"I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me. Looking intently into it, I observed and saw the four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. I also heard a voice say to me, 'Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.'
If Jesus spoke of his mission to gentiles before he was crucified, his disciples obviously missed it. They were eager to preach the Gospel "to the ends of the earth" but not necessarily to those who had no expectation of a Jewish messiah. The gospels give little indication of such a plan; in the Acts of the Apostles it suddenly appears as a major change of direction. The "end of the earth" meant everyone.Americans face the same challenge today. Although America is a composite of many different nationalities drawn from five major continents -- Antarctica excepted -- nativists suppose their privilege should not be shared. But, like most valuable things, if freedom is not shared, it's worthless.
The early Church, with the superior guidance of the Holy Spirit, soon realized she could not hoard communion with Jesus. Our is not a mystery religion restricted to the elect. If we do not invite everyone to know the Lord, faith becomes as useless as a baseball in January.
But it took some hard persuading to bring Saint Peter around to that. In today's first reading we learn of the vision/audition which occurred once and was repeated twice before he knew the Lord was serious. He had never eaten gentile food; why would belief in Jesus change that? Does one's faith really have anything to say about one's diet? Isn't that like "a private matter?"
But Peter and his people were being sent to the whole world and for all time. They could not enjoy communion with many different nations if they refused to eat their food. Friendship, a necessary component of communion, means we eat together. It means we should not carry our own familiar foods to foreign places. Louisianans need not eat okra in Oregon; Minnesotans can forget about Tater Tots in Italy.
I knew a friar who found himself eating in a certain foreign village. The hostess very graciously and proudly placed a platter of meat in front of him. The poor family rarely ate meat but the friar guest was a special occasion. As the dish struck the table the cloud of flies lifted for a moment, then settled back onto it like a buzzing blanket. He swallowed his gorge and accepted her marvelous hospitality.
The Christian does not dare to let scruples, fetishes or fastidiousness hinder the Holy Spirit. Our mission is to announce Jesus of Nazareth as Lord and Messiah. We're already asking a lot, as Saint Paul discovered when he told the Athenians about Jesus' rising from the dead. If they can swallow that, we can swallow their four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky.