The Story of Cornelius the Centurion, the Roman solider that sends his servants to St. Peter to ask him to come and bring him the Good News about Jesus, is frequently used to motivate creative evangelism in the Church. Even St. peter sometimes needs to be prodded by the Spirit to chase after the spread of the Gospel into new, unforeseen and even unclean areas. Cornelius becomes the first non-Jew (aka. gentile) to be baptized and he opens the gates for the spread of the story of Jesus “even to the ends of the earth.”
While this take on the story of the faithful centurion is motivating, it is strange that it says almost nothing about Cornelius himself. Seen as a call for evangelism without borders, the story of the conversion of a gentile household become yet another story about St. Peter, his hard-hardheadedness, and, yes, ultimately, his faith. Why, then do we celebrate the legacy of Cornelius? Why do we remember his name at all?
I think the reason is this: As much as Peter and the rest of the Church learn about the true mission of the Spirit in the world through the encounter with Cornelius, it is Cornelius’ ardent seeking which drives the whole story. In this way, Cornelius is something of the patron saint of “seekers” and has something to teach us about following the call of the Spirit in our own lives. This is not simply limited to creative ways to share the Gospel, but also to deeper and more profound encounters with God no matter where he is to be found.