Saturday, June 25, 2016

Not Worthy

Rise up, shrill in the night, at the beginning of every watch; Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your little ones Who faint from hunger at the corner of every street.  Lamentations 2:19

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed…When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  Matthew 8:8, 10

Father, help us to pray with the same faith and humility to be healed and be united with your son Jesus as does the Roman centurion.  Holy Spirit, give us the gifts to respond properly to the offer to receive the gift of the Spirit of the Lord.  Amen.

Our recent readings from the historical books of the Hebrew Bible have provided repeated scenarios about what happens when the people (us) do not do as the Lord requests.  Today’s first reading from the Book of Lamentations sets the stage for how we are to atone for our transgressions.

The poetic images provided show how the sons and daughters of Zion get their entire body involved in the prayers.  We see them sprinkling dust on their heads, raising their hands in prayer.  Hunger so engulfs them that their children are fainting on the streets.  All because they went about their own wishes, not the plan laid out by the Lord.

Enter Jesus six hundred years later.  The Lord’s mercy is a constant offering to all around him, especially the widows, orphans and infirm.  However, so is the near occasion to continue sinning. People continue to follow their own will.  Thus, Jesus does not find great faith among the people in the temple.  However, a centurion from the belligerent Roman army which is occupying ancient Palestine comes to Jesus and utters the phrase that has been inserted into our daily Mass.

Every time we prepare for communion, we echo most of this prayer.  Right after the celebrant proclaims: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are we who are called to His Supper.” 

Now the priest holds up the host and cup, inviting the community to come forward and receive. We respond with the centurion’s own words – not the words of any disciple who was at the Last Supper.  Not the word of a prophet.  Not the words of a saint.  The centurion.  Matthew 8:8. Pour out the contents of your heart for healing.

 “Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof.”  Not the roof of my mouth or the roof of my house.

Our journey toward the altar is like the Centurion’s journey.  First, he goes Him-ward to Jesus.  Then, once he receives the audience with the Lord, he goes in peace to serve the Lord.  Heading home-ward, the Centurion will witness the first fruits of his faith. 

This procession reflects the journey we all have towards God. First, we get into the Communion line accepting the invitation to journey Him-ward.  Then, when our souls are healed, we go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Even better still is that our journey is made with friends in the community – a sign of unity flowing from the Eucharist.

How do you prepare to receive Christ into your body and soul?  Do you treat Communion as a routine, repeatable episode?  Would you approach the altar differently if, like the Roman centurion, you could only have one encounter with Christ in your lifetime? 

Whenever we receive an important guest, we bring out the family China, the silverware that has been handed down from our grandmothers, and the crystal stemware.  We put on our Sunday best – that is why these clothes are our Sunday best.  But, we do not skip sharing the meal.

Growing up, when we went to Mass, sometimes my siblings or cousins or parents would ask, “Are you going to receive…?”  They were not asking for our confession but for us to indicate if we felt that we were like the Centurion.  Thinking back, what a stupid question.  Would you go to a banquet and not eat when the meal was served?  “No, I just came here for the conversation.” 

If we are happy to be called to His supper, we should share in the meal.  We may think we are not worthy but Jesus is there asking to come in whether we are ready or not. Jesus puts up no fences to our sharing in his Supper.  If he waited for us to be truly worthy, we would never “receive.”  However, Jesus is eager to come under our roof. We should be as eager to receive him.  As eager as the Roman centurion. 

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