Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays,” wrote Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. This is a good starting point for our reflections on this Sunday’s Gospel, the story of the Canaanite mother who prays to Christ for her daughter who was possessed by a demon.
Let us spend time understanding the context of this narrative, which comes right after an argument between Christ and the religious authorities, whose self-righteousness and hypocrisy he denounces.
This is the first time Christ leaves Jewish territory and enters Gentile land to get away from the tension with authorities and the demands of the crowds, and prepare his small community of followers for the impending fulfillment of his mission on the Cross and in the Resurrection.
He then encounters not just a gentile, but a Canaanite at that—the Jews’ “old-time enemies.” It is in this context that we see the conversation of faith between Christ and the mother. “Prayer changes him who prays.” Prayer changes the faith of the mother, and it is her love for her daughter that effects this change.
Truth about prayer
There is another narrative in the Gospels that powerfully shows this truth about prayer— the Agony in the Garden where Christ begs his Father to spare him: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me…”
There are important lessons in faith and love here. Both the mother and Christ pray from the heart and soul; because of the depth of this prayer, they pray with humility, and from this humility and deepest truth, they pray with great honesty and authenticity.
All these give the mother and Christ the courage to ask (a Canaanite mother asking a Jew) for a favor. Do we have the courage to ask that comes from humility and authenticity springing from our heart and soul?
I remember Fr. Joe Cruz SJ telling us in a retreat that the mark of a deep friendship is when one is free and confident to ask a friend for anything. Yet one also trusts the friendship in a way that one does not expect to be given what one asks for, but one knows—in faith and hope—that the friend will listen, will take your prayers to heart and will give you what is best for you.
This is the prayer of the heart and soul—with courage, humility and authenticity—that leads to total faith and hope in the one we ask from: “Not my will, but your will be done.”
While rushing to finish this reflection, I switched on the TV and caught the news about the terror attack in Barcelona. I was also preparing for the final day of a two-day formation session.
I could not help but hear this song in my heart and soul—and decided that this would be my opening reflection for the group.
“I’d like to build the world a home and furnish it with love… I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to hold it in my arms and keep it company. I’d like to see the world for once all standing hand in hand, and hear them echo through the hills for peace throughout the land. That’s the song I hear…”
In 1971, this song was used by Coca-Cola for its ad showing children from all over the world singing together on top of a hill. It was iconic because I think it represented the hopes, dreams and prayers of that generation.
In the Philippines, we were then weathering the effects of the first quarter storm. It was the year the farce of a constitutional convention was imposed on our consciousness as young students. It was the year of the Plaza Miranda bombing. It was the year prior to the declaration of martial law.
The song became the song of our heart and soul, praying for a world of love and harmony in the midst of the social storms and turmoil.
Let me close with these thoughts from the song, with the hope that I can ask all of you who read this to have the courage to pray, the humility to beg God that all of us make this the song and prayer in our heart and soul.
May we have to courage to believe that the Lord will once more tell us, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”