HOMILY for Mon in Week 1 of Advent
The words of the centurion are significantly placed in the Mass just before we receive Holy Communion. When we hear them in the wider context of today’s Gospel we see just how apt they are. The centurion says Christ need not come personally to heal his servant; just his word will effect the miracle. This is the substance of his faith which caused Jesus to marvel.
This same faith is evident when we approach the Eucharist and repeat the centurion’s words. For we also believe that Jesus need not come personally to heal us, his servants. Rather, he comes to us sacramentally albeit really and entirely through the Eucharist. And, like the centurion, we believe that this happens at Jesus’ word. Thus St Thomas says, “The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority”. Hence, we see that the centurion also appeals to the authority of one’s command to effect an action. Thus we believe that Christ’s Word – the words of institution by which the Eucharist is consecrated – carries a divine authority which effects a divine action, namely, Christ being present under appearances of bread and wine. So, when we repeat the centurion’s words before Holy Communion, we are making the same act of faith as him.
In the Gospel, Jesus then says “not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Mt 8:10b), and he makes a reference to Gentile peoples coming from all over to sit with the Jewish patriarchs at the table of the kingdom of heaven. As such, this is a reference to the Eucharist, which is a sign of the heavenly banquet. So, when we come up for Holy Communion, we are enacting this scene from the Gospel and fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy. For with faith, we have believed that Jesus’ word has authority and that they make him present; with faith, we approach the Eucharistic table, and share in the communion of the prophets, patriarchs and saints.
And what we believe the Eucharist effects in our souls is healing: “only say the word, and my soul shall be healed”. Whereas the centurion asks for healing for his servant’s physical ailments, we ask for spiritual healing for ourselves. And again, with faith, we know that this is what a worthy reception of Holy Communion effects in us since it is Christ the divine Physician who comes to us, and heals us. The Catechism (following St Thomas) thus teaches that “by giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break from disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him” (CCC §1394). So, through Holy Communion, we are forgiven and healed of our venial sins, and we grow in love for God. Hence, in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis said: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (Evangelii Gaudium, §47).