Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian. These 2 saints were friends and allies who lived in the 3rd century and were martyred during the persecutions brought about by the Roman emperors.
Cornelius was elected pope in 251. 2 years later, in 253, during the persecutions of Decius, he was arrested, banished, and later died in exile.
Cyprian was a Bishop during this same time period. In 257, during the persecutions of Valerius, he was arrested, banished and condemned to death.
It is important to remember that, at this time, the official religion of the Roman Empire was a cult based on paganism. Christianity was outlawed and considered an illegal religion for almost 300 years. Constantine the Great was the 1st Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. It was not until Constantine issued The Edict of Milan in 313 that Christians were allowed to follow their faith without oppression.
Why would someone agree to serve as a leader, such as a Pope or a Bishop, of a persecuted religion and risk the penalty of death? The answer lies in the fact that the eyewitness account of the Resurrection of the Apostles must have been so powerful that they convinced others who passionately convinced others who passionately convinced others for 3 centuries.
Cornelius and Cyprian were recipients of this legacy. They prove that Christianity is not a hoax. No human person would undergo pain, suffering and death for a fraudulent way of life 250 years after the execution of the leader of that way of life.
Cornelius and Cyprian prove that Christianity is more than a philosophy and more than a series of dogmas, customs and traditions. Who would undergo pain, suffering and death for a philosophy, a dogma or a tradition?
In the face of ridicule, persecution and death, Cornelius and Cyprian were convinced and believed in the depth of their being that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that, in his name, we live forever.
Our faith is not about things. At the core of our faith is belief and trust in a person. A relationship with a divine person lies at the heart of our faith.
Therefore, despite the trials and adversities Cornelius and Cyprian faced, they remained firm, constant and unwavering in their faith.
Here’s where we can make a link with the concluding sentence of today’s Gospel passage: “Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children”. That’s what Cornelius and Cyprian are! They are “children of wisdom” because of the decisions they made in life and the decisions they made in the face of death.
The invitation for us this afternoon is to accept Cornelius and Cyprian as our spiritual role models. When obstacles and hardships come, we ought to show that we are the “children of wisdom” by remaining strong and steadfast in our faith.
The key message for this day is the same as the one I mentioned last Wednesday when we were reflecting on the 4th beatitude and the 4th woe from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. To be a disciple of Jesus is to remain faithful to the Gospel at all times – both when it is convenient and popular as well as when it is inconvenient and unpopular. There will be times when our commitment to Jesus will lead us to reject values which our culture views as legitimate. Consequently, we may be ridiculed, despised and excluded by others, even by those whom we love.
Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, a Greek Orthodox priest from Tampa Florida, made these comments: “A wise priest once told me, if you never get persecuted for your faith, you have to wonder how strong your faith or Christian witness is. Because there will come a moment (or probably more than one) where you’ll have to stand up for Christ and where being a Christian is going to cost you something. It cost Christ His life. It will cost each Christian something. The challenge is to remain authentic in the face of “persecution,” and to remain steadfast and faithful even when it’s not popular”.
Fr. Stavros concludes his reflection by saying: “Being an authentic Christian won’t always make us friends. However, it will lead to an eternal reward—this is our hope!” This is the hope that inspired the lives of Cornelius and Cyprian.
As our Mass continues, let us ask God to help us to be like Cornelius and Cyprian – to be “children of wisdom” who witness unreservedly to the values of the Gospel even in trying circumstances.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
September 16, 2020