The Son of God was amazed at a mere human being. What was it about the centurion’s response to him that so grabbed Our Lord’s attention? After all, the centurion was only telling Jesus about how authority and obedience worked in his professional life: if you’re in charge and you tell someone to do something, they do it.
What struck Jesus about the centurion was his simple yet strong faith: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9). The Early Church was so moved by the centurion’s response that it immortalised his words in the Liturgy to help us all prepare to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.
So what can we learn from this first-century Roman soldier? How about humble confidence. In every generation, humble confidence has been the bait used by saints in order to win Our Lord’s heart. Just think about the ‘good thief’ on the cross (Luke 23:39-43)—a life of crime and sin, then a few minutes before dying, one simple prayer wins him redemption.
Throughout the gospels we see people whose lives warranted judgement receiving mercy and healing instead. And this should give us great hope. After all, if a thief, or a prostitute, or a crooked government official could steal Our Lord’s heart, why should we ever think he would reject us? As the centurion shows, Our Lord needs only our humility and confidence to work marvels of healing, purification, and restoration. He needs only to hear us echo this humble man’s prayer, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” (Luke 7:6-7).
We can almost feel the tension in the Gospels sometimes when Our Lord asks questions, testing and stretching the faith of His disciples and other listeners. Others had already called Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, and Our Lord hushed them and told them not to tell this to anyone. But at this point in His ministry, gathered with those Twelve closest to Him, Our Lord is ready to spell it out clearly, revealing the real meaning of Messiah.
“You are the Christ,” Saint Peter declares. ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for ‘Messiah’, which is a Hebrew word. It means ‘anointed one’. Jewish priests were anointed, as were prophets and kings. And that was part of the problem. Most people in Our Lord’s time had their own ideas of who the Messiah, the Christ, would be when he came. Most thought he would be an anointed warrior king who would rally the people and kick out the Romans and their quislings and set things straight. And all of them misunderstood Jesus completely.
Saint Peter was the first to fully understand. And Our Lord still told Peter and the other disciples not to tell anyone, because the people wouldn’t understand. To be anointed is a sign of being chosen, of being singled out and exalted. And we have become so used to calling Jesus the Christ that we do it automatically, without thinking about it. But Our Lord wanted to challenge His disciples, and He wants to challenge us to see who He really is.
Immediately after Our Lord told the disciples that He was the Messiah, He began to teach them what that really means. Jesus said that as Messiah, He would undergo the things Isaiah had prophesied and which we heard in the first reading: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Our Lord told His disciples that He, “the Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”
So, the question Our Lord asks of us today is, “Who do YOU say I am?” Like Saint Peter, we know the answer, but we may not like, or fully understand, the consequences. Yet, as Saint James teaches in the second reading, our faith must lead to action. Our Lord wants much more from His disciples, he doesn’t want us to simply hear that He is the Messiah, the Son of Man and Son of God who suffers and dies to redeem the world. He wants us to truly know WHO He is, and we have to follow Him. And the only way to realize who Jesus is, is by following Him, and that involves denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him faithfully each day.
We’ve heard in the readings at daily Mass this past week that the person who is timid and afraid and wants to save his life, will in fact lose it, because they look at things in a merely human, common sense way, not as God looks at things. But how can we know how God looks at things? Well, by laying down our life with Christ and for His sake, as He laid down His life for our sake. Only then will we see things as He does, only then will we save our lives and rise with Him, only then will we really know who He is – and who we are.
The prayer of today’s liturgy sees Mary at the foot of the Cross as the model for the Church in her search to become more united with Christ in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection. A mother standing close to a dying child is a potent human symbol. Even for Christ, suffering was a mystery and a dark valley he entered. Surely it was the same for Our Lady as she stood at the foot of the Cross.
It’s been a longstanding tradition for some people to carry or to wear a medal of Our Lady of Sorrows. Catholics have been wearing this particular sacramental for many years, and they would never be parted from it. When they experience difficulties, they look at Our Lady’s sorrowful image on the medal, and almost instinctively, they know that she will understand their predicament, help them, and give them peace. Many Catholics will testify that it’s never a waste to ask Our Lady’s protection, implore her help, or seek her intercession.
As Catholics we know all too well that we are not immune to sorrow and that we can always look to Our Lady for help. There are so many problems that trouble us, I could spend a couple of days just listing them. So many things can make us feel sad, betrayed, or hurt. But Our Lady shows us that the real question is not how often, or how much, we suffer. The real question is how we should respond when we are visited by suffering. And this is where Our Lady of Sorrows can help us the most.
Our Lady was well acquainted with sorrow – a cursory reading of the gospels will tell us that. And this is why so many of us turn to Our Lady when we suffer or are in sorrow, because she knows exactly what we are going through. And she can help us and teach us how to react to trying and painful situations. She can teach us to ponder and to pray and to persevere. She can teach us to trust in God’s providence and in his ability to work wonders in our life.
Former Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The Virgin Mary, who believed in the word of the Lord, did not lose her faith in God when she saw her Son rejected, abused and crucified. Rather she remained beside Jesus, suffering and praying until the end. And she saw the radiant dawn of his resurrection. Let us learn from her to witness to our faith with a life of humble service, ready to pay the price of staying faithful to the gospel of love and truth, certain that nothing that we do will be lost.”
Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Our Lord makes very clear that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so He must be lifted up so that He could draw all humanity to Himself. The Cross stands at the very centre point of all human history. There is no Eucharist without the Cross of Christ. There is no life without the Cross of Christ. It’s one of those mysteries, one of the ironies of our faith: how is it possible that we can have life only through death? But that’s the only way. Unless we die to self we cannot have life; and anyone who would try to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life will save it. We save our lives by uniting ourselves with Jesus Christ on His Cross.
When we consider the link between the serpent fixed on the pole and Our Lord nailed upon the Cross, we have to remember what happened to the serpent. The Hebrews began worshipping the serpent as if it were a god, and Moses had to destroy the serpent because the people were worshipping it as though it had some kind of power of its own. Now if we pause to consider what we do in this place each day, we worship Jesus Christ, but we also adore His Cross. But the Cross has no power of itself. There were many people who were crucified, but none of their crosses has any power to save anyone. The Cross without Christ on it is completely devoid of power and meaning. And so, we have every reason to exalt and venerate the Cross during our liturgy on Good Friday. We don’t worship the Cross as a god of some sort; rather we have the greatest reverence for the Cross because on it our God has consummated His union with humanity. Now consummation is an old-fashioned word which we don’t much hear in everyday speech, but it best describes what I’m trying to say. On the Cross, Christ gave His life for His bride, the Church, so that the Church would be without blemish or spot or wrinkle, that we would be made pure and clean so that we would be able to enter into eternity and be united with Christ in that perfect bond of marriage, of that mystical union between Christ and his Church.
Our Holy Father Augustine taught some sixteen hundred years ago that the Cross is the marriage bed upon which Christ consummated His marriage with the Church. If we are to be united with Him it means that we have to be pierced with Him, hands and feet, united upon the Cross, stretched in every direction, held between heaven and earth. This is the way of the spiritual life. If we are not willing to share in the Cross of Christ, then we will have no share in the life it gives. It’s just like the bride who has no part in the marriage bed. How can she be a bride? How can there be life? Unless there is a union between the bride and the bridegroom, there can be no life. If we want eternal life, if we want divine life within our souls then there is only one way, and that is to be united with Christ and to be crucified with Him on the Cross. Christ humbled Himself taking the form of a slave and was obedient even to death on the Cross. We have to humble ourselves, but in doing so we will be exalted, we will be lifted up.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your
Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
Today we honour the memory of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the most influential figures of the Church during the fourth century. As Archbishop of Constantinople he worked to reform the Church and came into conflict with the imperial court, which hounded him into exile on several occasions. Because of his eloquent sermons and writings to explain the faith and to encourage the practice of the Christian Life he is honoured as a Doctor of the Church. He died in exile on 14th September in 407.
Some years ago, you may remember reading about archaeologists who discovered a number of lead tablets at the bottom of a well which once served a palace of King Herod in Jerusalem. These tablets were used to curse one’s enemies. The enemy’s name was written on the tablet and then dropped into the well from which the enemy drank his water.
Our Lord himself would have known all about curse tablets when he spoke to his disciples, telling them to treat their enemies in a different way.
Now the difficulty in following Our Lord’s commands regarding treatment of our enemies builds some resistance within us. The natural urge is to seek revenge on the person who has hurt us. But Our Lord demands unconditional love from his followers; he doesn’t say“Love your enemies, except for her, him and her”. Many saints have embodied this command. For St. Francis of Assisi peace meant having no enemies. Everyone was his friend and he would allow them to be nothing else. The same is true of St. John Chrysostom who was packed off into exile on several occasions for preaching words people didn’t want to hear.
The rewards conveyed in Our Lord’s difficult words are abundant. Centred in his directions to the disciples is what we call the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you”. Whatever good we give we will receive in good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over: for the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.
In many situations, talking about a call to a celibate life can draw some very puzzled looks. Even now, some people believe that if you are not a priest or a religious then you should be married.
In many cultures the single state is seen as a sort of holding pattern until something better comes along: be it the priesthood, the religious life, marriage or heaven. But that’s not the way Saint Paul describes it. He tells us that neither marriage nor virginity is necessarily the better way. The best way is to seek to please God with single minded service, whatever state we’re in.
Many single adults are not waiting for their vocation, because they’ve already found it. Choosing neither religious vows nor marriage, they give the world a distinctive counter-cultural witness. They show by their lives that the kingdom of God is real, that this world really is passing away, and that there is something greater than what this world has to offer. As wonderful as all that sounds, we may be tempted to ask whether dedicated single people can be truly happy.
If we consider the benefits of this unique calling, then the answer is surely ‘yes’. Dedicated single people don’t have the concerns of those who are married. The single person can devote his or her undivided attention to God in a way a married person cannot (1 Cor. 7:32-34). They have more time for prayer, more resources available to give to God’s work, and more freedom to be involved in ministry. The dedicated single person can impact people and places that the priest or religious can never reach.
The Church is blessed by men and women living a single vocation. Their dedication to God and their selfless love for him inspires others to live more fully for him. We should know too that the witness of our lives inspires and encourages those who are single. Together, as many members of one body, we can be a powerful witness to the kingdom of heaven.