Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Are we like Fortunatus or Cyprian?

A Homily for
Saints Cornelius, Pope, 
and Cyprian, Bishop, 
Martyrs

I want to be God.  And I’m not alone.  Everybody does.  But, failing that, I want to be Emperor of all the world.  Or at least King of the world.  Or, President.  Or something, where everyone will do everything I tell them to.

I want to sit upon my royal throne and cast down edicts and decrees, which my faithful acolytes will implement gratefully.

Such lust for power is, I’m afraid, very much a part of the human condition.  Even though Saint Paul begs to differ: It cannot be like that among you, he says…no, the Body into which you have been baptized is something quite different than a child’s game of king of the hill.

In this body, he says, there are many parts: some Apostles or Bishops, some prophets, some teachers, some who work mighty deeds (maybe I’d like that one?), some who heal, some who speak in tongues, some who interpret tongues, etc. etc.

And each of these parts build up the body, making use of their unique charisms and competencies.  But the problem comes when one part of the body fails to recognize the role of another part and wants to Lord it over all the others parts as well.

Such was the case with Novatian and Fortunatus who declared themselves Bishops of Rome and Carthage during the persecutions of the early third century.  They didn’t like what Pope Cornelius and Bishop Cyprian, the rightful Bishops, were preaching.  So they just got their friends together and had themselves elected as anti-pope and anti-episcopus.

And while Cornelius and Cyprian were supported by local Councils of Bishops, the pretenders to their episcopal sees still refused to recognize that ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia: that God chose their Bishops and that the teaching of these divinely chosen men must be received by every loyal son of the Church with humility and joy.

It’s just that simple.  Easy?  No.  For there will be times when you, like Novatian and Fortunatus, will find a teaching hard to understand, or unpopular with the flock to whom you will be called to preach it.  But God has not called you to take the easy road…you’ve been put on the narrow road, like those brothers of ours who will stand in the sanctuary in not a few months will profess these words in preparation for ordination:

With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.

So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.

Tough words.  Words which Novatian and Fortunatus never professed.  Words which both Cornelius and Cyprian professed unto death.