The encounter between Saint Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 is significant for introducing oneself to the synod process and reflecting on it. The first thing to notice is that the Holy Spirit is active. As an apostle and close companion of Jesus, we would expect Peter is receptive to the Spirit. What is surprising is that a pagan centurion is also nudged by God. Let’s hand it over to Pope Francis to explain:
We can see the Spirit driving Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, the pagan centurion, despite his qualms. Remember: Peter had had a disturbing vision in which he was told to eat things he considered impure. He was troubled, despite the assurance that what God has made clean should no longer be considered impure. While he was trying to grasp the significance of this vision, some men sent by Cornelius arrived. Cornelius too had received a vision and a message. He was a pious Roman official, sympathetic to Judaism, but not enough to be fully Jewish or Christian; he would not have made it past a religious “customs office”. Cornelius was a pagan, yet he was told that his prayers were heard by God and that he should send and ask Peter to come to his house.
Two men might have been inclined to resistance. Likely they never would have met, were it not for divine intervention. One is a Jew and follower of Jesus. The other is not. One has known a lifetime of a religious and cultural commitment to the One True God. The other is rooted in a military subculture embedded in a powerful empire dedicated to multiple gods. The Holy Father draws out a “beautiful phrase” to consider.
At this point, with Peter and his doubts, and Cornelius uncertain and confused, the Spirit overcomes Peter’s resistance and opens a new chapter of missionary history. That is how the Spirit works. In the meeting between those two men, we hear one of the most beautiful phrases of Christianity. Cornelius meets Peter and falls at his feet, but Peter, picking him up, tells him: “Get up. I too am a man” (Acts 10:26). All of us can say the same thing: “I am a man, I am a woman; we are all human”. This is something we should all say, bishops too, all of us: “Get up. I too am a man”.
“I am only human.” A simple statement that places the individual under God, and in a place or receptivity to God’s ideas and plans.
What happens next? Dialogue. Otherwise the Greek translates to “two words.” One word is Peter’s, and Cornelius has the other.
The text also says that Peter conversed with Cornelius (cf. v. 27). Christianity should always be human and accessible, reconciling differences and distances, turning them into familiarity and proximity.
Clericalism called out seriously. Would you think it a perversion? That’s strong language, like limburger cheese:
One of the ills of the Church, indeed a perversion, is the clericalism that detaches priests and bishops from people, making them officials, not pastors. Saint Paul VI liked to quote the words of Terence: “I am a man: I regard nothing human as foreign to me”. The encounter between Peter and Cornelius resolved a problem; it helped bring about the decision to preach directly to the pagans, in the conviction that – as Peter put it – “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).
The curious thing is that Acts 10 suggests God is not even partial to his Son’s followers and disciples. When he chooses to act through a non-believer, a seeker, an outsider, he will do it. And no manner of discrimination from within the Church will stop it.
There can be no discrimination in the name of God. Discrimination is a sin among us too, whenever we start to say: “We are the pure, we are the elect, we belong to this movement that knows everything, we are…” No! We are the Church, all of us together.
This speech is copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana