Sunday Sermon for August 20, 2017, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32; Mt 15:21-28

God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. These words from the second reading are a great consolation to all of us because we know how many times we have offended God by our sins and might at times wonder if God is going to reject us because of our sins. We know God will never reject us if we come to Him humbly and repentant, but our own emotions and the temptations of the vile creature make us wonder at times.

This passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, however, is a statement far broader than our own subjective standing before the Lord. It is a statement about the people of Israel. They are God’s chosen people and that choice remains. In case there is any question about our own situation, through baptism we become children of God, a relationship even more profound than being a member of His people. So, our status remains firm (remember, Jesus said a son continues in the house forever) and so does the status of the Jewish people.

In both situations, however, there are a few problems. St. Paul’s original point in writing this had to do with the unbelief of the Jewish people. Because of their waywardness God sent His Son for their salvation. When they did not want to accept that salvation, the message of the Gospel extended to all the world. By preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, St. Paul hoped the Jews would become jealous and be converted. While there have been a number of Jewish people who have converted, to date the majority have not.

It seems, however, to be our turn to make the choice: recognizing the gifts and the call we have been given, are we going to choose belief and obedience or unbelief and disobedience? With so many people in open rebellion against the teaching of the Church we are witnessing a situation eerily similar to Israel of 2000 years ago. Among the Chosen People, many of them paid lip service to God, some went through the motions, others became sticklers for the minutia of the Law or interpreted it according to their human traditions. When our Lord was born into that milieu the people did not want Him; such a Messiah would disrupt their lives. The High Priests, who had bought their office from the Romans, certainly did not want the Messiah because they were more interested in politics and stature than in the worship and service of God.

I often marvel at the fact that in times of rebellion, God sought out people of faith who were not members of the People of God. We can recall the widow of Zarephath who housed and fed Elijah, and Namaan the Syrian who was healed by Elisha. In today’s Gospel we hear about a woman who was a Canaanite. She comes to our Lord seeking the exorcism of her daughter; her request is granted because of her faith and humility. Our Lord did not find that very often among His own people (recall when the Centurion told our Lord to only speak the word and his servant would be healed: Jesus said he had never seen such faith in Israel) nor has He found it much among us.

Many Saints have graced the Church throughout the ages and have provided a great examples of faith to all of us, but precious few have followed their example. Isaiah speaks about the foreigners who would join themselves to the Lord. These people, he says will minister to God, love the Lord, keep the Sabbath free of profanation, be joyful in God’s house of prayer, and offer burnt offerings and sacrifices on the altar. Isn’t it amazing a Gentile convert would be pleasing to the Lord while many Jewish people would continue to go through the motions without observing what is right and just?

We have the same phenomenon today. Often the converts to Catholicism put the rest of us to shame. It is not because they believe the teachings of the Church while we do not; rather, it is because they are zealous in their faith and love for the Lord while most of us are not. We often go through the motions without a lot of faith or love. This is where the words from St. Paul are addressed to us: God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. These words cannot be taken as a point of presumption; rather, they remain as a guarantee for us. If we are willing to go deeper in our faith, hope, and charity, regardless of our past sins and negligences, the Lord’s invitation is still there for us. He is calling us to be Saints; His call has not changed and it never will change!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit