6th Sunday of Easter
9TH May 2021
Year B – Psalter week 2
Our first reading today is a turning point in the mission of the early Church. So far, St. Peter had only preached the gospel to the Jewish people, some of whom came to believe that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. Today, however, he preached to gentiles.
In the Old Covenant, certain types of food, for example, and indeed non-Jewish people, were considered by the law as being unclean when it came to worship. So in order for a Jewish person to worship God at the temple, they needed to avoid anything that would make them ritually unclean.
This is the life and mindset that Peter comes from, and in order to help him to make that leap to preaching to non-Jewish people, God put in place many signs for Peter. In Acts 10, we hear the following account while Peter is staying at a place called Joppa: ‘Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.’
Only the day before this, the gentile Cornelius, who we hear about in today’s first reading, encountered an angel of the Lord. Acts describes it this way: ‘At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout solider from among those that waited on him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.’
Immediately after Peter’s vision of the sheet being lowered, the men sent by Cornelius the day before arrive at where Peter is staying. Acts goes on to report: ‘Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.”’ 
And that brings us on to today’s first reading. The Lord had made it clear to Peter that he was to accompany these gentiles to the house of Cornelius and to share the good news with them. The whole vision of the sheet with the creatures on it had taught Peter that God desired him to let go of the restrictions of the Jewish ritual laws, and to enter the house of a gentile in order to share the good news. As he says when he arrives at the house of Cornelius, “The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” 
The clincher, of course, and the confirmation that this was all God’s work, was when the Holy Spirit comes down upon the gentiles as Peter is speaking, and they begin to speak in tongues and to proclaim the greatness of God. Cornelius and his household experience what the apostles themselves experienced at Pentecost, and so it is not surprising that this episode is known as the ‘Gentile Pentecost’. As this happens through the preaching of St. Peter, who is the head of the Church, it is a threshold moment in the spreading of the gospel to the nations, and Peter gives the order for these gentiles to be baptised.
This Thursday is the feast of the Ascension, and as with the disciples in the upper room for the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, we are called to pray a novena for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost. There are lessons we can learn, however, from today’s readings which help us to prepare for the renewed blessing of God’s Spirit in our lives. Cornelius, we should note, even before meeting Peter, was already ‘a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God.’ His uprightness, generosity and life of prayer is something that we can imitate because it disposed him to the reception of the Holy Spirit. We can also, as baptised Christians, learn from St. Peter’s example in this episode, in his openness and docility to the direction of God, even when it seemed to go against all the Jewish observances that he had grown up with. We too, can place in our minds limitations upon God and upon who we think can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so we are called also to be open to what God wants to do, even when it goes against our own expectations.
I finish with a simple prayer of invocation that we could pray each day in the lead up to Pentecost:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.
 Acts 10:9-16 (Quoted from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible – New Testament, Second Edition, RSV).
 Acts 10:1-8.
 Acts 10:17-22.
 Acts 10:17-22.
Acts 10:25-26. 34-35. 44-48
The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the pagans too.
The Lord has shown his salvation to the nations.
1 John 4:7-10
God is love.
A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.
Sunday Message and Look
Jesus said: ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him.