Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius, by Francesco Trevisani, 1709.
READINGS: Acts 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48 / 1 John 4:7–10/ John 15: 9–17
Theme: Led by the Holy Spirit!
6th Sunday of Easter
Today as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, let us congratulate our mothers and pray for God’s special blessings on them.
Today is also the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Coming Thursday [Ascension Day], we shall begin our parish Pentecost Novena with the theme, ‘BE LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT’ (Gal. 5:18). And in today’s first reading (from Acts 10), we have a story about how the Holy Spirit led Cornelius and Peter the Apostle. So I am adopting the theme of the Pentecost Novena with a slight change for this homily: ‘LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT’. This is a broad theme but in this message we shall focus on only the experiences of Cornelius and St. Peter.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF ‘BEING LED’:
We can illustrate how the Holy Spirit leads us by how someone may lead us to a destination. Here we can consider three possibilities:
- When the person leading us walks ahead of us;
- When we walk abreast with the person; and
- When we walk hand-in-hand with the person.
Similarly, the Holy Spirit may be ahead of us as he directs us in our spiritual and daily life; or we may be walking abreast with him; or even better still, we may be walking hand-in-hand with him. However, beloved, it is also true that we may not be keeping pace with the Spirit; so He may be far ahead of us (as when we walk with a fast moving person, who has long legs like mine).
We could say that Cornelius started walking far behind the Holy Spirit, but he eventually reached the point of walking abreast with the Holy Spirit (as gathered from today’s first reading). He began, even without knowing that the Holy Spirit existed, but he did the good things the Spirit inspired in his heart; and he ended up embracing the Good News that St. Peter preached and receiving the Holy Spirit.
What are some of the things Cornelius was doing which showed that he was following the ‘lead’ of the Spirit without knowing it?
Even at a time that Cornelius – a Roman/gentile – did not know Jesus as the Saviour of the world, he worshipped the only true God as the Jews did (Acts 10:1-4). Thus, he followed from afar the ‘lead’ of the Spirit.
He was a man of prayer (Acts 10:1-5), who fasted occasionally (Acts 10:30). This was certainly inspired by the Spirit, whom St. Paul says enables us to call God ‘Abba Father’; in other words, the Spirit enables us to pray (Rom. 8:15-16, 26-27).
Cornelius was fond of giving alms (Acts 10:2, 4). God is love and he has shown us his love by offering his only Son; he, in turn, commands us to love one another, according to today’s second reading. This commandment of love is repeated twice in today’s gospel reading. And a practical way to show love to another person who is in need is to give him/her alms. It was therefore certainly the Spirit of God who led Cornelius to be charitable to the needy.
The Jews in those days considered the Romans, their colonial masters, as their ‘enemies’. So it is amazing that Acts 10:22 says Cornelius had a good reputation even among the Jews. A life-style endearing to one’s enemies was certainly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
According to Acts 10:2, Cornelius was ‘a devout man and one who feared God with ALL HIS HOUSEHOLD.’ He might have even influenced some of his subordinate Roman soldiers to worship Yahweh (cf. Acts 10:7). Only a person led by the Spirit can lead others to the Living God.
Thus, through the worship of the only true God, prayer and fasting, works of charity, good life-style and attracting souls for God, among others, the Holy Spirit was leading Cornelius from afar, and drawing him closer and closer to Himself. Thus, as we heard in the first reading Cornelius arrived at the point of walking abreast with the Holy Spirit: as St. Peter preached the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ, the Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household and they were baptized.
Beloved where are we in our walk with the Spirit? Many of us here started walking with the Spirit even as infants, or at least, many years ago, when we were baptized. The question is: are we still walking abreast with the Spirit through worshipping only God, prayers and fasting, good lifestyle, charity and winning souls for Christ, among other things? Or are we far behind the Spirit like a friend driving ahead of us, and we losing him because of the traffic? Are we far behind because instead of worshipping the only Living God, we worship other ‘gods’ too? Or is it because we are not regular in prayers? Or is it because our lifestyle is bad? Or is it because, we do not do enough charitable works? Or is it because we make no effort to win souls for Christ?
Beloved if our case involves not just one of the above but a combination of them, then we could be likened to someone who lost sight of his friend driving ahead of him/her, not only because he has been delayed by the red traffic light, but, in addition, his/her car is broken down!
ST. PETER’S EXPERIENCE:
St. Peter’s experience in Acts 10 is like someone who began walking abreast with a friend and now is walking hand-in-hand. In his ministry, Jesus taught St. Peter and the other apostles about the Holy Spirit, and at the Last Supper, he promised them the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete. On the day of his ascension into heaven he told them: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the fulfillment of the Father’s promise about which I have spoken to you. John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit within a few days’ (Acts 1:4-5). This was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We could say that Peter started walking abreast with the Holy Spirit from the day of Pentecost.
But despite all that Jesus taught Peter and the other apostles, they initially thought that the Good News of salvation was meant for only the Jews. So they initially focused on converting only Jews. But in today’s first reading, Peter overcame his ignorance and walked hand-in-hand with the Holy Spirit, who inspired him to realize that God, who is love (second reading), shows no partiality (Acts 10:34-35); and that baptism and salvation are meant for all (Jews and Greeks) who believe (Acts 10:35, 47). Thus, it took Peter and the others some time to realize that ‘GOD WANTS ALL TO BE SAVED AND COME TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH’ (1 Tim. 2:4).
Beloved if we are already walking abreast with the Holy Spirit, we can also, like St. Peter, begin to walk hand-in-hand with the Spirit, provided:
- We are convinced that God shows no partiality . . .;
- We translate this conviction into doing away with prejudices and discriminations (e.g. racism, nepotism, “part-centrism” [whereby only political party members are economically and socially favoured], tribalism [for instance, families of different tribes in Ghana may not allow their children to marry; in this sense is it not an irony that we would readily marry our daughter to an European, because of the material gains?]);
- We demonstrate a love that is universal and unconditional.
Beloved, I pray that:
- if we have lost sight of the Spirit, probably because we are not even doing half of what the yet-to-be-Christian Cornelius was doing, the Spirit will give us a fresh start, like a friend who drives his car off the road to wait of us to catch up . . .;
- if we have not lost sight of the Spirit but we are far behind his ‘lead’, we will double up our steps by doing all that Cornelius did; and
- if we are abreast with the Spirit, we shall begin to walk hand-in-hand, like St. Peter, by opening up more and more to the enlightenment and unconditional love that He pours out into our hearts. Amen.
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis