Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we listen to the revelation of the great faith in the captain, who was likely a Roman soldier, and therefore not of the people of Israel. And we tie this revelation to the saying of St. Paul in his letter in our first reading today, that there exists only one way to salvation, that is through the great Mediator, Jesus Christ, Messiah of the world.
True faith in God lies not in the prayers after prayers that one utters. Yes, prayer is indeed important, brethren, but what is even more important is one’s own humility and awareness of themselves, and the complete surrender of oneself to the love of God, and in all these, the individual will then have a true, unshakeable faith in God.
It is that many people in Israel put themselves before God, and put their worldly desires before the Lord. That was also why the faith of the people in God, as was evident in how they looked at Jesus and His ministry, was truly shallow and weak faith, unlike that faith the captain of the army possessed for Christ and therefore for the Lord. That was also why, even though the people first proclaimed Jesus as a great Saviour, they were equally quick in condemning Him to death when He was convicted by false testimonies.
They loved not God and have faith not in Him, but on the wondrous things that He had done, and once those things were gone, or when challenges rose up to meet them, they quickly forgot about Him and rose up in rebellion. This was truly evident, when Israel walked through the desert into the Promised Land, that they rebelled and made complaints after complaints to the Lord for not caring for them enough in their journey, and even regretted having been brought out of Egypt.
The same also happened to Jesus, that people applauded Him for the miracles and powers He had shown, in healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and loosening the tongues of the mute, and in raising the dead back into life. They followed Him and listened to His teachings, and yet, these did not take good roots in them, that they were easily shaken by fear and doubt.
On the other hand, the captain of the guards showed great faith in God, that He sent for Jesus to heal his sick servant and save him from death. Then, despite his relatively lofty and high position in the armed forces, and therefore in the society, he did not boast at all. He instead lowered himself before the Lord, as a sinner, who would not be worthy at all to receive the Lord who is good and perfect in his own residence.
One may interpret the way he said things to Jesus through his servant as being rude. After all, how can he say such things to Jesus who had spent so much of His time to come down to his place and heal his servant? Is he not being condescending and demanding of Christ the Lord?
No, brethren, in fact, in that sentence, and which was completely revealed in his last sentence, which we also utter during every Mass before the Lord’s Presence in the Holy Eucharist, showed perfectly the depth of his faith in the Lord and his humility, realising that he was truly nothing, despite his position of power, before the Lord Jesus our Saviour and God.
“Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” That is the precise words that we utter after the Agnus Dei, when the celebrant of the Mass show to us the Body of Christ crucified, through which He is willing to come upon us, in order to heal us from all our sins, iniquities, and unworthiness. We are unworthy of Him because of our sins, and yet He is willing to come to us, into us, so that He will be with us and stay with us, and we will also remain in Him, in His love.
It is precisely his understanding of his unworthiness before the Saviour of the world, before the Almighty God Himself, that he, the captain, though mighty in the eyes of men, but he is nothing compared to God and he is unworthy to stand before His presence, much less to invite Him to his humble and sinful abode. That is why, using his own experience as the captain of an army unit, he asked in his humility, for the Lord to give the orders, and he has complete faith that whatever the Lord commands, it will be fulfilled.
We too, brothers and sisters, should follow his example, and in saying the words that he had once uttered, every time in the Mass, let us say it with complete understanding and dedication to God, not because we are trained to say it without feelings, and not just because we memorised the phrase, and then utter them out of nothingness. Let us put ourselves into the shoes of the captain, understanding the love that God has for us, when He approaches us and offers Himself to us in His Body and Blood.
Today, brethren, we also celebrate the feast of two great saints of the early Church, namely that of Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, the great leaders of the Church and the staunch defenders of the faith. They lived at a difficult time for the Church, at the time when the pagan Roman Emperors, particularly Decius and Valerian persecuted Christians and slaughtered them mercilessly.
Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, his greatest supporter, as the Bishop of Carthage in Africa, also faced a great tribulation of the faith, with a heretical teaching by the priest Novatian, who also contested the Papacy as antipope to Pope St. Cornelius, causing a severe division of the faithful at the time when the enemies of the Church were persecuting strongly against her.
Pope St. Cornelius protected the important tenet of the faith, that is the Lord who is merciful, readily forgives those who had lapsed from the faith, as was often during his time as Pope. St. Cyprian was his strong supporter, against the heretic Novatian, who staunchly opposed to the forgiveness and redemption of those who had lapsed from the faith.
There were many Christians who lapsed from the faith due to various reasons, but many of which were linked with the temptations of the world and sin, especially because of the severe persecutions against the faithful at the time. According to Novatian heresy, these people were doomed, but Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian begged to differ. As Christ had taught His disciples, that even the greatest of sinners can repent and many saints were also once great sinners.
They defended the true faith and maintained the integrity of the Church and the faithful. Through their hard work, many were prevented from falling into the heretical teachings. They died as defenders of the faith under persecution by the Roman authorities, and in their martyrdom, they provided the rich soil upon which the Church could grow further and carry out their work of salvation.
May the Lord opens our eyes and the doors of our hearts, and inspired by the examples and works of Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian that we will be able to learn the unworthy state that we are in, because of our sins, that we, in deepest humility, following the footsteps of the captain, will humble ourselves before Christ, who is the great Mediator, the bridge between us and the Father, through whom, the only path to salvation and eternal life in glory is possible. Let us praise God and thank Him for having mercy and pity on us, coming to us to heal us, despite of our faults and unworthy behaviours. God be with us always and may He show His mercy and love upon us. Amen.