“Woman you have great faith – let your wish be granted”

Ten days ago we gathered here in this Cathedral to send off 132 young pilgrims from this diocese who have gone to Madrid.  Today we are delighted to meet and greet this group from Brooklyn and tomorrow we meet and send on their way a group from New Jersey.  They are all on their way to meet the Pope.  He, in turn, will invite them to meet Jesus Christ and make Him their friend.

All these young people, and their leaders, are on their way to meet about two million other pilgrims.  I believe Pope Benedict will send them all back from Madrid with their faith strengthened in Jesus Christ and realising that we are all, by reason of our Christian baptism, planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith.  The Pope will give them a mission, a task, a job, to come back and bear witness to the joy of being a follower of Jesus Christ.  

In his message for this World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI has said he would like all young people to share the experience of World Youth Day.  Why?  Because he says, “It is an experience which can prove decisive for their lives.  It is an experience of the Lord and of his love for each of us”.

Jesus himself tells us that he is our life.  So Christina faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true but, above all, Christian faith is a personal relationship  with Jesus Christ.

Christian faith is an encounter with the Son of God that that gives new energy to the whole of our existence.  In today’s Gospel we have heard of one woman’s outstanding encounter with Christ.  When the Canaanite woman met the Son of God, not only did she get new energy herself but her sick daughter got new energy which healed her sickness and put an end to her torments.

“Woman you have great faith, let you wish be granted”. Surely this is one of the most sweet-sounding sentences in the whole Gospel – which of us would not give our right arm, as we say, to hear it spoken about ourselves.  It reminds us of that other pearl spoken by Jesus on the Cross to the good thief:  “Amen, I say to you.  This day you will be with me in Paradise”. How much better can it get than that?  Let us just recall why Jesus was in these foreign parts of Tyre and Sidon.

He had gone there to escape – to escape the negativity, the rejection, the hostility of the Scribes and Pharisees.  Then, lo and behold, Jesus hears someone in the crowd who has great faith in him and in his power.  It came from a source that was least expected to have such faith a foreigner – a wman.  This episode is an outstanding example of an encounter with the Son of God that gives new energy and new life.

Someone gave me a prayer recently and it could have been written by the Canaanite woman.  

Teach me O Lord to be sweet and gentle in all the events of life.
In disappointments and in the thoughtlessness of others,
In the insincerity of those I trusted.
Let me put myself aside to think of the happiness of others.
To hide my little pains and heartaches
So that I may be the only one to suffer from them.
Teach me to profit from the suffering that comes across my path
Let me use it that it may mellow, not harden nor embitter me.
Make me patient, not irritated.  
Make me broad in my forgiveness – not narrow, haughty or overbearing.

This mother thinks of the happiness of her daughter – that is her obsession.  She puts herself, and her needs, aside to think of the health and happiness of her daughter.

‘Have mercy on me, Sir, my daughter has a demon and is in a terrible condition’.  The love which every parent has for a sick child drives her on.  She has a sense of mission – to find healing for her beloved daughter.  It is the cry of desperation of a loving parent at her wits end.  It is a story of love and of great faith – the faith of this woman – from the middle of the mountains.  But Jesus did not say a word to her.  We are not told why.  It reminds us of so many of our prayers that apparently go unanswered.

So therefore, I ask all of you to pray earnestly for the two million young people, en route to Madrid, that they may all be strengthen in faith as a result of their pilgrimage.  I also ask you to pray earnestly for the thirty young people from Malta who spent the last month here – helping the Missionaries of Charity run their Summer Camp for some 200 children here in Armagh.  They came at their own expense and they won the minds and hearts of the children by the way they treated them with such love and patience and respect.

Last week the world was stunned by the rioting of so many young people in English cities.  The politicians blamed the Police – the Police said they did their best and Mr Brattan said that all of society needed to examine their conscience.  The parents of one teenager, appearing in Court, said they were too busy to attend the hearing.   Perhaps they were.  It gives food for thought but I cannot help feeling that a lot of those teenagers were restless because they are not loved at home.  Contrast that approach with the heroine of today’s Gospel.

Today we join Jesus in celebrating the faith of this wonderful woman.  She reminds us of people who have made a deep impression on us.  She belonged to two groups who were considered inferior at the time of Jesus – she was a woman and she was a foreigner.  She represented all who, by their greatness, challenges the false values of our age.  She represented the many people in the course of history who started off as outsiders but who eventually brought a new richness to the Church.   For example, Rome, Greece and Ireland were the so-called “pagan nations” of the first centuries.  But they all brought a new dimension to the message of Jesus.  The outstanding fact is that the concerns of this great lady were not for herself but totally for her daughter.  She reminds us of the great unsung heroines of our times –

•    The women who gather at the gates of prisons to visit relatives who have been arrested or sentenced.  
•    The women who spend their lives caring for elderly parents or siblings with disabilities.
•    She represents all those who are passionately committed to a noble cause – raising funds for worthy causes at home and abroad – in season and out of season.
•    The refugee mothers of Somalia and the sacrifices they make for the love of their children.

She was not concerned about what others thought of her.  She came out and at once began to shout.  People who are passionate about something do not mind making a nuisance of themselves.  

Jesus went to Tyne and Sidon because he was being harassed and rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees but then there was the Canaanite woman waiting to ask his help and raise his spirits with her strong faith in him.

  • We ask today to be humble like Jesus so that we may recognise publicly the great faith of others.  
  • We ask forgiveness that, in a world of plenty, there are still people who must be content with the scraps. 
  • At the same time we ask the Lord not to let us grow discouraged or give in to bitterness.  
  • We pray that we can, in fact, see that there are many scraps falling from the table that can nourish us and that our wishes can be granted.

It is the same Jesus who speaks to all of us – whether we are here in Armagh or in Brooklyn or in Spain.  He speaks to us and invites us to put our trust in him.  He comes to us to give us the strength to follow him and to love him as He has loved us.  The disciples were urging him to give this lady what she wanted and then send her away.  But Jesus never sends anyone away.  He has promised to be with us until the end of time.  He is our joy and our hope.  May he say, of each one of us, ‘you have great faith.  Let your wish be granted’.


I welcome you all here today.  We come to every Mass to be nourished with the Good News of Jesus Christ and with His Body and Blood.  Today the Good News of the First Reading is that Jesus comes to save all people of all ages and all nations.  His House of Prayer is a House of Prayer for all the peoples.  

St Paul laments the fact that his own people rejected Christ but he is hopeful that they too will enjoy God’s mercy eventually.

In the Gospel we hear the story of the wonderful Canaanite woman.  She was not Jewish – not one of the Chosen People – yet Jesus said to her:  ‘Woman you have great faith’ and he healed her daughter. And so, we ask the Lord to increase our faith.

I welcome, in a special way, a group of 109 pilgrims – mostly young people – from the diocese of Brooklyn, Queens, New York.  They are on their way to World Youth Day in Madrid Spain.

They have come to Ireland and Armagh in recognition of the fact that there are many roots of their own faith which stretch back through some of their ancestors to Ireland – people rich in faith.  My friends it is a great joy to see you here.  You are most welcome.  Thank you for coming.

To prepare ourselves to celebrate this Mass worthily, let us call to mind our sins and ask God’s pardon for them.