Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture we are all reminded that as Christians, it is our primary objective in life to love, and not just any kind of love, but love in a selfless way, to love God with all of our might and strength, and to give of ourselves with love to one another, and not to be selfish and haughty, but rather place ourselves in the way of God’s love.
In our first reading today, we heard St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Corinth reminding all of them of the importance of love to all of them, and how love is at the core of the Christian tenet, virtues and teaching. He highlighted how without love, then no matter whatever gifts and talents, graces and abilities we have received, then everything is meaningless.
And the Apostle also highlighted that true love is pure, and is truly wonderful, and that love is never selfish and is about caring and truly being attentive and concerned about the needs of others. St. Paul essentially exhorted all the faithful to follow the examples of the Lord and His Apostles in love, in being generous in giving and in the sharing of that love, rather than following the selfish ways of the world.
It is by our love that we will be recognised as Christians, as God’s own beloved ones and people, as His followers and those who have lived according to His Law and His ways. That is what is alluded in our Gospel passage today when we heard the Lord speaking about how the people failed to recognise Him and St. John the Baptist. He elaborated how the people looked down and were judgmental against St. John the Baptist because of his appearance, and the same people also judged against the Lord because He interacted and reached out to sinners.
All of these were caused by their lack of love, their inability to appreciate God’s love and all that He has done for the sake of us all mankind. They were too engrossed and preoccupied in themselves that they have ended up being blinded to the truth and the love of God. That is precisely why, despite their intelligence and great power, but without love, all these were of no use, as these referred to many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who criticised St. John the Baptist and the Lord, being considered the most well-educated and influential among the Jews.
It was those who did not hold on to their pride and ego, their preconceived notion of superiority that came to believe the Lord wholeheartedly and genuinely, for they perceived God’s love in the way that those who had allowed their pride and desires to get the better of them could not. They saw the Lord and all that He had done for the sake of His people, and came to believe in Him not just through words but also through His loving actions.
Meanwhile, the Lord often rebuked the Pharisees and also warned those who listened to Him, not to follow the examples of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who did not follow the Law in the manner that they should have. He told them to listen to these teachers of the faith, but not to follow their examples, as their actions and deeds, their behaviours were done in order to satisfy their own personal desires and greed, and hence, they were misguided and in turn, could misguide others in their journey towards God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, once again, today’s set of Scripture readings remind us that the Lord has called us to be His faithful witnesses in all things and in all occasions, and the best way for us to do that, is to be His witnesses of love, that is by showing love in each and every one of our daily lives’ actions, being genuine in our love and tender care for each other, in the concern we show towards others who are suffering and less fortunate than us.
And perhaps we can learn a lot and be inspired by the examples set by today’s two great saints, whose lives had been exemplary and filled with God’s love. Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian were holy servants of God who dedicated their lives to the service of God and for the love of Him and their fellow brethren. Both were martyrs who died under great persecution, firm in their faith and unwilling to abandon the Lord Whom they had served so faithfully.
Pope St. Cornelius was elected as Supreme Pontiff, Pope and Successor of St. Peter the Apostle as the Vicar of Christ at a time when the Church was undergoing great tumult and period of great challenges, both from outside the Church as well as from within the Church itself. The Church was facing great persecutions from the Roman Emperors and their government authority officials, and at the same time, the Church was bitterly divided by those who then supported a charismatic Novatian, an influential priest who was then opposed by those like Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian.
Novatian led those who took a hardline stance on those Christians, known as lapsi or lapsed, because they abandoned their faith in the midst of persecution, either by offering sacrifices to the pagan idols and the Emperor or by publicly renouncing their faith and embracing back paganism once again. Thus, Novatian was the leader of the faction who argued that under no circumstances at all that those who have voluntarily left the faith or even those who had been forced to do so, would be allowed to return to the Church.
But Pope St. Pontian and St. Cyprian were those who argued that those who have lapsed and abandoned the faith, for various reasons and circumstances, and then showed sincere desire to repent and the commitment to be a dedicated Christian once again, then that person can be readmitted to the Church once again. Novatian and his followers argued that the Church did not have the authority to do so, and only God can judge the sinner, but they forgot that God’s love is so great that, if a sinner were to repent sincerely, he will still be forgiven.
And they had also forgotten that the Lord had granted the authority to His Church, the keys of the kingdom of Heaven to bind and loosen souls, and therefore the authority to forgive sins as the Lord Himself had explicitly granted to His Apostles, and from them to their successors, to all the ordained priests of the Lord. Any attempts to exclude permanently anyone from the Lord’s grace and salvation, is in fact a great sin for those who did so against God and against those whom they tried to exclude and cast out.
That is why Pope St. Cornelius and St. Pontian tried very hard and went up against all those supporters of Novatian who held that elitist, erroneous and dangerous view of self-righteousness and exclusion of those who could have been saved. They laboured hard to restore unity in the Church and also to reach out to all those who have been separated from the Church, reconcile the people on the two sides of the schism caused by Novatian and his supporters.
In the end, they were persecuted and remained faithful, and under the great persecutions of Christians mentioned earlier, both Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian were martyred for their faith, and suffered great trials and pains during all these. Yet, we all certainly remember the love and zeal with which they had dedicated themselves to God and to their fellow brethren, showing with concrete action the love of God, by fighting for the cause of those who believe in the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all turn towards God, inspired anew by Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, that we may grow ever stronger in faith in Him and grow ever deeper in our love, commitment and dedication to serve Him and glorify Him by our every actions, in each and every moments of our lives. May God be with us always, at every stage of this journey of faith we have through life. Amen.