Mass celebrated at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne

Sunday 20 August 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

One of the most moving moments in my trip to Mumbai last January for the Missal project was to visit the house of Mahatma Gandhi in Central Mumbai. In his autobiography Gandhi tells how during his student days he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, the caste system. Seriously considering to embrace the Christian faith, Gandhi attended church one Sunday morning intending to talk to the minister about that idea. On entering the church, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain Hindu.”

Yet all through his life Gandhi campaigned for the equality and dignity of people. His house is filled with memoirs of the remarkable, simple life which showed that God has a purpose of love for all of us.

Sometimes we can feel that Jesus came only for Israel and his message now is only for those who are in the Church. It is not clear in the Gospel whether Jesus said this simply to reflect and reject a popular conception about him or whether this was part of his mission at this time. Notice the woman coming to Jesus, “Have mercy on me Lord, son of David,” and Jesus still ignored her. Yet her efforts were intensified to the point that the disciples had to ask Jesus to do something. “Send her away for she keeps shouting after us.” (Verse 23B) Courage and her refusal to take no for an answer finally paid off. Even when Jesus rebuffed her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Verse 26) But clearly she expressed the need to show to non-Jews that God’s mission in Christ was to all people. Jesus finally said, “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Verse 28)

This contrasts strongly with the first Reading; the emphasis on justice and integrity, the invitation to all people to praise God, Saint Paul’s admission that he was sent to the pagans so as to preach Christ risen from the dead.

Saint John Chrysostom said: “When the apostles had failed the woman had success. Such a great thing is persistence in prayer. Jesus’ affirmative request shows us that great was the power of her faith.”

In today’s Mass the Church invites us to remember the value of constant prayer. The woman’s, “Lord, help me”, and her constancy in prayer are a reminder that everything can be brought to God in prayer for all people, all situations and this is often a great means of God’s healing. My experience in parishes is of people of great faith who are constant in prayer and as a result their lives are entwined with God’s plans and purposes for them. This is perhaps the greatest healing that can come to human beings. It is important for us to know that God’s loving providence surrounds us. Prayer is the bringing of our life to him and the placing of ourselves at God’s disposition. It means that our mind makes a transition from selfishness to openness to God and to others, as God is open to all people equally and loves us, in the words of Saint Augustine, “each of us as if we were the only one”.

+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne

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