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Sunday, August 14, 2011

My House is a House of Prayer

Today, the Church presents us with the Gospel account of a Canaanite who challenges Jesus, persisting in her request to have him heal her daughter.  Interestingly enough, the Church gives us, as the first reading, a passage from the Prophet Isaiah that speaks about the House of God being a house of prayer for all nations.

During the last week of Jesus' life, the synoptic Gospels relay the account of Our Lord going into the Temple, becoming dismayed at the commercial exchange that he saw going on in the Court of the Gentiles, sacred space reserved for non-Jews to come and worship the One, True God of Israel, and then driving them out with whips and cords, saying, "My Father's House is a house of prayer; but, you have made it into a den of thieves."  In St. John's Gospel account of the same incident, Jesus refers to the Temple of His body, when He says "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up."

Even the Responsorial Psalm, today's reading from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans and the Communion Antiphon for Cycle A also carry the same theme.  "O God, let all the nations praise you", we chanted during as the responsorial psalm.

All of this ultimately has to do with liturgy, with worship.  Ancient Israel conducted all of her cultic sacrificial acts of worship within the Temple.  Sacrifice could not be made any place else.

The Canaanite woman recognized Jesus for Who He truly Is.  She seeks Him out, putting up with His rebuffs and insults (especially when he inferred that she was a dog) because she has faith that He would take care of what she needs the most, a cure for her daughter.  So what does this have to do with liturgy, with worship?  Even in her persistence, she is praying, she is worshipping.  She beseeches Jesus, calling Him the Son of David, one of His titles.  Without knowing it, she is approaching the true Temple.  She does him homage.  She calls him Lord.

This is not the first time that a non-Jewish person comes to Jesus.  Recall the account of the 10 lepers.  The only one who comes back to do Jesus homage in thanksgiving is the one who is not Jewish.  The Roman centurion who tells Jesus to simply say the word is another one, as is the Samaritan woman.  

In his dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus tells her that there will come a time when true followers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, no longer offering sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.  He is preparing her and Ancient Israel for the time when Isaiah's prophecy (from the first reading) will find its complete fulfillment.

Note how today's Communion Antiphon, from the Simple English Propers, ties all of this together:

"My house will be called a house or prayers, says the Lord; everyone who asks here, will receive, and he who seeks will find, and to him who knocks, it will be opened."

The Church, as Jesus' mystical body here on earth, is that House of Prayer for all nations.   She is Catholic because she is universal.  Ancient Israel was united by the blood of Abraham.  Blood family relationships were important to Ancient Israel.  One had to be a descendant of Abraham to be fully immersed in the Old Covenant.  The Church, who is the New Israel, is united by the Blood of Christ.

As the New Israel, the Church hands down to us what she has received from her Spouse and Lord, Christ, that worship of the Father in Spirit and in Truth, which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We need to imitate the Canaanite woman in today's Gospel and recognize how valuable and precious that gift is.  We need to worship God with our hearts, confident that when we approach him in faith and in love, He will embrace us in return.  In His House of Prayer, we have that privileged encounter with the living God, the same God who accepted the woman's persistence and who is just as persistent in seeking us.

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