Last week in the bulletin I began an article about Pope Francis talking about accompaniment and what it means not only for the clergy, religious and those appointed to work as a team for the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), but for everyone who has been baptized and now is trying to lead a good Christian life. If you did not see a copy of this article, you can go to our website—www.stpetersloop.org—and read it there before continuing today.
In that article I made reference to two specific passages: one was about the encounter of Jesus with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, and the other about the Roman centurion Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10:1-48. I mentioned that both of these accounts include the same elements of accompaniment: 1) prayer and the Spirit’s activity; 2) going out to the peripheries; 3) seeking common ground; 4) testimonies of faith, and 5) sacramental celebration and meal sharing. Today I would like to expand a bit on these five elements.
PRAYER AND THE SPIRIT’S ACTIVITY
At the beginning of Acts 10, we meet the centurion Cornelius, who although a Roman, is “God-fearing,” gives alms generously to the people, and prays to God constantly. While in prayer, Cornelius has a vision of an angel of God, who instructs him to send messengers to the Apostle Peter.
The day after the messengers are dispatched, Peter, while at prayer, has a vision of a variety of unclean animals and is instructed to kill and eat them. As Peter discerns the meaning of this vision, the messengers arrive. Next, “the Spirit” commands Peter to accompany the messengers, which suggests that Peter is to “go with” or “journey with” the newly arrived messengers. Upon greeting the messengers, Peter is told of their master’s vision and is asked to follow them back to their home. Peter agrees and brings with him “some of the brothers from Joppa.”
The centurion and Peter are worlds apart in terms of their cultures and covenantal standing, yet they will be united by their prayerful response to the Spirit’s promptings. Their approaches to prayer are similar in that each man is open to the Spirit as a dynamic companion is capable of communicating God’s will through visions. What’s more, Cornelius and Peter are open to receiving the inspiration of the Spirit. The work of evangelization begins with a discernment of how and where God’s Spirit is at work in our lives and helping others do the same.
GOING OUT TO THE PERIPHERIES
Peter, led by the Spirit, arrives at Cornelius’ home and greets his household with the reminder that it is contrary to Jewish law to “associate with, or visit, a Gentile.” Peter shares with Cornelius that he is transgressing the law because he has come to understand that God does not call anything or any person “unclean.”
This is an incredible development in Judeo-Christian thought and an incredible lesson for us all. As Pope Francis has noted in The Joy of the Gospel (##21, 24, 87, 97, and 120), the Church—and this includes all the baptized—are called to be missionaries who “go out” to all, without reserve or prejudice, and share the Good News. Pope Francis points out that evangelizers are called to share the kerygma:
We have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement, or kerygma,
which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church
renewal….This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the
beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things.
It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one
which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must
announce one way or another throughout the process of evangelization, at every
level and moment (#164).
The “peripheries” or “mission fields” are all around us. They are our families, workplaces, communities, and perhaps especially our parishes. Gone is the time when one could presume that those attending Mass are the “faithful” in the truest sense of that word: that they, in fact, are “full of faith.” That Francis feels inclined to remind the Church that “the Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (#47), speaks volumes. At the very least, it implies that he considers that there are those among the “faithful” who feel special or more privileged than those who do not receive Communion (for example, those who may choose not to receive, those who might be absent from Mass or have, in fact, disaffiliated from the Church, those who according to the Church, are unsuited to receive).
Pope Francis goes on to decry any practice that would have some “act as arbiters of grace.” He states, “The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all of their problems.” The Church, then, is not a place that collects payment for grace conferred. An appropriate Eucharistic approach stresses the nature of the Eucharist as gift. Our prayer in the Liturgy of the Eucharist reminds us that this gift is from God’s love. At no point are we worthy of God’s love and mercy; we are sinners.
SEEKING COMMON GROUND
Upon Peter’s entering Cornelius’ home, the centurion falls at the Apostle’s feet to worship him as a god or demigod. (While this gesture may seem bizarre today, ancient Rome was polytheistic, and even the emperors were worshipped as gods). Peter declines Cornelius’ worship, saying, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.”
This text offers us yet another element of an accompaniment model: seeking common ground. Discovering what makes human beings the same is not to downplay or disregard our individual uniqueness. In fact, drawing attention to our individuality is critical. However, seeking common ground provides a baseline for sharing significant life experiences as well as knowledge and experiences of faith.
Promoting what two or more people have in common makes manifest the universal scope of Christian faith. Moreover, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper in which he calls for a unity among believers “so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you” should signal that seeking common ground is a necessary step toward such unity.
Although the sharing of personal stories, values, and beliefs is not new, it often is overlooked. To know someone is to know where they have been, where they think they are now, and where they hope to go. This includes what people value and what they believe in, as well as what (or whom) they do not value and what they do not believe in. In other words, it means that accompaniment must begin with the human story. One aspect of this story is that we are all sinners, yet we are loved by God.
All this underscores the truth that we are not better, greater, or holier than others. We are only who we are. Such humility will help one to be more sensitive to the needs of others. Often when people are beginning their faith journey, they need a listening and compassionate heart, not a lecture about absolute truth.
THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
In today’s readings we hear that Christ is expiation for the sins of all the world and wants all the world to hear that message from his followers. In the Gospel, two disciples have returned from Emmaus to tell their colleagues about meeting the risen Jesus on the road and recognizing him finally in the “breaking of the bread.” Suddenly Jesus appears before the whole group, giving them proof that he is alive and not a ghost. He reminds them that the Scriptures about a suffering messiah had to be fulfilled and that they could trust his words because he had told them these things before they happened. Now that they are witnesses of all that has been said about Jesus, they must go out to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sin.
We can see an example of this preaching in the First Reading: Peter’s speech to the Jews who had witnessed the healing of a crippled man at the Temple’s Beautiful Gate. When the people come rushing toward them to see what is happening, Peter tells the story of the Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus and the prophets and calls for their repentance.
A word of caution: this text can sound painfully hostile toward Jews. It is important to remember that the Gospel writer recognized that they were the first and rightful heirs of the covenant and that God would never abandon them. As a result of the Jews rejecting their covenant of friendship with God, God established a new covenant open to both Jews and Gentiles alike.
When the Risen Lord says, “Peace be with you” to the disciples, he also tells them that they are witnesses to what the prophets foretold and gives them a mandate to preach the Gospel. The peace that Christ gives is that which comes from the love of the Triune God and brings eternal life. Those who receive that peace are to continue the work of Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Peace is not merely the absence of war; peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity” (#2304).
The peace that is experienced in our lives comes about because Jesus’ dying and rising reconciled humankind with God. From that peace, the Catechism states, all other peace flows. “Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:5)” (#2305).
For Your Reflection: Do you see God as your security? How can keeping the Commandments be a way of knowing God better? How does our faith community show that we are witnesses of what Christ has done?
A LITURGICAL CLARIFICATION
It may be that some of you have read in an article or heard something on the radio or television about comments Cardinal Robert Sarah has made concerning the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue. In the preface to a book on the subject of Communion in the hand, he does not just advocate Communion by mouth simply as a personal preference, nor even as being a more respectful way of taking Communion, but because Communion by hand is part of a deliberate attack on faith in the Blessed Sacrament. He writes, “We can understand how the most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favoring an unsuitable manner of receiving it.Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side and Lucifer on the other, continues in the heart of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated host.”
In another place the Cardinal has said, “This way (receiving Communion in the hand) of receiving Communion constitutes the most insidious diabolical attack on the Blessed Sacrament, organized by Satan himself.” What Cardinal Sarah fails to remember is that no doubt the Apostles at the Last Supper did not receive the Body of Christ from Jesus on the tongue, nor did most likely Christians from that point on until perhaps the ninth century at least.
In the middle of the fourth century, Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem gave this instruction to those who were about to join the Catholic Church: “When you come forward for Holy Communion, do not draw near with your hands wide open or with fingers spread apart; instead, with your left hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King. Receive the Body of Christ in the hollow of your hand and give the response, Amen.”
Pope Francis has reprimanded Cardinal Sarah for his position. Therefore as your pastor I want you to know that you are perfectly correct in coming up for Communion and extending your hand to receive the consecrated Host. What is important is that we celebrate the entire liturgy with respect, which I think we do well here at St. Peter’s, and a person receiving in the hand can do this equally well as one who receives on the tongue. What we are doing is responding to the Lord’s words at the Last Supper: “Take and eat—this is my Body. Take and drink—this is my Blood poured out for you.”
A CHUCKLE FOR THE EASTER SEASON
“Hello! Is this Gordon’s Pizza?”
“No, sir, it’s Google’s Pizza.”
“Did I dial the wrong number?”
“No, sir. Google bought the pizza store.”
“Oh, alright then. I’d like to place an order, please.”
“Okay, sir. Do you want the usual?”
“The usual? You know what my usual is?”
“According to the caller ID, the last 15 times you’ve ordered a 12-slice with double-cheese, sausage, and thick crust.”
“Okay, that’s what I want this time too.”
“May I suggest that this time you order an 8-slice with ricotta, arugula, and tomato instead?”
“No, I hate vegetables!”
“But your cholesterol is not good.”
“How do you know?”
“Through the subscribers guide. We have the results of your blood tests for the past 7 years.”
“You know what? I’m sick of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and everyone else having all my information! I’m going to an island without internet, where there’s no cell phone line, and no one to spy on me!”
“I understand, sir, but you may want to renew your passport…it expired 5 weeks ago!”