Aug 5 – Memorial for Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome
St. Mary Major is one of the four Roman basilicas known as patriarchal cathedrals in memory of the first centres of the Church. This basilica represents the See of Antioch, where Mary is supposed to have spent most of her life.
First raised at the order of Pope Liberius in the mid-fourth century, the Liberian Basilica was rebuilt by Pope Sixtus III shortly after the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary’s title as Mother of God in 431. Re-dedicated at that time to the Mother of God, St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world honouring God through Mary.
… but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.
Somewhere along our histories, we have all been in a dark place. Some of us have emerged from this. Some of us are still crawling through the tunnel. Some of us have journeyed with loved ones who struggle greatly. The gospel passage of Matthew today tells of one such dark place. A mother who has exhausted all means to save her daughter, who had been tormented by a devil. She begs Jesus to save her daughter.
But somewhere in this passage is a very uncomfortable conversation between Jesus and this mother. As I read the words exchanged between Jesus and the disciples, Jesus and the pleading mother, I admit I felt an uneasy ball in my throat rising when I ‘heard’ this:
Jesus: ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’
Woman: (Kneeling at his feet) ‘Lord, help me.’
Jesus: ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’
Woman: ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’
Jesus: ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’
Would Jesus really ‘test’ this desperate woman like this? How could he speak to her in this manner? I felt… appalled, put down, and offended on her behalf as I contemplated this scene. Yet I realised that my reactions towards Scripture are often a revelation of my own blindspots which need gentle unpacking…
Firstly, the cultural context for the term ‘house-dogs’ is not a derogatory phrase like ‘junk-yard dog’ or ‘infidel dog’ which could be what the Jews used for the Gentiles. Instead, what is lost in translation from the Greek is the diminutive term ‘house-dog’* which is more appropriately ‘puppies’ — like pets that follow nose around the children’s ankles in the house waiting for food scraps at the table. Knowing the differences in meaning, painted a different image and tone for me.
Secondly, it is the voice in my own head who sneeringly tells me, “You are not worthy. Why would Jesus care? Do you even see me, God?” that pins me down and batters my hope for some change in circumstances I face and the grief I hold in my heart over many things.
Indeed, the voice which mocks my pleas sound very much like “Why would you think your prayers are worthy of God’s time? Have you not been praying over this for years? Do you really think you would live to see this day?” So as I recoiled from my misunderstood dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, I realised that I have been an audience to the devil’s taunts and lies in this part of my life.
Would Jesus, who loves me dearly, ever speak to me this way?
Would Christ, who died for my sins, mock my wounds and sorrows?
Would Mother Mary, who said “Fiat voluntas tua / Thy will be done”, tell me that obedience to God and waiting upon His plan is futile?
The answer is:
“God loves you too much to turn you away.”
“Christ feels all your pain, from the stab of the lance, to the prick of the pin.”
“Mary aches with you and waits with you, and she walks the many stations of your crosses with you. Never give up.”
I have learnt from this fierce and fearless Canaanite woman never to take “No” for an answer… I need to come face to face more intimately, more persistently with the truth of who God is, and who I am to Him. I need to interceded with perseverance and childlike faith that never ceases, even if I may pause to catch my breath sometimes.
I am worthy of everything my Heavenly Father does for me. I need to embrace the truth of being His Beloved. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am worthy of love, of hope, joy, healing, and fullness of life. I am His.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Mother Mary, Queen of Heaven, help me to crush the serpent’s head and reject the lies of the devil who determines to crush my spirit. Mother Mary, intercede for all of us who need fearless hope and great faith in our dark moments.
Thanksgiving: The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I lack. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3)