The Centurion

by Fr. Charles Irvin

December, 1997



The bitter consequence of our disordered liberty, a former freedom to do good that has been turned into a license to do anything, is drowning our souls in a tidal wave of societal disintegration. Abortion, drive-by killings, random killings, consumerism, drug abuse, family disintegration, teenage suicide, assisted suicide, neglect of the poor, pornography, racial prejudice, ethnic separatism and suspicion, are only a part of the long litany identifying our Babylonian Captivity.

The story of the pagan Roman centurion (See Matthew 8 and Luke 7) comes to the forefront. We, modern pagans that we are, ought to bring ourselves to stand in his unlikely shoes. I say unlikely because he was, in fact, a pagan military officer while at the same time quite extra-ordinary. Among the arrogant he turns up humble. Among the Jews he turns up with more faith than Jesus found in all of Israel. Among the suspicious he presents himself as completely trusting. Among those who claimed they revered the law, he presents himself with greater comprehension of the meaning of authority. Among the self-concerned he presents with a concern for one of his lowly servants.

Christ’s response was “I will come and cure.” Unlike our contemporaries who tell us that the cure to our woes is more police, more jails, more education and more psychotherapy, this pagan Centurion reveals an awareness that the problem requires a deeper solution. He recognizes the absolute need we have of a Higher Power, something our modern arrogance tells us is nothing but myth and needs to be confined to our private and individualized closets.

We have been repeatedly told that “Progress” will be our salvation, that “Education” will bring us up out of our ghettoized woes, that “Science” will bring us the good life, that “Free Market Capitalism” will raise us to the heavens, and so forth. Feudalism has come and gone; Fascism has come and gone; Communism has come and gone. A vast array of messianic systems have been tried and found wanting. And STILL, modern men and women consign religion and faith to the land of fairy tales and myths. It is to be cast out of the public square and removed from the social order in which we live, a social order that becomes ever more disordered for lack of any moral structure in which to judge what is good and bad for human living. The result is license; anything goes; anyone’s opinion is just as good as anyone else’s. Disintegration remains the engine that drives us into “terra incognita.”

When someone is being sucked down into quicksand, thrashing and flailing around only leads to further disaster, a drawing further down into the suffocating grave of shifting sand. One cannot rescue one’s self. It is required that such an unfortunate take hold of the hand of another person standing on rock, on solid ground. It takes humility; it takes faith; it takes reaching out to a higher power.

God the Son declares to the heavenly court: “I will go to my Father’s children and save them.” “I will be their rock, their strength, the One whose hand they can take in order that, putting their fate into my hand, they can be brought up out of that which will surely suffocate them.”

Jesus had a special love for children because they are usually not “know-it-alls”. Most children recognize that they have much to learn; most are eager to learn. Most are guileless, teachable, trusting and can have faith. It is such a shame that adults need to encounter disaster before they, with childlike trust and hope, turn to God and seek rescue.

We need to take a closer look at the centurion found in the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. We need to see our selves and see our own stories in his story. And we need to hear the words of Jesus telling us that He has not found such faith anywhere else, or in anything else. For unless we take a hold of His outstretched hand, the quicksand in which we find out modern society will only suck us down further until we all completely suffocate in our own vainglory, thinking that somehow we can save ourselves with yet another humanly designed, and therefore fatally flawed, program.


About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”