I Am Not Worthy

The season of Advent grows in significance in my spiritual life with each passing year. I first discovered Advent as a ministerial student at Asbury Theological Seminary. There I was introduced to liturgy and the whole concept of the year being expressed by liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time.

I write on this Monday of the first week of Advent; the Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 8:5–13—Jesus and his encounter with the Roman Centurion who requests healing for his servant.

As he entered Caper′na-um, a centurion came forward to him, begging him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (RSV)

This morning before Mass, I sat down to pray this passage using Lectio Divina. After an initial prayer, asking God to speak to me through the Gospel, I read it carefully and three words jumped out at me: centurion, begging, and Lord.

The man who approached Jesus that day in Capernaum was a Roman centurion. A centurion was not a Jew, he was as I have already mentioned Roman, and commanded a “centuria” or century, that from 200 to 1000 legionaries. A centurion was a symbol of the oppression the Jewish population endured under Roman rule. His presence instilled fear, order and obedience, no matter how reluctant. As this centurion himself says, For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 

So here we have this powerful, brave and influential man coming to Jesus and begging him on behalf of a sick servant: “…my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” The centurion in his position with Rome could have ordered Jesus, a Jew, to come to his house and take care of his need. Instead we see the centurion in a posture of a mendicant, a beggar, not unlike others we see in Scripture, e.g. blind Bartimaeus. The posture of begging strips the centurion of his armor, his sword, his Roman swagger and his menacing demeanor. He comes to Jesus as we all must: nothing to brag about, nothing to hold on to, nothing to cling to. As the old hymn “Rock of Ages” says:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

The final word is Lord. The centurion says to Jesus begging: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” And later he says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Maybe, like me, you’ve read that story so many times or as a Catholic, repeated those powerful words in the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” For the centurion to call Jesus “Lord” was no small thing. For the centurion and all Romans of his time, Caesar was Lord. To call Jesus Lord was not only novel, it was blasphemous, dangerous and treasonous. Yet somehow the centurion recognized Jesus for who he was: Lord! Jesus is Lord! That became the creed of the early Christians: Jesus is Lord! not Caesar! Many of them gave up their lives for that affirmation of faith.

Where does that leave you and me? Time for confession, my confession. I tend to come to Jesus putting my best foot forward. That can look different at different times and places. I read the Bible thinking about all the times I’ve already read this passage instead of thinking about the fresh thing our Lord wants to say to me through it—like this morning! I start praying and present my list of petitions with the fixes I’m sure would make everyone and everything better, instead of quieting myself before our Lord and letting Him tell me how He wants to change me, which will change how I see the people and the things I want Him to fix. And even when I go to Confession, if I try to put my sins in the best possible light, instead of agreeing with the centurion that I am not worthy, no real forgiveness and cleansing can take place.

Lord, like the centurion, I put aside my perceived merits. I beg of you to hear my plea. I acknowledge that you are Lord and nothing in my life or in my world can compete with that, nor will you accept it. Lord, only say the word and my soul shall be healed. Amen.

I Am Not Worthy

I Want to See!

In my work with American Bible Society we seek ways to help people engage in Scripture, recognizing that time spent with the Word of God has the potential to impact lives through an encounter with the living God who has revealed His love and His plan for us through the written word.

In the retreat that I was on this past weekend I was given the opportunity to learn more about the Ignatian Prayer Form—a way to engage Scripture, especially the Gospels using the imagination and senses. One of the ways you can do this is to assume a role. You become, through your imagination, one of the characters in the story, such as blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46–52. In the exercise that I did over the weekend I chose the passage that tells of Bartimaeus’s encounter with Jesus which follows on the heels of the story of James and John requesting of Jesus the privilege of sitting at his right and left. I treated that passage here.

Oratio: Mark 10:49–51—Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Meditatio: I can’t help but notice that the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus is nearly identical to the question he posed to James and John in the passage I did with Lectio Divina earlier. When they said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

You could say James and John were asking from a position of strength. They were already Jesus’ followers; they were from a good family, had a profession they could fall back on if the apostleship didn’t pan out. They were young and health, and as it turned out they wanted more to consolidate their upwardly mobile status, you might say. Jesus, knowing this still asked them what they wanted him to do for them.

On the other hand, Bartimaeus has been dealt a bad blow in his life. Because he is named in the Gospel, it seems that he has been someone; we even know the name of his father. Yet he has lost his sight and there is no rehab or blind school for him to attend. He has one valuable possession, a cloak. He uses it to keep him warm at night and to gather the alms given to him during the day. He has had to take on the role of a beggar, the only job open to him due to the catastrophic loss of his sight.

The disciples were annoyed with the brothers because of their request of Jesus, and now they are annoyed because the blind man wants to meet Jesus. They try to hush him up because he is an interruption, an inconvenience. So Bartimaeus cries out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus cannot resist someone who needs mercy and offers him rightful praise. Bartimaeus is no dummy. He knows Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus stops in his tracks and calls the blind man to himself. Here Bartimaeus reacts immediately and throws off the only thing of value he has, his cloak, and standing before Jesus he hears the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It seems intuitive that Bartimaeus would ask for his sight, after all that is such an important sense to regain, but it doesn’t necessarily make his life easy. He has no job and the only source of income he has is due to his blindness. But Jesus gives him what he asks for. He says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regains his sight. And what does Bartimaeus do? he follows Jesus on the way—to Jerusalem where Jesus will drink his cup and be baptized with the baptism that he must be baptized with.

Oratio: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Lord, let me see again!”

Contemplatio: Bartimaeus does not ask for power or position or security, only sight to be able to follow Jesus. How important it is to see, really see, not just what we think we see or want to see, but what we can only see through the sight that Jesus gives us. Too often I am blinded by my own humanity, my selfishness, my disobedience, my self-preservation. “Lord, let me see again!”

 

 

I Want to See!

Be Still and Know that I Am God

This past weekend Charlotte and I took part in a silent retreat in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The retreat was sponsored by Our Lady’s Missionaries of the Eucharist and led by Sister Joan Noreen, the co-founder of OLME. The nature of the silence was turning off and not using our cell phones, keeping silent throughout the forty hours of the retreat except at the last three meals. We spent the silence either in our rooms or in the chapel. It was a wonderful time to stop, turn off the ever-present reality of our electronics and hear the still, small voice of God.

During the retreat we had sessions of how to grow deeper in our love for God’s Word. We  learned and practiced the Liturgy of the Hours, the Benedictine Prayer Form (Lectio Divina) and the Ignatian Prayer Form. Sister Joan Noreen shared with us a lifetime of love for the Word of God and the practices that draw us deeper into God’s perfects revelation. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum reminds us that “through this revelation…the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself.”

Oratio: On Saturday afternoon I sat down with the Gospel of Mark 10:35–45 where James and John approach Jesus with the request that they be allowed to sit one on his right hand and the other on his left when he comes into his glory. I focused on the verse 39:

They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…”

Meditatio: Obviously James and John did not comprehend what they were asking or how to answer Jesus’ question to their request made in ignorance. They saw their relationship with Jesus as a way to climb the ladder and become the ones to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left. When Jesus asks them if they are up to it, they answer in the affirmative even though they don’t have a clue what that will mean. Jesus then assures them that they will indeed follow his lead in drinking the cup and undergoing his baptism, but that the places of honor won’t necessarily follow.

Jesus does have special plans for them. James will become the first martyr among the apostles. John will be the only apostle to stay with Jesus throughout his passion, standing at the foot of the cross and being asked by Jesus to take in and care for his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. He will also be the last apostle to die, enduring torture and exile, and writing the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation). The boldness of the brothers, even stained by a desire to be the most important, put them in a place to truly drink the cup and be baptized with the same baptism.

Oratio: Lord, you are indeed patient, kind and merciful. Even though their passion was misdirected and my is as well, you are able to approach us with love and show us how to fit within your holy plan. I confess that I seek glory, acclaim, position and I posture for it. Help me to learn and live in the spirit of sacrifice so that no human motivation will get in the way of full surrender to the will of the Father.

Contemplatio: Jesus, I trust in you! Whatever may be the cup that I must drink or the baptism with which I must be baptized, I trust in you!

If you are interested in learning more about Lectio Divina, feel free to contact me. I would love to share what I am learning.

 

Be Still and Know that I Am God