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Humility and Healing

“Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”

Do we believe genuinely that we need Jesus’ healing? You lie down at the dentist office, shut your eyes, and there it is…muzak…brainless, sentimental, background music. It follows you nowadays in retail stores, elevators, and just about everywhere. If we are honest, sometimes the Church sermons and prayers become like religious muzak — a soundtrack consoling to us religious people, but too often never making a deep change within. Jesus marvelled at the centurion’s faith, an authentic faith, the faith that brought healing. What is that faith?

“When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” Normally, Christ tests a person before answering a prayer, but this is an exception. Right off, our Lord commits, “I will come and heal him.” Most people would jump at the occassion, “It’s about time. Let’s go.” The centurion was different: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:1-13)

“I am not worthy.”

Why would the centurion say this? He was a gentile. He knew Jesus was a Jew, and the Jews disdained walking into the home of a heathen. But this was not mere formality. I suspect that he understood why the Jews despised the Romans. Yes, the Romans were magnanimous. They conquered the world. They had rules and order. They were first in technology, science, and military strength. But they were also vulgar, idolaters, violent, and unclean.

When we stand before the altar, do we see ourselves in this light? We are also gentiles — culturally speaking. Our country is anything but Christian. Our legal system justifies the murder of babies by the millions, an act of genocide that makes Herod look innocent. Our entertainment, gluttony, and overall worldliness, if are real with ourselves, is a stain on our soul. It is very hard to accept one’s sin. Usually, we fall to one of two extremes: we ignore or justify it, or we despair and beat ourselves up. Both are traps. The gentile showed the one noble path: to humble yourself before God.

“I am not worthy.”

He was a sinner. On the outside, this man had everything right. He was successful. He was physically fit. From social standards, he was upright and respectable. Inside was a different story and he knew it. There was no pretense in his words, “Lord, I am not worthy.”

C. S. Lewis imagines a proud man who dies, finds himself in purgatory, and then ushered up to heaven. At the threshold of heaven, he meets a former acquaintance, a criminal on earth, tried and condemned for murder — here in heaven he was shining with splendor and the proud man was repulsed. “I wouldn't have believed it…It isn't right…What are you here for, pleased as punch?” “Look at me, now,” the proud man said, slapping his chest. “I gone straight all my life...I done my best by everyone...I don't see why I should be put below a bloody murderer like you.” He turns around and goes back to purgatory, feeling too superior to be in such company.

The proud man believed he deserved heaven. The murderer knew he did not. Which one do we resemble?

“Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”

We pray this at every Mass before taking the Eucharist. The Church has adopted the centurion’s prayer for us. We are not worthy to take Christ’s body and blood under the roof of our soul. When I pray this, I sometimes ask myself, “Am I just saying words? Do I really feel unworthy? Do I genuinely want healing, or is this just pious pretend…religious muzak?” From what do I need healing? I need healing from my indifference.

Why do I not repent harder? Why do I get distracted during prayer? Why am I so much more concerned about pleasing myself than God and others? There is something in my heart that resembles the proud man who thinks he deserves heaven, or the pharisee who thanked God that he was not like those sinners and punks. The psalms refer to this as “the sleep unto death” — a feeling of self-sufficiency.

C. S. Lewis called this the spirit of our times. Christianity spread like fire among the early converts. The pagans in the ancient world knew they were doomed — they had a problem, Christ was a solution. Modern people are farther from Christ because we do not recognize that we have a problem. We feel good about ourselves. Why all this talk about repentance and salvation? Surely, we all deserve heaven, don’t we, or at least, “I do”…so we think.

Christ marvelled at the centurion.

“Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

What was so special about the centurion’s faith? It was a faith steeped in humility.

There was no pretense behind the centurion’s words. There was no gloom or self-deprecation.The centurion simply recognized who he was and who Jesus was. In that state of humility, he reached out for healing, and got it.

“The Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory” (Psalm 149:4).

Humility is everything. God does not wait for us to clean up our act and then approach him. He simply wants us to come, as we are, and seek help. When we humble ourselves before God, he will do the healing.


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