Last July, I visited my family in Argentina. I had a great time visiting with family, friends, and the Miles Christi Priests and Brothers. I also ate lots of “asado,” “mollejas,” and “provoleta” (look them up!).

One of the things I enjoyed the most was spending quality time with my seven nieces and nephews. Their age varies from a 12-year-old to a one-year-old. Sophie is the second youngest, and she is a three-year-old girl.

When playing with Sophie, I first needed to test her mood. So, I asked if she wanted to play. Her answer was always no, but with a caveat. A few times, she said no, and her face meant no. But most of the time, she said no with a twinkle in her eye and a slight smile. That meant I could chase her around or start a tickle war!

Something similar happens in prayer. Sometimes we ask for something, and the answer is no, because it is something dangerous that could harm us. We might ask to win a two-billion-dollar Powerball. But the Lord might know already that we would go astray if we did win it. Or, we could ask for the power to do miracles, secretly wanting to become rich and famous because of it.

Other times, we ask for something reasonable and appropriate, but the Lord “upgrades” our prayer to a better thing. We can find a clear example of this in the life of St. Augustine. When Augustin was ready to sail for Rome, St. Monica prayed that he would not go since she thought this would be bad for his faith journey. However, the Lord allowed St. Augustine to snick out that night without St. Monica noticing. In his memoirs, St. Augustine explains that the “Lord ignored her petition so that He might grant her what she ever asked (his conversion).” Because St. Augustine went to Rome, he later went to Milan, where he converted after meeting St. Ambrose.

A third case is what we find in today’s Gospel of the Canaanite woman. She asked for something good and something the Lord wanted to grant her. Just as in the case of Sophie, a playful refusal with a twinkle in her eye is an invitation to play, Jesus’ refusal in this passage is an invitation to perseverance and trust. Jesus refuses, but probably his body language invited the Canaanite woman to be bolder and insist on her request.

Let’s take away some lessons from today’s Gospel:

Firstly, no matter what we ask of Jesus, he always wants our good. He cares with a love of friendship, constant and effective. If he refuses something in prayer, it might be because it is not suitable for us, or he wants to give us something better, or he wants us to grow in persistence and trust. But the reason is never disinterest or lack of caring. Let’s always be attentive to his Heart.

Secondly, the Canaanite woman teaches us to persevere in prayers. The Lord always listens to our prayers and has a very good reason not to answer right away. But that doesn’t mean we should stop asking. Even if what we are asking is not for our good, the Lord will listen to our prayers and redirect them for our good.

Let’s always remember that Jesus’ refusal is often an invitation to perseverance and trust.

Aug 20 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time