There is a story told, apocryphal, of course, about a black man in the south. It was pre-integration days, and he was standing outside a church that was attended by whites only.
As it happened it was quite close to where he lived, and he was seriously considering attempting to go there on a Sunday morning, rather than travel several miles to an all-black church. He was standing outside, trying to get enough courage to face what would surely prove an impossible task anyhow, when he looked up, and there was Jesus standing beside him.
Jesus asked him what he was doing there, and he said he was trying to figure out a way to get into that church. Jesus smiled and said, “Oh I know well how you feel. Actually I myself have been trying for years to get into that church.” (Jack McArdle, More Stories for Preachers and Teachers #103).
Borders and boundaries are part of human experiences. Human societies are divided by races, nationalities, cultures, political ideologies, religious beliefs and many other factors. For example, arriving at the airports, all International travelers have to go through the immigration checkpoint. In the United States, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires U. S. and Canadian travelers to present a passport or other document that denote identity and citizenship when entering the U. S. The goal of WHTI is to facilitate entry for U. S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors, while strengthening U. S. border security.
The 109th Congress of the United States voted and passed the House Resolution 6061 “Secure Fence Act of 2006 for the construction of 700 miles (1,125 km) of physical fence/barriers along the border between the United States and Mexico. The fence project has been completed from San Diego, California to Yuma, Arizona. From there it continues into Texas and consists of a fence that is 21 feet (6.4 m) tall and 6 feet (1.8 m) deep in the ground, cemented in a 3-foot (0.91 m)-wide trench with 5000 psi concrete. This border fence is designed to prevent illegal movement across the Mexico -- United States border. Borders and fences, however, only give us inadequate sense of protection and security. For some reason, human beings are not able to completely trust one another. There is always some turmoil around the world. One sector of people is hostile to another. For example, civil unrest was causing rampant looting and raging fires engulfed swaths of London for the last few days. Images of violence deeply shocked Londoners and the rest of the world.
In the United States, it is sad and painful for us to watch the news about the Chinook transport helicopter went down during an anti-Taliban operation in Afghanistan, and to see the bodies of the American troops, including the 22 members of the elite Navy SEALS arrived at Dover Air Force Base. These images of unrest, violence and death are results of human divisions. Who can free us from these divisions and mistrust? Who can lead us to unity in love and mutually acceptance of one another?
There is one place that is open and welcome people from all nationalities, races and religious backgrounds. That place is the Vatican City, headquarter of the Catholic Church. If you have ever been to the Vatican, you might notice that everyone is welcome to enter and visit this place without visa or charge. There is no border fence or custom checkpoint either. At least this is what we are suppose to be. The Catholic Church is a Universal Church. Everyone is welcome and encourage joining. Jesus is the Founder of this Church, and he sets this vision of unity for the Church. This is Jesus’ prayer for the Church, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus prays that we are one with Him and with God the Father. Only the power of God can make us one and help us united to one another. We Catholics are obligated to show this sign of unity within our communities and within the Church. A Christian community without this sign of unity in Faith, Hope and Love in Jesus Christ is yet an authentic Christian community.
As today’s gospel begins, Jesus travels to a region that is considered to be unclean in Jewish eyes. As Jesus walks into it, one of the locals discovers his presence and start approaching him. Matthew defines this person as a “Canaanite” woman. Canaanite meant a long-hardened pagan and a longtime enemy of Jewish monotheistic faith and commitment. Jesus’s encounter with a Canaanite is daring, but with a Canaanite woman, it is doubly defiling. The strict behavioral codes of decency in Near Eastern culture sternly frowned on women and men socializing. The brazen approach of this lone woman to Jesus and his disciples makes her character especially questionable. In an age in which it was a commonly held conviction that all diseases, but especially demonic possession- resulted from past sinfulness, this woman’s character rating slips even further. What has she done in her life to have earned such a curse on her daughter? She doesn’t belong to Jesus’ circle of friends.
The woman however, is able to acknowledge that while Israel has a place at the table, a small place might be making for her as well. Jesus adds a leaf to the table and includes her, noting that her faith is what makes this possible. Everyone needs help sometime. For many people it is a daily need. Some may feel unworthy to ask Jesus for help. They have not been to church, are not church members, do not pray or read the Bible and are living immoral lives. The woman in this periscope had nothing going for her that Jesus should help her. Yet he did! Jesus helps her. He accepts her and grants her request because of her faith.
Christianity in fact, is about the person, Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus Christ is the reason for unity. He is the reason for love. He is the reason for life. Without him, there will be no true unity and peace. Only true faith in Jesus Christ can heal the divisions among us. True faith in Jesus Christ will take down all borders, fences and divisions. Only true faith in Jesus Christ can bring us together.
One night during the First World War, Father Duffy was crawling through the trenches. He came to a dying doughboy. Trying to help, he took the torn, bleeding body into his arms and whispered words of spiritual help and consolation. The young man opened his eyes and looked, somewhat startled, at the priest. “Father,” he gasped, “I do not belong to your Church. “The chaplain answered, “I know, my lad, but you belong to my God.” (Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, Treasury of Catechism Stories, #164).