“When Peter arrived, Cornelius came to meet him and bowed to the ground in deep reverence. But Peter raised him to his feet and said, ‘Stand up; I am only a man like you.” Acts 10: 25-26.
Today’s liturgy invites us to consider two themes, namely God’s grace in nature, cultures, and very diverse faith traditions. Also, reflecting on today’s gospel, how genuine acts of love are the surest sign of God’s presence.
In Chapter 10 of Acts, we read of an encounter of Saint Peter and the conversion to Christ of a centurion named Cornelius. He is a member of the so-called “Italian Cohort,” thus, his family was of Italian origin, and stationed in Caesarea.
This seacoast town was the Roman capital of the provinces of Judea and Samaria, and as a centurion, Cornelius would have commanded one hundred soldiers in that cohort and legion.
Let’s consider the details found in the earlier part of the text about the meeting of Peter and Cornelius in Joppa. This story demonstrates two conversions, namely, Cornelius’s coming to Christ, as well as Peter’s openness to the larger world and to non-Jews.
Here’s the backstory. In a dream, an angel tells the centurion to seek out Simon Peter to more fully understand God’s plan for his life.
At the same time, Peter, a practicing Jew, has to overcome his own religious bias towards non-Jews as well as dietary restrictions. Thus Peter comes to an all-important insight when he says: “God shows no partiality. In every nation, whoever stands in awe of God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
These simple statements are an achievement in religious thought. Namely, no one is unworthy of God’s love. And, for us this morning, we must acknowledge that each person of sincere heart, whatever condition she or he finds themselves are touched by a creative and loving God since God shows no partiality.
This theological insight marks a version of religious belief that considers how God’s grace works in the lives of the non-believer; again, no one is unworthy of God’s love.
Today at colleges and universities, very soon, each of you will see first hand how classmates and friends may define themselves — politically, culturally, and even sexually. Before we react to the differences in people or reach an ill-formed conclusion over controversial issues, think of Saint Peter’s response to Cornelius, one that looks into the heart of each person and uplifts and affirms our shared humanity.
For a brief moment, let’s consider John’s gospel since it resounds with the command to love one another, and in our second reading from John’s letter, you find a clear definition – namely that “God is love.”
This command extends to the idea that genuine acts of love on our part are the surest sign of God’s presence.
Love comes in a variety of forms — in actions of kindness, caregiving, patience, bravery, and courage – all with a sense of purpose and determination.
Two examples come directly out of the headlines.
Recently, on April 17th, Tammie Jo Shults, an airline pilot with years of experience both on military and commercial aircraft, landed Southwest Flight 1380 in Philadelphia after having lost the fan blade in one of the two engines. Her actions and those of the flight crew saved all but one of the lives entrusted to them.
A few days ago, a police investigator, Paul Holes, a member of the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office brought to justice an individual, known as the Golden State Killer. This investigation took 24 years, with the use of DNA samples, genealogy websites, and mostly Officer Holes’ determination brought resolution to family members and victims of these crimes.
God’s grace works in mysterious ways. Love may be measured most often by our relationship to a person; or a more critical mission like in the military; sometimes, a great sense of purpose, I’m thinking of medical personnel who bring healing to children in war-torn towns in Syria.
But love always suggests a determination to bring God’s consolation, healing, and mercy to the ends of the earth.
Such acts of love are always a sign of God’s presence.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.