In my younger years, nothing terrified me more than public speaking. The fear of talking in front of an audience was one of the things that made me have second thoughts about becoming a priest. After all, if I couldn’t preach or preside at the altar, how could I possibly be a good priest? And so, for many years, I did what I did best: hide behind a computer building websites, designing publications and writing and editing articles.
This Sunday’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a reminder to be open to the possibility of God doing something new, to allow Him to take us out of our comfort zone so that we can do His will.
The story of Peter and Cornelius is a remarkable one and yet it would not have happened if these two men had not been open to God leading them to a new direction. To understand the First Reading more fully, we need to put it in context.
Let’s talk about Peter first. Peter, a devout Jew, had never eaten anything “unclean.” When God gave him a vision asking him to eat one of those forbidden animals, Peter was horrified. But when three men arrived asking him to come to Cornelius’ house (who was a Gentile), Peter realised what the vision meant. Despite the strict separation between Gentile and Jew that had existed for centuries, God wanted him to go.
Now, about Cornelius. Cornelius was a “God-fearer,” meaning he was a Gentile who worshiped the God of Israel. His openness to God had been nurtured through years of following the Lord. So when an angel appeared to him and told him to send for Peter, he obeyed. Then as Peter was proclaiming the Gospel, Cornelius received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues.
How can we be open to the Lord and whatever “new things” he may want to do through us? First, like Peter and Cornelius, we need to stay close to God in prayer. Because of their faithfulness, God was able to speak to both men and show them how he wanted to bring salvation to the Gentiles. Second, we should be careful not to place limits on God. Peter had to trust God with a new and different way of living out his faith. Cornelius had to be open to receiving new life in the Spirit through Baptism.
Many of us have drawn lines in the sand that indicates how far we think we can go in the name of God. We might think we have weaknesses that prevent us from doing good, or responsibilities that hinder us from becoming better Christians. But this Sunday’s First Reading reveals that God can, and will, use you — as long as you remain open to him. I am still terrified of public speaking but I manage because I allow the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts and my words.