Saint Cyril and the Centurion
“Indeed the mystery of Christ runs the risk of being disbelieved precisely because it is so incredibly wonderful.“ ~ Saint Cyril of Alexandria
We revisit the story of the faith-filled centurion in today’s Gospel (Matthew 8:5-17), a man who would go on to become immortalized by way of the Holy Catholic Mass. As many of you know, it is his words ~ “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” (8:8) ~ that are spoken by the congregation just prior to receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The centurion’s proclamation is in reference to his ill servant wherein his exact words to Jesus are “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” But the takeaway here is this man’s faith in the awesome power of the Son of Man. Those who receive the Eucharist believe similarly in the transformative healing power of Jesus in the simple gifts of bread and wine that become his very body, blood, soul and divinity. The Eucharist has the power to nourish and subsequently transform souls. C.S. Lewis once said “You do not have a soul...you are a soul. You have a body.“ Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the man whose quote kicks off today’s Reflection and whose Feast Day we celebrate, once had this to say about the Eucharist’s effect on the soul:
“Just as by melting two candles together you get one piece of wax, so, I think, one who receives the Flesh and Blood of Jesus is fused together with Him by this Communion, and the soul finds that he is in Christ and Christ is in him.”
Jesus was amazed not only at the faith of the centurion, but his humility as well. “I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me, “the centurion tells Jesus. “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.” The centurion exhibits a humble and perfect sense of self-awareness, that which we must strive to attain. Pride is a scourge that runs rampant in our world today, played out in our boardrooms, the political sphere of course, the media, our church even. When asked how to topple this most deadly of sins, Saint Cyril once again relied on the Sacrament of Holy Communion: “If the poison of pride is swelling up in you, turn to the Eucharist; and that Bread, which is your God humbling and disguising Himself, will teach you humility.”
Saint Cyril of Alexandria’s path to sainthood was not without its bumps and setbacks. Impulsive, vindictive, and occasionally prone to violence as a means to an end, Saint Cyril pillaged and closed the churches of the Novatian heretics (those who denied Jesus’ true divinity and Mary as the Mother of God). He backed his uncle’s decision to depose the great Saint John Chrysostom, leading to his hasty departure from Constantinople and subsequent exile. He confiscated Jewish property and went so far as to expel the Jews from Alexandria in retaliation for their attacks on Christians.
Perhaps it was indeed the Eucharist that truly changed Saint Cyril, filling him with the sacred and supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of wisdom and understanding, piety and self control. The very gifts that would propel him to become one of only 36 Doctors of the Catholic Church.
“If you feel scorched by the fever of impurity, go to the Banquet of the Angels; and the spotless Flesh of Christ will make you pure and chaste,” Saint Cyril once said. May we all grow in our hunger for the Eucharist, so that we too can be born again in the spirit and likeness of Jesus and His beloved Saints.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria, pray for us.