How to Move God’s Heart

Aug 20, 2017: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

We can move the heart of God, because God is a person, not a force.

This Christian truth shines through in today’s Gospel. Jesus Christ had a particular mission to accomplish during His earthly lifetime. He was to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and lay the foundation of the Catholic Church. The parameters of this mission did not include Canaanites (ancestral enemies of the Israelites).

Yet, Jesus makes an exception to these parameters after His encounter with the Canaanite woman.

She touched His heart because she had what Christ’s heart most yearns for: love, faith, and humility.

Her love comes across in her self-forgetfulness.

She was so concerned for her daughter, than she was even willing to make a humiliating spectacle out of herself, tagging along behind a Jewish rabbi in public, screaming to get His attention.

Her faith comes across in how she addresses Jesus. She calls him “Lord” and “Son of David.” This shows that although she was a Canaanite, she knew about the Jewish religion and accepted God’s promise to send a Messiah. When He finally stops to listen to her, she falls on her knees and does Him homage — she knows she is in God’s presence. She believed in Jesus, so much so, in fact, that Jesus himself compliments her on her faith!

Her humility comes across in the way she makes her request. She did not come to Him burning with anger at God for allowing her innocent daughter to be tormented by demons. She understood that miracles were undeserved gifts from God, just like existence itself. This humble attitude strengthened her, enabling her to absorb the Lord’s initial rejection, and then come right back with another petition.

Love, faith, and humility: these are the ingredients for prayer that moves the heart of God — a heart that can be moved, because God is a person, not a force.

In the back of our minds, sometimes, we can’t help wondering why our prayers don’t always get as dramatic and immediate results as this woman’s prayers.

Is it just because we don’t love enough, aren’t humble enough, don’t have enough faith? Maybe sometimes that is the case. Maybe sometimes we approach God the way we approach a Coke machine: we think that if we put in the dollar of our Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers, God will spew out exactly what we ask for. When that does not happen, which is most of the time, we give up hope.

However, we shouldn’t. God answers every single prayer we utter, because He is the perfect Father, with a perfect Father’s heart. He can answer with a yes, no, or not yet, but He always answers. Mature faith understands this.

King David gives us an example of mature faith. After he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Bathsheba’s husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him, and he repented, doing public penance for his sins. Bathsheba gave birth to a son as a result of their adultery. When the infant child fell sick and was dying, King David prayed and fasted for seven days, begging God to heal him. On the seventh day, the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him the news, because they thought he would take it badly. They were wrong. When David realized that God had not given him what he was asking for, he humbly accepted God’s decision and went off to have some dinner.

When God doesn’t give us exactly what we ask for, it simply means that He is planning to give us something better.

God is not a Coke machine; He is our perfectly wise and loving Father.

One easy way to apply this lesson to our lives this week is by adopting a very simple, very wise, and very ancient Christian tradition.

It’s called an aspiration, not aspirin, but aspiration. An aspirin is a small physical pill that you take to relieve physical tension or pain so you can keep working. An aspiration is a small spiritual pill that can help relieve the spiritual pressures that build up during the day, so that we can keep our minds and hearts in closer contact with God. The word aspiration comes from the Latin word aspirare, which means, “to breathe upon.” An aspiration is nothing more than the spiritual tradition of breathing out small prayers, sometimes consisting of just one or two sentences, throughout the day.

These prayers can be lines from the Bible, or a line from a favorite Christian poem or song, or from the writings of the saints.

Two lines from today’s Gospel passage have become classic aspirations: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” and “Lord, help me!”

We can whisper simple but profound prayers like these quietly at different times of the day: while walking down a hallway, for example, while walking across campus, while getting into the car, or while sweeping the back porch.

Whenever we do this, our usually self-centered life automatically becomes more God-centered, and we exercise and expand our love, faith, and humility.

Aspirations remind us that we are not alone, that God is thinking of us, that we need His help, and that his help is readily available.

They keep us online with the Lord.

Few people are able to carve out long hours for meditation and contemplation on a daily basis, but all of us can whisper to God now and then throughout the day.

Few things would please Him more than to hear His beloved children whispering in His ear.

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