The words of the centurion from today’s gospel story are echoed in every Mass … “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
(Luke 7:6-7; also Matthew 8:8)
One Sunday morning, however, I heard these familiar words in an altogether new and shocking way. During the mass, it came time for the assembly’s response to the presider’s words, “happy are we who are called to this banquet.” I responded with the rest of the community, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.” As I said these words, my mind filled with images from the gospel story of the centurion who sought out Jesus to ask him to heal his faithful servant who was at home “ill and about to die.” When Jesus heard this he prepared to go at once, but the centurion said, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof … but say the word and let my servant be healed.”
These were the words that we were now saying, and I prayed for the humility and the faith of the centurion. I was feeling pretty miserable that day and not worthy of much of anything. As the community finished the response, a most unusual thing happened. There was a split second silence, and then the words “BE HEALED” rang through the church. I wondered if what I heard was the voice of God. It sounded like an old woman’s voice – crackling and somewhat shrill. It wasn’t probably so different from the disciples’ experiences of the heavens splitting open and the voice of God issuing forth.
And then I saw her, not God, but an elderly woman leaning precariously over the front pew, her hand gripping a cane. I had seen her before and knew that she was hard of hearing and seeing. Throughout the mass, this woman was always out of sync with the songs and responses. By the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, I had all but forgotten the constant echo. But it was she who had uttered the words “Be healed.” Because she was just a few seconds behind the rest of the assembly, we only caught the last two words of her sentence, “… but only the say the word and I shall BE HEALED.”
For me, the voice of God was very much revealed through this woman. These last two words became for me the beginning of a profound understanding of myself and God. I just utter the words out “I am unworthy to receive you” and without missing a beat, God answers, “Be healed.”