Summary: To get the joy of Christ, we have to be willing to imitate Him in His life and even in His death.
What are the commandments of Jesus that we are supposed to keep, and why are they important? We have to start with the understanding that God is good, and never evil. He loves us, and wants only good for us. He is all-benevolent. St. John tells us: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.” God loves us, as Pope Benedict used to say, to His own detriment. He literally loved us to death on Calvary. When we love God, or another human being, we literally cannot set a limit on what we do to demonstrate that love.
John learned this from Jesus. At the Last Supper, Our Lord told John and the others, “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.” And right after that, He promised us that if we live like that, we will know the full joy that was in Christ. Then He gives the zinger: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” To get the joy of Christ, we have to be willing to imitate Him in His life and even in His death. Not all of us are called to martyrdom, but to be authentic disciples of Jesus, we have to be ready for that ultimate cost of our discipleship.
Let’s think for a moment about this Roman officer, Cornelius. We need to step back in the book of Acts to get the context of today’s tale. Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God.” That’s quite a curriculum vitae, isn’t it. He was just the opposite of what people thought Romans to be. He had a vision halfway through an afternoon. An angel told him to send for Simon Peter in Joppa, some 39 miles away. The very next day, before the messengers arrived, Peter himself had a vision. Three times a great sheet came down with all kinds of critters, mammals, reptiles, birds. A voice told Peter to kill and eat them, but there were unclean animals among them and Peter refused. Three times. (Peter wasn’t all that sharp.) The voice said “what God has cleansed, you must not call profane.” Then Cornelius’s emissaries arrived, asked for Peter to go with them, and he went. Once he arrived at the family of Cornelius, all he had time to say was “but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Cornelius and his whole family and friends showed evidence of being baptized with the Holy Spirit, probably by prophesying and praying in tongues. Peter wasn’t too dense to realize that this was proof God was making them clean, so he had them baptized, not with the baptism of John showing repentance, but with the baptism of Jesus that effected forgiveness of all their sins.
So the price Peter had to pay for his discipleship that day, clearly, was baptizing the first Gentile converts. He had to pay steeper prices as he continued his walk toward perfect union with the Trinity, and ultimately he gave it all, crucified upside-down on Vatican hill. This should lead us all to recommit ourselves to walking with Jesus, to spreading His Gospel, and asking for the grace to pay whatever price is demanded.