St. Cornelius — A Centurion Who Prayed to God Constantly

Oct. 20 is the day that honors St. Cornelius — just four days following the memorial of another centurion saint, Longinus.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, “The Vision of Cornelius the Centurion,” 1664
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, “The Vision of Cornelius the Centurion,” 1664 (photo: Public Domain)

Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, I was at prayer in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling robes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your almsgiving remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter.’” (Acts 10:30–32)

The biblical events surrounding St. Cornelius hallmark a significant turning point within the early formation of Christianity. Up until the baptism of this Roman centurion, it was believed by many that Jesus had come for the Jewish people alone. Cornelius was a Gentile who had tremendous respect for the Jewish faith — with his household following the same attitude. He gave generously to the Jewish people and spent much time in prayer.

One day, this faith-filled man had a startling vision of an angel. This angel announced to Cornelius that his prayers and kind heart had been noticed by God. The angel directed Cornelius to send for Peter, who was in Joppa, a city 30 miles or so down the Mediterranean coast from Cornelius’s home in Caesarea.

While Cornelius’s messengers were traveling to Joppa, Peter had a vision too. Peter’s vision showed animals of the earth and sky engulfed under a large sheet. A voice commanded Peter to eat of these animals. The apostle was confused, because he saw various animals in the group that were considered to be “unclean” according to Mosaic Law. However, the voice made it clear that God had purified these animals.

While Peter was pondering the meaning of the curious revelation, Cornelius’s messengers arrived. The Spirit told the apostle to accompany the men to Caesarea to see Cornelius. When Peter arrived, he saw Cornelius with his family and some friends gathered together.

The Roman centurion, overwhelmed at the sight of Peter, fell to the apostle’s feet. The astonished Peter insisted that Cornelius rise, not wanting to be treated as if divine. As the two men conversed, Peter began to more fully grasp the meaning of his vision. The experience helped Peter to realize how through Jesus, God had opened the door to “whoever fears him and acts uprightly.” The Holy Spirit then fell upon Cornelius, his family and friends. With a heart full of faith and wonder, Peter had the whole group of Gentiles baptized.

 

Nine Days with St. Cornelius

Oct. 20 is the day that honors St. Cornelius — just four days following the memorial of another centurion saint, St. Longinus. St. Cornelius’ story is rich in detail: visions, angels, concurrences, an extraordinary visit from Peter, etc. Consider grabbing your Bible and spending nine days delving into St. Cornelius’ story. See how this God-fearing warrior Gentile became a Christian. As his story unfolds, scribble down some thoughts and inspirations that strike you. And ask St. Cornelius to pray for any special intentions.

  • Day 1) Acts 10:1–8
  • Day 2) Acts 10:9–16
  • Day 3) Acts 10:17–23a
  • Day 4) Acts 10:23b–29
  • Day 5) Acts 10:30–3
  • Day 6) Acts 10:34–43
  • Day 7) Acts 10:44–49
  • Day 8) Acts 11:1–18
  • Day 9) Leviticus 11:1–47
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Mississippi River are seen from East St. Louis, Illinois, on June 27. Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on June 24, abortion is now banned in Missouri. The nearest clinics to St. Louis are across the river in Illinois, including a Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights that was opened in 2019 in anticipation of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Welcome to Post-Roe America

Every year on the anniversary of Dobbs, Catholics will be able to deepen their understanding of God’s role in the conception of every child, his care for the child’s growth, his knowing each by name, and the future for which he has given each child life.