Saints Cornelius, Pope and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs – Readings

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 125; John 17:11-19

The Gospel reading comes from Jesus’ long discourse at the Last Supper as found in John’s gospel. It is part of the prayer that Jesus makes at the end of the discourse and is the part where he prays for his own disciples. He prays that they may be one as Jesus and his Father are one.

While he was still with them, he protected them, but now that Jesus is preparing to return to his Father, he prays that they, too, may share the joy that Jesus is going to experience. Jesus gave them the ‘word’ of the Father, the message of where true life was to be found and paradoxically, because of this, the world is full of hatred for them. It is because they do not identify with the spirit of the world any more than Jesus himself does.

At the same time, Jesus does not pray that they may be removed from the world, which needs so much to hear their message of life, but only that they be protected from the evil forces which pervade the world. And so Jesus prays that they may be consecrated in truth, the truth that comes from the Father and which has been mediated by Jesus.

And, with this protection, Jesus sends them out into the world in the same way that Jesus himself was sent into the world by the Father:

And, the Word was made flesh and lived among us. (John 1:14)

Cornelius and Cyprian lived in a world of division and hatred, both in the secular world and within the Church itself. They spent their lives bringing the truth of Christ to their world. They were attacked by members of their own Church and eventually fell victims of persecution by the forces of the emperors.

Our Church today still is the object of hatred and derision by anti-religious and secular forces and that is something we should be ready to expect. And it is not a sign that we should escape from that world, but rather stay within it and persevere both in word and action in communicating our message to create a world of love, service and sharing to replace one of hatred, domination and self-seeking.

In the First Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Christians at Corinth, he speaks of the paradox of being a Christian missionary:

We have this treasure in clay jars…

The message of the Gospel and the vision of life that it communicates is a treasure, but it is brought to the world in very fragile vessels, our weak humanity.

We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed…

And, Paul says:

…always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

Paul elaborates on this:

For we who are living are always being handed over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal flesh.

This indeed is the paradox of the Christian witness. The Church finds life and gives life most effectively through those who sacrifice their lives for the Message of the Gospel. We see this happening even in our own time.

It is, of course, the reason we celebrate the memory of such people as we do today in the persons of Cornelius and Cyprian. But we just do not remember and admire. We are also to be inspired and emboldened to follow in their footsteps. It is those who are ready to let go of their human life who will find true life and pass it on to others.

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