Friday, September 16, 2016

Memorial of Saints Cornelius, pope and martyr, and Cyprian, Bishop and martyr

(I Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 8:1-3)

A middle-aged man recently was speaking about the future.  He said that people do not know whether there is an after-life.  Therefore, he concluded, it is best that we make the most of this life.  The man did not mean to be irreverent.  In fact, he probably thought he was being open-minded just to recognize the possibility of a new life after death.  But St. Paul would probably jump on the statement.  In today’s first reading Paul declares unreservedly that the dead will rise again to new life.

Paul turns the question of a human resurrection like Christ’s on end.  Evidently some members of the Christian community in Corinth claimed to believe in Christ’s resurrection but doubted human resurrection.  For Paul that position is absurd because Christians have become part of Christ’s resurrected body.  If they do not rise from the dead, then how could it be said that Christ rose? he would ask. It would be like saying that only the general and not the soldiers of a victorious army won the battle.  Paul spells out the consequences of such a position in full rhetorical form: Christians would not only remain in their sins but would be fools for believing in Christ’s resurrection in the first place.

Martyrs have spilled blood continually as testimony to Christ’s resurrection.  Today we celebrate two of the most illustrious.  Saints Cornelius and Cyprian suffered death in the middle of the third century.  They went to their deaths sure that they would rise with Christ.  Also important for the two is the truth that Christians who deny Christ’s resurrection out of fear of punishment could be forgiven.  Some Christians believed at the time that denying Christ or apostasy was the unpardonable sin.  No, God’s forgiveness is without end.