“Oh Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
If you are Catholic and you don’t recognize the previous words, to say the least, you have some work to do. That phrase is perhaps the most profound statement of our faith that exists. It was uttered by a man not of the faith who had a moment of public humility for the cause of a servant whom he had compassion for. An example that all of us should be grateful for.
Of course, this is the prayer before we receive communion that we recite at any Mass. In their wisdom, the framers of our Liturgy included this phrase for a lot of reasons. Like all the parts of our worship it is rich in blessing and healing for the past, for the present and for the future. This Matthew 8:8 passage recalls how a Roman Centurion humbles himself before Jesus to ask for healing of a beloved house servant.
In ancient times, a centurion was a sworn official of the Roman government. He was a military officer. Of course, he was sworn to worship Caesar as God. His seeking out of Jesus, then, was a dangerous act. It was a very public declaration and would have been very displeasing to the Roman governor of the region. But that’s not the most significant point about this phrase. In his request to Jesus he does nothing but express humility. The passage tells us that He politely refuses Jesus’ offer to go to his home because he is more than aware that Jesus has power over everything even when he is not present. He knows the power of Jesus in his word. Do you?
His request is simple, not grandiose. Jesus is gracious in his response and publicly touts the centurion for his faith. This was a bonus that the Officer did not ask for. But more than that, his servant is instantly healed in light of the humble request. Our request during Mass is also humble and recognizes the power of the Word that created the universe. When I repeat that prayer, I am always excited because I consider it the highest request I could ever make of God. My soul, Lord, please heal my soul like you healed the Centurion’s servant! Wow! There it is, in that little sentence, preparation for heaven, healing from the past, optimism for the now.
As the encounter with the Centurion shows us, you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be ready, you don’t have to be sinless. You just have to speak your faith for all to hear: …only say the word… You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour [the] servant was healed. (Mt 8:13).
Copyright© 2017, Kathryn M. Cunningham