Today’s commemoration in our calendar is Saint Cornelius the Centurion, whose story is recorded in Acts 10. He was a devout believer in God, but a Gentile. He kept regular “hours” of prayer, and during one of these he received an angelic vision affirming his devotion and almsgiving, that these have risen as “a memorial before God.” As a Gentile, he was separated from God under the Old/Mosaic Covenant, but as he would soon find out, there is a New Covenant that was available to him.
He wasn’t the first Gentile to convert, but he was basically the first Gentile that an Apostle sought out, preached to, and baptized. Acts 10 is sometimes nicknamed “the Gentile Pentecost,” as the Holy Spirit powerfully fell upon the household of Cornelius in the same way that he fell upon the Samaritans in chapter 8 and the Jews in chapter 2.
Like some of the other holy days we’ve noted in the past few weeks, Cornelius’ commemoration is particularly on-point for the Epiphany season. Indeed, we need only look two days behind us, to Candlemas, to be reminded of the great Epiphany promise in Christ: to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of [God’s] people Israel. The light of the Gospel, through the angelic vision and the preaching St. Peter, shone in the household of Cornelius, and he and his family and servants – his entire household – were baptized into the Body of Christ.
If you, or someone you know, are typically skeptical of observing saints’ days, especially the longer list of optional commemorations, keep examples like this in mind. It’s more than just about the man Cornelius. It’s about the light of the Gospel advancing into new territory. It’s about celebrating the fruit of faithful preaching and obedience to God. It’s about affirming the honest search for God. It’s about giving flesh and bones, real life stories, to the great theological topics and truths highlighted in the liturgical calendar year.