Saint Cornelius, Pope and Confessor (I)

September 16
by Fr John Bartunek, LC | Source: Catholic.net


Uncle Eddy's E-mail -- September 16

Saint Cornelius 

Pope and Confessor 

(entered heaven on 14 September, 252)



Dear Neil,


You are becoming an expert in sensationalism. I guess that makes sense, considering your choice to major in broadcast news media. The news media culture has created a pathological need to sensationalize, so that every day they can feed extraordinary news to the bored public. They forget that if everything is extraordinary, nothing is extraordinary.


   But even if you have to be sensationalistic in your work (which I dont think you do, by the way), don't let that habit of distorting truth spill over into your conception of Church affairs. When you say that "we are now going through the worst crisis the Catholic Church has ever experienced", you are being sensationalistic. If you would just study a bit of Church history, as I have said before, you wouldn't be so superficial. The history of the Church, in fact, is nothing but a series of horrible crises, one following on the heels of another. Take the time in which today's saint lives as one example.


   Cornelius was a priest in Rome during the violent and systematic persecution of the Church engineered by the Emperor Decius in the mid-third century. This persecution got so bad that when Pope St Fabian was arrested and executed in the year 250, there was no way of gathering all the Christians, clergy and bishops together in order to elect another Pope; it was just too dangerous. So the See of Peter remained empty for 16 months. Finally, during a lull, Cornelius was elected, and ended up serving the servants of God admirably, heroically in fact, for about a year, before he too was arrested and exiled. Imagine living in the midst of a persecution so intense that it wasnt even possible to elect a new Pope. Just imagine that.


   But it gets even worse. Amidst the throes of this mortal struggle, the Devil raised up a schismatic and a heretic called Novatian, a Roman philosopher who converted to Catholicism, and his sidekick Novatus, an African priest who fled Carthage after losing a few theological battles with St Cyprian. These two joined forces to renounce Pope Cornelius for being too lenient with Christians who had caved in under the threat of torture and renounced their faith. (St Cornelius and the rest of the Church admitted them back into communion with the Church if they confessed their sin and repented of it.) Then they took their complaint one step further, declaring that the Church doesnt even have the authority to forgive the sins of apostasy, murder, and fornication. 


   In such confused and troubled times these two energetic rebels were able to gather a following, and the subtle Novatian even arranged for his ordination as bishop and had himself declared the true pope, thus becoming the Church's first anti-pope (the first of plenty, by the way). What a mess. Just imagine the strife and confusion: civil authorities arresting and killing Christians on the outside, heretics and schismatics poisoning them on the inside. Pope St Cornelius held the Bark of Peter on its divinely guaranteed course, however, and the storm eventually subsided. And that's the pattern for every age of our Church's history, including this age, because the challenges will never let up as St Peter himself put it so eloquently in his First Letter: "your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat." (1 Peter 5:9)


   So don't give me (or anyone else, for that matter) this "worst crisis in history" rhetoric; just give us the facts.


Your loving uncle, Eddy




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