My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Prayer is a great good. It is among the greatest goods we can possess, if it is performed with a thankful will and a loving heart; if we truly convict ourselves to thank God not only when we receive what we asked for, but even when we do not receive it.
For God sometimes grants a favour, and at other times He does not, but in either case He acts for our good. Either you will obtain a thing that is desired, or you will not obtain it, and yet if you do not obtain it, you will nevertheless gain from not obtaining it. Either you will receive what you desire, or you will not receive it, but even then you will receive in not receiving; for it happens at times, even oftentimes, that it is better not to receive something. If to receive a favour is to our welfare, God will surely grant it; but if, as often happens, we are mistaken about what is best for us, then not receiving what we ask is also an answer from God to our benefit.
When we pray, our prayers will be answered if, first of all, we are fit to receive the object of our petition; second, if the prayer is in accordance with divine laws; third, if we pray frequently; fourth, if we do not ask for anything worldly; fifth, if we offer up all that is ours; and finally, if we ask for what is beneficial.
These six points can form a short course of instruction on prayer in and of themselves, and during this week we will consider these again. But for now, it is enough to establish them as our basis, knowing that those who pray in such a way are heard, whereas without these things even the prayers of those who are otherwise holy and righteous will not be heard.
For who was more righteous than the Holy Apostle Saint Paul? Yet because what he asked for was not good for him, what he asked was not granted; as he said, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice; and He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Furthermore, there is something else which makes our prayers go unheard, and that is praying while remaining in sin.
Thus did God speak to the Prophet Jeremias concerning the Jews, “Pray not thou for this people. Seest thou not what they do? They have not refrained their feet from iniquity. Thou offerest prayers for them, but I shall not hear thee.”
Likewise, when we petition for evils to be visited upon our enemies, not only are we not heard, but we also anger God by such a petition.
Prayer is a medicine; however, if we do not know how to apply the medicine, we shall never derive any benefit from it.
So we must never, my friends, never neglect the rule of prayer. Whether, therefore, we eat, or drink, or work, or travel, or stand, or sit, or whatsoever we do, let each of us unceasingly call out: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. As Saint Paul says: “Pray without ceasing.” And our Lord Himself says: “Watch and pray at all times.”
So, indeed today we learn from the Canaanite woman that diligence in prayer is such a great good that, while our Lord did not do what the Apostles asked, she obtained her request; her patience resulted in action. The truth of things is demonstrated by the words of the Gospel itself today, for it says:
At that time: Jesus went unto the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And behold a woman of Canaan who came out of those coasts, crying out, said to Him: Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David: my daughter is grieviously troubled by the devil.
This woman of Canaan, who had heard before of the manifestation of the glory of our Lord, now saw Him come into her country, and she went out and cried: Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. In these words the Canaanite woman professed and proclaimed her faith, thus putting to shame and condemning the faithless Jews who did not believe in our Lord’s words. This woman who had not studied the Law or the Prophets, but who asked mercy of Him, called Him Lord as being God, and called Him Son of David on account of His humanity. She did not say: Come, Lord, and heal my daughter, but rather: Have mercy on me, who have recourse to Thee; me, sick from the suffering of my daughter. Her daughter, afflicted by a demon and completely insensate, she left at home, and prayed rather for herself, inasmuch as she suffered so cruelly from watching the suffering of her daughter. Here, my friends, take a lesson. The Gospel then says of our Lord:
Who answered her not a word.
The Lord does not answer her, not because He disdains her, but because He wished to demonstrate the woman’s constant and persevering faith and her great patience.
And His disciples came and besought Him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us. And He answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.
Bothered by the woman’s cry, the disciples besought our Lord to send her away. Our Lord then said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep; that is, to the Jews, who were lost sheep, since they remained outside of the saving fold of God’s commandments on account of the malice which gripped the chief priests, and the leaders and the others. By these words the Lord shows even more clearly the woman’s faith.
Not answering her a word, remaining silent in the presence of a suffering woman, was enough to throw some into despair. But then answering the disciples who entreated Him concerning her: I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel, seemingly would have given her even greater grounds for despair. But what did the woman do then? Did she despair when she saw herself seemingly spurned and those who had made entreaty concerning her rebuffed? No. She had great faith and understanding; she became shameless with a good and upright shamelessness, as the Gospel then tells us:
But she came and adored Him, saying: Lord, help me.
Until this moment the Canaanite woman did not dare to come face to face with Christ, because she judged herself unworthy. But now she stops calling to Christ from afar; she draws near and does Him homage.
Do we do the same, my friends? When entreating the Lord and we do not receive an answer, do we approach all the nearer and become even more diligent and fervent? Or do we turn away and stand farther off, cast down with despair and self-pity?
[Our Lord answers, saying:] It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs.
The more she presses her petition, the more Christ seemingly repulses her. Everywhere He shows His connexion with the Jews, and the love, and the honour and the care which He had for them. He called them children, because they were His loved ones, while He referred to the Gentiles as dogs, inasmuch as they were defiled by the blood which was offered to idols.
But then see here the wisdom of the woman; she seizes on our Lord’s own words and fashions her response from them.
But she said: Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.
It is as if she says: Since I am a dog, a foreigner and stranger, yet nevertheless under Thy lordship and dominion, I am not restrained from partaking of the crumbs which fall from Thy table. Those who eat the bread seemingly have nothing great, but for the dogs it is a great thing even to eat the crumbs, since that is their nourishment.
That the Canaanite woman did not give up, even when she was so belittled, was a sign of her faith. That for the sake of Christ’s healing she admitted to having the status of a dog was exemplary humility. That she wove the Lord’s own words into her answer showed her intelligence.
And here we see why our Lord did not grant her request immediately: all of her virtues thus might be active and manifested. That in her persistence He might reveal the woman’s wise way of thinking; that the faithless Jews might be put to shame, seeing that they were so far surpassed in faith, and humility, and understanding by a Gentile woman; and that the Apostles, witnessing all these things, might take courage when they would be later sent out to the nations.
Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour.
Christ marvelled, and accepted the woman’s faith, saying: “Be it done unto thee as thou wilt.” And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. He gave a command after the manner of a king, and word became act. He did not accomplish the deed by prayer, but by the power which is proper to God.
And the daughter was made whole from that very hour, according to her mother’s faith. When the word was given, the deed was not slow to follow. When God so commands, word becomes fact, for His power is everywhere. Moreover, we see that though the Apostles made entreaty for the Canaanite woman and received nothing, she herself received what she asked for; and from this we learn that God wishes that we ourselves should pray on our own behalf.
Whereas the disciples had greater boldness, the woman displayed great patience. Truly, then, diligence in prayer can accomplish great things. Therefore, my friends, let us also be unceasingly diligent in prayer.
Many people, however, enter church and with their tongues offer a multitude of verses of prayer, but when they leave they do not even know what they have said; their lips move, but their ears are not listening. We ourselves do not hear our prayer, and yet we desire God to listen. We bend our knees to pray, but our thoughts fly here and there. Our bodies are inside the church, but our hearts are outside.
But just as the Canaanite woman said: “Have mercy on me, O Lord,” so must we. Have mercy on me, O Lord. It is but a small phrase, but great, great is the depth of God’s love for mankind; and where mercy is found, there is found everything good and saving and life-giving.
Knowing all these things, my friends, let us strive to live according to the commandments and the will of God, that we may be deemed worthy of eternal good things, in Christ Jesus our Lord.