St Cornelius was Pope during the great persecution in Rome in the 3rd century. At that time, a lot of clergy fell away from the faith due to persecution. There was an issue then of what to do with those who denied Christ in moments of weakness, whether they can still be accepted back, which is the stand of Cornelius and Cyprian, or they are not to be allowed back to the Church which is the stand of Novatian. The conflict got so bad, that those who supported Novatian consecrated him Bishop of Rome and would not recognized the true Pope: Cornelius. Cornelius had the support of a lot of bishops such that the synod he called condemned Novatian and the Novatianists. In the persecution that followed, Cornelius was sent to exile and died due to the hard life in exile. Some people believe he was beheaded.
Cyprian was Bishop of Carthage and supported Cornelius in the Novatian controversy. Cyprian was later arrested in Carthage and told to sacrifice to the pagan god. He refused and was beheaded.
How do these two martyrs relate to the readings today? St Paul said in today’s readings, if he can speak the language of men and angels but does not have love, he is nothing. He can preach God’s word or understand mysteries or have extensive knowledge, but if he has no love, that is nothing. Even if he performs miracles or give all he has to the poor, or even if he is martyred, but if he has no love, he is nothing. Our faith is not grounded in the gifts we have. It is not grounded on our wisdom or eloquence in speech or intelligence or ideology. Our faith is grounded in Jesus Christ, the Truth of God.
St Cornelius and Cyprian are honored today, not because they gave up their lives, but because of their love for Christ. They gave up their lives for Christ, first by standing in the truth of God’s forgiveness to those who lose their faith out of weakness, and eventually dying for Christ. Their death will mean nothing if they did not do it for love of Christ. Their faith is firmly grounded in Christ that they would not compromise the truth and willingly gave up their lives for him.
In the Gospel today, Jesus reveals to the people who they are. They do not know what they want. John the Baptist came living an austere life and they reject him. Jesus comes filled with joy, eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners and they reject him. There is no love in them for the truth, because they are so focused on what they want, rather than on what God is telling them. Because of this, they were not willing to give up their ideas and beliefs.
Lord Jesus, give me the wisdom to discern your truth. Give me courage to stand for you. Let me remember your love and mercy. St Cornelius and Cyprian, pray for me, teach me to ground my faith in Jesus.