Daily Reflection
September 16th, 2003
Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Theology Department
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Memorial of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian
1 Timothy 3:1-13
Psalm 101:1-2, 2-3, 5, 6
Luke 7:11-17

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. 

Unity and forgiveness are worthy teachings from any bishop.  But a bishop, or any faith leader, is most believable if they practice what they preach – which is the focus of the first reading from today’s Mass.  It would be easy for us to point fingers at those in ordained ministry and say “pay attention!” but the simple truth is that the virtues of personal dignity, temperance, gentleness, graciousness, generosity, patience and fidelity that are called for are equally required by parents who want to guide their children to happiness, teachers who want to lead their students to wisdom and political leaders who want to bring voters to world-saving choices.  Religious, secular, academic, business, media and governmental leaders could benefit well from pondering the character requirements this text lays down for leadership. 

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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