Today’s Gospel passage ends with Our Lord saying to the Roman centurion: Go and let it be done to thee as thou hast believed. It is the faith of this pagan soldier that is rewarded, faith which stunned Our Lord: Not in all of Israel had He found such. Not in all Israel! So often we find faith where we would not have expected. We discover a soul that truly believes, that is certain, that a single word from the mouth of God is enough to change a life forever.
The leper in today’s Gospel also experienced the omnipotence of the Divine Will. His prayer is simple, it is pure, it requires no more than that God know its plight. Lord, if Thou dost will it, Thou canst make me clean. What an extraordinary prayer, my dear friends. If Thou dost but will it! Leprosy in Holy Scripture is the symbol of sin which disfigures the soul, eats away at its substance, and ends by taking its life and leading it to eternal damnation. But the will of God can change that. If we would but have the faith of the leper, the faith of the centurion, how our lives would change. No situation of sin is ever inevitable. It is never an insoluble problem. It is, if we rely on our own strength, for the soul in sin is dead to grace and cannot help itself. But if we come humbly to the Lord in prayer, His omnipotent Word can change all things, in an instant, for God does not need time. It is not true that one needs time to leave sin behind. It is not true that one gradually leaves Satan and goes to God. One always has the grace to resist temptation, on the single condition that one pray.
A French priest of the 19th century put it this way: “Believe me, my dear Friends; believe an experience ripened by thirty years in the Sacred Ministry. I affirm that all deceptions, all spiritual deficiencies, all miseries, all falls, all faults and even the most serious wanderings out of the right path — all proceed from this single source: a lack of constancy in prayer. Live the life of prayer; learn to bring everything, to change everything into prayer: pains and trials, and temptations of all kinds. Pray in the calm; pray in the storm; pray on waking and pray during the daytime. Going and coming, pray! Tired out and distracted, pray! Whatever repugnance you may have, pray! Pray, that you may learn to pray. “Teach us, O Lord, how to pray” (Luke 11:1). “But I cannot pray!” That is a heresy. Yes, you can always pray. If you feel a disgust for, nay, a horror of prayer, pray on, pray in spite of yourself, against yourself. Beg for the courage in prayer that our agonising Saviour merited for you by His pangs in Gethsemane and upon Calvary. Pray, for prayer is the strength that saves, the courage that perseveres, the spiritual bridge cast over the abyss that joins the soul to God”. (Fr Gustave Xavier de Ravignan).
Once we have formed a strong Christian community built on fervent prayer, composed of men and women who really want to be saints, then we start to expand. Many will come from the East and the West, says Our Lord in today’s Gospel. They will come, but they will come only if we go out there and proclaim the truth to them. Our Blessed Lord made the apostles fishers of men, but as every fisherman knows, fish do not jump into the boat! You have to go get them. There are many fish out there, my dear friends, many souls full of leprosy, many souls spiritually dead and on the verge of damnation. We must bring them to Our Blessed Lord. A true Catholic cannot allow himself to live in a spiritual ghetto, where he has all he needs for his soul, but no concern for those of others. No, the true Catholic knows he is responsible for the salvation of souls.
That is why, in today’s epistle, St Paul puts the faithful on their guard against a possible deviation in every community: that of internal strife and fighting, for such, in addition to offending the Sacred Heart of Our Lord, paralyse the missionary thrust. “Be of one mind one towards another. Be humble. Be not conceited. Render no man evil for evil. As much as is in you, have peace with all men. Revenge not yourselves. Be not overcome by evil: but overcome evil by good.” (cf. Rom. 12). Following this teaching of the apostle, St Ignatius gives this sound advice: “Every good Christian should more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so defend the proposition from error.” How many misunderstandings, how many sins, how much strife would be avoided if we took this advice to heart!
Did not Our Blessed Lord give us the sign at which true disciples are known: “In this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). That is the sign, the only sign, one upon which we must often meditate. That is why St Benedict tells his monks to “honour all men” and welcome all guests as if they were Christ Himself. All are in need of Christ and we must do everything we possibly can to bring Him to them.
May Mary Help of Christians, patroness of Australia, this great nation whose existence we celebrate on this day, intercede for us and help us to radiate the Face of Christ to all. May she light a fire of divine love in our hearts so that the entire country may be set ablaze, not with the fire that destroys, but the fire of love that purifies, heals, saves, lifts up to heavenly things, and leads to eternal life. Amen.