"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
August 7, 2011: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Theme: The first reading foretells of a time when all the nations of the earth will worship God together. Isaiah wrote these words more than 500 years before Christ while in exile. Eventually the exile would end and God would “gather the dispersed of Israel” … and others; the “others” being gentiles. Participation in the Messianic kingdom would be open to all who love the Lord, keep his commandments and hold fast to the covenant.
In the second reading St. Paul explains how the gentiles had come to receive God’s mercy. Previously Paul had discussed the Jew’s role in God’s plan of salvation. The unbelief of some Jews opened the door to the gentiles. In the mysterious way of divine providence, the rejection of Christ liberated the Gospel from the narrow confines of the Jewish nation as the apostles were driven from the community. Thus, God’s plan to save the whole human race was advanced.
In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus and his disciples “withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon”—gentile territory. Although it doesn’t seem like it was his intension to preach the Gospel there, nevertheless it was a poor gentile woman and her daughter who received God’s mercy that day.
The woman exemplifies the great faith that’s characteristic of the gentiles who appear in the Gospels. Jesus’ apparent disregard of the Canaanite woman served a larger purpose. “She was ignored,” St. Augustine said, “not that mercy might be denied, but that desire might be kindled and humility praised.”
Key verse: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord … I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer” (Is 56:6-7).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The word ‘church’ (Latin ecclesia, from the Greek ek-kalein, to ‘call out of’) means a convocation or an assembly. By calling itself ‘Church,’ the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is ‘calling together’ his people from all the ends of the earth” (No. 751).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The Church is not to be deduced from her organization; the organization is to be understood from the Church. In a world torn apart, she is to be the sign and means of unity; she is to bridge nations, races, and classes and unite them” (“Introduction to Christianity”).
Life application: The Catholic Church is the only truly universal church. Like the good mother that she is, the Church gathers into her arms all races and nations. Your own parish may be quite homogeneous ethnically, but it’s only a tiny part of the Catholic Church. Yet even at the local level, the Church is Catholic because it welcomes all who, like the Canaanite woman in this week’s Gospel, “love God, keep the commandments and hold fast to the covenant.”
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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