The Acts of the Apostles gives us a really good look at the early history of the Church. We’re blessed that Luke wrote this sequel to his gospel. True, we get to see the Church develop in a historical way…”first came this, then came that,” all of which is very valuable information. But scripture is divinely inspired because it is God speaking to us. When you read Acts, you might say “this is great, but what does it mean for my life?”
Today we have the story of Peter meeting Cornelius. This is really a major event in the history of the Church. On one hand we have Cornelius is a Roman Centurion, , a non-Jew but one who is seeking faith. Some believe that he was what is called a “synagogue Gentile.” The modern day equivalent is the faith seeker who comes to Church to see if this is what he’s looking for.
On the other hand, Peter, as we know, is the leader of his new religion, this Christianity. We know that in this early Church, there were some real internal battles over who could be baptized? Did people need to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses first, or could they be baptized if they showed great faith. On one side of this battle you had the Apostle James, on the other side, you had Paul who now brought the zeal he had for persecuting Christians full circle and was now converting Greeks and other Gentiles. Peter actually waffled on the issue for awhile, before having a vision from God, his famous dream about eating unclean meat. At the same time, Cornelius has a vision, a vision of faith calling him to send for Peter and follow Christ. This leads to this meeting we hear of today.
Peter approaches Cornelius who falls at his feet. Note that Peter acts very humbly, saying “Get up, I’m just a man.” Peter understands that he is not God, merely God’s worker. He goes on to say that he has come to see that God shows no partiality. That’s an important verb. “See.” Peter did not come to this conclusion simply on his own. He didn’t say, “well, you know, I think I’m going with Paul on this one, because if I don’t he’s just gonna keep on being a pain in the neck.” No, he said he saw. And he welcomed Cornelius to be baptized and both were filled with the Holy Spirit.
And here’s our lesson. Peter’s seeing means that he turned the issue over to God in prayer. That’s something any one of us can do as well.
By “seeing,” Peter obviously stepped back and put his own personal concerns and worries to the side. He cleared his mind of the objections of James and the pleas of Paul and focused on what Jesus had taught. He probably followed the example of Jesus and went off to pray quietly. He became still, and was able then to see, see Christ, see what he taught, see what he meant because the Holy Spirit was with him, and come to know what he had to do. Thus, his conclusion, his teaching that God shows no partiality toward man. All are welcome.
We have the same gift that Peter had. We know the teachings of Christ, and if not we have scripture and texts such as the catechism to guide us. We can go and be still, either off by ourselves, or when we are here at Mass. We can park our concerns, our worries, all the conflicting advice we get, and listen until we see what Jesus taught, and see what Jesus calls us to do. Then we can come to our conclusion, one based in our faith and God’s love. This is the power of prayer. When Peter says “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality,” he is saying that he has listened to the Lord, and the Lord filled him with the grace…the spirit…to make a good decision. That’s the effect of prayer. Peter has made the decision, has formulated the teaching, but he has done so based on what Christ has shown him. You can do the same in your life.
At Mass, we always read scripture and we follow it with a homily. We do this so that we may hear and see as Peter did. Listen. Be still. Here what the Lord is saying to you today. Maybe it is something Luke wrote in Acts, or something from the writing of John. Take that something with you as we move into the liturgy of the Eucharist and bring it with you as you come to meet Christ today. See if the Holy Spirit comes over you in some way, even a quiet subtle way. This is a big part of praying. The love that God poured out on Cornelius and Peter is the love he is ready to pour out on you. Just step back, be still, and listen.