House of Prayer
(Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 56:1-7; Romans 11:13-32; Matthew 15:21-28)
Jesus was moved by the deep faith of the Canaanite woman and spoke to her admiringly: “O woman, great is your faith!”
She demonstrated her faith in two ways: first by believing that Jesus could cure her daughter, and then by acknowledging that, as an outsider, she really had no right to ask for his help and was throwing herself on his mercy. It was this humility won him over.
This is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Temple was originally a house of prayer for Jews only. In Acts 21:28, St. Paul is erroneously accused of bringing a gentile into the Temple—a very serious offence. But Isaiah foresaw the day when the Temple would in fact be open to all peoples. That Temple is the Church, the People of God.
The vast majority of Christians are descendants of gentiles. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the gentiles rejoiced that the Gospel was being preached to them. St. Paul today again expresses his hope that his own Jewish people will one day accept the gift of faith he offers, that they will be sufficiently jealous of the gentiles to say, “I want what they have.”
It all boils down to a question of mercy, God’s free gift. No one but he can decide who is deserving of it. He is bound by no rule. “I will grant mercy to whom I will.” (Exodus 33:19, quoted in Romans 9:15)
La Salette is in the same vein. Not for nothing we speak of Mary’s ‘merciful apparition.’ In different portions of her message, she strikingly paraphrases Isaiah’s words about foreigners, “loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants—all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.”
Mary appeared in 1846 because the ‘House of Prayer’ had ceased to be a place where her people found joy. Many La Salette pilgrims rediscover God’s mercy, leading to faith. For others, rediscovering faith leads to recognizing God’s mercy. Either way, they all rejoice to find their place in God’s House of Prayer.