Saturday, August 16, 2008

"It is constancy that God wants"

Although Matt Talbot never wrote more than one short letter in his life, he did write on scraps of paper and in books. The title quote is one by Matt that is often repeated as it is in this homily that includes the retelling of a very special love story.

Homily for August 17, 2008: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Greg Kandra
The Deacon's Bench
posted August 16, 2008

This week, in the Boston Globe, I read the story of an elderly couple named Sol and Rita Rogers. They’ve been married 61 years. They’ve raised a family and lived a long and happy life together. A few years ago, that began to change. Rita developed Alzheimer’s. And she is slipping deeper and deeper into dementia.

Several weeks ago, she was taken to a health care center, where she now has to live. The first few days, she screamed and talked incoherently. She could barely form words with her mouth. Most tragically, she could no longer recognize her husband. She had no idea who he was. This was agony for him. He would go home from visiting her, trembling with grief, overwhelmed by sadness.

One morning, he went into her room, and saw her lying there and had an idea – an idea, he said, that could only have come from God. Sol climbed into his wife’s tiny twin bed, and put his arms around her. And he just held her. He hugged her. He whispered to her. That’s all. But something happened. As he put it, “I got into bed with her and loved her and it lifted my depression.” And Rita was transformed, too. She responded to his touch. And she began to talk.

He now does it every day. Rita’s doctor says that her “old memory” recalls being in his arms, remembers how he used to hold her, and part of her is able to come back.

Now Sol spends a couple of hours of every day, just holding Rita, telling her he loves her, and she tells him she loves him. Just as they have for 61 years.

I can’t think of a more beautiful example of what married love is all about – for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. The venerable Matt Talbot said that it is constancy that God wants. Persistence. Perseverance. Sol Rogers had that – and more.

And so did the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel.

It comes down to never giving up for someone you love.

Never losing faith.

The Canaanite woman was the mother of a very sick girl, a child tormented by a demon. The girl may have suffered from epilepsy, or schizophrenia. Terrors in the night. Paranoia. Inconsolable fear. We can only imagine what the mother was going through. The helplessness, and the worry.

But this mother had something more powerful. She had faith – faith in someone who was not even a part of her race or religion. Jesus became her last, best hope.

And so the mother went to Jesus and implored his help. Not once. Not twice. But three times. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, Jesus was so moved by her faith that he couldn’t refuse her. And her daughter was healed.

Hearing this story again, we discover something timeless and true. It is something that St. Paul even mentioned in his famous letter to the Corinthians, the one we hear so often at weddings.

Love never fails. It can spark miracles.

Because love itself is a miracle.

Love that endures across 61 years is a miracle.

Love that pleads for a sick child again and again and again is a miracle.

A miracle of unceasing devotion … and unwavering faith.

Yes: faith. Faith is a subject we’ve been hearing about a lot over the last few weeks in our Sunday readings. Last week, you’ll remember, Peter tried to walk on water, but began to sink when his faith failed him.

We are being taught a valuable lesson in all this. Faith transforms. It can turn water into walkways. And it can drive away demons.

But it requires more than we realize -- more than we often feel able to give.

Faith requires that we keep walking, even when the wind and waves are against us.

Faith demands that we keep pleading, even when God seems to turn away.

Faith asks us to wrap our arms around those we love, even when they don’t remember who we are.

It defies logic, or reason. But that is what is so extraordinary – and so extraordinarily difficult. Faith asks us to believe in the unbelievable…to trust that the impossible will be possible.

Like love, faith asks that we surrender ourselves to something we can never fully understand

And it asks us to persevere.

If we do that, the result may astonish us. We may find ourselves walking where we’ve never walked before. We may see life renewed, and hope restored.

Sol Rogers said he knows that his wife Rita will never fully recover. But he told the Boston Globe, “While she’s with me, I want to enjoy every minute.”

And so he holds her. And she smiles. And the demons are dispelled.

Every day, for as long as he is able, he says he will do this.

Call that love. Call it commitment. But those moments exist because Sol never gave up. He persevered. And he continues to.

Since I read that story, I’ve been thinking of Sol and Rita. I think of them late at night, when I hold my wife’s hand before we go to sleep. I think of what it takes to love, truly love, another. It takes constancy, as Matt Talbot put it. Tenacity. Trust. The belief in something, and Someone, greater than ourselves.

It takes what the Canaanite woman had.

It takes faith.