Acts 12:1-19 A new wave of persecution arose, but this time the authorities did not spare the Apostles. James the Greater, brother of John, was the first of the Apostles to be martyred, and Peter was imprisoned. He narrowly escaped the same fate due to the prayers of the faithful to God who sent an angel. (CCC 334, 946-948, 2636)
Ch 12:2 With the sword: Probably a beheading, which at the time was one form of capital punishment used in Rome. (CCC 2267)
Ch12:3 Days of Unleavened Bread: A Jewish feast that begins at Passover and continues for a week. Jews would eat only unleavened bread for those seven days as a reminder that just as yeast of leaven permeates the entire dough, sin can grow and corrupt everyone and everything it touches. (CCC 1334)
Ch 12:5 The first Christians recognized prayer as a powerful means to reach holiness and a source of strength in the face of persecution. Their prayers were answered in the miraculous delivery of Peter. (CCC 2636)
Ch 12:12 The house of Mary: In the early Church, Christians celebrated the Eucharist on Sundays and met for prayer in private homes. In the present case, it was in the home of Mary, mother of John Mark. (CCC 1342)
Ch 12:15 It is his angel: This statement may reflect the Christian belief in guardian angels, who are spirits assigned by God to guide and protect a particular person throughout his or her life. (CCC 336)
Ch 12:20-23 Herod Agrippa I sinned by not protesting when the crowd proclaimed him a deity. The historian Josephus confirmed that the king died a few days after the ceremonies in question AD 44. This Herod is the grandson of Herod the Great, who reigned at the time of the Birth of Christ and was related also to Herod Antipas, who interrogated Christ before he was sentenced to death. (CCC 423)
Ch 12:24-25 John Mark, who became one of Paul’s missionary companions, is the Mark who is credited as the author of the second Gospel. (CCC 120)
1 Corinthians 5:1-8 Paul, in beginning a series of instructions on conscience and the moral law, called for the excommunication of a man living in an incestuous relationship. The penalty of excommunication seeks the repentance of the sinner and the salvation of the individual’s soul. Incest-sexual relations between family members or in-laws within a degree that prohibits marriage between them-violated both the Law of Moses (cf. Dt 22:30) and Roman law. It is a grave sin that destroys the proper family relationship intended by God.
You are arrogant: The Christians did not exclude the perpetrator from their community. For this reason, Paul scolded them for their excessive tolerance.
I have already pronounced judgment: Paul ordered the excommunication in absentia.
Deliver this man to Satan: In being discharged from the Church, the man was cut off from both the Sacraments, the source of grace, and the community. The hope was to bring the individual to repentance. (CCC 1463, 2388-2389)
Ch 5:6-8 The teachings of the Apostles and the early Church constantly placed Christ as the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament. Here, Paul alluded to Passover traditions that found their ultimate meaning in the Redemption of Christ and his Eucharistic Sacrifice. At Passover, which celebrated the liberation of Israel from enslavement by Egypt, the Jewish people offered and feasted on a lamb and on unleavened bread as God had directed them at the first Passover.
Paschal lamb: Paul used this title for Christ because he, like the Passover lamb, was sacrificed and shed blood for our redemption. Just as the Jews consumed the lamb at Passover, the faithful consume the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Just as the Jews removed yeast from their houses for the Feast of Azymes, or Unleavened Bread, Christians are to remove all sin from their midst. For this reason, in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, unleavened bread is used for the Eucharistic sacrifice. (CCC 129, 608, 610, 613, 1971)
Ch 5:7-8 Leaven permeates flour, makes bread rise, and enhances its flavor. A sinful heart likewise permeates the human person. Removing the leaven of sin is necessary in order to renew the heart and effect conversion. (CCC 928-930, 940)
Ch 5:9-13 This passage apparently is meant to clear up a misconception from an earlier letter from Paul in which he advised the Corinthians “not to associate with immoral men.” He clarified that he meant for them not to tolerate immorality among fellow Christians and to remove them from the community. Non Believers were not expected to be saints, and it was impossible not to be involved with them in a diverse society such as Corinth. Christians also had an obligation to reach out to nonbelievers in hopes of converting them to the Faith. However, when a baptized Christian persisted in a scandalous sin that presented a danger to the souls of believers, Paul instructed the local Church to excommunicate the individual. (CCC 1470, 1971)
Ch 6:1-11 The Jews in the time of Christ had their own court system to handle disputes among themselves without resorting to the Roman authorities. Christ himself was tried by the Jewish authorities as well as by the Roman authorities. Paul cautioned the Christians at Corinth from taking their disagreements to a civil court; believers should be able to resolve their disputes amicably among themselves (cf. Mt 18:15-17). Exposing their disagreements to nonbelievers reflected poorly on the Christian faithful. It would be better to suffer an injustice silently than to make a spectacle of the Christian community. (CCC 823-826)
Ch 6:3 We are to judge angels: In Heaven, the just will reign with Christ and, thus, will share in his judgment upon humanity and even upon those angelic beings who have fallen from grace and try to undermine Christ’s redemptive work.
Ch 6:9-10 Paul listed those vices that exclude from salvation so as to remind the Corinthians not to fall back to their former, pagan ways.
Adulterers: Committing sexual acts with someone other than one’s spouse is always a grave offense against God.
Homosexuals: The Greek malakoi and arsenokoitai might be translated as “male prostitutes” and “homosexuals.” The prohibition is for homosexual acts rather than simply same-sex attraction. The Church makes a similar distinction. Homosexual inclinations or tendencies are intrinsically disordered but not sinful in themselves; homosexual acts, however, are gravely disordered and constitute mortal sin. The Church offers compassion for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and encouragement in their efforts to live chaste lives. (CCC 1852, 2357-2359, 2380-2381, 2450)
Ch 6:11 In Baptism a person has his or her sins forgiven and receives sanctification by the Holy Spirit by means of sanctifying grace. The baptized “put on Christ,” meaning that we enter into communion with him in such a way that we are grafted onto the life of Christ (cf. Gal 3:27).
Spirit of our God: This is another name for the Holy Spirit, one of several that Paul uses in his letters. (CCC 693, 1227, 1452, 1695, 2813)
Ch 6:12-20 Some in the Corinthian community may have misunderstood Paul’s teaching on justification and the Law. Believing they were free from the yoke of the Law, they transgressed the Commandments by engaging in immoral sexual conduct. Once we are baptized, however, our bodies are no longer our own, but we become members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Through the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism, we become temples of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1004, 1421, 1691, 1694-1695, 1992)
Ch 6:12 All things are lawful for me: An alternate explanation for this attitude among some Corinthians was the influence of the Greek philosophy of mind-body dualism, which considered the mind or person as distinct from his or her physical body. A somewhat extreme perspective would suggest that sexual immorality, gluttony, and drunkenness were lawful because they involve the physical body and not the mind. This is in opposition to the teaching of Christ and his Church, which views the human person as an intimate union of body and soul. (CCC 365, 382, 1700-1709, 1742)
Ch 6:13 Paul compared the relationship of Christ and our bodies to a marriage covenant. Just as in marriage the bodies of husband and wife belong to one another, our bodies belong to Christ, making sexual impurity a form of infidelity to him. The Church herself is called the Bride of Christ, the “spotless bride of the spotless lamb.” (CCC 796, 989, 1004)
Ch 6:15 Cult prostitution was common in pagan worship at that time. Besides being a grave violation of the sacredness of human sexuality, prostitution offends human dignity by turning a person into a mere object for sexual pleasure and exploitation. (CCC 2355)
Ch 6:16-18 In marriage, the sexual act serves as the language of the body expressing the one flesh union between a husband and a wife. The Church is called the Bride of Christ, and our union with him is strengthened when we receive Holy Communion. (CCC 364, 1643, 1695, 2355)
Ch 6:19-20 Your body is a temple: Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Our soul, which is spiritual, gives life to the body, forming a unity, which is the human person. Although separated by death, body and soul are reunited at the resurrection of the dead.
Bought with a price: Through his Death and Resurrection, Christ purchased our redemption and salvation. (CCC 1004, 1197, 1269, 1709)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Peter in Rome
King Herod Agrippa has James killed (Acts 12:1-2) and arrests Peter, determined to kill him after the Passover feast ends and its sea of pilgrims recedes.
But an angel delivers Peter, and he escapes from Jerusalem and makes his way to Caesarea, where he has high-placed friends, namely, Cornelius the centurion (Acts 12:19).
Luke does not tell us any more about Peter’s journey, but according to witnesses of the early Church Peter made his way to Rome, which makes sense given that he was a particular target in Jerusalem.
Cornelius was from an Italian Cohort (Acts 10:1), and, as a result, would have had friends and connections in Rome.
Peter likely stayed in Caesarea until Cornelius could send him off to Rome with a list of contacts and letters of recommendation.
Peter probably knew Jewish converts in Rome since among those present at Pentecost were “visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (Acts 2:10).
According to tradition, Peter was hosted by the Roman senator Pudens, whose sons and daughter, St. Pudentiana, became famous Christians in the early Church and whose residence became an important house church.
Paul, later writing to Timothy from Rome, sent greetings from Pudens and Linus, the future papal successor to Peter (2 Tm 4:21).
To this day one can visit the church of St. Pudentiana, which has the oldest mosaics of any church in Rome, and tour the ruins of Senator Pudens’ house below the church, as well as view the ancient mosaic over the altar depicting Peter and Paul in senatorial robes, the kind that Pudens would have worn.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul also hints at Peter’s presence in Rome.
Paul notes that some in the Corinthian community claimed to belong to the party of Peter (1 Cor 1:12), a claim that makes sense only if they were discipled by Peter, but we know that Peter had not been in Corinth.
However, the Corinthian community included many Christian Jews, like Prisca and Aquila, who fled Rome when Claudius expelled the Jews in A.D. 49.
Thus, it makes historical sense that some of these Christian Jews knew and were discipled by Peter in Rome prior to fleeing to Corinth.
Given Scripture and Tradition, it is clear that Providence led Peter to baptize the first Gentile convert, Cornelius; and that same Providence allowed Cornelius to shelter Peter when Herod Agrippa sought Peter’s life and to send Peter off to Rome, where he could arrange for him to meet friends and key contacts, one of whom may have been senator Pudens.
Peter went to the capital of the Roman Empire and proclaimed the gospel, just as Jonah went to Nineveh, and found the kind of reception that Jonah did among his gentile audience.
When we read the story of Peter at Joppa in light of the earlier story of Jonah at Joppa, the patterns of repetition sound echoes that point to the larger purposes of Providence.
As persecution scatters the followers of Jesus into Judea and Samaria and beyond, Saul (who later goes by the name Paul) seeks to track them down and stamp out all vestiges of the movement.
The Christians flee to many villages and cities, but it is Damascus where Saul puts his focus (Acts 9).
Damascus was the gateway to the east, and according to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, Damascus had a significant Jewish population.
Only a small remnant of the Jewish population exiled in Babylon returned with Ezra and Nehemiah, leaving a large Jewish population dwelling east of Damascus, in present-day Iraq and Iran.
Saul realizes that if this new movement takes root in Damascus, it can spread from there into the numerous Jewish communities further east.
Thus, Saul is determined to stop the Christian missionaries at Damascus.
The irony, of course, is that it is the very one sent to stop the “Way,” the early name for the Christians, who ends up proclaiming Jesus throughout the city of Damascus.
Although artists such as Caravaggio depict Saul falling off his horse at his conversion on the road to Damascus, no horse is mentioned in Acts.
There is a flash of sudden light and a voice from heaven says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).
When Saul asks who is speaking, the answer is more astonishing than the bright light: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5).
Jesus had already died, risen, and ascended to heaven, but the voice is clear: it is Jesus that Saul persecutes when he persecutes Christian men and women.
Saul is blinded from the encounter.
Those with him lead Saul by the hand to Damascus, and for the next three days, Saul neither eats nor drinks.
Saul thought that he was zealously serving God and is astonished to discover that he has been opposing him.
In this blinding realization, Saul would have heard an historical echo from the life of Israel’s first king, Saul, who notoriously persecuted the Lord’s anointed, David.
Now Saul, the persecutor of Christians, realizes that he, like his namesake king, has persecuted the Lord’s anointed, Jesus the son of David.
Saul realizes that salvation history has been replayed in a profound way and that everything he was fighting for is, in fact, against God.
God sends one of his disciples, Ananias, to heal Saul.
Immediately, something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes, and his sight is restored.
This description of blindness recalls the blinding of Tobit, who was also blinded but had his sight restored by God’s direct intervention.
Perhaps Saul recalled Tobit’s prayer that all nations would come to Jerusalem to worship the one true God?
Indeed, Jesus’ message to Saul through Ananias is that he would bear Jesus’ name before the Gentiles, fulfilling the prayerful hope of Tobit. Ananias also tells Saul that he will suffer much for the sake of Jesus’ name.
In fact, Saul (St. Paul) will suffer repeated imprisonments, be five times flogged forty lashes less one, be three times beaten with rods, be three times shipwrecked, and even be stoned and left for dead, among many other hardships (2 Cor 11:23-29).
In this there is a certain reaping of what Saul sowed in overseeing the stoning of Stephen and imprisoning many Christians.
Yet, Saul’s suffering will, as he later describes it to the Colossians, “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
As Saul sits blinded by the light of Christ, he begins to grasp a deeper revelation of who Jesus is, an insight that profoundly shapes Paul’s understanding of the Church.
Reflecting on Jesus’ question, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul realizes that Jesus identifies himself with his disciples.
This realization infuses Saul’s understanding of the mystical meaning of baptism, as he will later write to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom 6:3-5)
Baptism binds the Christian to Christ in a deep and mystical union, one St. Paul often refers to as being “in Christ” (Rom 6:11, 8:1; Gal 2:4).
This identification between Christ and the Christian as a result of baptism, such that what happens to a disciple of Jesus can be said to happen to Jesus himself, is something that Paul (Saul) will teach the early Christians under the description of the Church as the Body of Christ.
For Paul, this is no mere metaphor; it is a sacramental and metaphysical reality.
Paul will teach the Corinthians that there should be no divisions (literally, schisms) among them since they are the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12).
Interestingly, Paul first recounts that the Corinthians receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist (1 Cor 11) before he teaches that they are the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12).
The point is simple but profound: the unity between the Christian and Christ is sacramental, stemming from both baptism and Eucharist, which are at the heart of being the Body of Christ, the Church.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)