LORD, I AM NOT WORTHY THAT YOU SHOULD ENTER UNDER MY ROOF; SAY BUT THE WORD AND MY SOUL SHALL BE HEALED. This text, slightly modified from today's Gospel, is very familiar to all of us since we repeat it daily just before receiving communion. Whereas in the Gospel it is the Centurion's servant whose healing is sought, at communion we ask that our soul be cured. We intend it chiefly as an expression of humility, aware as we are that the Lord who comes to us in the Eucharist is the all holy, sinless Son of God. Jesus de scribed these words, however, as an expression of remarkable faith in his person. He found in them, accordingly, an irresistible appeal to his compassion. Certainly both attitudes, humility and faith, are manifested when any one makes this prayer from the heart and with attention to their meaning. It is awareness of the holiness of our Lord that causes us to be more conscious of our own sinfulness. It is in light of his surpassing purity that our dullness of heart and spiritual insensitivity reveal themselves to us and render us more keenly aware of his condescension in coming to us in communion.
Today we celebrate the memory of one of the great Doctors of the Church, St. John Chrysostom. He is a model of a man with a keen sense of God's transcendent holiness and of our own very limited and sinful condition. He tells us that when he reflected on the nature of God he was filled with a holy fear in the light of which he understood forcibly how far short we fall of truly comprehending him in his nature.
"If I ascend to the heaven, You are there; if I descend into hades, You are present." You see how He is everywhere present. But the prophet does not understand this; rather his mind is filled with vertigo, and he experiences trouble and fear. How is it not the height of ignorance then for those who are so inferior to him in charity to occupy themselves with analyzing the divine nature (Sur L'Incompréhensibilité de Dieu, Homélie I -Sources Chr. 1951, 92).
Pursuing this same theme further he cites approvingly the well-known words of St. Paul: "O the abyss of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judg ments!" He then makes the comment: "He does not say "incomprehensible" but "unsearchable". If it is impossible to search them out it is all the more impossible to comprehend them (op. cit., p. 96)." Since we are created for union with this transcendent holy God, we need greater purity than we can attain to without special graces from the Lord. It is not enough, however, to be aware of our need for grace and healing. We must also have faith and trust that the Lord is well-disposed toward us. The centurion in his request to Jesus expresses a firm faith and confidence in him: "Say but the word and my servant shall be healed." Chrysostom carried this confidence and faith even further. He believed that Jesus surely has the spiritual power to heal us from our moral and spiritual miseries as well as our physical sick nesses, for He is the one to whom all power in heaven and earth was given by the Father. He has merited the grace of reconciliation with the Father whose honor was so offended by our sin. He is our mediator and intercessor with the Father. In his love he has given to the Church the great gift of the priesthood through which the salvation he won for us is made available to his faithful. In his book on the priesthood, St. John Chrysostom writes:
What greater advantage could there be than to be obviously doing what Christ himself declared was proof of love for Christ? Speaking to the chief of the apostles he said, "Peter, do you love me?" ... He did not want to prove then how much Peter loved him ( which was already clear to us from many pieces of evidence, but he wanted Peter and all of us to learn how much he loves his own Church... (On the Priesthood, tr. G. Neville, 52, 53).
Let us too be confident that the Lord loves us and so is ready to heal us so long as we draw near to him with faith and desire to be made pleasing to him. The Eucharist is surely one of the most convincing proofs of his personal love for each of his faithful. As we offer it here this morning, may we stir up our faith in his healing power and surrender our hearts to him with confidence that he who so loved us as to die on our behalf will not refuse his mercy to us when we ask that we might be made worthy of his loving presence both now and for all ages to come. Amen.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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