“Brought back to true life with Christ”
Above my desk there hangs a set of three icons that were given to my predecessor by the Military Bishop of Italy in the year 2000. These icons are copies of ancient icons from a church in Jerusalem. The set is called the “Three Centurions”. The first icon depicts the admiration expressed by Jesus for the faith of the Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. The event is described in the Gospels of Matthew (Mt.8),Luke (Lk.7), and John(Jn.4). The soldier’s response to Jesus “Lord I am not worthy that you should come into my house – simply say the word and my servant will be healed” has become the basis of a prayer that we pray just before receiving Holy Communion. The second icon depicts the Crucifixion and shows the Centurion standing beside the Cross with the words “Truly this man was the Son of God”. It is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The third icon depicts Peter talking to the Centurion Cornelius and his household – as recounted in the first reading of Mass on Easter Morning from the Acts of the Apostles. We know that Cornelius and his whole household became followers of Jesus after Peter’s instruction.
There are two things I often think about when I see these icons. The first is that the central person in each scene is a soldier – a Centurion of the Roman Army. They were not considered to be good people by the Jews in Jesus’ time. They were worse than Gentiles – they were pagans. And even more than that, they were considered to be the enemies of God and His People. And yet their interaction with Jesus was for them, and those around them, a great example of genuine faith, insight and understanding of the mystery of God.
The second is that each of these events is associated with the gift of new life. In the first instance the servant is mortally ill and despite all care it was expected that the servant would die. With all the power of wealth, privilege and power the Centurion could do nothing and, uncharacteristically, as a last resort he humbled himself before the man Jesus from Nazareth . For this reason we hear Jesus expressing such admiration for this man’s faith. Similarly at the Crucifixion the Centurion, who had supervised what was for him yet another execution, was impressed not only by the way in which Jesus endured the ordeal in submission to the Father’s will, but also by the immediate effects of that death where it is described that graves opened and the dead were seen to walk again. The impact of the Cornelius event in the Acts is also directed towards an eternal life. Cornelius, despite the common reputation, was a man of faith and prayer. He sent for Peter in response to a vision he had during a time of prayer. At the same time Peter also received a vision about taking the message of Jesus beyond the strict confines of those of the Jewish faith. This brought about a beginning of a new dimension of understanding that eternal life with God was meant for all and that through his death and Resurrection Jesus brings that new life as a free gift for all his disciples.
The celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus is the holiest day in life of the community. It is the fulfilment of a promise that the broken intimate relationship between humankind and God would be restored. As we ponder the events of Sacred Scripture we cannot help but recognise similar circumstances in our own age. We too are often confronted with our own fragility and powerlessness. When we consider the current global crisis with regard to finances and the economy we might have similar feelings. When we are naturally concerned 2 about matters like illness, disability, poverty, ecology and rumours of civil unrest we can feel powerless and helpless. When we are confronted by violence on our streets and are engaged in areas of disaster and war we can become fearful. When normal basic expectations of justice and a fair go are not met we experience indignity and become unsettled. When those we have entrusted with governance and go od order in our society are found wanting we can feel let down. When our right to practice our faith is denied or prevented we can feel vulnerable and angry. Sometimes we even cause these situations to develop in the lives of others, either deliberately or through our inactivity. All of these things point to the fact that we are still immersed in a world that is not all that much different from that of the time of Jesus.
Part of being a witness to Jesus is to witness to his Resurrection. In the midst of the reality of our daily living we are called, according to our circumstances, to demonstrate that the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus adds another dimension to our view of ourselves and our world. Of course we are ‘in the world’ and that is where we have the opportunity to reflect and review our attitudes, identify our purpose and deepen our knowledge of our real importance. The Scriptures encourage us to be people of hope, of perseverance, of steadfastness, of action, and of engagement. This is only possible if we are also people of vision. Certainly as brothers and sisters of Jesus we share his human life and experience.
But we are also to share in his eternal life. That new life is first experienced at our Baptism and from that moment we are to grow in both nature and grace. Without Jesus’ Resurrection, and our sharing in it, we could have no expectation of eternal life, nor the ability to rise above the limitations we can experience in this world. Neither could we claim to be able to make a difference. But we can when we deliberately seek out and open ourselves to the person of Jesus Risen from the dead. That is the true meaning of being a witness to Jesus and of being a Christian – genuinely a follower of Jesus in every respect.
Perhaps taking the example of the Three Centurions we can be inspired to live again in the new life that Jesus shares with us through his gift of himself in the Sacraments of the Church and through our daily reflection and prayer. He is our source of hope, he is the guarantee of new life, he is the life of the Church and of each one of its members. May this Easter be a genuine celebration of restored purpose and renewed hope for us all. May we draw strength from the example of the first great witness to Jesus’ promise and fulfilment – Mary, his mother and Help of Christians.
Happy and Holy Easter!
+Max L. Davis
Bishop of the Australian Defence Force