Monday September 16, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 11:17-26, 33) Gospel (St. Luke 7:1-10)
In the readings today, we really have to ask ourselves, "What is the Mass all about?" because we have that in both readings. Now, the Gospel reading does not appear to be that way at all, except that (as we have spoken many times before about this particular reading) this is where we get the statement that we proclaim right before receiving Holy Communion. Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed is literally what it says in the Latin, so what the Church did was change the word "slave" to "soul". But it is also the whole attitude of the centurion toward Our Lord, and the faith that he has in Our Lord.
That is the point Saint Paul is making as well in the first reading. He asks the people, "What is it that you are doing when you come together?" In the ancient Church, in some places they would celebrate what they called the Agape Meal. They would get together and have a dinner for the Lord's Day, and they would have Mass. What was happening is this was simply becoming a party, a free-for-all. That was what Saint Paul was condemning, that there was not unity among the people; they were all broken up into who had wealth and who followed which person and so on. They were not doing what they were supposed to, and that is what Saint Paul was condemning. Then he tells us that what he himself received from the Lord he handed on to them - that is, the consecration, that the Lord took bread, gave thanks, and said the words and the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord, in speaking about the centurion - and the centurion saying to the Lord, "Only say the word and my servant shall be healed" - says, "I tell you, I have not seen this much faith in Israel." My suspicion is that if the Lord were to come down and speak to Catholics of today, He would have some of the same things to say. In the vast majority of Catholic churches today, it has become entertainment because most Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. So the question is, why do they show up for Mass? It's because it is fun. It is not because they are hearing the Gospel being preached. It is not because they have come to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It is not because they are coming out of faith in what is going on at Mass. It is because they are having fun. It is exciting. It is having your emotions pumped up.
But that is not what Mass is all about. Mass is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And the Lord is telling us in the Gospel reading that it is at His Word that the bread and wine are changed, it is at His Word that people are healed, and it is at His Word that all of the things take place. All of creation took place at His Word, and everything in our lives can take place at His Word. But do we believe that? It is not that we do not believe in the Eucharist, because we do, but that, even, we can keep pretty objective. It is the subjective faith that we are lacking.
The centurion had that subjective faith. He was able to say, "Lord, I am not worthy. You simply say the word and it will happen." And I suspect for most of us, if push came to shove, we do not really believe that. We believe it happens in the Eucharist because we can look at it and say, "Well, there's a validly ordained priest; there was bread and wine; he said the right words. Objectively, everything was in the right order - therefore, it happened." All that is true. But subjectively, do we believe it? Or would the Lord have to look at us and say, "I tell you I have never seen this much faith among Catholics," because most Catholics do not believe that the Lord is going to do what He said He would do. Most Catholics do not believe that in the Word of Jesus Christ there is authority and that there is power because we have forgotten about the subjective element of faith.
We need to live, Saint Paul said, by faith not by sight. We need to put that faith into practice, not only in the objective things like the Eucharist or Confession (when we know our sins are forgiven at the Word of the Lord), but also in our day to day lives, to allow the Lord simply to say the Word and whatever He speaks is done. Just as He spoke the Word so many times when He was alive on earth and healed people and touched them and so on. So now He continues to speak and He will touch our lives; He will change our hearts if we allow Him to do so. At His Word, everything and anything He speaks is done. But He requires on our part that we have the faith that He will do it. Remember when He went to His own hometown, He could not do much there because the people did not really believe. And so it requires that subjective element of faith on our part that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. When we have that faith, we will be able to look at Him like the centurion and say, "Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the word - it will be done."
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.