20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1,6-7; Psalm 66(67):2-3,5-6,8; Romans 11:13-15,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28.
The prophet Isaiah reminds his contemporaries that those who believe in God are welcome into God’s presence, on the mountain of the Lord. Faith in God, expressed through obedience to God’s word, makes one is eligible to enter into God’s presence. All believers, Jews and non-Jews alike, will climb the mountain of the Lord.
The reality described by Isaiah is put in practice in today’s gospel reading. The Canaanite woman approaches Jesus requesting him to heal her daughter. Jesus at first seems unwilling to listen to the cries of this ‘foreigner,’ saying that he was only sent to look out for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. The woman is not intimidated by Jesus’ response, even when he compares her to a house-dog. Her deep faith in the ‘Son of David’ gains her the request. Similarly, our faith in Jesus admits us into God’s presence and enables us to share in his life.
Along the decades, members of the society have wondered whether the founder intended the congregation to minister solely to Maltese expatriates or to preach the gospel to peoples who had not yet heard of the good news (ad gentes). This notwithstanding, it has always been clear that De Piro intended evangelisation as an essential element of his society’s charism. In his own ministry, the Servant of God opted to preach the good news to those socially and financially disadvantaged in society.
Joseph De Piro was imbued with the love of God the Father, expressed in a special way through the various mysteries of Jesus Christ. In his sermons the Servant of God frequently spoke about the Lord’s incarnation; through his incarnation, Jesus became one with us. The passion and death Jesus suffered for us, sinners, were the mysteries that most influenced the Servant of God since his youth, and continued to help him grow throughout his life.
De Piro experienced the Eucharist as the continuation of the incarnation event; the sacrament instituted by Jesus through which he became one with us. Moreover, Christ’s Sacred Heart was the abode of the divine love that continued to save us.
Totally imbued with this divine love, De Piro could not resist preaching this divine love to his brothers and sisters in Malta, overseas or among ad gentes peoples. He achieved this both personally and through others. He continuously promoted a faith that was the foundation of civilisation and that brought about the complete amelioration of humanity. Faith introduced liberty in human society, gave new of life, and enlightened humanity.
Between 1918 and 1920 Joseph De Piro served as rector of the Maltese diocesan major seminary. A newly-ordained priest, who had been a seminarian during those two years, requested the ex-rector to deliver the homily at his First Solemn High Mass. Here De Piro spoke about the priest’s duty to preach the good news, giving us an insight of his understanding of evangelisation.
“It cannot be denied that any society cannot but be pleased with its civilization and progress in the arts, science and all sorts of inventions. Yet, however much a nation may have advanced on the road of civilisation and progress, it always needs the light that will lead it to the safe haven of glory. Religious instruction is an absolute necessity. Society must be instructed about how it ought to conduct itself in God’s sight.
Who can meet such a grave need? … Jesus Christ, … pointing out his priest to you says, ‘Behold the light that will keep you from error. Behold the light that will lead you to the safe haven of well-being and glory.’
Listen to Jesus Christ, how he speaks, how he ordains, how he commands his apostles and, in the person of the apostles, the Catholic priest: ‘Go and teach all nations.’ (Mt 28:19). Elsewhere, to confirm his mission, he says, ‘Whoever listens to you, listens to me.’ (Lk 10:16).
You can see that if the Catholic priest were to be taken away from society, then it would be robbed of all good. If the priest were to be taken away then Jesus Christ would also be taken away and wherever Jesus Christ does not reign there one would find not light but darkness, not truth but error, not life but death since only Jesus Christ can say, as he has said, ‘I am the truth and the life’ (Jn 14:6).
Every time that error starts to spread like a poisonous snake in a country, a state, or a nation and begins to darken minds, to spoil and corrupt hearts, the priest speaks out, and raises his voice like a trumpet to keep alive the sacred flame of the Catholic faith. When selfishness triumphs and the poor, the widow, the orphan are mistreated, the priest preaches the evangelical commandment of charity and with apostolic courage reminds all of that judgement that awaits us in the next world.
When corruption infects and breaks the family, the priest speaks, and at his word calm returns, tranquillity, peace; right order and harmony return the family to the right path and raises it once more to its original dignity.
The priest calls to his school the multitudes, the peoples; the priest speaks to the young and the old. He speaks to the great and the small, the rich and the poor, to the wise and the ignorant, the sovereign and the subject. He speaks, and at his word everything becomes sacred: children, people and authority. Because the priest speaks indiscriminately to all: ‘Love God, love one another, follow the way of virtue and flee evil-doing.’”
Reflecting on these words one can understand De Piro’s option in favour of those who lacked the good news.