Sunday, Aug. 14, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Monday, Aug. 15, is the feast of the Assumption this year, but it is not a holy day of obligation in the United States when it falls on a Saturday or Monday.
We love the insights in the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary by a famous German poet that Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis introduced us to in college. We will share poems for several upcoming Marian feast days ahead.
Here is an excerpt from Death of Mary by Rainer Maria Rilke, in which he shows the humility of Mary even in her assumption:
“When she entered the heavens, she did not go towards him, despite her strong longing; there was no room; only he was there and shone with a radiance that hurt her.
“Her moving figure joined with the new blessed ones and stood discreetly, as light with light, next to them. Just then there erupted from her being such an assault of glowing light that the blinded angel who was illuminated by her cried out: Who is this one? …
“They watched her; she looked ahead with fear, bent far forward, as if she felt: I am his most enduring pain — then she suddenly fell forward. But the angels took her in their fold and steadied her and sang with blessed voices and carried her up the final steps.”
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-3; Matthew 15:21-28
Today’s readings show how, beginning in the Old Testament and then even more in the New Testament, God wants to make clear that he is God of all, not just the God of one people.
In the reading from Isaiah, after announcing that even foreigners who keep his commandments are his people, the Lord says: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Likewise, “Let all the nations praise you,” sings the Psalm. And the Gospel tells of the Canaanite woman looking for a miracle. The apostles urge Jesus to reject her since she is a Gentile, and he seems to agree with them — at first.
These readings can strike us as of historical importance only. They are showing that God had a chosen people, the Jewish people, and then expanded his covenant to others. That is true, but the readings are also very relevant to us today.
For one thing, for most of us, we should remember that we, too, are Gentiles. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “The gifts of God are irrevocable.” As the Catechism puts it:
“The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,’ ‘for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.’ And when one considers the future, God’s people of the Old Covenant and the new people of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah” (339-340).
So, when St. Paul says, “I am speaking to you Gentiles,” we should be aware that he is speaking to us. We are God’s “Plan B” people, as it were.
What does that mean? It means that when Jesus tests the Canaanite woman’s faith by saying, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” we should identify with the dogs in his analogy, not the children.
Yes, our “second-class nature” has been overcome by baptism, and, yes, we are now properly called “children of God.” But we are “Plan B” people. We are Gentiles. And we can learn from the Canaanite woman’s gratitude — and humility.
She says, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus says, “Oh woman, great is your faith!”
Remember today’s Gospel today at Communion time. When we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,” repeating the words of another Gentile in the Gospels, we mean it. And when we add, “But only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” we should say it with gratitude.
We should feel unbelievably blessed to be able to approach Jesus — truly present in his body, blood soul and divinity in Communion.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.