It is somewhat ironical that a ‘pagan’ – a Roman centurion – has given us one of the more intimate and humble acclamations of our faith. His words to Jesus, slightly amended, and made personal for our individual voices in the midst of a shared prayer, are used each day in our Eucharistic celebrations. For every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are invited to acclaim “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and I shall be healed.”
We use the prayer as part of our preparations for communion. At its core, this prayer reminds us of our basic stance before God – humility. Indeed humility is a most important aspect of our being, it brings us into contact with our very creation at God’s hands. For we are made from the ‘humus’ – the soil of the earth – and this Latin term is the foundation and root of the English word ‘humility’. When we engage with others from our capacity to be humble we are really being true to our very nature! When we are humble we return to and connect with, our creation at God’s hands and our dependence on God. The virtue of humility reminds us not only that God gently and lovingly took the soil of the red earth and ‘shaped’ the first humans, but that God stands ready to continually breathe life and grace into us. We only have to ask. Thus the centurion stands in place of every one of us.
The same prayer then allows us to open ourselves, at the deepest level, to intimate union and communion with Jesus himself. We invite him to ‘enter under our roof’. This image of inviting Jesus to come into our ‘home’ can serve to draw us ever closer to him. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist and enter into the receiving of the body and blood of the Lord at our common table, we build or deepen our relationship with Jesus our Saviour. There is a saying amongst the members of the European Union – they seek to create an ‘ever-closer union’ of nations committed to being and acting together and perhaps this image might help us. For at each Eucharist we too seek an ‘ever closer union’ with Christ and every time we receive Christ in the Eucharist we can deepen and renew our commitment to that union. We welcome him into our life, our body, our being – that is, we welcome him ‘under our roof’.
Finally, we might note that the centurion witnesses to the power of Jesus Christ to change our reality “only say the word and my servant will be healed.” He is confident and trusting Jesus will be able to bring his servant to health again. It is a wonderful witness to us about the power of prayer but more so, the power of faith in God! We who know Jesus even more closely, and believe in him as God’s messenger and our Saviour, can confidently adopt the very same attitude.
In this way, we hope to one day to recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.