17 September 2012

Know his truth, accept his authority

24th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

 Authority. It has become one of the most maligned words in our Catholic vocabulary since the Council ended in 1965. Some Catholics, believing (falsely) that the Council Fathers revolutionized the Church into a participatory democracy, have grown increasingly disappointed that the reforms of the Council have failed to materialize. The villains in this alleged plot to thwart the will of the Council are branded with various unflattering labels. Regardless of the label, the central complaint of the disappointed is always the same, “The Roman hierarchy will not surrender its authority over the Church.” Setting aside the absurd idea that the Council Fathers ever intended to re-establish the Church as a democracy, the real problem for these Catholics seems to be the very notion of authority itself. The exercise of authority implies that the truth can be known. That can be dispute settled or a question answered decisively. Since Christ himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for the world, he is rightly recognized one possessing auctoritas; that is, the decisive weight of authority. By his word alone, we are healed. 

 The centurion in today's gospel immediately recognizes Jesus' authority over disease and disability. Drawing a comparison btw his own authority as a military commander and Jesus' authority as the Son of God, the centurion declares his faith in Jesus' ability to command that his servant be healed. Not only is he acknowledging Jesus' authority to heal, he's also confessing that he believes that Jesus can heal his servant w/o seeing him or touching him: “. . .but say the word and let my servant be healed.” Jesus' response to the man's faith is telling. He is amazed, and says to the gathered crowd, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” While those who should be flocking to Jesus—the priests, the scribes, all the people of the Covenant—instead question, argue, and ridicule him, here is a Roman solider, a pagan invader, and occupier among God's own people who sees and hears the truth that Christ is sent to reveal. The centurion sees in Christ the truth of his divine mission, the truth of his purpose, and so he accepts the authority that this truth wields in the man Jesus. There is no way to distinguish or separate Christ's truth from his authority. If we accept the truth that Jesus is the Christ, then we also accept his authority as our Lord. Would he be amazed at our faith, our obedience? 

After Jesus expresses his amazement at the centurion's faith, the messengers sent to intercept Jesus return to the soldier’s home. There they find that the man's servant has been healed. We are that once-sick and now-healed servant. With the healing word of Christ spoken over our afflictions, our divisions, our contentions, we are healed from the distance of heaven and by this offering at the altar of the cross. Everything we do and say here this evening—our prayers, our gestures; our offer of sacrifice, everything—is worthless w/o the authority of Christ's healing word to make it worthy. We participate—take part in—our own healing by losing ourselves in this sacrifice, by surrendering all that we fear most to lose: pride, control, esteem, a stubborn will; our disordered passions, our disabling vices. Christ will not heal the unwilling, nor can he heal the unbelieving. Like the centurion who confesses the truth and submits himself to the authority of Christ, we too must welcome into our households, into our lives, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and proclaim that Christ is Lord of all. By his word alone, we may be healed. 

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  1. You do realize you're terribly old-fashioned, don't you?

    I chuckled at the first paragraph; I'm afraid missals would have been thrown at you had you said that here :-). You would have heard some of the "unflattering labels" to which you alluded.

    Overall, I liked this one. I have never heard this story discussed as you did in the third paragraph, and I thoroughly appreciated it (especially: "...losing ourselves in this sacrifice, surrendering all that we fear most to lose...."). Thanks!!

    1. Old-fashioned, uh? Well, I've been called far, far worse. Fortunately, St Dominic is a faithful, sensible parish. I'd hate to have throw those missals back!

  2. I don't know your parish, of course, but I wonder if it might be a stronger homily without the medicinal vinegar of "Some Catholics" at front. Rather than starting with the dispute, if you start with the point of agreement (Jesus' authority), and show how the disputed conclusion follows, people might not notice how old-fashioned you are.

    As for the centurion, something else he picked up on is that Jesus *would* heal his servant. Even in Israel did Jesus find such hope?

    1. Right on all counts. This one started out going in a very different direction. I'd originally planned for paras. 3 & 4 to be about Paul using his apostolic authority in the Corinthian dispute. But it was really stale. Had to start again but ran out of time.

      And I really not all that worried about people thinking I'm old-fashioned. We need a few more old-fashioned priests.

    2. Tom - I meant the "old-fashioned" comment as a compliment to Fr. P. I think it's great, and especially out here on the edge of no-where I wish we had more old-fashioned priests.