In 1995, a successful French journalist named Jean-Dominique Bauby, suffered a massive stroke at the age of forty-three. When he woke twenty days later, he discovered he could only blink one eye. The stroke had damaged his brainstem and he now had a condition called locked-in syndrome. Despite his condition, Bauby and his therapist, Claudine Mendibil, developed a working relationship. They were able to communicate by a system called partner-assisted scanning. She would read out letters of the alphabet, and he would blink his eye when she arrived at the one he wanted. In such a way, he could spell out words and sentences, and thus express himself.
Using this technique, Bauby composed a memoir, which he named The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In it he describes life before and after his stroke. The book was published to great critical acclaim in 1997, just days before the author’s death from pneumonia, and it was made into a successful movie ten years later.
Apparently each word of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly took, on average, two minutes to compose. Approximately two hundred thousand blinks were required to finish the book. Bauby’s resolve was legendary. His persistence in the face of this almost impossible task was truly incredible, and is now immortalized in a text that is judged a modern classic for that very reason. His vision and determination have inspired millions across the world, uniting them in respect and admiration.
The healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter that we heard about in today’s Gospel comes about through the mother’s faithful perseverance. Jesus is impressed with her unrelenting prayer. Her faith is a wonderful example. Although his initial response seems hesitant, or even harsh, Jesus cannot ignore the cry of the poor woman, and she is rewarded. What an incredible gift – the restoration of her beloved daughter to full health. God’s love is made manifest through her healing.
In the humility of the Canaanite woman, Saint Augustine saw a figure of the Church. Whereas many of the Jews rejected Jesus in their pride, this woman, in her humility, implores Jesus to heal her daughter.
The bishop and gifted preacher, St. John Chrysostom, praised her: “Behold the woman’s wisdom! She did not venture so much as to say a word against anyone else. She was not stung to see others praised, nor was she indignant to be reproached. Behold her constancy.”
She did not argue with Jesus, but accepted the truth of his words. She knew that the Gentiles – from which she came – had a reputation among the Jews and other neighbors of living like dogs in an unclean manner, barking at their false gods. Yet, whereas many of the Jews did not recognize Jesus’ divinity, she did, and begged Him only for the crumbs others refused to eat. Because of her humility, the Lord answers her request.
Reflecting on the healing of the woman’s daughter, St. John Chrysostom asks, “Do you see how this woman, too, contributed not a little to the healing of her daughter? For note that Christ did not say, ‘Let your little daughter be made whole,’ but ‘Great is your faith, be it done for you as you desire.’ These words were not uttered at random, nor were they flattering words, but great was the power of her faith, and for our learning.”
It’s my hope that we can learn from her example the value and strength of a humble faith.
Many of our recent 8th grade graduates received scholarship awards totaling tens of thousands of dollars as they prepared their way to begin their high school careers this Fall. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we were not able to recognize all of them in the manner in which we have been accustomed. But, among them, we are pleased to recognize our long-time former altar server, Charlotte Donelan, who was awarded a one thousand dollar scholarship by the Diocese of Palm Beach Chapter of the Council of Catholic Women, to be used for her education at St. John Paul II Academy in Boca Raton. We congratulate her and all of her classmates for their accomplishments.