bad, so that the wedding hall will be filled with guests?
I’m not sure why it is quite so difficult to convince Catholics of the urgency of this duty.  It’d be fair to say that the priests of fifty years ago were more successful convincing people they would go to Hell for eating meat on Friday than I am convincing you that sharing the Faith is not just for some but for all—a requirement for every serious Christian.
What I’m doing wrong, I’m not sure.  But I can’t blame the choice of Sunday readings.  Last week Jesus told us “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom.”  He gave this dire warning directly to the chief priests and elders to whom he was speaking, but I think he is giving it to us, to us Catholics, today.
Where do you find a people that produces the fruits of the Kingdom?  You can start by visiting an Evangelical Protestant church.  Well, I’d rather you didn’t do that, to tell you the truth!  But check out their websites and see their focus on evangelizing, on sharing the Gospel with the people they meet in every circumstance.
The website of one of these congregations has the bold statement “We exist to make Jesus known.”  That’s a perfectly good summary of the thousands of words written about the Catholic Church in the documents of Vatican II.  But can we honestly say this is how we feel about our parish?
Yet if we don’t exist to make Jesus known we don’t exist at all.  And if you don’t want to make Jesus known then you don’t know Jesus.  Sorry, but that’s the truth.
We used to have great excuses as Catholics.  We had lots of children, they all came to church, and then they had lots of children, and they all came to church.  What’s more, people thought Catholics were strange so nobody wanted to become a Catholic unless they married one.
Those excuses are all gone and the situation is clear.  Once the current wave of immigrants from Catholic cultures has fully assimilated we will be forced to confront the truth: either we share the Gospel with the countless un-churched people we know, or we prepare for empty pews and—worse yet—live as half-hearted disciples barely worthy of the name.
But the best excuse of all was simply that Catholics didn’t know how to share our faith.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stood on street corners, the Mormons knocked on doors, and the Evangelicals cornered you on a plane.  We sure didn’t want to do that, so what could we do?
Really, that excuse was a good one.  We didn’t know what evangelization meant or how it worked, so how could we do it?
Well, now you know.  Those excuses just don’t fly now that at least three Popes and three Archbishops of Vancouver have called each of us to a missionary identity.
Those excuses don’t fly in a parish where there are three distinct opportunities to share your faith without standing on a single street corner or knocking on a single door.  Three distinct opportunities that are non-threatening, enjoyable, and easy.  Three opportunities in three weeks.
You heard about them last week and the silence was deafening.  Just a handful of enquiries and signups.
I’m not scolding, just reporting because it’s not too late.  There’s two days before the Alpha film series starts on Tuesday night, and the Discovery Faith Study has flexible startup dates beginning this week. 
The Path to Life discipleship retreat will be held on Saturday November 4, so that’s a bit further down the road—however the speaker is so well known that people from outside the parish will snap up every ticket if you don’t purchase your tickets after Mass today.  I say ‘tickets’—meaning one for yourself and one for the friend, family member, or neighbour you’ll invite to join you.
I realize some of us still struggle with the word evangelization.  We really don’t know what it means or demands of us.  Forget about your old ideas.  Forget about knocking on doors.  Forget about asking your golf partner “Are you saved?”  And forget about people on television asking for money.  Evangelization just means sharing the Gospel.  And at Christ the Redeemer Parish on Sunday October 15, 2017 it concretely means inviting someone to one of these programs—or just coming yourself if you think you’re the one who needs evangelizing.  Many Catholics do.
I certainly can’t force anyone to deliver these invitations—I’m not a king and you aren’t slaves!  Although I do have to tell you that one of our young parishioners delivered several hundred invitations to homes in the neighbourhood.  (I was very pleased when he texted me to say that no one had seized, stoned, or beaten him.)
But if you’d like to take the Gospel literally, there’s a box of these leaflets sitting on the information table in the foyer.  You could put some in your apartment foyer or ask your kids to put them through mailboxes on your street, as long as you don’t live in the immediate area of the church, which we’ve covered.
It’s up to you.  But, looking back to last Sunday’s Gospel, if we do nothing the Kingdom of God will be taken away and given to a people that produces the fruits God expects from true disciples.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

At Thanksgiving, Share the Blessing of Faith!



My mother hated custard pudding when she was a girl. But that was the dessert my grandmother served at lunch one school day, and Mom wouldn’t touch it.

“You’re not going back to school unless you eat,” my grandmother threatened.

Mom held out until she knew she’d be late, and finally downed the pudding, hating every mouthful. Pleased with this, grandma told her to say grace after meals and get back to school.

After a brief pause, Mom prayed “Almighty God, we give you thanks that the custard didn’t make me sick. Amen.”

That’s a reminder on Thanksgiving weekend that gratitude comes in many forms.

I heard about another grandmother who was so thankful her four grandchildren were coming to stay with her for a week that she put a hundred dollars in the collection on the Sunday before they arrived.

At Mass the next Sunday, after they’d gone home, she put in two hundred.

As I said, there are many different kinds of gratitude.

For some things, our gratitude is immense, for others it may even be lukewarm. We have big blessings and small ones, blessings that are pleasant and even some that are painful. And we have blessings that we realize, and others we don’t even know.

It’s too bad that “count your blessings” has become something of a throwaway line. When the famous composer Irving Berlin was having trouble sleeping, his doctor told him to try counting his blessings. Berlin turned that into the song “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” for the movie White Christmas. But counting your blessings is a serious business, not a cure for insomnia.

In fact, counting our blessings is a Christian duty. If we don’t know what we’re thankful for, we’re not really thankful. St. Paul tells us clearly in today’s second reading that prayer and thanksgiving go hand-in-hand. In one phrase, “Do not worry about anything, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

And in case we miss the importance of his advice, the Apostle tells us what will follow this kind of prayer: the peace of God. The peace that every heart seeks and needs.

One of the simplest of all formulas for daily prayer is called the ACTS methods. It’s so simple that I even found it in a book called Christian Prayer for Dummies! ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. The four letters capture all three of Paul’s directives, and of course adoration—giving God praise and honor for who He is—must be the start of all prayer.

But today let’s focus on thanksgiving, and not only because of the calendar.

Could we spend some time this morning thanking God for something that we might not come to mind when someone asks “what are you thankful for?”

If that question comes up at dinner tonight or tomorrow—as it should—our first answers are usually our family, our friends or even the food, because we can see these blessings as we look around the tale.

How many of us would answer “my faith”? Yet surely faith is a greater blessing even than family, friends and food.

Today’s readings really help us think seriously about this. The prophet Isaiah sings us a love song from God, whose love for us is compared to the owner of a vineyard planted and tended with exquisite care.

Jesus is obviously using the very same image in his parable. A landowner who builds a fenced-in vineyard with its own wine press and watchtower has done all he could possibly do to ensure a great harvest.

How could such loving care lead to ruin and bloodshed? Obviously human sinfulness is at the heart of it, but I suggest a lack of gratitude is the first cause of the failed harvest in the first reading and the murderous actions in the Gospel parable.

How can someone neglect or reject something for which they’re grateful?

Happily, there’s no-one in Church this morning who rejects the landowner’s Son, the Lord. But the scriptures warn us not only against rejecting God’s gift of salvation but also of neglecting it. Neglecting the Kingdom of God can be almost as bad as rejecting it.

Today, we need to put God’s gift of salvation—and the peace it promises—at the top of the list of things for which we’re thankful. But not in the half-hearted way my Mom prayed after her unhappy lunch. If we’re not sure how thankful we are for faith, today’s a day to ask what we can do about that.

If you want to know what you really think and feel about your faith, here’s a simple test: have you shared it lately? Are you willing to share it? Because there’s a natural human instinct to share what we love with those we love.

Notice I’m not asking you—yet!—to share your faith with strangers. We have enough family and friends around us, especially this weekend. Do we have enough gratitude for God’s gifts to share them?

This isn’t one of those rhetorical questions you can hear in a homily and forget about by the time we say the Creed. No, today we’re all of us challenged to answer that question—to test how seriously we thank God for faith—through action.

In the next four weeks, our parish offers three ways to share what you love with those you love.

First, the Alpha Film Series. This immensely-popular program starts on Tuesday, October 17. It offers eleven weeks of great videos and non-judgmental conversation, served up with dessert. Alpha is a basic introduction to Christian faith, suitable for just about everyone from atheists to agnostics to fallen-away Catholics. (Although unless you are one of those, you can’t come alone—bring someone along.)

Second, around the same time, we are launching the Discover Discipleship faith study. It’s suitable for everyone, especially those who have already done Alpha. Many small groups will meet at convenient times. The Discovery faith study comes to us from CCO, which has used it to lead university students—a tough crowd—to know Jesus. Now we’re using it for all ages. And since Discover Discipleship is only a six week-program, it may suit those who can’t find the time for Alpha.

Finally, we are again hosting the Path of Life Retreat. On Saturday November 4, the dynamic Jake Khym will be with us to repeat his wonderful all-day presentation. It was a sell-out last year, so I am hoping that many of you who attended will have the enthusiasm to invite others. Tickets go on sale next week.




I am praying that by the end of Thanksgiving Day, every parishioner will have invited one person to one of these three events.

1-2-3. Check the bulletin or website for all the details. And check your heart for the willingness to replant the vineyard today in gratitude for all that God has done for you.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Xavier Jesudoss Royappan, 1962 - 2017




Nearly 13,000 kilometers from here, in the city of Chennai, stands the beautiful church of St. Joseph. It is a picturesque building of a distinctive design. It was Father Xavier’s pride and joy. Many times he spoke to me with great pride about that church, which he and his parishioners built with more love than money.

We might call St. Joseph’s church Father Xavier’s monument. But we’d be wrong.

If you’re looking for his monument, look around you. Look around you in the church this morning. Look at the parishioners—young and old—of Christ the Redeemer, whose lives he touched with his simplicity and gentleness. Looking at this congregation I can almost feel the beating heart of our parish family.

Look at his fellow Pallottine priests, confreres in the religious community he served as a formator and a promoter of missions. And see the diocesan priests, from the North Shore and elsewhere, who valued his fraternal warmth.

We even welcome representatives from Sacred Heart Parish in Terrace, where his passing has already been commemorated last week at Mass celebrated in a full church by the Bishop of Prince George.

Here is the true monument—the true memorial—of a priest who lived the Beatitudes with grace and conviction. This living monument, of course, of flesh and blood, is earthly while the reward of his labours—as Jesus has just told us in the Gospel—is in heaven.

We hear the Beatitudes read fairly often at funerals, but today they strike us with a particular force. In the first place, although Father Xavier was legitimately proud of his accomplishments both in India and in Canada, he had a purity of heart and a poverty of spirit that always gave the due credit to God.

A priest can preach effectively about virtues like charity or patience but the only homily he can really give on purity of heart and poverty of spirit is the witness of his life.

We also heard Jesus say “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Now I suspect there were Pallottine seminarians who didn’t think their prefect was particularly meek, but in his parish ministry he was unfailingly humble and gentle and kind.

And his meekness was the specifically Christian variety, not to be confused with being obsequious or unassertive. One day a large trailer pulled into the parking lot carrying a cow as an educational experience for our students at St. Anthony’s school–a bunch of city kids. Being a city kid myself, I ran back to the rectory and I urged Father Xavier to come over to the school to see the cow.

“A cow? A cow? I’m an —I'm not crossing the parking lot to see a cow!”

He was certainly merciful, especially to me. I found it too much to preach on the Sunday before he died, so Father Giovanni gave the homily at all the Masses. We heard the Gospel where Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy-seven times. Because I was so emotional when I announced his illness at the start of the nine o’clock Mass, Father Giovanni in his homily said “You can see how much Monsignor loves Father Xavier. But living together for so long they must have had their fights.”

I promptly interrupted him from the chair, to exclaim “Father Xavier and I never fought”—which is more than I can say about Father Giovanni!

Although all the Beatitudes fit this peaceful and righteous man, the one he was called to live most fully was “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The tragic death of his sister Nirmala Maria, a young religious who had just finished her training as a surgeon, was his own moment to join Jesus on the Cross. It was, I believe, the time when he lived Christ’s priesthood most fully.

The most intimate thing Father Xavier ever said to me came one day when we were talking about his sister’s death. “For six months,” he said, “I could barely offer Mass.”

But he did offer Mass. He did find the spiritual strength to believe that those who mourn will be comforted. He did find the courage not to grieve as those who have no hope.

He was able, along with the rest of his heartbroken family, to move through that darkness with faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and in the resurrection of those who have died in Christ.

Of course we are here today to pray for the repose of his soul, but if I can ask one thing of you this morning it is this: do pray especially for his mother, who has had to face two such terrible losses.


Today, as the first reading says, is our time to mourn. But it is also our time to embrace—to embrace one another and to embrace the consoling and encouraging word of God. It is what Father Xavier himself did and it is what he would have us do.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stewardship = Discipleship



Welcome to Christ the Redeemer’s final Stewardship Sunday! You are also welcome after Mass to our parish’s last-ever Stewardship Fair.

Don’t be alarmed—we haven’t given up on stewardship. Far from it—I just returned from the annual meeting of the International Catholic Stewardship Council and I’m as keen on stewardship as I ever was.

But the more I listened to the committed and talented speakers at the stewardship conference the more convinced I became that stewardship is really just another name for discipleship. 

As our parish intensifies its commitment to forming intentional disciples I think we should remind ourselves that the only goal of our stewardship of time, talent, and treasure is the dedicated following of Jesus Christ.

And so, next year, you can look forward to the first annual Discipleship Fair!

The day our conference ended another took over the hotel. It was for young computer wizards and part of it was what they call a “jobs fair”—a bunch of companies sponsoring booths offering employment opportunities.

Our Stewardship Fair is a lot like that. It’s not advertising the great things we are doing in this parish—it’s inviting you to great things. Today’s Gospel shows how God puts each of us to work at different stages in our lives. One of the most committed volunteers in this parish is almost ninety; another one of the most active and generous parishioners is more than sixty-five years younger.

The amazing generosity of the Lord of the vineyard is something to celebrate—but we mustn’t forget that all the labourers did some work. There’s no parable about God’s generosity to those who do nothing at all.

So do visit the gym after Mass and listen for a voice that says “you also go into the vineyard.”

I need to keep this homily short, but I do want to offer a prayer that I heard at the conference in Atlanta. It’s printed also in the bulletin, but one of the things I learned at the conference was that only half the people take a bulletin and only half of those actually read it!

My parish is composed of people like me. I help make it what it is. It will be friendly, if I am. It will be holy, if I am. Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them. It will do great work, if I work. It will be prayerful, if I pray. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver. It will bring others into worship, if I invite and bring them in. It will be a place of loyalty and love, of fearlessness and faith, of compassion, charity, and mercy, if I, who make it what it is, am filled with these same things. Therefore, with the help of God, I will dedicate myself to the task of being all the things that I want my parish to be. Amen.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sunday Wasn't a "Duty" for Lily!


Last week one of the loveliest young women in our parish came to the 5 o’clock Mass looking like one of those photos you see on the internet labelled “plastic surgery gone horribly wrong.” Her eyes were almost swollen shut and her face was so puffy I did not recognize her.

The day before, she’d been enjoying herself at her family’s cabin on a small island when she found out the hard way that she is allergic to bee stings. A helicopter had to rush her off the island for emergency treatment in hospital.

Yet there she was at the five o’clock Mass. Why?

Why would someone who looked so awful—and who must have felt pretty awful, too—show up for Mass? Certainly she knew there was no Sunday obligation in those circumstances.

Can it have been that she needed the experience of community and fellowship? Liked the music? Wanted instruction from the homily?

These are all very good things, but they can’t adequately explain her sitting in the pew last week.

Only one thing, I suggest, could explain that—her belief in what happens at Mass. Specifically, a deep and personal belief that the Church is fulfilling the command of Jesus to “do this in remembrance of me” and that the same thing is happening as happened at the Last Supper: “Christ truly gives himself for us, and we truly gain a share in him” (Youcat 216).

The duty to attend Mass that we call the Sunday obligation was the farthest thing from the thoughts of that young woman. As Youcat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “for a genuine Christian, ‘Sunday duty’ is just as inappropriate as ‘kiss duty’ would be for someone who was truly in love.”

I’m telling this story today because in a couple of minutes I will be mandating, on behalf of the Archbishop, our parish’s Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion—the women and men who assist in the distribution of Communion at Mass and who take the Eucharist to the sick and those in care homes.

I will ask them whether they are resolved to administer the Holy Eucharist with the utmost care and reverence. But it seems appropriate that we ask ourselves whether we are resolved to receive the Eucharist with the utmost care and reverence—with devotion, with respect, and with spiritual preparation.

The opening prayer or Collect this morning asks God to deepen our sense of reverence—not because He needs that but because we do. We prayed that by deepening our sense of reverence, God might nurture in us what is good. And surely the greatest of all goods is our relationship with him, the relationship that is nourished each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fear Activates Our Faults (20.A)


Father Emmerich Vogt, the Dominican preacher who visited our parish a few years ago often says “Fear is the chief activator of our faults.”

Although some people think St. Teresa of Avila may have said it first, the line also appears in the wise writings of Alcoholics Anonymous. But wherever it comes from, the idea that fear triggers our defects is undoubtedly true.

Of course not all fear is destructive. Right now the world is gripped by fear of terrorism, particularly the kind that’s linked to Islamic extremism. Given the dreadful events in Spain last week, and in many other places in the past few years, it is an understandable and a reasonable fear.

But fear can be unreasonable. We can lash out without thinking, we can label people without cause, and we can overreact in ways contrary to the Gospel. Here in Canada, where we have seen little Islamic extremism and even less terrorism, we can rush to abandon the openness that is one of the most admirable aspects of our country. 

At the very least, we let fear shut down an intelligent conversation about immigration, security, and interfaith relationships. Fear of what—or whom—we don’t know can lead to an unwelcoming attitude to those who are new to the country, or different from ourselves. We can make others feel unwelcome.

Things weren't much different in our Lord's time.  The Jewish people had a deep sense of their uniqueness, while those around them were distrustful and sometimes hostile.

That's the background to the encounter between the Lord and the Canaanite woman.  At first glance, we're a bit puzzled, because Jesus seems, quite frankly, a bit rude.  In fact, the curious dialogue can be explained precisely by Jesus' desire to draw attention to the barrier between Jew and Gentile; he could not pretend the barrier did not exist: it would exist until he reconciled Jew and Gentile on the cross.

At the same time, this puzzling passage teaches us something about overcoming prejudice and getting along with those of different cultures.  The woman could easily have taken offense at the response Jesus gives her.  His answer was not nearly as offensive then as it sounds now, but it was certainly open to being misunderstood.
But instead of stomping off, the woman persists and engages Jesus in a sort of repartee.  She meets him within the framework of his culture, of his own understanding of his mission.  And the meeting proves very fruitful indeed.

We can find two important lessons in this story.

The first lesson helps us relate to other people: When we’re put off by someone's manner or choice of words, we might well remember the example of the Canaanite woman, and ask ourselves whether we may just need to try a little harder to understand where the person is coming from.  We should avoid judging every encounter by the particular culture in which we've grown up, or by our own personal standards.

The second lesson helps us relate to God:  When God's reply to our prayers seems harsh or puzzling, we may need to imitate the Canaanite woman in her faith and persistence.  Sometimes God’s purposes require that he make a point with us in the same way Jesus had to make a point with the woman.  We may feel he has dismissed us, or not taken our prayer seriously.

We may even wonder whether we are beyond God’s concern, outside of his circle of compassion.

But today’s first reading proclaims God’s “open door” immigration policy.  The “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord”, who love the name of the Lord, he will bring to his holy mountain, he will make “joyful in his house of prayer.”

There are no outsiders in God’s eyes, no strangers.  God excludes no-one from his plan of salvation, except for those who exclude themselves.

Some people feel like outsiders in the Church. Many years ago a non-Catholic friend of my parents, who was married to a Catholic and had attended Mass for years, was talking to a priest, who asked why he’d never joined the Church.  “No-one ever asked,” he said.  Today, God asks; God promises to lead all who come to him up the mountain of his love.

Some people, even within the Church, feel like outsiders with God.  They compare themselves to the holy folk in the next pew, to the people who have it together, to the people who have never stumbled. Today’s second reading tells them that there are no second-class citizens in God’s eyes. He never takes back his gifts. He never revokes our citizenship.

Today’s Gospel, even if it is a bit odd, brings home the point that Jesus came for everyone—insider, outsider, neighbour, stranger, saint, sinner, you name it.  All we need is the confidence of that Canaanite woman.  If we can just ask for scraps, we’ll get an invitation to sit down at the table.

What a difference God’s promise can make to how we see ourselves in relation to Him—and to how we treat others, knowing they too share also in his glorious plan for all humanity.

A note: Part of the homily is taken from notes on the readings that I wrote down in 2008--before I had a blog and so before I bothered to write down sources--so there may be unattributed material here!