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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Homily for Feast of the First Roman Martyrs

            Since we began using the new translation in November, I have been anticipating hearing this Gospel passage as it connects with the phrase we say at communion. We know they wanted an exact strict translation that was faithful to original sources. It is disappointing to know that the translation committee did not get it right. We say "only say the word and my soul shall be healed" while scripture reads "only say the word and my servant shall be healed." Go figure.

            We see two important aspects of the centurion: Commendably, he is a man deeply concerned for the welfare of his servant and he is a great example of a type of faith we are to profess in Jesus. He recognizes the power of the word of Jesus, yet most of us do not have this level of trust in Jesus. While he is an excellent model for some, other models exist. Perhaps wrongly, but he reminds me of the antiquated, "pray, pay, and obey" model of discipleship. I am uneasy that the Centurion holds Jesus at bay. He keeps him apart from his life. He asks him not to come into his house because he acknowledges that his word alone is powerful enough to even raise the dead to life. He knows that the will of Jesus is stronger than his own desires and that what he wants is less important. I want more than that.

            What we want is very important to Jesus because he is trying to get ever closer to us. Yes, it is true that we are unworthy to have him enter our world, but this is the reason he comes into our lives - to come to know our messy, unmanageable, chaotic, secret-filled, train-wrecked lives. Many times I hear a person say at the beginning of retreat, "I just want to know and to do God's will. God's will be done, not mine." It is a laudable aspiration, but we can't sit there passively and wait for God to willy-nilly decide to come down from his heavenly throne and meagerly grant our selfish unimportant requests. This is not the God Jesus reveals to us. Jesus wants us to tell him what we need and want. The Centurion does this. Peter does it for his mother-in-law. The crowds do it so they can be healed. Jesus wants what the Centurion wants. He wants the Centurion's servant to live - just as he wants us to live.

            I liken the way we approach God to the way I once requested things of my mother. When I was thirteen, I would ask my mother the same question during the summer, "Mom, can I go to the beach?" "No," she replied. I went off and stewed. The next day, the same question and answer, and more stewing. The following day, the same routine. Frustrated, we were both unhappy with each other. Finally, my mother said, "Jack, if you keep asking me, I'll keep saying 'no,' but if you tell me where you are going, who will be with you, when you are returning, and that you have time to do your chores, we'll be able to give each other what we need." I tried it the next day with astonishing results. I was so happy and because I had given my word, I kept my end of the bargain. My needs and my mother's were amazingly respected. The conversations were maturing and mutual. We communicated effectively.

            The way we talk with others is the way we talk with God, and we need to always improve the many ways we communicate to be more effective. We are to do the same with God. If we sit and wait for the remote, transcendent, ethereal will of God to mysteriously descend from heaven, we will sit and wait a long time. If we ask God open-ended questions that no human could ever answer, we ought not expect God to answer them. We get somewhere if we say to God something like this, "Here is what I'm thinking. This is what I choose and intend to do. I think it is a pretty good plan because it respects others and addresses my desires. If you are not O.K. with it, I'm sure you will let me know. I know, O God, that you can speak up for yourself." We respect each others' mutuality.      
            Ignatius tells us God gives us our desires and we are to act upon them if they are for God's greater glory. We, who are on retreat, are by nature caring and helpful people. By asking for what we need will bring us into greater balance because we are more inclined to give to others. In other words, it is not selfish to ask for what we need and want. In fact, it is healthy. Would Jesus have healed the Centurion's slave if he wasn't made away of the servant's condition? Ask for what you want in prayer and at the close also ask, "Did you give me what I asked for?" God is very generous and Jesus promises that if we ask God for anything in his name, God will listen to us and grant our desires.

            On this feast of martyrs, we cannot help but look at the grave suffering many people experienced. The centurion suffered for his ill servant, Peter was moved with concern for his mother-in-law; crowds of sick people and those possessed by demons sought out the healing word of Jesus. The author of Lamentations implores the suffering people of Zion to cry out to the Lord. Moan, and let your tears flow like a torrent day and night. Let your petitions be known to the Lord, who alone can fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah: "He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases."

            Tell your story to Jesus. Invite him into it. Tell him again so you know you are seen and heard and known by him. We know that he wants to enter our messy lives because his heart is always moved by our stories. How can it not be? He will stand in compassionate solidarity with you and will grace you with his healing words of an intimate love. "Lord, it is true. I am not worthy, but please do. Enter. My house is messy, but come under my roof and spend time with me. I need you. I want you. I trust that you will give me what I want and need. Thank you."


  1. I am becoming more bold in my requests to God but this post has inspired me to be very concrete and explicit in my prayers. After reading this I took the time to tell our Lord exactly what I would really like to do for God and asked God to grant me the requests. Thank you very much.

    1. Good for you, Lynda. That's the way to go. Courage and energy in prayer will lead you to beneficial places. Let God spoil you.

    2. Fr. John, this reminds me of a marvellous answer to prayer in recent years. In 2004 I was received into the RCC and as I sat in RCIA as a candidate, I told God that I would be so happy if I could be on the RCIA Team in the future and share my love for Jesus with other inquirers. That next year I was asked to be a sponsor and did that for three years before I joined the team. I am passionate about that ministry and I constantly thank God for allowing me to serve in that way. God has already spoiled me and I am so very grateful. May God be with you as you begin a new adventure in your life.

    3. Congratulations! And though it is now 8 years ago, welcome to our church! I'm happy you followed your passion to become an RCIA leader. I'm sure you will bless the lives of many who are seeking to find God in their daily life. Bravo!