He touched me!
This Sunday’s Gospel reminded me of its succinct explanation by St John Paul II in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1995). According to him, the case of the Canaanite woman is particularly touching. At first it seems as if Jesus does not want to hear her request that He help her daughter, almost as if He wanted to provoke her moving profession of faith. “For even the house-dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table” (Mt 15:27). He puts the foreign woman to the test in order to be able then to say: “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” (Mt 15:28).
The idea of Jesus putting someone to the test to evoke faith resonates with me personally because with hindsight, that is how I reacted to a stage 3 diagnosis I received some 17 years ago on June 22, 2000 – I firmly believed that the news was meant to put my deepening faith to the test because I had been consciously living a new life in the spirit for the previous five years.
So there was context for the thought, the context being that five years earlier, on January 22, 1995, I had experienced a Pauline-type conversion which began during Communion that Sunday morning Mass with the call, “Come walk with me, come share my life,” which I heard at the time with a booming voice although it was being sung by the choir.
My body shook at the booming sound and tears began to flow from my eyes. The next thing I knew was that Communion time had ended, I had not gone for it, and I had to be somewhere quiet, like Mt St Benedict.
The Lord had other plans for me and again, with hindsight, it seemed that with the experience in the church, I had become like sheep, today’s Gospel acclamation providing the most fitting description of the existential transformation I have lived since that day: Alleluia, alleluia! The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice, says the Lord, I know them and they follow me. Alleluia!
Rather than go to Mt St Benedict, I was led to the Emmaus Centre after Mass where, very much like the woman in today’s Gospel, I found myself literally kneeling at the feet of Jesus in the tabernacle, my state being aptly captured with the words, “Lord,” she said, “help me” (Mt 15:26).
For although I am Catholic by birth and was properly formed and nurtured in the faith from infancy right through to my young adulthood, there came a time later when I allowed the way of the world to exert greater influence on my life than the way of my Catholic faith.
Ironically, I never severed the umbilical cord of my Catholicism during my drift away from the practising Catholic community but remained attached to the faith, still believing in God and still occasionally finding myself seeking quiet time in a Catholic church.
However, the reality was that I was more like a foreigner, Isaiah prophesying in today’s First Reading that …foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer (Is 56:6–7).
On Sunday, January 22, 1995, the Lord led me to a figurative holy mountain, namely, the Emmaus Centre, where my Pauline-type-conversion experience continued with my facing the tabernacle of the Lord in prayerful anguish. There, I followed the instruction to say all three mysteries of the rosary but to begin each decade by singing the hymn ‘To be the Body’. The opening line of its first verse was the call that had summoned me earlier in the church and which remains my guiding light: “Come walk with me, come share my life”.
Throughout my praying of the rosary, I received inner prompts – “say the Joyful Mystery and thank God for every good thing that ever happened in your life”; “say the Sorrowful Mystery and ask God pardon for every wrong thing you ever did in your life”. The prompts stopped when I got to the five Glorious Mysteries. I then had to formulate my own intention so I prayed for the reuniting of my four siblings and myself because we had become estranged in 1990.
When I got to the third Glorious Mystery, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, I felt something unhook from under my right breast and saw a blob shaped like the map of Australia float past my eyes. At the same time, it was as if I could see under my right breast because I saw what appeared to be a thick vein or artery that was sliced through. However, just as I became aware of what I was seeing, I saw the two pieces come together and as they joined I felt my body contract as though it had been distended and was now back to size.
I also realised immediately that there was no pain in my right shoulder which had been dislocated on December 23, 1994 and had remained sore after being put back in place the next day. I remember stretching my right hand up in the air and thinking to myself, “Hmm, like my shoulder is healed!” but its significance did not register until years later as the depths of my experience kept being revealed to me.
With that in mind, I recognise today’s First and Second Readings as illuminating God’s merciful love being accessible and available to all. The Reading also counters any idea of a vengeful and fickle God with the statement that “God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice” (Rom 11:29).
This truism of faith has become clear to me since my conversion experience of 1995 which, followed by a life-in-the-spirit seminar in April of that same year, has ignited in me a fervour for knowledge of God, has opened the eyes of my mind to the Scriptures and has made me begin to live and experience life differently. It was as though a physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional rebirth had occurred all at once. Indeed, to quote a verse that says it best: “Something happened /and now I know/ He touched me/and made me whole.”
The Gospel reflections for August are by Rose-Ann Walker, a parishioner of the Santa Rosa Cluster and a Lay Dominican.