A Fortitude of Faith
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
Now when He had entered Capharnaum, there came to Him a centurion who entreated Him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying sick in the house, paralyzed, and is grievously afflicted." Jesus said to him, "I will come and cure him." But in answer the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, and have soldiers subject to me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it." And when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following Him, "Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel. And I tell you that many will come from the east and from the west and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be put forth into the darkness outside; there will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth." Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; as you have believed, so be it done to you." And the servant was healed in that hour.
Cornelius was a centurion of Rome. He was officially of a pagan religion. He could not go into the synagogue. But he had Jewish sacred writings, and he read them, and he loved the Jewish nation, and although he was an occupying soldier, the Jews loved him because of the sincere respect he held for the chosen people of God. So, when Jesus comes into Capernaum, Cornelius approaches the Lord and says, “my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, paralyzed.” And Jesus says, “I will come and cure him.”
Cornelius is a man with experience. He has experienced authority in the hierarchy of the Roman legion. He says to Christ, “I'm not worthy that you come under my roof.” He says this, on one hand, because pagans were not to admit Jews to their homes lest they be defiled, and Jews were not to enter the houses of pagans lest they be defiled. Because of the cultural atmosphere, Cornelius knew it was next to impossible for Jesus to come into his house. So, Cornelius says,
“Only speak the word, and my servant shall be healed, for I am a man under authority, and I have soldiers under me. And I say to this soldier, 'go,' and he goes, and to another, 'do this,' and he does it.”
And the inference is,
“I know how to do what I'm told, too.”
The Lord looks at Cornelius and acknowledges the great faith he has. The Lord says no one in all of Israel has such faith. Now that must have made the Pharisees quite angry, don't you think? Pointing to a pagan, an occupying soldier, the hated enemy, of the army that they hoped the Messiah would annihilate, and have their blood flow in the streets, and say,
“This man is more righteous than all of you put together.”
Why was he righteous? Why did he have such faith? Because he knew about obedience. He is a man who knows the discipline of obedience and a man who respect authority
Cornelius expected those under him to be obedient because he was obedient to those over him. So let us learn something about obedience today; let us understand something about authority. Let us realize that we are under the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Before receiving Communion, we say the Domine non sum dignus. This triple repetition of the Centurion’s prayer in the Mass each day illustrates just how the Church practices a corporate lectio divína—a meditation upon the words of Scripture.
In the liturgy we begin by hearing the Word. That is lectio; then certain phrases are repeated, and we listen to all its resonances. That is meditatio. The Word of God then becomes the expression of the Church’s prayer. This is the oratio—the prayer the Church integrates into her liturgy. This is why the propers of the Mass all are tied together. The collect, secret and post-communion all tie together with the Scriptural readings each day and offer us these moments of divine contemplation. Every word integrated into the liturgy of the Church is a “seed of contemplation” containing within itself the gift of communion with Christ in adoration and in love (contemplatio).
In the Gospel today, Cornelius the centurion, a pagan, has shown us with what dispositions we need to worthily receive the Lord into our hearts. We need to have perfect humility and trust in the Lord. In every Mass, as we recite those words – Lord I am not worthy – we gaze at the Sacred Host and pray that our hearts will be full of faith and confidence in the Lord. We pray that our faith, will exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, and that our faith will be like the centurion – a faith confident in Jesus Christ – a faith full of loving obedience.