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August 20, 2017

The racial tension this week in the United States reminds me of a story that happened during the Vietnam War.  One day a soldier crept into a trench and told a Buddhist Monk chaplain that a wounded Catholic American was at the point of dying, and was begging that a Catholic priest should come to him with a crucifix.  However, the priest chaplain could not be found.  The Buddhist Monk rapidly borrowed a cross from one of the soldiers and ran out with it in his hand.  The next day, people saw the Monk dead, holding the cross before the eyes of the American soldier who was also dead.

This story shows a wonderful unity that can exist between people of different nationalities and religions.  The monk did not stop to think the dying man was a Catholic and not his concern.  Rather, he knew that a man was in need of God's consolation. The man may have been a Muslim, or a Catholic, or a Hindu, a white or black, it did not really matter.  The monk selflessly went to the man's aid because the man was his brother through the faith they shared in the Creator.

 

Jesus had come in the first instance to his own people, the Jews.  Yet the miracle in today’s Gospel reinforces an essential truth of our faith: that Jesus welcomes all people into his home.  He came for everyone.  Even 700 years before Christ's coming, there were some people, who looked forward to the unity of all humankind.  The Prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, looked to the break-down of distinctions between the Jews and the Gentiles.  All were to be united through faith in the one God.  This vision has 2 implications, and many of us tend to forget them.

Firstly, as Catholics we believe that we have an advantage in enjoying the fullness of the truth as revealed by Christ and we have a responsibility to share our faith with others by the way we live; but there are many of us do not accept others as children of God. For example, many Christians, including Catholics, sympathize with the growing popularity of racist groups that seek to retain division among peoples, nations, communities, and parishes.  Yet our lives, as St. Paul realized, should be a source of jealousy to others so that they may be encouraged to join us.  We are not an exclusive club but a family open to all .

Secondly, the bond of faith that unites all God's children extends to more people than sometimes we realize.  In the interesting exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman Jesus seems to be convinced by the woman's nimble tongue.  The woman wanted a cure of her daughter and she would not accept NO for an answer.  Her love for her daughter gave her a spirit of persistence and simplicity that Jesus called "great faith."  Such, indeed, are the essential qualities of faith.  Love accompanied by persistence and simplicity is the quality so often possessed by men and women who have never had the opportunity to hear about Christ and his teaching.

The fact is that the hand of God is not tied.  He can give his grace to any person in any situation.  And when anyone turns from sins to follow the will of God as it is seen through conscience, the Holy Spirit is able to enter into that person's heart.

But this is not to say that it does not matter what religion we hold or what we believe.  Quite the contrary!  The purpose of Jesus' ministry is to win people for God.   Like Jesus, we are to work for the salvation of all people.  We can never rest content until Isaiah's vision of all people united in the worship of one God realized.  Christ's desire for a world of peace and harmony is not an impossible vision.  The kingdom of God is an open house.  The Church is a field hospital.  But God has to depend upon each one of us to do whatever we can, to make that dream into a reality.