Because We Are Catholic
Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on August 13-14, 2011 at Saint Mary Catholic Church, Perryville KY and Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
At a Washington DC fundraiser, a rich man broached the question that everyone else was thinking but none had dared to ask. “We give so much money for Catholic Charities to help the homeless,” he said, “but are any of these homeless people even Catholic? Shouldn’t we stick instead to serving our own?”
Let’s be honest: there is a part of us that subscribes to that rich man’s sentiments. Sometimes, we too find ourselves asking why we help those who don’t look like us, who don’t think like we do, who don’t work as hard as we do. We ask ourselves why we bother sharing with someone with whom we have nothing in common. It does not seem right, as Jesus Himself says so in the Gospel, “to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mt. 15:26). It seems a lot more economical to follow the rich man’s philosophy but then we realize that that is an attitude that comes out of a calloused core. It seems a lot more practical to shut ourselves in a ghetto, to stick to our own kind, but then we are reminded today that it was Jesus who had crossed the border of Galilee and entered into the region of Tyre and Sidon (cf. Mt. 15:21). It was He who had left the security of the Holy Land and stepped into the perilous place of Israel’s most ancient enemies. It was He who withdrew from the Lord’s flock and walked right into the pack of pagan dogs. Although He echoed what every observant Jew thought—“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mt. 15:26)—Jesus also used this boundary-breaking encounter with the Canaanite woman to manifest that great faith (cf. Mt. 15:28) and God’s grace are not the monopoly of just one sort of people, even when that people happen to be the one whom God has chosen to be His own.
This incident in Tyre and Sidon occurs in between two separate miracles of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes: the feeding of the five thousand where there were 12 wicker baskets full of leftovers (cf. Mt. 14:13-21) and the feeding of the four thousand where there were seven baskets full of fragments (cf. Mt. 15:32-38). It is no coincidence that the Gentile mother begs for scraps that had fallen from the table (cf. Mt. 15:27) before and after Jesus feeds and satisfies the multitudes. There are plenty of fragments left over from those two meals in the desert, more than enough to share with those who plead for crumbs.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that we cannot and we ought not to hoard God’s grace and salvation because He offers these gifts to all. The Lord desires His house “be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7). He “delivered all to disobedience that He might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32). The rich man’s philosophy of sticking to our own kind is not our creed as Christians. Such ghetto mentality goes against the Lord’s command to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). It might feel like we have hounds at our heels when we go out to feed those who go without the food that is the Word of God. But it is still our mission to share that Word and, though we are but a small Catholic island in this big Protestant pond, we cannot ignore who we are and what we are about.
The rich man broached the question that everyone else was thinking but none had dared to ask. “We give so much money for Catholic Charities to help the homeless,” he said, “but are any of these homeless people even Catholic? Shouldn’t we stick instead to serving our own?”
James Cardinal Hickey stood before that Washington DC fundraiser to reply to the rich man’s question. “We serve the homeless,” he declared, “not because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic.”
Cardinal Hickey was right: we share what we have—our faith and even our resources—because only in doing so can we truly be who we are: Catholic—universal—by name and by creed, and Catholic—universal—in our charity, in our love.