by Larry Johnson
During the Mass, for a Catholic, there comes that moment when the priest elevates the consecrated bread and chalice of wine, now the Body and Blood of Christ, and utters the words “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.”
And then all of us there at the Holy Mass say the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” This is a metaphorical echo of the words the Roman centurion speaks as related in Matthew’s Gospel, as he pleads for the life and health of his son. It is now the life and health of our soul that we plead for.
Yet one writer, a wayward Catholic as it turns out, recently penned an open letter to Pope Francis urging him in the headline to please “End The Religious Ritual That Devalues Human Life.”
In her missive she posits that the centurion’s words recount “the inner workings of the blindness of patriarchal hierarchies and slavery that exists to this day.” She goes further to say that the words “I am not worthy” are the root of all evil behavior and that “daily we see the emotional pain of inner self-hatred projected into the world through acts of violence.” Stacking one crumbling brick shakily upon another, she goes on to say that “the guilt of unworthiness calls for us to judge ourselves and to judge others just as harshly.”
I suppose that this kind of analysis is what happens when one filters everything through the distorted lenses of secular humanism. In this otherworldly universe, there is no moral compass by which you can judge whether your actions and beliefs offend someone else, much less God. In this view, it is correct to believe that you are the center of the universe and your subjective consciousness is all that exists and all that matters.
Yet to know and to acknowledge your sins is not to devalue human life, not your own and not someone else’s life. You might even say that a little guilt is good for the soul. Guilt affirms that your are a human being with a sensitive moral and ethical nature, a person that knows right from wrong and can confess to it. The hope is always there of rising above our failings and sins to cleanse our souls and become better at living this life as we journey towards the next.
And so how does one answer this wandering Catholic writer who says “by believing we are not worthy, we open the door for the mistreatment of ourselves and the mistreatment of others as we seek to assuage the psychological pain /this/ false belief imparts.”?
This is really easy. The whole encounter between Jesus and the centurion, and the words uttered, is not about his personal unworthiness as a human being. It is rather the humble acknowledgment by the centurion that he has encountered God in the person of Christ and is bowing before that reality.
And that is what Catholics do and say just before receiving Communion every day in all parts of the world during the Mass. It is a moment of joy, not of “psychological whipping of our psyche.” It is happiness to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, to have him “enter under our roof” and give us a share in his divine life.