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Echoing the centurion

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Echoing the centurion
Centurions are always mentioned with great honour in the New Testament and the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant (Monday’s Gospel, Matthew 8:5-11) is no exception.  Not only did he care deeply for his servant (his slave, really) at a time when the common attitude was to treat slaves as disposable objects, but the faith he showed in Jesus’ power to heal simply astonished Our Lord.
It is, of course, this centurion we paraphrase at each Mass when we say, ‘Lord I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.‘  The comparison used to be clearer* and this time next year it will be so again, as we will say in our new translation, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’
As always, being able to call to mind the scriptural reference helps us understand more fully what we are praying.  Here it is:
When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’
Where does that lead us, when we pray the centurion’s words at Mass?   First, to an awareness that despite our utter unworthiness, Jesus doesn’t simply ‘give the word’ but gives us Himself and makes His home in us; secondly, that reception of the Eucharist is a privilege; and thirdly a lesson that the centurion lived and breathed: that privilege is always accompanied by responsibility.
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*Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea.

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