Wednesday, 9 August 2017 : 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard how the people of Israel rebelled against the Lord at the time when they were about to enter into the Promised Land of Canaan after God had led them through the desert from their slavery in Egypt. The scouts who were sent forth to survey the land ahead of the people incited the people to turn against God and against Moses, His servant, charging that they have been led to a land of danger and harm, not trusting in the power and providence of God, which He surely would have given them.

Israel failed to understand that God was with them all the way throughout their journey, even though they have seen in many occasions the great wonders of God, His works and His efforts, from the ten plagues He sent to the Egyptians and their Pharaoh to pressure them to let the Israelites to go free, to the opening of the Red Sea and the destruction of the armies of the Egyptians, to the care and love which He showered them with through the desert, providing them with food and water, protection from their enemies and all others.

That is why God punished them all, by making them to wander through the desert for another forty years, in the process letting all those who have rejected His love to perish in the desert, except for Caleb, the only one among the scouts to remain faithful and trusting in God, as well as Joshua, the faithful right hand man to Moses and his successor as the leader over all of Israel.

They had faith in their own power, their own intellect and their own ways, instead of listening to the Lord and obeying His will. And this is linked to what we have heard in the Gospel passage today, in which we witnessed how our Lord Jesus interacted with a Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite woman, who was not considered to belong among the people of Israel.

We must have wondered why did the Lord Jesus said such things to the woman, who begged Him to heal her daughter who was possessed by an evil spirit. Why did He rebuke her and seemingly rejected her request to have her daughter healed? And He was even comparing her to the lowly and unworthy dogs begging for the food from the master of the table. Why is this so, brothers and sisters in Christ?

The truth is that, our Lord Jesus was merely displaying to all of us the reality of the situation at that time, the prejudice and the attitude which the people of Israel, the Jewish people showed against their non-Jewish or also known as Gentiles, neighbours. The Jews looked down on their neighbours because they took pride in their status as the chosen people of God, and looked at others with contempt as if they were unworthy of God's love.

That is why, literally, they treated the pagan nations and the Gentiles as if they were below par, as what Jesus had illustrated in His interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman. But, the Lord Jesus showed just how faithful that woman had been, much more so than the people of Israel had been. The same case was evident from another part of the Gospels, where the army centurion who was likely to be a Gentile or non-Jew, was praised by the Lord for his faith which the Lord had not seen even among the Jews.

What is the lesson that all of us must learn from what we have heard in today's Scripture passages? It is that we must never have prejudice against others, but instead we must help each other on our journey towards the Lord. There has been plenty of sorrow and suffering caused throughout the history of this world when we mankind showed prejudice to our fellow men, and discriminate, just because we thought that it is right to do so.

The scouts were prejudiced against the inhabitants of Canaan, thinking that because they were all fearsome and powerful, they would rather trust in their own judgment instead of trusting in God's providence, therefore resulting in the people of God falling into sin. Yet, still others used prejudice as a method to achieve their own selfish agenda and objective, one of the worst of which is the Holocaust during the Second World War, a great atrocity against humanity by the NAZI German government.

Today it also happened that we celebrate the feast of one of the many victims of that terrible Holocaust, namely St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also better known by her name, St. Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to the Christian faith, who then joined the religious order of the Discalced Carmelites. She was remembered for her great many works and writings, involvement in the Catholic education and dedication to the Lord.

As the NAZI government of Germany at that time played on the prejudice and racism against the Jewish population, firstly in Germany itself, and then later on, among the countries that they have conquered, gathering all of them to be put into concentration camps and then massacred without mercy, the same would eventually happen to St. Teresa Benedicta, who endured the suffering with grace and faith, believing that God has already planned everything for her, and entrusted everything to God.

We see how mankind could end up committing such cruel acts like murder and genocide, based on their human prejudice alone, when they abandoned God's laws and commandments, and instead putting their trust in their own human judgment and intellect. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross showed all of us how we should then act, against all these prejudices and wickedness, by our total and complete surrender to the Lord and His will.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all as Christians be true disciples of the Lord through our every words, actions and deeds. Let us all put our faith in Him, rather than trusting in our own flawed human power, judgment and prejudices. Let us not follow in the footsteps of the Israelites who disobeyed God because of their fears and prejudices, and then, also, as we remember the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman, let us all never be prejudiced against others or look down on anyone just because we think that we are more faithful than them. After all, no matter what, all of us are still the same, brethren, as sinners still needing the healing and mercy from God.

Let us all therefore from now on, commit ourselves to be righteous and true in our every deeds. Let us all not be passive or be ignorant when others are being bullied because of their race, appearance, or any other things. Let us instead be active in helping one another to reach out to the Lord in faith. May the Lord bless us all, and may He empower us to become ever better disciples of His, always. Amen.

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