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." 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."
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."
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.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you."
The experience of being specially chosen by someone can be a welcome one. It might be as simple as someone choosing us to be on their team; or, some years later, to be their referee, when applying for a job; they trust us to give them a good reference. But being chosen can be even more significant still. At the root of every happy marriage is the fact that two people once chose and then kept on choosing each other. At the heart of every true friendship is a similar choice. Two people choose to be friends with each other; they valued their relationship as special and worthwhile. As in marriage, the choice must be mutual if the friendship is to last. When the choice is one-sided, there can be heartbreak for the one not chosen in return. One of life's really painful experiences is unrequited love.
In the gospel today Jesus uses this language of choice and friendship. He tells them (and us), "I chose you," "I call you friends." We can each hear those words as addressed to us. The disciples here represent us all. He has handed over his life for us all. Like St. Paul we can each say that the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me. In giving his life for us, Jesus chose us, personally, called each of us his friend. His words are to us, "You are my friends." The Mass makes present the self-giving death of Jesus in every generation, to every community that gathers for the Breaking of Bread. Right here and now he continues to speak those same words from the last supper, "You are my friends," "I chose you." But here's a thing: In our personal lives, choosing one means not choosing another. This is not the case with the good Lord, who is able to choose each of us equally. As Peter says in the first reading, "God does not have favourites."
If I choose someone as a friend, I want that person to make a similar choice of me. Similarly, the Lord's choice of us seeks and desires our choice of him. Having chosen us, he wants us to reciprocate that choice. Earlier in the gospel, at a time when many people stopped following him, he turned to his disciples and said to them, "Do you also wish to go away?" Jesus was inviting them to respond to the choice he had made of them. At that highly-charged moment, Peter said on behalf of them all, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the message of eternal life." In this way he publicly declared his choice of Jesus. At Mass we both celebrate the Lord's choice of us and we renew our choice of him. When we respond to his invitation to take and eat, we take Him to heart and renew our choice him as our way, our truth and our life. [MH]
It is said that St. John lived to a great age, and that as an old man he was carried each Sunday to where the Christians at Ephesus were celebrating the Eucharist. Invariably he was asked to address the little congregation, and always he spoke about the love of God, until even these devout people grew a little weary of the same recurring theme. The old man would not change his subject but persisted in speaking about love, because for him the central theme of Jesus' message was the overwhelming love of God. "We believe in love," was the motto of those who were in full agreement with John. This could easily be an empty slogan, except that John stated clearly what he meant by love, and it is echoed in today's second reading. "This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God's love for us, when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes away our sins." The deep truth about God is not that he loves us or that he is a lovable being, but rather that, in himself, he is love. By his nature God gives and shares of his inner self. It also means that whoever receives the gift of God's love must mirror God's own sharing of self. God's love was such as to impel him to give his only Son so that we might have life through him.
I am quite unable to love myself to the same degree that God loves me. God is even closer to me than I am to myself. Through the prophet Isaiah (49:16) God addresses to me the consoling words, "See upon the palm of my hand I have written your name." Indeed, in the person of Jesus, God, as it were, reaches out to us with two hands — the one extended in forgiveness which saves us from being engulfed here and now in our evil ways, the other casting a ray of light beyond the portals of death, reminding us that as God raised Christ from the. dead, so he will redeem us too, when we have completed our earthly existence. That we are able to grasp those hands of God extended to us, that we are able to cling to them steadfastly, is more a gift of God's grace that our own accomplishment. No amount of self-pruning, of teeth-gritting human striving, will bring us any closer to God.
But if we try and go through life in the conviction that God's loving care is watching over us, we will cease to be anxious about our own happiness, about what we would like to become. Strange as it may seem, faith in God's love for us frees us from all kinds of inner pressures, and yet at the same time brings us to a closer and more completely loving our God. "There are three things that last," St Paul tells us, "faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13). For coming into the presence of God, faith will give way to vision, hope to attainment, but love will continue alive and well for all eternity.