Sunday, April 29, 2012

"I Lay Down My Life"

Homily from the 4th Sunday of Easter - World Day of Prayer for Vocations - Year B

I was in Columbus, Ohio earlier this week, visiting the Pontifical College Josephinum, the seminary where we send a number of our seminarians and my alma mater, for the annual Rector’s Dinner, a fundraiser for the seminary.  My classmate, Fr. John Eckert, and I were asked to speak at the dinner about our first two years in the priesthood.  It was great to be back; to see old friends and teachers and the place where I spent six years of my life discerning, and preparing for, the priesthood.
While I was there, I went to one of the chapels to make my Holy Hour and I spent some time in prayer with this weekend’s Gospel.  And I think it was a grace of God that I happened to be where I was when I read the Gospel.
Today Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd.  And time and time again in today’s Gospel, Jesus reiterates the essence of his mission as the Good Shepherd.  “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus says.  “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Jesus lays down his life for us.  And I was amazed how many times Jesus repeats this in today’s Gospel.  He says it four more times:  “I will lay down my life for the sheep.”  “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”  “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.”  “I have the power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.”
As I read this words again and again, “I lay down my life” I was reminded of my ordination.  Specifically, the moment when I laid face-down in front of the altar.  It’s the very last thing a candidate does before he is ordained.  And as he does so, all gathered pray the litany of the Saints, humbly asking for the intercession of all the great Saints of the Church on behalf of this candidate for Holy Orders.  This is the moment, the one to be ordained, lays down his life in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd.
In his book Gift and Mystery, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote about this prostration at his own ordination:  The Pope wrote, “The one about to receive Holy Orders prostrates himself completely and rests his forehead on the church floor, indicating in this his complete willingness to undertake the ministry being entrusted to him.  That rite has deeply marked my priestly life.”
And as I read these words of the Gospel, it occurred to me, the very place where I laid down my life was just a few feet away in the main chapel at the Josephinum where I was ordained a deacon.  So I walked over to the main chapel to spend some time in prayer at the place where my life was literally changed forever.
Shortly after I walked into the chapel, my classmate, Fr. John Eckert coincidentally walked in.  I say coincidentally because  the two of us were ordained deacons together on the same day on that very spot.  The two of us laid down our lives together on that day and there we were together again.  And to make the moment an even greater coincidence, Fr. John reminded me of something I had forgotten: “It was three years ago this week,” he said.  “Three years ago this Thursday that we were ordained deacons.”
I have to tell you a quick story about Fr. John on that day.  Fr. John is an emotional guy.  He really wears his emotions on his sleeve.  And as he prostrated himself on the chapel floor, he started sobbing heavily.  He cried and cried.  I could hear him weeping next to me.  And as he got up, he literally left a puddle of tears on the floor.  However, it wasn’t until I looked over at him that I realized, he wasn’t just sobbing from his eyes, but from his nose as well.  That day, Monsignor Mike Heintz, from the Cathedral in South Bend nicknamed him “Snots.”
Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd and he does not restrict that identity to himself alone.  He passes it on to Peter when he has breakfast with him on the shore after his Resurrection.  Jesus asks Simon Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Three times, Peter answers “Yes.”  And Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs... tend my sheep... Feed my sheep.”
What a great joy it is, today, to exercise this ministry of Good Shepherd handed on to us by Jesus Christ and to feed his sheep: those making their First Holy Communion this weekend and next.
And what a great joy it is, to follow Christ’s commandment, to tend the sheep of his flock.  To provide for the flock through the Sacraments: as I mentioned to offer the Eucharist, to forgive sins, to anoint the sick, to baptize, to witness marriages.  To defend the flock, as Jesus commands, against the threat of wolves.  Both the external wolves of outside threats to the Church and internal threats as well: of our own error and our straying from the faith.  And to guide the flock by teaching and preaching the whole truth of the faith given to us by Jesus Christ and his Church.  To preach the truth not only when it is convenient, but also when it is challenging.  To preach not only the truth which make us feel good, but also the truth which is sometimes difficult and hard. 

I ask for your prayers that we priests always exercise this ministry of Good Shepherd motivated solely by the love of Christ for you.  In his inaugural homily as Pope, Benedict XVI noted that “In the Ancient Near East, it was customary for kings to style themselves shepherds of their people.”  This was a cynical image of their power.  Jesus reveals himself as the Good Shepherd by the laying down of his life.  “It is not power,” the Pope says, “but love that redeems us!”  “Feeding means loving, and loving also means being ready to suffer.  Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word.”
Finally, I especially want any young men gathered here today, who think God may be calling them one day to the priesthood to know that the priesthood is the greatest life I could possibly imagine.  It isn’t always easy.  Nothing of great value ever is.  But I cannot imagine a life more fulfilling or joy-filled.  And I want to you, my brothers in sisters in Christ to know, that you are most definitely worth laying down one’s life for.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Proper Apology

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Easter - Year B

One of my favorite places to eat is Jimmy Johns.  First of all, they have fantastic tasting subs.

Secondly, their service is incredibly fast.  Most of the time, you can literally walk out of there with your sub in less than 60 seconds.  

But I also love Jimmy Johns because their stores are decorated with really funny signage.
One sign reads:  “Not every day is a sunny day.  Some days you’re the pigeon.  Some days your the statue.”

Another says: “I intend to live forever.  So far, so good.”

And one other says: “Let it be known - the baggier the pants, the more resentful the kid.  Whatever you do, never force your children to eat food they dislike.  They’ll show their resentment by wearing really baggy pants.  So be good parents.  Love your children.  Listen to them.  But most important, feed them Jimmy John’s as often as possible.  That way, their pants will always fit nice and tight.”
However, one of the best signs I’ve seen at Jimmy Johns wasn’t humorous at all.
In fact, it was quite sincere and very practical.  It said, “Proper Apologies Have Three Parts: What I did was wrong. I feel badly that I hurt you.  How can I make this better?”

I read that and I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I just read the best explanation for repentance in a sub shop!”

Our readings this weekend focus on repentance.  In the first reading, Peter is the head of the fledgling Church and he is calling those who killed Jesus to repentance.  “Repent, therefore,” Peter says, “and be converted that your sins may be wiped away.”  In the second reading, St. John, reminds us that Jesus is “expiation for our sins.”  And “the way we may be sure we know him is to keep his commandments.”  And in the Gospel, Jesus tells us one of his commandments: that the disciples should preach “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins.”

Do you notice how repentance and forgiveness always go together?  A lot of times, we want to separate repentance from forgiveness.  We expect God to forgive us because we know He is the God of mercy.  But often we forget of our need to repent, forgetting that He is also the God of justice.

All of you who have little children know what I’m talking about.  They get into trouble, and their very quick to say, “I’m sorry!” because they want forgiveness.  However, when you tell them there will be consequences like a grounding, they think you’re being unjust.  “But, I said ‘I’m sorry.’” they cry, like that’s the only part of a proper apology.  And then you say, “Yes, thank you for your apology.  And now, you have to make this better.”

God deserves a proper apology from us for our sins.  Because when we sin, what we do is wrong.  They offend God.  And we should want to make it better.

We do that, and of course we’ll have God’s forgiveness.  Because Jesus promises it.  And, unlike us, he never separates repentance and forgiveness.

The Act of Contrition, the prayer we say at the conclusion of our confession, has all three parts of a proper apology.

  • Part one: “What I did was wrong.”  “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishment.”
  • Part two: “I feel badly that I hurt you.”  “But most of all, because they offend you, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.”
  • Part three: “How can I make this better?”  “I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.  Amen.”

Most people I know use the 10 commandments to examine their conscience before going to confession.  It really is perfect for preparing to make repentance to God.  However, something else we should consider as we examine our conscience are the five precepts of the Church.  They are meant to guarantee to us the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer, the sacramental life, more commitment and growth in love of God and neighbor.
In other words, what’s the basic minimum we as Catholics should be doing in our life in the Church?

They are:
1.)  To attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation and to refrain from work and activities which could impede the sanctification of those days.
2.)  To confession one’s sins, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once each year.

3.)  To receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.  
4.)  To abstain from eating meat and to observe the days of fasting established by the Church.

5.)  To help provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.
Every Lent we really emphasize numbers 2 and 4; going to confession and abstaining from meat and fasting.  Now, perhaps you missed the opportunity to go to confession this past Lent.  But notice, the precept doesn’t say we have to go to confession at least once each year during Lent.  It’s not like you missed your only chance.  It says we’re obligated to go to confession at least once a year.
So, I want to invite you to fulfill the second precept of the Church.  If you haven’t been to confession in the past year, now is the time to come back.  We hear confessions every Wednesday at 4:30, every Saturday at 8:30 and by appointment.  Come, take the opportunity to make a proper apology to God.  Both He and you deserve it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Doubt & Faith

Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Easter - Year B

Poor Thomas.  For all eternity, it seems, he’s been given a bum rap.  His very name, is forever synonymous with one who lacks faith: “Doubting Thomas.”

What most do not remember, however, is that in another Gospel episode, Thomas demonstrates himself as perhaps the bravest of the Apostles.  In the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John, in the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus,

when Jesus hears that Lazarus has died he says to the Apostles: “Let us go back to Judea.”  The Apostles however respond, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you and want to go back there?”  Nevertheless, Jesus resolves, in spite of danger, to return to Judea and it Thomas who says to his brother disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”
However, hardly anyone remembers Thomas this way.  Bad news always travels faster than good news.  No one ever talks about the perfect airplane landing they had, they only talk about the bad ones.  Likewise, Thomas isn’t remembered for his bravery.  Posterity instead remembers his for his doubt.
He’s remembered for not believing in the resurrection until he saw the risen Lord.  What we forget however, is that none of the Apostles believed in the resurrection until they too saw the risen Lord.  They weren’t hoping to see the risen Lord, they were hiding out in the upper room with the doors locked, fearing for their lives.  Just like Thomas, they didn’t believe it until they saw Jesus’ wounds.  The Gospel tells us that as soon as Jesus entered the room, “he showed them his hands and his side.”  Only after seeing these do the disciples rejoice.  
I think what the Gospel is telling us is that it’s not just Thomas who doubts; all the disciples doubted.  And by this, I think the Gospel wishes to suggest, that doubt is something none of us are immune from.  We all struggle with doubt in our faith from time to time.  Maybe this is why St. John the Evangelist calls Thomas, Didymus, which means twin.  Who is Thomas’ twin?  You and I.  From time to time, we struggle with faith and belief just as Thomas.  We want a sign, proof, confirmation that all this is true and not some fairy tale.
Pope Benedict wrote about this very struggle in his book “Introduction to Christianity” when he was Cardinal Ratzinger.  “The believer,” Pope Benedict says, “is always threatened with... uncertainty.”  However, uncertainty, the Pope points out, is also what the unbeliever is threatened by as well.  “Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the nonbeliever is troubled by doubts about his unbelief.”  In other words, just as the believer struggles with doubt and asks himself, “What if it’s not true?”  So too, the non-believer struggles with his own doubt and asks himself, “What if it is true?”
Benedict tells another story about a man of science who goes to visit a Rabbi to argue with him and “shatter his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith.  When he entered the Rabbi’s room he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, wrapped in thought.”  Suddenly the Rabbi stopped and looked at the man of science and said, “But perhaps it is true after all.”  The Rabbi then tells the man of science, “My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you... they were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and nor can I.  But think, my son, perhaps it is true.”  The man of science tried to argue with the Rabbi with all his strength.  But that single word, “perhaps,” planted the seed of doubt in his own unbelief and broke his resistance.
“No one,” Benedict goes on, “can lay God and his Kingdom on the table before another man: even the believer cannot do it for himself.”  But not matter how much unbelief may seem like a logical response to one’s doubt; the unbeliever “cannot forget the eerie feeling induced by the words ‘Yet perhaps it is true.’”
All of us have been, or will be, challenged by someone who simply does not believe, does not want to believe, or does not feel they can believe.  Maybe that someone is ourselves.  When they confront you with the proposition: “Perhaps it’s not true,” be humble enough to realize that we cannot lay God and his Kingdom on the table before them.  Instead, retort with “Perhaps it is true after all.”  That will be a good seed of doubt to plant in them.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The First Day of the Week

Homily from Easter Sunday - Year B

A very blessed, happy and holy Easter to you all.  It is a truly beautiful day.  The forecast was predicting rain today.  I remember as a kid, if it was dark, cloudy and rainy on Good Friday, I was happy because I thought, “This is how it was on that day.  Darkness covered the whole land.  See, God is replaying for us with this rain how it happened on that day.”  I thought it was a real neat way of entering into the mystery.  You know like how we want snow for Christmas.
Then, if the weather was “perfect” on Easter morning, I thought, “Yeah, this is how it should be.  The sun is shining, the flowers are in bloom, the birds are singing, the Cubs will win today.  Everything is perfect.”
But it’s just as perfect, perhaps even more so, if we are given the opportunity to celebrate Easter Sunday when it is cloudy, rainy, dark.  Because it tells us, metaphorically of course, that no matter what darkness we might experience in our lives, Christ is still risen.  He has conquered death.  He is the Son of God who, created us, has given us life, and has saved us from sin.  He gives us, even in the midst of darkness, a new beginning.
This is the meaning of the opening verse from today’s Gospel.  The Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb “on the first day of the week.” (Jn 20:1)  The great thing about the Scriptures is that there are no minor, insignificant details.  In pointing out that the Resurrection occurred on the first day of the week, John, and the other evangelists, wish to point out that something new has occurred.
With Jesus’ victory over death on the first day of the week, a new age has dawned.  The Resurrection marks the “first day” of the new creation.
Those words, “on the first day,” should bring to mind the very beginning of Sacred Scripture, the very beginning of creation.
It was on the first day, that “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw how good the light was.  God then separated the light from the darkness.” (Gen 1:3)  Likewise, on Easter Sunday, the first day of the week, God proverbially said, ‘Let there be light.  The light of the Son risen from the tomb.”  And how good that light is.
Notice too in Genesis that when God creates light, this does not mean that there will be an end to darkness.  However, God separates the light from the darkness.
Likewise, when the light of the resurrection pierces that first day, the darkness does not cease to be.  In fact, the Gospel tells us that “Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark.” (Jn 20:1)  What this tells us, like the weather today, is there is still darkness in the world, but no matter what darkness we might experience in our lives Christ is risen.  The resurrection does not eradicate completely the darkness of sin from our world.  The resurrection does not promise that our lives will be easy.  Instead the resurrection promises that in the midst of darkness, difficulty and death, Jesus Christ will always be victorious provided we walk towards his light.  With the resurrection, God indeed separates light from darkness.  With the resurrection, we can see the light, Jesus Christ, penetrating through the darkness  As John says in the very beginning of his Gospel: “What came to be through [Jesus] was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
On this day, Easter Sunday, the first day of the week.  Jesus Christ risen from the dead offers us new life and new light.  How beautiful it was this Lent to see this new life and light break out into the lives of so many people.
How beautiful it was to hear in the confessional, “Father, it’s been 5, 10, 20, 30 years since my last confession.”  That was “the first day” for those who received the light of Jesus’ mercy.
How beautiful it was to hear a couple say, “We’re expecting!”  And another to say, “Our adoption was approved.”  That was “the first day” for those who received the light of new life from Christ.
How beautiful it was to go to the teen’s Life House as they were preparing for the Spring  retreat, and as soon as I walk through the door at 9PM on a Tuesday night, to have them jump up and beg, “Father, can we have Eucharistic Adoration after we’re done?”  That was “the first day” of an intensifying of the light of Christ in their lives.
How beautiful it was weeks later to see over 130 teens on retreat going to confession, receiving our Lord in the Eucharist at Mass, worshipping him in Eucharistic Adoration and coming back to Church.  That was “the first day” of them being set on fire with the light of Christ.
How beautiful it was the following week to see over 30 of these same teens come to 6:30AM Mass on a Tuesday morning before school.  That was “the first day” of the light of Christ continuing to burn within them.
How beautiful it was to see 7 catechumens walk through the waters of baptism at last night’s Easter Vigil, joined by over 20 more candidates who received the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist for the first time.  That was “the first day” of their lives as Catholics
Now, here is the really good news; here is the Gospel: this happens not just every Easter, but every Sunday.  Every Sunday throughout the entire year is an Easter.  And we as Christians and Catholics celebrate each and every Sunday the new life Christ has won for us.
As Catholics, we experience Lent, not just for 40 days out of every year.  We experience Lent every Friday as we remember the day the Lord gave his life for us.  We remember that day though acts of penance and prayer, especially by praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
And as Catholics, we experience Easter, not just this day only, but every Sunday.  Not a single Sunday of our lives should pass by without our giving thanks to Jesus within this community, for saving us from the darkness of sin, by giving himself to us as the light that shines in the darkness of death.
Continue to receive this gift of new light and new life from Jesus Christ, week after week after week throughout your lives.  And celebrate with joy Jesus’ life, death and resurrection given for you every “first day of the week.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Do You Realize What I Have Done For You?"

Homily from Holy Thursday - Year B

Today is the best day of the year... thus far.  It's the start of the Triduum.  Tonight, we also commemorate Christ's institution of two sacraments: the Eucharist and Holy Orders.  And it's also opening day for the Cubs and Day One of the Masters.

In today's Gospel Jesus asks the Apostles and us, "Do you realize what I have done for you?"  Sadly, the truth is not everyone does.

Two weeks ago, there was an event held on the National Mall in Washington D.C. called the "Reason Rally."  Billboards around the D.C. area invited non-believers to come to the Mall to celebrate life without God!

One of the speakers was a comedian who openly mocked God in front of about 10,000 people.  "God, if you're there," he shouted, "we're here in Washington.  Come down now.  If you're there, this is a pretty good time to show up.  I'm sure folks here would love it."

Then he turned to the crowd and said, "He never comes down."

As I read his quote, I couldn't help but feel pity and sadness for him.  He doesn't realize what Christ has done for him.

He does not realize that God has indeed come down.  He did so through the Incarnation when the Word, Jesus Christ, became flesh and was born as a tiny, helpless baby and slept in a feeding trough for animals.

In a few moments, we will see a symbol of the humility Christ exemplified in his Incarnation when the priest will take off his garment and wash the feet of twelve of our parishioners just as Christ did on Holy Thursday.  By becoming man, Jesus stripped himself of his divinity and humbled himself, taking the form of a slave.

On that night, Jesus took the feet of his twelve Apostles in his hands and washed them clean, establishing a bond of friendship that is everlasting and, through the Apostles, reaches each of us today.  For Christ laid his hands upon each of those Apostles and they in turn laid their hands upon their successors and they likewise laid hands upon their successors and so on, and so on.  And this laying on of hands, this intimate contact with the living God, has come upon each and every Catholic priest in the world.

At your baptism, a priest laid hands on you.  At your confirmation, the bishop, the successor of the Apostles laid hands on you.  After Mass, through a simple handshake, the priest "lays hands on you."  By this connection through the bishop and priest, the intimate contact of Jesus Christ has travelled 2,000 years through time and halfway around the world to reach you.

And, in actuality, it's not that long of a line of transition.  Christ instituted the Eucharist and Holy Orders 2,000 years ago.  I figure, each bishop probably ordains successor bishops and priests around the age of 50.  That means approximately 400 men stand in in a living chain between Christ and you.  That's probably half the number of people we have here tonight at Mass.  So if I stood here in the middle aisle and touched the first person in the first row, and they in turn touched the person next to them and so on and so on; about as many people between this person in the first row and the last person in the last row are what connects you to Christ though a simple touch.

But Christ desires much more than just a simple "connection."  He desires union with us; communion.  And he does this by giving himself to us through the Eucharist through the hands of the priest.

And let us consider the manner in which Jesus gives himself to us.  What we celebrate here at Mass is so much more than just a mere meal.  We also celebrate a sacrifice.

In the old covenant, the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt by eating the Passover lamb.  Today, in the new and eternal covenant established by Jesus Christ we too are delivered from slavery, slavery to sin, by eating the Passover Lamb of God, Jesus himself.

In the old covenant, the Israelites had to procure for themselves a lamb without blemish.  Today, in the new and eternal covenant, we receive a lamb without blemish, the perfect Christ, in these "holy and unblemished sacrifices... this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim."

In the old covenant, the priests would inspect the lamb to ensure it was without blemish.  In the new and eternal covenant, it was Pontius Pilate who, after interrogating Jesus, said to the Jews, "I find no fault in him."  Pilate has inspected the Lamb of God and found him without blemish, an acceptable sacrifice to God.

In the old covenant, the priests slaughtered the lambs in the temple at the same hour Jesus, in the new and eternal covenant, was seated on the "stone pavement" before Pilate in anticipation of his own slaughtering.

In the old covenant, the Israelites sprinkled the blood of the lamb onto their doorposts and lintel with a hyssop branch.  In the new and eternal covenant, a hyssop branch is used to lift the sponge soaked with vinegar to the lips of the thirsty Christ.

In the old covenant, God instructed Moses that the Israelites should not break any of the lamb's bones.  In the new and eternal covenant, the soldiers were "forbidden" from breaking the leg bones of Jesus, because he had already died; not a bone shall be broken.

In the old covenant, if the Israelites wanted to escape the tenth plague, the angel of death; if they wanted to live, they had to eat the lamb.  Today, in the new and eternal covenant, if we want to live, we have to eat the Lamb.

In the old covenant, the priests would ritually place the sins of the nation onto the head of a goat, a "scapegoat," and they would send that goat out of the city, taking away the sins of the nation.  In the new and eternal covenant, Jesus, the Lamb of God, is sent out of the city of Jerusalem, crucified outside the city walls, and he takes away the sins of the world.

"Behold the Lamb of God.  Behold him who takes away the sins of the world."  Blessed are those who realize what he has done for us.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mark's Thesis Statement

Homily from Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord - Year B

The Gospel we just heard is Mark’s Passion Narrative, his telling of the suffering and death of Christ.  Mark’s Gospel, which we are hearing with particular attention this year in the Church, is sometimes called a Passion Narrative with a long introduction, because the enemies of Christ begin to plot his death as early as chapter two of Mark’s Gospel.
Most scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel and not Matthew’s was the first to be written.  And the earliest preaching about Jesus focused on his suffering and death.  Consider the preaching of St. Paul, who in his first letter to the Corinthians said, “we proclaim Christ crucified.” (1 Cor 1:23)  The whole point of Mark’s Gospel is to put down in written form the same message of Paul: that Christ, the Son of God, was crucified.  

In today’s reading of the Passion Narrative, we hear the dramatic climax of the Gospel of Mark.
In fact, you could say that the entire Gospel of Mark was written to in order to get to one particular verse.  It could be called the “thesis statement” of Mark’s Gospel.  And it is spoken by the most unlikely of characters.
This particular verse, this “thesis statement” is the 39th verse of the 15th chapter and it reads thus: “When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’”
This single verse, in beautiful simplicity and brevity, says perhaps everything we need to know about Jesus, his purpose in coming to earth, and the effect it has on those who encounter him.
Let’s consider this verse part by part.
“The centurion...”
The character Mark chooses to deliver his thesis statement is the most unlikely of characters.  He is not a Jew.  Not a disciple of Christ.  He does not even believe in the God of Abraham.  He is a pagan.  What’s more, he is the one in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion.  It is he who puts Christ on the cross.  And yet, he, who is responsible for Christ’s death, is given the grace of conversion and becomes a believer in Christ.
“...who stood facing him...”
The centurion is facing Jesus.  He is oriented towards him.  This is much more than just a minute detail describing his position.  It means to say that he has his eyes literally and figuratively fixed on Jesus.  Indeed, his entire life is now pointed towards Christ.  Whereas, all of Jesus’ disciples fled in fear at his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, now it is the centurion of all people, who remains with Jesus.
“...saw how he breathed his last...”
Moments before, Jesus’ enemies challenged him to prove his divinity by means of a miracle.  “Come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”  However, the centurion does not require a miracle to believe.  Instead, it is in seeing the real purpose of Jesus’ life, the giving up of his life for our sake, it is in seeing how Jesus breathed his last, that he saw and believed.
“...he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’”
Seeing the extent of God’s love for His people; the giving up of His own Son’s life for our sake
compels the centurion to break his silence and become the first proclaimer of Jesus as the Son of God.  He goes even further than Peter.  Who, when Jesus asks who the people say he is in chapter 8, declares Jesus to be the Messiah, the one sent by God to deliver the people from bondage, but stops short of declaring him to be the Son of God.
This Holy Week, reflect on the centurion and his words.  And see yourself in him.  Like the centurion, all of us put Christ on his Cross by our sins.  Let us follow his example and keep our lives oriented towards Christ and let us do away with anything that turns us away from him.  Let us recognize all that Christ has given for us: the entirety of his life unto death.  And let us be brave enough to respond to Christ’s life and death for our sake by declaring him to be the Son of God, the master of our lives, and everything that we live and die for.