Who was Cornelius? Our first reading drops us right into the middle of a story without giving us the background. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion whom God used to commence his work among the gentiles. What made Cornelius so suitable for this work? Notice that he filled the criteria of loving God and loving neighbour: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” He was the sort of person God could use to advance His plan for salvation. So God does two things at the same time:
1. He intervenes dramatically in Cornelius’s life by sending an angel to ask him to fetch the Apostle Peter from Joppa (a distance of about 50 km).
One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
Notice that Cornelius is obedient. He doesn’t suspect he’s having hallucinations and douse himself with anti-psychotics. No, he sends a ‘devout soldier’ and two of his servants straight off to Joppa to carry out God’s wishes.
2. He intervenes dramatically in Peter’s life by giving him a vision too:
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
We can’t comprehend how shocking this must have been to Peter. Orthodox Jews take very seriously God’s instructions about food – the dietary laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, revealed to them under the Old Covenant (the Jewish Kashrut or כַּשְׁרוּת). In fact, for Peter to take God seriously, God has to give him the same vision three times.
It is the conjunction of these two key events that lead to the conversion of the Gentiles.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
What follows is recounted in our first reading today (see below). Notice that it is through Peter, the one whom Jesus asked in John 21 to feed his sheep, that the authority comes to convert Gentiles. It is through Peter, our first Papa (Pope), that we hear:
‘Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?‘
We can’t just make up our own rules, or follow the prevailing rules of the culture. If we want to be obedient to God, we need to be attentive to the voice of Peter today. And we need to pray for our Papa, that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide him in leading the flock. So getting back to our original question, “Is God using you to advance His plan?”, what can we say? If you want to help the Lord advance his plan, I would suggest these four things:
- Tell him you are open to Him, that you want him to teach you, that you want to unite yourself with His will.
- Like Cornelius, spend time in prayer every day, talking to God as if he is your best friend, and spending at least as much time in silence, letting God fill your heart and soul with His thoughts.
- Like Cornelius, avoid hypocrisy, by being generous to those in need.
- Listen to the voice of our Papa, Pope Francis, the steward whom Jesus has placed over his earthly flock.
Word format: Year B Easter 6th Sunday 2015
Pdf format: Year B Easter 6th Sunday 2015
For more thoughts on today’s readings listen here to how God chooses you.