Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Women Jesus and World: Canaanite Crossing

Father John J. Lombardi

There's a lot of talk--and thinking, about women these days. How?-you ask. In The Gospel this Sunday Jesus meets the Canaanite woman. The recent space expedition showcased the first woman ever to command a space shuttle mission. Talk of potential Supreme Court Justice Roberts' wife has caused a stir. One of Pope Benedict's closest advisors is a woman-and"confidant-advisor". There's possibility of a woman running for president of the Untied States in '08. A woman was arrested for killing a law-enforcement official and then fleeing with her husband across the country before being tracked down by a massive criminal hunt… And, of course, the most famous woman of all time was The Blessed Virgin Mary. This week, in the Solemnity of the Assumption we celebrate her purity, beauty and exaltedness by God. The Assumption shows us what humans can be.

Let's now look more deeply at some of these feminine stories:

In Gospel (Mt. 15:21-28) Jesus meets a Canaanite woman (i.e. an "Outsider") and hears her plea for healing her daughter. Wait a minute: a Jew heals a non-Jew; this was daring at the time! Note: this is the only time Jesus crosses out of Jewish territory-so it must be propitious! Jesus says to the courageous woman: "It is not right to take the food of children and throw it to dogs" (Mt. 15:26). Translated: The Jews (the "children") should receive the Master-Jesus' teachings -not others. When Jesus used the word "dogs" He used the Greek word kunarios, meaning household pets, rather than kunar, meaning street dog. Huh? Jews saw the Canaanites as kinda' street dogs-savage and vile. By using the word kunarios Jesus implied better-almost a friendship. This Canaanite woman picked up on it, as indicated by her response: "Even the dogs eat scraps from their master's table" (15:27). Translated: Feed me, You're my Master. The woman responds to Jesus' diatribe and elicitation of Faith. Jesus says: "'O Woman, great is your faith.' And from that hour her daughter was healed" (Mt. 15:28).

Jesus tests our Faith: How persistent will you be? Are you just a "fair-weather" faith-friend? Also, Jesus crosses over borders. -most of them more spiritual and mental than physical-"Canaanite Crossings," shall we say? So, how can you, like Jesus, seek the "Outsider," the despised, the helpless? It is easier to stay comfortable in our little ghetto-worlds of security and hob-knobism, and fail-or be constrained-to help other "Outsiders". Jesus made the "Canaanite Crossing"--will you?

Fr. Tony Adavail illustrates the need for reaching out to "others", and for persistence: "Here is a story about Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, demonstrating how she valued each human being as a child of God and hence important. A reporter came to interview her at her office on 4th Street in Manhattan. He could see her talking to a man who was either drunk or mentally ill. Time passed and the reporter grew impatient. Dorothy finally appeared and said, "Are you waiting to speak to one of us?" Obviously, Dorothy did not think that she was more important than the person she was talking with. On another occasion a woman came in and donated a diamond ring to the Catholic Worker. Her co-workers wondered what Dorothy would do with it. If she asked one of them to take it to a diamond merchant and sell it, it would buy a month's worth of rice and other food items for a poor family. That afternoon, however, Dorothy gave the diamond ring to an old woman who lived alone and often came to Dorothy for meals. "That ring would have paid her rent for the better part of a year," someone protested. Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity. So she could sell it if she liked and spend the money for rent, a trip to the Bahamas, or keep the ring to admire. "Do you suppose," Dorothy asked, "God created diamonds only for the rich?" What other women signal thoughts about womanhood and wisdom in the world? (See: akadavil@mobis,com)

Judge Roberts's wife, Jane Marie Sullivan (a lawyer herself) has been pilloried as being conservative, and the couple has been querulously questioned about adopting a child. Obviously the progressive establishment questions this-a woman who is judicially conservative-and one who has taken an "Outsider" -adoptee from afar. This seems like an oxymoron to some, but it need not be, as Mrs. Roberts upsets the applecart of judicial philosophies and familyhood: she doesn't fit into the liberalist "box" most trumpets, or claim ownership to, today. Also, she is intellectually astute, but some see her as using this "smartness" in the wrong way. She is also Catholic, and some critique this-a Catholic conservative. Ergo: If you're a woman and don't fit into some man's-or cultures'-constraining container (s), accept criticism and challenge-and dare to be different! Make the Canaanite Crossing.

Colonel Eileen Collins on the recent space shuttle mission shows women-and men, too!-how to be courageous. She commanded a nervous nexus of technology and high-octane humans thru space, safely, back to Earth. What are some ways women today can "explore" human and spiritual space so as to pioneer in virtue and holiness? Great contemplatives like Saints Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila did before you, now we need holy women today to lead us deeper into Christ's "spiritual space" of contemplative prayer-- and action so as to fathom God's Providential Will. Bon courage=Good Courage! Women generally respond to parish spirituality and prayer programs more and show the courage to dare into the Canaanite Crossing of Prayer and Deep Spirituality: Will you?

Pope Benedict's closest friend, confidant and advisor is a woman-Ingrid Stampa. How that is for a paradigm buster-- perceived "staunch-orthodox" man who relies on a woman's advice? Two points here: a man can safely befriend a lady and rely on her advice; and a lady can intellectually help and equal a man-even in the Catholic Church. That's a Canaanite crossing! How can you ladies help men more in the intellectual field, and also in friendship and holiness?

Women-Myths Challenged:

Today many myth-like constructs exist about women…

1. You have to be just like a man: Many women may feel, because of feminism and other pressures, that they need get a job outside family and home, make more money, give up motherhood, and shirk their vocations. Unfortunately in this process some families have been ruined. Also, consider: is it wise for women to become firemen, police, and army troops? "Feminist experiments" in the US of A along these lines are not corroborated or copied in other cultures and countries. What kind of "Crossings" are you making-in the right ways-- to help women to add dignity in life-in the right?

2. You have to be worldly-Many woman (just as men) have given up their Faith or otherworldliness to gain power in a "men's world". Barbara Mikulski, Catholic Senator from my mom's home parish in Fells Point-Baltimore) shows that, by her pro-choice staunch stance- the killing of children is the expense of winning and keeping power politically. Do you see as many folks upset at her "judicial philosophy," as at Mrs. Roberts'? Really, the political manifestation of this killing-as-choice-stance was given by men. First John F Kennedy and the NY Governor Mario Cuomo said, essentially, and will not "oppress" others with their personal faith. Is this the "Canaanite Crossing" we need today?

3. Innate differences seen as bad or embarrassing: Women are generally viewed as more intuitive, nurturing, and relational: Some have thrown these beautiful, God-given attributes out the window-unfortunately. This is another scheme of blurring distinctions between men and women, or making them seem as similar as possible. This is a project of a cunning and cutthroat contemporary culture. Pope John Paul often emphasized, rather, a complimentary relationship. the differences of male-female genders is helpful and holy, and actually balance one another. Why not use them-the uniqueness of being a woman-- for your-our, spiritual and cultural glory?

4. Selling the Beauty of body: In Genesis (6:2) angelic-like-creatures fall in love with the beauty of women. Men have done this for centuries-and have manipulated ladies in the process. Slave trades of prostitution from Thailand to Mexico have been recently profiled, newly alarming us to the deep enslavements of sin-namely abuse of women by men: this is evil-beauty manipulated. There is also, obviously, today, the abuse and pervasiveness of pornography, sensual relations in popular culture (date-rape),etc. The myth exists today that this does not exist or else is not important or pervasive.

Vatican Council II (cf. the document Gaudium et Spes) shows us the equal dignity of women, especially in marriage. Pope John Paul II not only crossed the threshold of hope but also made a "Canaanite crossing" in his encyclical, "Mulieris Dignitatem,--On the Dignity of Women"- which illustrates both how women have been victimized and marginalized, and yet, also, how they can be supremely effective in this troublesome world: Once again, the Woman in the Gospel shows persistence and Faith are needed to manifest the dignity of Faithful Femininity.

Two of the brightest examples of Women and Faith are Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day, who shows us power can be wielded and used in countercultural and effective ways. They both made "Canaanite Crossings" and loved the Church, warts and all. They were both contemplatives in the midst of action. They both loved the poor. They also supremely loved the Poor Man Jesus-esp. in the Holy Eucharist. They both lived poor. They not only accepted their feminine genders but reveled in them. They loved their vocations as women in the Church and world. They were both mighty missionaries. Their "Canaanite Crossings" of giving up possessions and worldly power, and embracing the power of prayer and persistence-show us paradoxical and praiseworthy ways of faithful femininity.

The Blessed Virgin Mary…

The word Assumption means just that-assumed, moved, raised up: because the Virgin Mary was protected from Original Sin, her Assuming- to-Heaven is a fruit and result of that singular grace. She made a kinda' ultimate "Canaanite Crossing" of showing us that bodies can go to Heaven (we know of only one other in Heaven-Jesus'). The Virgin Mary shows us that body-and-soul-unity are possible, even though we sometimes choose the ugliness of sin, inordinate attachments, out of whack passions, and disintegrated personalities. In the Assumption we see all this "put back together"-God shows us thru a woman! Let's also not forget the humanness of the Blessed Virgin. Remember, she wasn't plastic (sterilized spiritually) or inhumane (robotic): she was a Palestinian young girl-actual, real, earthy and beautiful-inside and out. Her "Mystical-Rose-attraction" may come from her matching of grittiness and glorious-girl-etherealness-which men are attracted (naturally and supernaturally) and which Faith-full women can always emulate. These attributes are usually seeming opposites in our world-and so, yet another "Canaanite Crossing" to ponder. Also, consider: she was both strong (traveling to Egypt, messing with rugged house chores,) and gentle (nursing a Godly Baby). This is not popular today or popularized among some feminists-such attributes are neglected or rejected so as to propose a Virgin-Mary who is only power hungry, anti-patriarchal, or else seen as the object of men's dreams and myths. No: Mary is mystical and material, soft and steely. She is God's Most Exalted Creation!

How to Respond

1. Persistence is the hallmark in the Gospel of Canaanite woman-Faith. Faith means Trust-Total Trust: No Matter What! How can you be more persistent-in your Faith and spiritual disciplines?

2. How can you help others be persistent, esp. de-dignified women? 3. Make reparation and Repentance of past sins by men towards women. 4. How can you make the "Canaanite Crossings" in life-in prayer, in Faith, spiritual disciplines and with "Other-Strangers" to show new ways of understanding and living in this increasingly secularized world? Remember that, like the Canaanite Lady, Women of wisdom may show us true holiness in the world!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi