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Monday, November 29, 2010

Domine, non sum dignus

I got to noon Mass a little late, but, I still managed to listen to the readings.  On my way to my parish, I was wondering what to blog about this evening.  I found my topic in today's Gospel account by St. Matthew, the one about the centurion. 

Originally, I wanted to start some sort of an online catechesis on the coming revised Roman Missal, mainly for my fellow Catholics in our diocese.  I figured the best way to start would be tackling the sentence:  "And, with your spirit."  However, today's Gospel prompted me to shift from the Introductory Rites to the Communion Rite.

St. Matthew relates the account of a centurion who beseeches Jesus to heal his servant.  Jesus stands ready to grant the request, but, the centurion has a rather surprising response:

 [8] And the centurion making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter  under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.

This is a remarkable statement coming from a Roman, and a centurion with ]soldiers under his command.  The centurion must have had great love for his servant to take on this posture of humility before Jesus, declaring his own unworthiness to have Him come under his roof.  The centurion even goes so far as to call Jesus "Lord." 

So profound is this humble plea that it is restored to its proper place, its proper context, within the Communion Rite in the revised English-language translation of the Roman Missal.  Currently, we pray

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed. 
Somehow, the 1973 translation misses the profound humility expressed in the Latin text:

Domine, non sum dignum ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabatur anima mea.
The revised translation of the Roman Missal reads:

Lord, I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed.

Although we are fashioned in the image and likeness of God, our nature is marred by sin.  These words remind us of our unworthiness as we come before God, Himself, in Holy Communion. We make the centurion's humble plea our own.  When we receive Holy Communion, whether on the tongue or by the hand, the Sacred Host goes into our mouths.  Jesus enters our bodies through our mouths, literally coming under our roof. 

The second part of the prayer recognizes that our souls stand in need of healing.  Just as the woman who reached out and touched Jesus' garment receives healing and holiness from Jesus, we, too, receive healing and holiness from Him in a more profound way than simply touching his cloak.  Jesus not only enters our bodies, he also enters our hearts and our souls, bringing much needed healing and holiness to us.  By the marks on His glorious body, we are healed. 

I am reminded of what my spiritual director once said in a homily.  Jesus did not merely come to heal people from physical infirmities.  Were that the case, disease and illness would have been wiped out from the face of the Earth.  But, m Jesus did not come for just that.  Every time Jesus healed someone, He not only cured the bodily ailments, but, he also, more significantly, touched upon the spiritual infirmity and restored wholeness and holiness to the soul.  That is why, most of the time, a physical healing also carried with it the forgiveness of sins. 

While one can say that sin is not necessarily mentioned in the story of the centurion and his slave, I submit that a case can be made that not only was the slave healed, but, so was the centurion.  Sin causes spiritual blindness because it does not allow our souls to see the things of heaven clearly.  Granted, our mortal minds cannot fully grasp these divine mysteries, we can at least begin to perceive them with the eyes of faith when we are healed of our sins.  The Roman centurion had a spiritual blindess brought on by Origin Sin, a condition that we all share.  But, something made him go to Jesus.  The mere fact that the centurion recognized something in Jesus, something more than just  a traveling miracle worker, says a lot.  Roman centurions had to recognize that the emperor, in this case, Tiberius Caesar, was a living god.  They also had to offer sacrifices and praise to a whole pantheon of Roman deities.  But, the fact that the centurion addresses Jesus as "Lord", a term reserved only for a deity, leads me to believe that the tiny mustard seed of faith was already growing inside his heart.  That small opening was all that Jesus needed.  That recognition on the part of the centurion that Something, Someone, greater than Caesar, Jupiter and Mars was standing before him was perhaps the beginning of faith.  The scales of sin that clouded his vision were slowly falling off of the eyes of his soul.

When we beseech Jesus, from the depths of our hearts, to heal our souls after declaring our own unworthiness to receive Him, we give Jesus that opening to come into our souls.  These words help us to recognize our littleness as we kneel before His greatness.

The law of prayer is the law of belief.  In other words, we pray as we believe.  The restoration of this prayer in English (I make this emphasis because in Spanish, this plea  was never altered) makes the centurion's humble declaration our own cry for Jesus to heal our souls, unworthy as we are. We pray this prayer, and therefore, like the centurion, we believe.

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