HOMILY WEEK 24 04 – Year I
Love, Faith, Purity, Repentance and Forgiveness:
Memorial of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian
(1 Tm 4:12-16; Ps 111; Lk 7:36-50)
Five key words describe and sum up the readings today: love, faith, purity, repentance and forgiveness.
In the first reading, St. Paul provides interesting advice to a young bishop, Timothy: Love, have faith, be pure, encourage, promote the Word of God, and on top of all that, be a teacher.
The focus in the gospel is on repentance and forgiveness. This is a classic example of Jesus teaching and healing. The lesson is that those who have been forgiven much have received great love and can then show great love. To repent is to receive love. To forgive is to love. For some, mercy is the highest virtue.
Pope Francis and his year of mercy fits right in with these readings. So too does Walter Kasper’s book Mercy. He also considers mercy and forgiveness to be the greatest virtue, far outshining all others.
Like Timothy, we are encouraged to love, have faith, be pure, and forgive anyone who has hurt us in any way, as well as ask for forgiveness from anyone we have hurt, and we will be like the woman in the gospel, showing much love because we have been forgiven much.
There is a chilling and telling comparison in this gospel. On the one hand, the Pharisee hosting Jesus, who certainly is religious, dutiful, pious and even prayerful, reveals himself at a deeper level to be hard, judgmental, unforgiving, lacking in compassion and critical of Jesus. The woman who obviously is a sinner, on the other hand, is repentant, weeping tears of sorrow and contrition, believes in Jesus and his compassion, is receiving his forgiveness and expresses her gratitude with an extravagant and even sensuous gesture. We are left with a soul-stirring question – which of these two most resembles us? Obviously, if it is the Pharisee, we have some inner work to do.
Today we are invited to honor Saints Cornelius and Cyprian. When Cornelius was elected pope during the Decian persecution (250-51), the Roman See had been vacant for many months following the martyrdom of the previous pope, Fabian. A priest name Novatian tried to usurp Cornelius’ place as bishop of Rome. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, supported Cornelius, his friend and ally, and the teaching of Novatian was condemned in a synod. In 253, under renewed persecution, Cornelius was arrested and banished. He died in exile the same year.
Cyprian of Carthage was an important figure of the early church. Brilliant and learned, he became a priest soon after his conversion to Christianity, and in 249 was elected bishop. When the Decian persecution began, he went into hiding and supported his flock by letters. In 257 persecution was renewed under Valerian. Cyprian, one of the first arrested, was banished. In a retrial a year later, he was condemned to death.
The Eucharist, with the eyes of faith, is also a miracle of compassion, forgiveness and healing involving blood. We are nourished by the very word of God, then humble gifts of bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. We who receive communion are in that very act, forgiven, healed and transformed into the Body of Christ, sent out to be bread for the world.
May our celebration empower us to live St. Paul’s teachings of love, faith and purity to Timothy, and become our own version of the repentant woman in the gospels, hearing for ourselves those beautiful words of Jesus, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”