Monday, 4 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet or White (Priests)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we heard that story from the Gospel passage, relating to us the moment when the Lord Jesus healed the sick servant of an army centurion, and the Lord was impressed at the faith he has in Him. In order to appreciate this story better, let us all understand the context and situation in which the interaction between Our Lord and the centurion took place.

At that time, the land of Judea, as well as Galilee and Samaria, the places where the Lord ministered to the people, were all under the dominion of the Roman Empire. It was likely that this army captain or centurion is part of the Roman legion or army stationed in the region for peacekeeping and garrison purpose. As such, the army centurion mentioned in the Gospel today might not even be a Jew.

The Jewish people living in Judea were not happy living under the Roman rule, as they had to pay taxes and obey other obligations, although the Romans did respect the Jewish customs and faith, allowing them to carry on with their lives as normal. This was why if we read through the Gospels, the Jews despised the tax collectors and even called them sinners and traitors to their people, as these people collected the taxes for the Romans.

Therefore, the Jews despised all interactions with the Romans, as well as with the pagans, Greeks and all those who do not believe in God or obey the laws of Moses. A Jewish person should not enter the house of a pagan, or else he or she will be considered unclean and unworthy. As such, if Jesus entered into the house of the army centurion, He would be considered unclean, and His enemies would have a reason with which to attack Him, for conspiring with the pagans.

The army centurion must have been aware of this fact, and that was probably the reason why he uttered the now famous words to the Lord Jesus, “I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant shall be healed.” This is what each and every one of us utter at every celebration of the Holy Mass at the Agnus Dei, when the Lord is His Most Precious Body and Blood is presented to us sinners.

Knowing that we are sinners, we utter the same words as the centurion had mentioned. The army centurion knew that Jesus is the Lord, and recognising that fact and truth, and how he, as a pagan, did not deserve Jesus, a Jew, and all the more, as the Lord and Master of all, from coming into his house. Thus, he believes that, because Jesus is the Lord and God, He needed only to just utter the words, and His will would be done, and the servants would be healed.

This faith should be contrasted with the lack of faith among those whom the Lord Jesus had performed His miracles and wonders, even among His disciples and followers. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law even demanded Jesus to show them heavenly and miraculous signs that they might believe in Him. Those people had seen the signs performed and yet still did not believe, because they have consciously chosen not to believe in God and harden their hearts against Him.

This is a reminder to all of us as Christians, that each and every one of us must learn from the faith of the army centurion. We need to be inspired by the pure faith and commitment that the army centurion showed to the Lord, believing wholeheartedly in Him rather than making excuses and doubting Him in what He is capable of doing. Many of us, unfortunately, often did not show the Lord the same faith that the centurion had shown.

Therefore, it is important that in this season of Advent, we should prepare ourselves well, heart, body, mind and soul, in our entire being, to welcome the Lord Jesus, not just merely celebrating His birth into the world, but instead, welcoming Him completely into ourselves, into our whole being. We have received the Lord in the Eucharist at the Holy Mass, but do we truly reflect on what we have received, that is nothing less than the Lord Himself?

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John of Damascus, a renowned saint who lived in Syria more than a millennia ago. St. John of Damascus was a priest who wrote extensively about the faith and whose devotion to God was truly remarkable. Despite the challenges he often encountered in his life, work and mission, he continued to devote himself day after day, to a life of prayer and charitable works, which encouraged many of the Christians in his area, living under difficult conditions.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us today make a renewed effort to live faithfully in accordance with our faith, following in the footsteps of the army centurion and our holy predecessors, the saints and blesseds of the Church. Let us all be true disciples of Our Lord in actions and deeds, and be genuine in our love for Him. After all, He has endeavoured to come to us, in the flesh, and even then, to suffer and die on the cross for the sake of our salvation.

May the Lord be with us always, and may He continue to guide us on our path, so that eventually we may be faithful in the same manner as the army centurion, whose faith in Him is so great that he placed his complete trust in His words alone, and also in the footsteps of all the saints, particularly St. John of Damascus, whose feast we celebrate this day. May God bless us forevermore. Amen.

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