Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Third Sunday after Epiphany--26 January AD 2014

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    Both of the characters in today's Gospel were outcasts from Jewish society.  Leprosy was a terrible illness for which there was no cure.  It was generally thought to be punishment by God for sin. The leper's extremities would literally fall off, and the disease was thought to be highly contagious.  One diagnosed with leprosy was required to avoid contact with healthy people, and to warn others of his approach by crying out “unclean” as he travelled about.[1]  Occasionally, a leper might be cured for unknown reasons, but he still could not return to society until he had been examined by the priests of the Temple.  If the priests judged him free from the disease, it would still take a week to remove the ritual uncleanness.[2]   The fact that this leper asked Jesus for a cure suggests that he had a tremendous degree of faith in our Lord's abilities.

    The centurion was also an outcast, but for different reasons.  He was part of the hated Roman occupational force.  Israel is located where anyone coming Europe or Asia would have to pass through on his way to Africa.  Its location made it one of the most often conquered countries.  The Romans were the most recent of Israel's conquerors—conquered in 63 BC by the Roman General Pompey.  They were hated for their exorbitant tax collections and for their brutal way of dealing with those who resisted their rule.  The centurion was the commander of roughly one hundred Roman soldiers.  The centurion's faith in Jesus was obvious.  He recognized Jesus as one having authority even over diseases; possibly even over life and death!  He knew that it was only necessary for Jesus to give the order and his servant would be healed.

    Our Lord was taking something of a chance by healing either of these two.  Under the Mosaic Law, He was not supposed to touch the leper. In general, disease was thought to be a punishment from God.  By healing anybody, Jesus would seem to many to be acting as though He were God—which, of course, He was—but which could get a man put to death under the Law of Moses.  He asked the leper not to tell anyone how he had been cures, but the leper still had to present himself to the priests, and someone might have or overheard. And it did not help that both men were considered outcasts by the Jews.  But, our Lord seems to have endless compassion on those who come to Him strong in faith.

    We often speak of faith as the submission of the intellect to the will of God, in that through faith we are willing to believe all that God wills to reveal to us.  In addition to our intellect, we must also submit our will to God’s will.  We see that in the healing of the leper “if thou will, thou canst make me clean,” to which Jesus responds, “I will, be thou made clean,” and the leper was immediately freed from the disease.[3]

    It is much the same for the centurion’s servant.  The centurion expressed faith in our Lord’s authority, and without ever seeing the servant or even being told the nature of the illness, through an act of Jesus’ diving will, the servant was healed.  This should be a lesson to us—that when we pray for something, it should always be with the condition that whatever we receive will be in accordance with God’s will for us.  We see from the Gospels that God is compassionate.  Later on in the same chapter He heals Peter’s Mother-in-law, and then a great multitude of the sick and the possessed.[4]

    This compassion exemplified by our Lord is what Saint Paul is recommending to us in today's Epistle.[5]  We should have compassion on all those with whom we deal.  Even those whom we might consider enemies should be treated with respect—Indeed with mercy and kindness.  The idea of taking revenge on someone who has harmed us should not enter our minds.  We should recognize that an evildoer who causes us to hate him has conquered us—that by eliciting our hatred he has harmed us more than he did by the original hurt.  If we wish to gain satisfaction for this hurt we are to feed our enemy’s hunger, and slake his thirst.  Hopefully, by this good example, we will win our enemy over to good and proper behavior.

    Finally, today’s Mass teaches us a lesson about the importance of faith for eternal salvation.  Our Lord commends the centurion for the strength of his faith: 

    I have not found such great faith in Israel. And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[6]

    Clearly, our Lord was referring to those of the chosen people that would reject Him and ultimately have Him put to death.  But Catholics should never be so complacent as to think that He was referring to the Jews alone.  The children of the Church are God’s new chosen people.  We have received the immeasurable gifts of God’s revelation, and through Baptism, the means to sanctifying grace.  We must follow the centurion’s good example, acknowledging the omnipotence of God, and trusting in His compassion, lest we too “be cast into the exterior darkness, [with] the weeping and gnashing of teeth.”





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