I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | God passionately wants to share His mercy

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God is the relentless source of goodness to all who come to Him in hope and humility, an image depicted in the readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In the first reading, the Lord tells us: "Observe what is right, do what is just; for My salvation is about to come, My justice about to be revealed." Justice and righteousness are divine prerogatives. Man can't justify himself by his works; he can only receive righteousness as a gift from God, who offers the gift of righteousness so that man can experience dialogue and union with God.

Justice and righteousness are about to be revealed to mankind. These gifts aren't restricted to the chosen people, but are also offered to "foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to Him, loving the name of the Lord and becoming His servants .... them I will bring to My holy mountain and make joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people."

God simply states that He desires to accept all people who come to Him with contrite hearts, with sacrifices and prayer. In this context, God refers to all Gentiles who turn to Him in prayer. We're no longer foreigners, but through baptism we have become members of the household of God.

Yet, all too often, because of our sins, we consider ourselves foreigners to God. We condemn ourselves for failures; yet that isn't what God does. He wants us, especially when we feel alienated from God, to come to Him in prayer, because He desires to make us "joyful in My house of prayer."

There are no self-made joyful saints. As a popular religious hymn states: "Saints are only sinners who fall down and get up." Spiritual joy can only come from God, and it comes to us automatically for trading in our sins for God's loving and justifying mercy. Asking God to show us our sins allows God to do what He enjoys doing — forgiving sinners.

In the second reading, Paul depicts God as passionate in His desire to save both Jews and Gentiles. To put it in simple language, when the Jews disobeyed God, He offered His salvation to us Gentiles, many of whom accept His salvation. However, now that the Gentiles have accepted salvation, God again takes the initiative of offering the Jews salvation in order that they might imitate the Gentiles in flocking to God.

In the Gospel, the Canaanite woman doesn't take "no" for an answer. This Gentile woman is moving toward Israel, while Jesus, the Son of God, is moving from Israel toward pagan territory; they meet when she has a crisis.

St. Augustine suggests that Jesus was inwardly excited to see her because He knew that the Father had sent her. Wasn't this a marvelous opportunity to show up His apostles by opening up to them their future, in extending the Gospel to the Gentiles?

Twice Jesus seems to ignore her request. This isn't a delay game. He allows her to explore the depth of her determination. Each delay seems to make her more determined that she won't go home until Jesus grants her request. At long last Jesus accedes to her request with the words: "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

Focus for a moment on the power of Jesus' silence. As Scripture scholar Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis wrote in his book "Fire of Mercy", silence has an authority all its own, especially when divinely appointed, and we must allow its rights even when it frustrates our expectations. We must allow it to wash over us and enfold us. God's self-manifestation in emptiness can go on indefinitely, until God chooses to create something with it better than emptiness, but we must be convinced that our many words are never better than God's silent emptiness in us. We must not, in a panic, begin at once to fill it up with our own noise. God's silence in us is one more of the choicest works of his grace.

These readings make it clear that God is passionate in wanting to share with us His mercy. Yet in our prayers, we sometimes think God isn't hearing us. The problem is on our side. Our sins create inner static, which prevent us from hearing the voice of God. We can quell the noise by asking God to reveal to us the sins that cause this inner static.

I have had more than one person say to me: "My life changed radically when I began to earnestly ask God over and over again, 'Lord, show me my sins.'" Far from being a condemning exercise, this is a liberating exercise. Receiving His mercy quiets our inner static. Like the Prodigal Son, we feel back home and loved by our Father.

Don't be afraid of silence. God uses silence to reveal the clutter that blocks our experience of God. In the Gospel, Jesus uses silence to make the Gentile woman even more persistent in her search. Silence is God's gift to teach us how to listen, how to love. God's apparent silence only drives us deeper into His presence. Don't run from silence. Don't run from God, and you will find Him.

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