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MONDAY HOMILY: Lord, I Am Not Worthy

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
December 4th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The centurion was a man accustomed to giving orders.  Here he is asking for help.  Because he is open to the truth, the centurion is open to Jesus.

SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online) With the Roman occupation of the Holy Land, soldiers were stationed around the country.  A centurion was an officer who had command of a cohort of anywhere from two hundred to two thousand infantry.  There was at least one such officer in Capernaum during the time of Christ, and this centurion asks Jesus for a favor.

There are a number of remarkable details in this encounter.  The first is that the centurion would ask Jesus for anything at all.  The Roman armies did not have the reputation of congenial occupiers.  They were often cruel and capricious.  The officers reinforced this behavior with harsh discipline and an uncompromising expectation of obedience.

Can you imagine a guard at a Nazi concentration camp asking a prisoner for a favor?  The situation described by St. Matthew in chapter eight of his Gospel is not unlike this.  The centurion was a man accustomed to giving orders.  Here he is asking for help.

We cannot help but to be impressed by the humility of this man.  Someone once said, "Humility is nothing other than the truth.  Unfortunately, it is the whole truth." This centurion is able to see the truth: his servant is seriously ill, and Jesus of Nazareth has the power to heal him.

Because he is open to the truth, the centurion is open to Jesus.  During the Year of Faith, the Holy Father has invited each of us to deepen our understanding of God's revelation. "Knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one's own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes" (Porta Fidei, no. 10).  To know the faith is to know Christ.

The daily reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will fortify our faith and deepen our understanding of it.  We can couple this with our daily Scripture devotion by using the Catechism index to cross-reference the Word of God with the relevant citations in the Catechism.  Not only will we benefit from direct contact with, and reflection upon, the Word of God, but the Catechism will also help us to see how the Church has integrated this Word into her living understanding of the faith.

Returning to the centurion, we notice - together with his sincere humility - an abiding charity for his ill servant.  In reality, this man was a slave of the centurion.  From a purely economic point of view, any slave-owner would want their human property to function at the highest level of efficiency.  Seeking a cure for a sick slave would therefore be expected.

However, the centurion seems to regard his servant as more than a slave.  We get this impression because the centurion makes reference to the man's suffering.  "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully" (Matthew 8:6).  A literal translation of this Greek phrase indicates that the servant is "grievously tormented."

The centurion's comments do not sound like those of a man who has no compassion for his slaves, or as one who regards them as mere human machinery. As in the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10), we here encounter a deep and abiding charity in the place we least expect to find it. By shining light upon the charity of the centurion, Jesus teaches us that there are no limits to the scope of God's saving will.

The Catechism defines charity as the virtue "by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God" (Catechism, no. 1822).  The centurion of the Gospel evidently had a reputation for something more than thoughtfulness. The citizens of Capernaum, who testified on his behalf, regarded the centurion as a truly godly man: "He loves our nation and he built us our synagogue" (Luke 7:5).

Growth in the knowledge of the content of the faith must be translated into concrete acts of charity, which in turn cultivate the virtue of charity in our hearts. "By faith, countless Christians have promoted action for justice so as to put into practice the word of the Lord, who came to proclaim deliverance from oppression and a year of favor for all" (Porta Fidei, no. 13).  Faith and charity are intimately linked, and the one will necessarily fuel the other.

It is no wonder that the Church has enshrined the centurion's prayer in the sacred liturgy.  "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."  As we prepare to receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass, we do well to recall this centurion, and ask the Lord for the grace to imitate his humility and compassion.

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, TX, a suburb of Houston.  You may visit the parish website at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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