|Memorial of Sts. Cornelius
1 Timothy 3:1-13
Psalm 101:1-2, 2-3, 5, 6
In mid-September in the heart of the United States, all the signs of the natural world point to the maturation and harvesting of the growth around us and the waning of both natural light and the heat. The Christian liturgical cycle too, rooted in the ancient agrarian rhythm of nature’s bounty and withdrawal, and based on historical events that occurred in the lives of Israel and Jesus, is preparing believers to face the challenges of spiritual darkness in our lives. The feast of the Holy Cross, celebrated two days ago, serves as a kind of cross-over in the focus and energy of Ordinary Time from ordinary disciple life to a time of warnings about the struggles with the powers of darkness and death inherent in a world that is still not completely converted to God’s Mercy.
The memorial observance of martyrs offers a sound entry into
this period. Today’s memorial acknowledges that following Jesus brings
strife and suffering from at least two sources: the power of government that
disvalues the lives of its own citizens and those of other nations who don’t
support it; and other members of the Christian movement who righteously interpret
the teachings of the Gospel from a univocal and uncompromising certitude.
Cornelius and Cyprian were both elected Bishops during the persecution of
Decius. Both suffered torture and death at the hands of civil administrators
but before they died they also endured significant suffering from the internal
persecution by other Christians who were unhappy with their doctrinal positions
stressing unity in the Church and the necessity for forgiveness of those
who had abandoned the faith under threat of persecution and death.
Often in the last year I had the opportunity to facilitate “listening sessions” for Catholics who were desperately attempting to be reconciled to Church leadership that had violated children, lied to believers, coveted material goods, ignored the needs of loyal priests, and barred the faithful from meeting and talking in their own parish homes. In every case, when the spirit of profound grief and despair hovered over the room, someone would ask how we can possibly recover from these wounds.
Who will save us? The Gospel message for today clearly
reminds us that Jesus can and will bring life from death. As he raised
the son of the widow of Nain, and gave her life and support again, so he
challenges all the places of darkness and death for us – both those within,
and those that surround us. Jesus raises the sons (and daughters) of the
Church from all their forms of death even now. This, finally, is what
Cornelius and Cyprian believed as they faced persecution from fellow Christians
and physical death from their government. It is what we must cling
to as these golden autumn days lead us toward the bitterly cold and barren
days of winter’s death.
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