Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday word, 13 May 2012

Cooperating With Grace 
Easter Sunday6 (13 May 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
During Easter hearing how the early church grew rapidly and was at peace1 tempts us to think danger passed the church with the resurrection of Jesus. By raising Jesus from death God validated the ministry, the life and dying of Jesus. Yet various dangers faced the early disciples. The greatest danger did not come from outside the church but from within: reaching out to those who were not Jews to include them in the promises God had made first to Abraham.
To move from an ethnic religion to a universal one—from Judaism to Christianity—dripped with fear, anxiety, contention and debate among the apostles. The Acts of the Apostles presented the promises God made first to Abraham as the gift of Holy Spirit. A key lesson was no one—not even an apostle—can domesticate the Spirit of God. That lesson unfolded gradually, which is the normative way God teaches. It began for Peter while he was praying and had a vision.

Our first reading brought us onto the scene after Peter had had a vision2 of various foods, many of which were not kosher. When he refused to eat, a voice in his vision bade him to eat, which perplexed him greatly. His vision threatened his identity as a Jew and all the symbolism of Judaism. 
It was no hunger-induced vision as meeting Cornelius proved. Yet what did Peter’s vision mean? Cornelius and his household were similar in one way to the non-kosher foods of Peter’s vision: Jews didn’t mix with gentiles.3
Peter began to understand that risen Jesus’ command to him and the apostles to preach the forgiveness of sins in [Jesus’] name to all the nations4 did not mean within boundaries but to include all peoples; in other words, to be a universal gospel not an ethnic one. In the house of Cornelius, we heard how Peter put it: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears [God] and acts uprightly is acceptable to [God].” That was astonishing for Peter, a Jew, to say when we recall that only Jews awaited a messiah. 
As he spoke Peter was grasping that to which his vision had called and prepared him. How would it unfold? As Peter grasped and as he spoke, the holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. ...astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also [before baptism!]. It caused Peter to cry in awe, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have!”
Gentiles with Jewish-Christians shared the gift of God’s Spirit! The implications of living that shared gift the early church would discover and wrangle over at all levels. The bond of God’s Spirit, a bond of no human making, not only united all who believed in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. It challenged, and it continues to challenge believers to accept those whom God accepts and to do so wholeheartedly. God abides in us to help us accept that challenge.

God abides in us by God’s Spirit. Indeed, God’s Spirit moves us to foster unbroken fellowship with one another. That is how we abide in God and with each other. The gift of God’s Spirit empowering us makes Christian love much more than a feeling and a human power. When we cooperate with the gift of God’s Spirit we extend ourselves so others may respond to God, who is impartial, universal and who desires God’s people to grow more like Jesus: Jesus, who cooperated with God’s Spirit, revealed God’s love in flesh and blood.
Cooperating with God’s Spirit our Catholic heritage has called “cooperating with grace.”5 Grace is no less than God’s Spirit working through us. Grace is God’s life, God’s love. Abiding in divine love affects how we act, live and choose. We may perceive that effect as a danger to ourselves and difficult to undertake. Jesus gave us his Spirit to help us overcome dangers, difficulties and our fears.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Desire to feel recreated by our triune God.
  • Ask Peter and Cornelius, who both desired to live for Jesus as friends of Jesus and to consecrate their lives, to present you to Jesus.
  • Converse with Jesus: ask him to strengthen your rela-tionship with Jesus and to encourage you to let go of what hinders your relationship with Jesus.
  • Ask for the grace to act, live and choose in ways which harmonize with Jesus’ gospel.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we pray it we reconsecrate ourselves to Jesus, and Jesus consecrates us in the truth of his risen life as apostles to and for our world.
Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Acts 9.31.
  2. The Greek word in Acts 10.10 is ekstasis, from which we get our word ecstatic. Its root meaning is a change of state, here in a way of approaching the world with one’s mind that is not the usual way. The verse makes clear that Peter was not ecstatic as the word may suggest to us; instead he was hungry and wished to eat and he was at prayer even as the meal was being prepared.
  3. See Acts 10.19. The entire chapter of simultaneous visions and then Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his household before they were baptized is a splendid narrative depicting discernment. I thank my teacher of NT Interpretation, Luke Timothy Johnson, for his insight.
  4. Luke 24.47.
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church has several references to this cooperation, for example, ##155, 306, 970, 1993, 2008.
Wiki-image of Peter’s vision is in the public domain in the U.S. Wiki-image of the Prayer of Jesus in in the public domain.

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