There are many who admit their prayers are not a satisfactory and fulfilling part of their spiritual lives. Out of habit they mumble and pray while their thoughts and hearts are far from our God. They fulfill an "obligation" without enjoying the privilege of intimacy with our Creator. For many, for some reason, it is so difficult to really communicate and talk with our God in prayer and subsequently feel the power of his presence. Fundamentally, it is probably because many do not want to invest enough of themselves in prayer so that the inevitable result is actual communication and friendship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not enough want to pay the price our heavenly Father expects to become friends of the Most High.
If we would but open God's Book, revealed communication to us from heaven in Scripture we find many examples of the saints who came to learn the secret of prayer. One of these powerful secrets is to remain persistent, to persevere in approaching our God. If we believe in our own prayer cause, we should continually maintain it. If it is worth a response from heaven, it is worth persevering for on earth. We readily discover in the initial prayers of Adam and Eve with our Creator, that He always openly responded to their communication in prayer. It is their sinfulness which disabled them and finally cut them off in their constant communication with the source of their life. We also discover that Abraham, that man of great and unbounded faith, pleading with our God to save the people of Sodom, in time has an eager ear for his request. We joyfully discover Jacob who is said to have "wrestled" with an angel of the Lord all night long, finally winning by become disposed to fulfill the will of God because he was knocked down to his knees in contemplative and ardent prayer. In this instance, an elementary lesson is imparted to Jacob and us because the angel said, "Permit me to depart for the day is breaking." Jacob quickly responded, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." What perseverance he exhibits!
And of course, in today's prescribed narrative, our Lord provides us with another rewarding example of persistent prayer. This woman too, "wrestles" with God until He generously blesses her.
Our Lord lived his life among us in what is know known as the Holy Land because of his physical presence there. It used to be called Palestine and is now called once again, Israel. Occasionally, our Lord in his parapathetic method approached and entered into and beyond the borders of where the Chosen People lived and were a majority. In these areas were people of different nationality and of pagan religions. Once the Lord came near two Phoenician communities and soon a heathen woman, that is one who was not of the Chosen People, came to him crying out, "Have mercy on me, 0 Lord, Son of David, for my daughter is very sick with an evil spirit."
Immediately we note it is her daughter who is ill, but she seeks mercy for herself, "Have mercy on me!" and in so doing exhibits the genuine love of a mother for her child. She makes the child's agony her own and witnesses the child's pain as a hallmark of true parenthood.
And it seems to all who are present, even today, to us who hear about this event, that our Lord is responding strangely. Some would even dare say He ignores her pitiful cry. But she will not be put off and continues to repeat her desperate request to his disciples too, until they finally intercede with Christ and ask him to do something about her.
We know that as the Son of God, the Lord readily recognized the depth of her faith and who it was that was making the request. He saw immediately the value of her prayer, and seemingly setting up a roadblock, He informs her, "I am not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The Lord is telling all who can hear, his vocation is with the Chosen People of God and that she is an outsider, by faith and nationality. This is not a denial of her request, it is an affirmation of her faith; even nonbelievers, by our example and the grace of the Holy Spirit can be grafted on to the Bark of Salvation. Our Lord wishes to introduce the living reality that not only are those who are descendants of Abraham called to be witnesses to the truth of salvation, but all the varied peoples of the earth as well. It is through the Chosen People that we become the Chosen People of the Lord, the new Israel, communicants of the Body of Christ. The Lord is teaching a fundamental catechism lesson, but is not being understood by those listening.
Instead of falling into despair, this woman, being an A student, falls to her knees and worships the Lord! Even if He should not grant her prayer, He is the Messiah, the Son of God and she permits to fall from her lips, words of profound faith, "Lord, help me!" Her faith will not permit what to others might be a "No" answer, She believes in Christ. Christ knows she believes in him. He can help her child; she is determined to exhibit the quality and richness of faith required to wrestle in heart and soul until the right and positive answer is evident.
She advances forward in heart and soul according to the express invitation of the Lord but hears "It is not right to take the children's bread and cast it to dogs." Here our Lord is inviting her to become a part of the Chosen People of God, to participate in their faith response to the first shown love of God. Those without faith would have recoiled and picked up their belongings, turned around and eagerly left to save face. But she is a mother. She is a mother of faith from all she has heard about Christ. She is not concerned about person feelings; she wishes to demonstrate faithful devotion. In all humility she expresses the values of her soul, "True, Lord, even dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the masters table." It is as if she understands she does not share in God's grace, but ardently desires a spiritual life. She hopes her persistence will be recognized as an eagerness to be what the Chosen People were destined for. Even a crumb of heavenly grace and curative blessing is far more valuable and important than an entire loaf of earthly or worldly ease and comfort, Christ sees the reality of her fully grown spiritual richness. Christ must then yield to this amazing display of faith, humility, courage and persistence. Every seeming obstacle has been overcome. Jesus commends her for all to hear, "Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done to you as you asked." The joyous words record for our witness, "The child was healed at that moment."
Unshakeable faith, uninterrupted faith, faith as solid as that of this woman is what is required from us. It leads us to persistence in our prayer life; and ends with our on-going trust in the Lord. If a pagan woman was able to so readily be disposed by the Lord to a proper disposition of faith response, how much quicker, how much easier, should we, who are baptized, strengthened by Chrismation and encouraged by Eucharistic life be able to make that transformation?