Sep 16 – Memorial for Sts. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr; and Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr
Cornelius (d. 253) was elected after a year-and-a-half period during which persecutions were so bad that papal ascension was a quick death sentence. He worked to maintain unity in a time of schism and apostasy. He called a synod of bishops to confirm him as rightful pontiff, as opposed to the anti-pope Novatian. Cornelius was eventually exiled by Roman authorities to punish Christians in general, who were said to have provoked the gods to send plague against Rome.
Cyprian (190-258) was baptised when he was 56. By the time he was bishop, he had been a Christian for only 3 years! When the Roman emperor Decius persecuted Christians, Cyprian lived in hiding, covertly ministering to his flock; his enemies condemned him for being a coward and not standing up for his faith. He supported St. Cornelius against the anti-pope Novatian. He too was exiled and martyred when the Decius’ successor continued with persecution of Christians.
1 Timothy 2:1-8
My advice is that, first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right, and will please God our saviour: he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all. He is the evidence of this, sent at the appointed time, and I have been named a herald and apostle of it and – I am telling the truth and no lie – a teacher of the faith and the truth to the pagans.
In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.
When Jesus had come to the end of all he wanted the people to hear, he went into Capernaum. A centurion there had a servant, a favourite of his, who was sick and near death. Having heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. ‘He deserves this of you’ they said ‘because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them, and was not very far from the house when the centurion sent word to him by some friends: ‘Sir,’ he said ‘do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard these words he was astonished at him and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.’ And when the messengers got back to the house they found the servant in perfect health.
But only say the Word
There is a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg called ‘Schindler’s List’, which tells of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved countless Jews from the Holocaust during WWII. A moment from that movie, which left an indelible mark on my psyche, is the scene in which the Commandant of the Concentration Camp, sitting in his pajamas on a balcony, has a steaming hot cup of coffee to his side table. He sits casually, with a lighted cigarette lazily and precariously balanced on his right lip corner. In his hand, a sniper rifle, cocked and ready. The sniper lens zooms in on a hapless, random Jew, in rags and whose ribs could be counted. In the next instant, the head of the Jew gets blown off in a pink cloud of blood and brains. Those walking around this hapless Jew are terrified but continue walking as if nothing has happened. Indifferently, the Commandment, peers through the lens to look for the next target to practice on. After several more hapless victims, Oskar Schindler finally confronts the Commandant who promptly reminds Oskar of just how much power he wields. To which Oskar replies – “real power lies not in those who have the ability to wield it, but to those who have it but always choose not to wield it”. To Oskar and the likes of St Maximillian Kolbe, the life of a Jew, every person in fact, was not irrelevant and unnecessary. It mattered enough to risk and to give up one’s own life.
The point being made is not about earthly power – but the power that comes from knowing one’s identity rooted in Jesus Christ. Jesus, Son of the Living God, is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. However, he chooses not to wield that on us. He chooses to become one of us. This does not alter nor diminish one iota of what his true character and essence is – but simply points to the truth that He knows who He is. And there is no need for him to prove His power, despite the many times we desperately ask Him to show it to us in the circumstances of our lives. He only needs to affirm the fact of His love for us. Jesus can walk away from His power and assume the condition of a slave because He knows exactly who He is – the Son of God. He is not here to impress us. He is here to save us.
At the Sermon on the Mount, in the chapter preceding today’s Gospel, Jesus lays down the formula to perfect discipleship. In today’s Gospel, through the person of the Centurion, is Luke’s illustration of what Jesus had just finish teaching His disciples. The Centurion is the one who did good deeds toward his enemies; he gave to his enemies as he built from his own funds the synagogue in Capernaum. He behaved correctly whether or not this love was ever returned to him. This man not only heard the Word of God, but was Luke’s example of a man who built his house on the rock solid foundation of that Word…he sends for the Master. He hears of Jesus and acts. He is a doer and not merely a listener. This Centurion is the example of one who loves supernaturally. As Jesus told us to love without expecting anything in return, we see in this account, one who loves his slave. He loves someone who most would despise and mistreat. He loves his servant. He also loved the Nation of Israel. Normally, Roman leaders hated their slaves and mistreated them. They hated their enemies. Here, this man loves those who are his enemies. He shows us how a true disciple lives out his identity. A Roman Centurion, one who wields power, commands lives, has authority over the liberty and life of those under his charge – usually does not give a hoot about the well-being of one of his numerous, insignificant servants, whose only purpose of existence is to be used to serve his purpose and discarded when no longer useful. He usually does not hold the respect, admiration and support of those whom he lords over. He does not need to show humanity; only power and authority.
Yet this Centurion was different. The Jewish leaders were actually fond of this one and even petitioned on his behalf to Jesus to save his dying servant. The Centurion himself was respectful, kind, considerate, had a sincere love and concern for those over whom he not only had authority over, but responsibility over. He was humble, considered himself unworthy of the attention of Jesus, but had deep faith and hope in where true power really lies – Jesus, Son of God, with real authority over life itself. Before the identity of Christ – the Centurion knew where he stood… unworthy that Jesus would enter under his roof. But yet, with deep faith that His word alone, had the power over life and death.
It was not a priest, a Levite nor a Pharisee – no, it was the Good Samaritan, the Gentile, the Roman Centurion – these were the ‘unworthy’ and ‘unqualified’ God chose to show the rest of us the way of true discipleship. Those who truly know their identity and have discovered that true discipleship can only take place when you are clear of who you are a disciple of. And translating that into a living faith. When you know the Living God, your nothingness becomes that which will save you. Because only then, you become totally consumed by the grace of God. Only then, despite your unworthiness, God will say the Word that will heal you. For how can one lead others to Christ when one is himself/herself lost and astray. Only in humility and by God’s healing word and grace, can we be led on the path of true discipleship. These are the words we echo at every Eucharist – through our communion with the living presence of Jesus, is the source of our own true identity.
Jesus marveled at the Centurion. He was amazed at the faith he had. It took Jesus by surprise. Now that is something you don’t see happening every day. When was the last time you made Jesus’ jaw drop in admiration and amazement of the greatness of your faith, the authenticity of your humility and the fidelity of your discipleship? There seems to be applause in the distance for you … but does the clapping come from above or from below?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father help us. It is easy for us to find ourselves lost along the road of our discipleship. Help us when our pride, our worries, our pain, the weight of our crosses and the deceptions of the evil one make us want to give up and to walk our own path. We do not have the wisdom, the strength and the courage – help us.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you because time and again, during our darkest moments, you send the light of your Spirit and the love of your Mother to come to lift us, to comfort us and to gently tell us to get up and to carry on. Help us walk our discipleship with victory such that when we finally enter the gates of heaven, you and all the saints will stand up and give us applause for a race well-run, a journey well-travelled.