The story of Cornelius is the story of a devout man who was not born into the community of the covenant but whose search has brought him there. It is not, however the end of his quest: the quest has yet one more stage in it which will bring him to an encounter with Jesus. The story of Cornelius does not stand alone, however. It flows seamlessly into the account of the Jerusalem assembly.
The acceptance of Cornelius and his household, coupled with the work of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch transformed the Christian movement from being simply Jewish to a mixed community of different backgrounds. For that to happen Peter had to accept the Spirit’s guidance to put away his pre-conceived ideas. The call to move beyond prejudices remains a live one. The teaching of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti is apposite. He is speaking specifically of accepting migrants into society. But his insights can, with little need of adaptation, apply to life in the Church.
The arrival of those who are different, coming from other ways of life and cultures can be a gift, for ‘ the stories of migrants are always stories of an encounter between individuals and between cultures. For the communities and societies into which they come, migrants bring an opportunity for enrichment and the integral development of all’.
Indeed, when we open our hearts to those who are different, this enables them, while continuing to be themselves, to develop in new ways. The different cultures that have flourished over the centuries need to be preserved, lest our world would be impoverished. At the same time, those cultures should be encouraged to be open to new experiences through their encounter with other realities, for the risk of succumbing to cultural sclerosis is always present.
Canon Francis Brown