The Preparatory Document explores two “images” from Scripture to inspire our journey of building a synodal church.
The first image is Jesus, the Crowd, the Apostles. The second is A Double Dynamic of Conversion, looking at the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10). You can read the reflection’s on both Scriptures from the Preparatory Document Below.
From the Preparatory Document
III. Listening to the Scriptures
16. The Spirit of God, who illuminates and vivifies this “journeying together” of the Churches, is the same Spirit who works in the mission of Jesus, promised to the Apostles and to the generations of disciples who hear God’s Word and put it into practice. The Spirit, according to the Lord’s promise, does not limit himself to confirming the continuity of the Gospel of Jesus, but will illuminate the ever-new depths of his Revelation and inspire the decisions necessary to sustain the Church’s journey (cf. Jn 14:25–26; 15:26–27; 16:12–15). It is, therefore, appropriate that our journey of building a synodal Church be inspired by two “images” from Scripture. One emerges in the representation of the “community scene” that constantly accompanies the journey of evangelization; the other refers to the experience of the Spirit in which Peter and the early community recognize the risk of placing unjustified limits on faith sharing. The synodal experience of journeying together, following the Lord and in obedience to the Spirit, will be able to receive decisive inspiration from meditation on these two traits of revelation.
Image 1: Jesus, the Crowd, the Apostles
17. An original scene appears, in its fundamental structure, as the constant of the way in which Jesus reveals himself throughout the Gospel, as he announces the coming of the Kingdom of God. Essentially, three actors (plus one) are involved. The first, of course, is Jesus, the absolute protagonist who takes the initiative, sowing the words and signs of the coming of the Kingdom without “showing partiality” (cf. Acts 10:34). In various ways, Jesus pays special attention to those who are “separated” from God and those “abandoned” by the community (the sinners and the poor, in gospel language). Through his words and actions, he offers liberation from evil and conversion to hope, in the name of God the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even in the diversity of the Lord’s calls, their receptive responses, the common trait is that faith always emerges as a valuing of people: their plea is heard, their difficulty is helped, their availability is appreciated, their dignity is confirmed by God’s gaze and restored to the community’s recognition.
18. In fact, the work of evangelization and the message of salvation would not be comprehensible without Jesus’ constant openness to the widest possible audience, which the Gospels refer to as the crowd, that is, all the people who follow him along the path, and at times even pursue him in the hope of a sign and a word of salvation: this is the second actor on the scene of Revelation. The proclamation of the Gospel is not addressed only to an enlightened or chosen few. Jesus’ interlocutor is the “people” of ordinary life, the “everyone” of the human condition, whom he puts directly in contact with God’s gift and the call to salvation. In a way that surprises and sometimes scandalizes the witnesses, Jesus accepts as interlocutors all those who emerge from the crowd: he listens to the impassioned remonstrances of the Canaanite woman (cf. Mt 15:21–28), who cannot accept being excluded from the blessing he brings; he allows himself to dialogue with the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:1–42), despite her condition as a socially and religiously compromised woman; he solicits the free and grateful act of faith of the man born blind (cf. Jn 9), whom official religion had dismissed as outside the perimeter of grace.
19. Some follow Jesus more explicitly, experiencing the fidelity of discipleship, while others are invited to return to their ordinary lives: yet all testify to the power of the faith that has saved them (cf. Mt 15:28). Among those who follow Jesus, the figure of the apostles, whom he himself calls from the beginning, having given them the task of mediating authoritatively the crowd’s relationship with Revelation and with the coming of God’s Kingdom, clearly becomes prominent. The third actor’s entrance on the scene occurs not thanks to a cure or a conversion, but because it coincides with Jesus’ call. The election of the apostles is not the privilege of an exclusive position of power and separation but the grace of an inclusive ministry of blessing and fellowship. Thanks to the gift of the Spirit of the Risen Lord, they are to guard the place of Jesus, without replacing him: not to put filters on his presence, but to make it easy to encounter him.
20. Jesus, the crowd in its diversity, the apostles: this is the imagery and the mystery that must be constantly contemplated and explored in depth so that the Church may increasingly become what she is. None of the three actors can leave the scene. If Jesus is absent, and someone else takes his place, the Church then becomes a contract between the apostles and the crowd and whose dialogue will end up following the plot of the political game. Without the apostles, authorized by Jesus and instructed by the Spirit, the relationship with the evangelical truth is broken, and the crowd, whether it accepts or rejects Jesus, remains exposed to a myth or an ideology about him. Without the crowd, the apostles’ relationship with Jesus becomes corrupted into a sectarian and self-referential form of religion, and evangelization, which emanates from the direct self-revelation that God addresses personally to all, offering His salvation, loses its light.
21. Then, there is the “extra” actor, the antagonist, who brings to the scene the diabolical separation of the other three. Faced with the perturbing prospect of the cross, there are disciples who leave and mood-changing crowds. The insidiousness that divides—and, thus, thwarts a common path—manifests itself indifferently in the forms of religious rigor, of moral injunction that presents itself as more demanding than that of Jesus, and of the seduction of a worldly political wisdom that claims to be more effective than a discernment of spirits. In order to escape the deceptions of the “fourth actor,” continuous conversion is necessary. Emblematic in this regard is the episode of the centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10), the antecedent of that “Council” of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15) which constitutes a crucial reference point for a synodal Church.
Image 2: A Double Dynamic of Conversion: Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10)
22. The episode narrates, first of all, the conversion of Cornelius, who even receives a sort of annunciation. Cornelius is a pagan, presumably Roman, a centurion (a low-ranking officer) in the army of occupation, who practices a profession based on violence and abuse. Yet, he is dedicated to prayer and almsgiving, that is, he cultivates a relationship with God and cares for his neighbor. It is precisely in his home that the angel surprisingly enters, calls him by name, and exhorts him to send—the verb of mission! —his servants to Jaffa to call—the verb of vocation! —Peter. The narrative then becomes that of the conversion of the latter, who, on that same day, received a vision in which a voice ordered him to kill and eat animals, some of which were unclean. His response is decisive: “By no means, Lord” (Acts 10:14). He recognizes that it is the Lord who is speaking to him, but he emphatically refuses, because that order demolishes precepts of the Torah that are inalienable for his religious identity, and which express a way of understanding election as a difference that entails separation and exclusion from other peoples.
23. The apostle remains deeply disturbed and, while he is wondering about the meaning of what has happened, men sent by Cornelius arrive and the Spirit indicates to him that they are his envoys. Peter responds to them with words that recall those of Jesus in the Garden: “I am the one you are looking for” (Acts 10:21). This is a true and proper conversion, the painful and immensely fruitful passage of leaving one’s own cultural and religious categories: Peter accepts to eat with pagans the food he had always considered forbidden, recognizing it as an instrument of life and communion with God and with others. It is in the encounter with people, welcoming them, journeying with them, and entering their homes, that he realizes the meaning of his vision: no human being is unworthy in the eyes of God, and the difference established by election does not imply exclusive preference but service and witnessing of a universal breadth.
24. Both Cornelius and Peter involve other people in their journey of conversion, making them companions in their journey. The apostolic action accomplishes God’s will by creating community, breaking down barriers, and promoting encounters. The word plays a central role in the encounter between the two protagonists. Cornelius begins by sharing his experience. Peter listens to him and then speaks, reporting in turn what has happened to him and testifying to the closeness of the Lord, who goes out to meet people individually to free them from what makes them prisoners of evil and mortifies humanity (cf. Acts 10:38). This form of communicating is similar to the one Peter will adopt in Jerusalem when the circumcised believers criticize him, accusing him of having broken the traditional norms, on which all their attention seems to be focused, while disregarding the outpouring of the Spirit: “You entered the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (Acts 11:3). At that moment of conflict, Peter reports what happened to him and his reactions of bewilderment, incomprehension, and resistance. Precisely this will help his interlocutors, initially aggressive and refractory, to listen and accept what has happened. Scripture will help to interpret the meaning, just as it also will at the “Council” of Jerusalem, in a process of discernment that consists of listening together to the Spirit.
New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
Peter and Cornelius
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain 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 left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They answered, “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.” So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”
Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
Gentiles Hear the Good News
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Short Scripture Verses
“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”John 3:8
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”John 14:6
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”John 16:13
“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”John 14:17
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”John 14:25-26
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”John 15:26-27
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The work of the Spirit in this synodal process is central to our journey. As a Diocese, we are consecrated the the Holy Spirit and you can access our Prayer of Consecration below as another way to join in prayer at this time.