Homily for Sept. 12, 2011, Monday of the XXIV week in Ordinary Time, year A
Yesterday, I attended the 9/11 memorial at the central firehouse in Gloucester. It was a beautiful and poignant event. Among those present were policemen and firefighters, veterans and politicians, Christian and Jewish clergy, and ordinary citizens. We all stood together, sang the national anthem together, and prayed together. We even observed the family tradition of Deputy Fire Chief Steve Aiello, and held hands while we sang “America the Beautiful”. In short, St. Paul would have been proud of us; we “prayed, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.”
Unfortunately, that kind of public unity is not so common nowadays when politics are involved. Many editorials and political cartoons yesterday lamented the loss of common ground and civil debate in the political arena. But St. Paul reminds us that if we want to live a “quiet and tranquil life” with “devotion and dignity”, the solution is not to lament about politicians or get angry at people on the other side of the ideological spectrum. The primary solution is to pray for each other and for all those in authority. We are all in this together. In our own congregation we have politicians and ordinary voters, Republicans and Democrats and Independents. We need God’s grace in order to “come to the knowledge of the truth”, see the issues clearly and come to a mutual understanding in true Christian charity. Then we can find solutions to our differences, respecting fundamental principles like human dignity and the sanctity of life, while compromising on the many possible solutions for practical problems like the economy.
Perhaps in part because of the political polarization of our nation, our leaders are often canonized or vilified. We all know this is really a caricature of reality. Today’s Gospel reading gives us a great example of that. One of the protagonists is a Roman centurion. He was part of the army that was occupying Palestine, and usually the only thing observant Jews and the Roman military had in common was that they hated each other. Yet this centurion showed the shallowness of the stereotype. He was respectful of the Jews, helped them build a synagogue, and humbly asked Jesus, a Jew, for a miracle to heal his servant. He had so much faith that he trusted that Jesus could work the miracle long-distance. His faith was rewarded with an answer to his prayers, and with words of praise from the Son of God.
It’s interesting to note that we quote the words of this Roman centurion (slightly modified) every day at Mass, before receiving Communion: “I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed”. In fact, the quote is even more literal in the original Latin version of the Missal, and that will be reflected in the more accurate translation which we will start to use in Advent. We will be saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
So let us pray today for all politicians and public servants, at all levels of government, and for greater national unity, that we may learn how to direct our nation according to the truth, without anger, for the peace and prosperity of our country and the world.