Paul began to occupy himself totally with preaching the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. When they opposed him and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your heads! I am clear of responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."
So he left there and went to a house belonging to a man named Titus Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next to a synagogue. Crispus, the synagogue official, came to believe in the Lord along with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians who heard believed and were baptized.
Our first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, describes the stiff resistance the Gospel encountered as Jesus' disciples announced his resurrection from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Given what we have been through since the Second Vatican Council in the mid nineteen sixties, we should have some sympathy for the Jewish people of that age. As Saint Luke tells us, a persecution against the Jews erupted in Italy when the emperor Claudius ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Not many years later, revolution in Judah would leave Jerusalem a smoking ruin with not one stone upon a stone.
Hearing of these threats, Jews throughout the Roman Empire wondered when the authorities would come for them. Some were eager to hear of a Messiah who would save them; but what exactly did Christianity offer? Given its radical openness to gentiles, who could forego circumcision and enter the Church through Baptism, traditionalists opted to stay with that old time religion. It was good enough for mother, and it's good enough for me.
Today's reading describes that moment when our beloved Apostle, not known for unlimited patience, renounced any further efforts to evangelize his own people. A prophet is not without respect except in his own country and among his own people. Educated as he was in the thought of gentile philosophy, he was better prepared by temperament and training to speak to people who were not Jews. On that fateful day, Paul went to stay with a gentile "worshiper of God," Titus Justus. He was not dissuaded even by the conversion of Crispus, an important synagogue official.
With that decision the true nature of faith appeared more clearly. No one is born to it. They might be born in a Christian or Catholic household. They might be educated in the best religious schools; their sensibilities might be governed by a religious culture; but, even yet, they must accept the particular call of discipleship.
In the 1960's, when Father Urban Wagner founded our retreat house, he wined and dined leading women and men from several Minnesota parishes, each of whom recruited fifty of their nearest and dearest friends to make a weekend retreat. Late into the evening, in the monastic silence of this new experiment, you could hear the cards shuffled and the ice clink; you could smell cigarette smoke as you passed through the halls. Many people ran with the crowd, participated, and enjoyed the companionship; but they could not take the challenge of faith very seriously.
Forty years later, when I directed the retreat house, times had changed. Catholicism had become counter-cultural and "peculiar." Today's culture erodes marriage and family life, and destroys neighborhoods. Many are afraid to leave their homes to join a group of strangers for a weekend; they fear meeting "conservatives" or "liberals." The style and message of the worship might not be to their tastes. In this more restrictive age, faith-filled parish leaders can bring only a few trustworthy friends on retreat. They are more sincere in their practice but far fewer.
I read an article recently discussing the possibility of artificial intelligence; the author wondered when and if we might someday create a "person" built of computer chips, quantum mechanics and algorithms. I don't think so. We don't even know how to define honesty, faith or integrity; we cannot determine which marriage will last and which priest will stay the course. We can only believe that God is faithful; he is there for us.