Dear friends. Ireland has changed dramatically over the past few decades. One feature of this change has been the influx of people from different countries. In every city and town in Ireland, there are people and families living who have come from various countries all over the world. For us as Christians, this presents a challenge. What is our fundamental attitude towards those who are different from us nationally, religiously and racially?
The Gospel today sheds light on this crucial issue of our time. Jesus and his followers find themselves in a place called Tyre and Sidon which was foreign territory. The people who lived there were pagan and different culturally to Jesus and his fellow Jews. Up steps a Canaanite woman who begins to plead with him to help her daughter. At first, Jesus’ attitude towards her seems aloof and indifferent. The fact that he was of Jewish descent and she pagan seemed to be a block to her request being granted. But she perseveres for she believes in him until eventually, he commends her faith and grants the healing for her daughter. This Gospel passage was understood by the early Church as a sign that the Gospel was destined for all peoples and that the family of the Church would include people from all nations across the earth, united by their faith in Christ.
Here in Ireland today, that prophesy has come true because every parish now has people who are from abroad and who have made Ireland their home. In the past we might never have known people from other countries but now we have that opportunity for they are our neighbours. In the Gospel, Jesus crossed that boundary between his own tradition and those who were different from him. He asks us to do the same. He asks us to overcome any fears or prejudices we might have against people who are different to us and to welcome them as our brothers and sisters. He asks us to welcome the fact that together we are part of the catholic or the universal Church that embraces peoples from all countries, races and cultures and makes them feel at home.
Here in the family of the Church, we are ideally placed to promote this unity and witness to the harmony among peoples that God wants. Here in the Church we see fulfilled what the first reading looks forward to – that foreigners would join together, joyful in God’s house of prayer. It is the harmony in our community that looks forward to the life of heaven that, with God’s grace, we will share with people from every race, colour and nation.
A final word on the Gospel and the suggestion of Jesus disciples on how to deal with the troublesome woman - give her what she wants in order to get rid of her. They wanted Jesus to keep her happy but only because she was annoying them. Unfortunately, this can be our reaction too. We notice people who are different to us culturally, nationally or racially. We don’t wish them harm and hope they get on fine – as long as they don’t bother us. Being a catholic Christian means having a heart wide enough to include everyone but also taking responsibility for the welcome strangers receive. It means that we deliberately go out of our way to reach out to the stranger after we have noticed them and not wait for others to do it.
So today, we rejoice together in God’s house of prayer. We rejoice in our calling to be part of a world-wide family that is held together by faith, hope and love. This is the witness we give to a world that is always in danger of breaking apart along the lines of race, nationality and religion.