From the Pastor – May 5, 2024

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

One of the most interesting scenes in the Acts of the Apostles involves a vision of St. Peter where he saw Heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down containing all the earth’s four-legged animals, reptiles and birds of the sky. A voice told Peter to “slaughter and eat.” Since many of the animals were considered “ritually unclean” according to the Levitical law, Peter refused to eat, saying “I have never eaten anything profane and unclean.” The voice responded, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” This vision happened three times.

On one hand, this vision is the basis upon which Christians dispensed with food restrictions, and it’s the reason why we in Louisiana can eat oysters, crabs, shrimp, crawfish, alligator, catfish, pork, rabbits, squirrels and even rattlesnake (all of which are forbidden in Leviticus), if we desire. In itself, that is a very good thing, because our ancestors here might have starved to death if they had tried to find domestic animals that were “kosher.” It means that our tastiest natural resources are fair game!

But Peter took something else from this vision as we hear in the first reading this Sunday. Peter also understood that all “people” were fair game. Peter’s experience was followed immediately by the visit of Cornelius, a Gentile. And as they were speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon the group, and allowed Peter to see that the gifts they had received were not limited to the Jewish people. Since most of us are Christians of “gentile” origin, that’s good news.

But this entire exchange underlines one of the important questions that Christians have asked for centuries: “who can be saved?” I frequently get this question from Catholics. And the short answer is that everyone can be saved. The more difficult problem regards the “how” of salvation. We are only saved by Jesus, whose incarnation as man restored the union between God and man that was destroyed by original sin. We are saved by being a “member” of His body, the Church. And that’s where the question becomes a little more complicated. How are we “members” of the Church? The Church proclaims this in the Second Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium” (the Light of the Nations). We are “full” members of the Church by being practicing Catholics, partaking regularly in the Sacraments. Further, catechumens (those preparing for the Sacraments) are members by their desire. Other baptized Christians are also incorporated by their Baptism, even if they don’t share the “fullness” of the Sacramental life. And even those who aren’t Christians but who acknowledge the Creator have place in the Body of Christ. And the Church goes even further to recognize that those who have not arrived at an explicit knowledge of God may be members if they, with His grace strive to live a good life. In the end, only Jesus can save us, and we do our part by being in Communion with Him.

(Very Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty