If you are keeping score, you must know by now that Monday’s Gospel from Matthew has one of the most oft-said phrases in the history of oft-said phrases …
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Of course, we change “servant” to “soul” when we repeat this famous line at Mass as the Priest lifts the Eucharist high … but is there a difference? When the Roman centurion spoke these words, he was pleading with our Lord to heal his servant. When we pray the words, we want that same kind of healing for our servant, which is to say, healing for our soul.
But how can our soul be considered our servant? Do we have the ability to order our soul to carry out deeds? Does a soul bring us our coffee in the morning? Does he mow our lawns?
To explore this a bit deeper, I think it would be good to read closely the second half of the quote from the Roman centurion, who Christ said was a man who possessed a great deal of faith. Here is what he said to our Lord:
“For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
As we begin this season of Advent – Happy New Year, by the way – this season of preparation for the coming of Christ, I think it’s a good idea to examine more closely that second part of the quote. Let’s explore how those lines play out in our own lives.
“For I too am a man subject to authority.”
We are all subject to some kind of authority. Our boss, our spouse, our police, courts and government. And, of course, we are also subject to our God, our human nature and even our earthly nature.
“… with soldiers subject to me.”
Do we have our own soldiers? Are we generals and captains with battalions of fighters paving the way toward our salvation? For most of us … probably not.
But in a way, we do have within us a certain battalion that is subject to our heart’s every desire – those wholesome desires we all say we want; and the not-so-wholesome desires we keep deep inside, waiting for an opportunity to satisfy when nobody (or so we foolishly believe) is looking.
“And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
And so it goes … we instruct our eyes to look at this. And if nobody is looking, we might tell our eyes to look at THAT. We tell our ears it is OK to listen to gossip. We tell our lips to utter unkind words that hurt those who love us the most. We use our hands to count our money, but if we happen to get too much change back in the drive-thru, we convince our minds that somehow it’s OK … as if a tiny bit of theft will balance the universe.
Oh sure, we have little soldiers. Every muscle in our body responds to every thought in our brain, every passion in our heart. And each time we use those thoughts and passions for something other than God or “good” … we inflict a little more pain to our souls. We are, in essence, masters to our souls, which suffer or rejoice, depending on the way we choose to live our lives.
The Roman centurion’s words remind us that we possess free will.
Yes, we are subject to others of authority; but we are also the masters of our own passions and our own bodies. This free will is a beautiful thing. We are not robots. We get to choose who we love … and most of us choose God. Well, ultimately we do.
Lord, make me a saintly person … but not just yet.
Oh come now, I promise, if you give me this one thing that I ask, I will stop doing …
Lord, one of these days I will definitely work on being a better person … but today’s not the day.
If I could just find that right day to change my heart. Aha … but the Lord will not tell us when that day arrives. He will come a-knockin’ when we least suspect it … like a thief in the night. We will be coasting along in our happy, tepid lives; content that one of these days, we will take religion and salvation seriously.
And yet, this is Advent. Christmas is coming! Christ is coming!
We are preparing for our Lord who has already come to destroy death. Rejoice! He has won the battle for us and will come again!
If he comes for you today … will you be ready? Will your soul be as white as snow, ready to climb that highest mountain?
Let every heart – and soul – prepare him room!