In the middle of the third century, the Church was still being persecuted. The fierce persecution of the Emperor Decius claimed the life of Pope St. Fabian, and the Church was without a pope for nearly a year when Cornelius was elected in 251.
Bishop Cyprian of Carthage in Africa greatly encouraged Pope Cornelius by reminding him that during the present persecution in Rome not a single Christian had given up the faith. St. Cyprian’s writings explain the love that Christians should have for the Church.
Pope Cornelius died in exile in September 253, and because he suffered so much as pope, he is considered a martyr. St. Cyprian died five years later; he was beheaded at Carthage on September 14, 258. Together they share a feast day to remind us of the unity of the Church.
On this their feast let us ask these two martyrs to help us grow in our love for the Church.
Many people rejected both Our Lord’s teaching and the teaching of John the Baptist. Nothing seemed to suit them. These were the people Our Lord likened to children who are difficult to please, not happy about anything. When John lived simply and preached a message of repentance, they considered him too severe and demanding. And when Our Lord ate with sinners and outcasts and showed them mercy and friendship, they dismissed him as being too easy on people.
Some Jews had their own preconceived ideas of what the Messiah was to be like, and Our Lord didn’t fit their expectations. Locked into their own view of things, those who had the opportunity to know Jesus actually didn’t want to recognize him or welcome God’s action through him. They held onto their own judgments and their own standpoint, just as obstinate children do. As a result, they missed out on receiving his touch.
Christians often act the same way today. You come across them in every parish. People who have already decided just how much God can ask of them and have closed their minds to anything more. They often allow a good relationship to be ruined because they won’t give up a strongly held opinion of little importance. Perhaps they don’t give their spouse a chance to prove he or she has changed because they won’t accept an apology. They are those who judge their parish priest harshly because of some statement he has made in a homily. How many opportunities have been missed to make a new friend because we didn’t like the way someone dressed?
When we close ourselves off to people or dismiss them on the basis of our preconceptions, mistaken judgments, and prejudices, not only do we make them suffer, but we suffer as well. Our Lord recognized the hardness of heart of those who were opposed to him, and yet he knew that God’s wisdom would ultimately prove its validity in the lives of those who embraced it. And so let us ask the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts and free us from any prejudices and misconceptions that bind us up. Let us seek the Lord daily for his wisdom so that we can know his life in us.