16Sep 16th September. Tuesday, Week 24

Saint Cornelius, pope, and Cyprian, bishop, martyrs.

Cornelius was bishop of Rome from 251-253 in a time of severe persecution under the emperors Decius and Gallus. His mild, pastoral style in dealing with those who had lapsed to save their lives was rejected by the anti-pope, Novation, but was supported by the highly-esteemed Cyprian of Carthage.

First Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-31

(Many gifts, all at the service of the community, the body of Christ.)

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to he hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honourable we invest with the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

(Jesus raises to life the dead son of a widow at Naim. The people respond with awe.)

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favourably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

A variety of Christian Tasks

Examining the New Testament from the Gospels through to First Corinthians and then the Pastoral Epistles, we can see the stages of development of church leadership. In today’s Gospel, Jesus spontaneously works a miracle in response to a widowed mother’s grief. Corinthians puts miracle working fourth in a list of services in the church (after apostle, prophet and teacher.) In the Pastorals the offices of apostle and miracle worker are not mentioned at all, and the focus is on the leading functions of bishops, deacons, deaconess and (later) presbyters and widows.

As the church expanded through the Mediterranean world, and faced crises of internal cohesion and external persecution, its need of organization grew. We can see this paralleled in the development of an individual’s life. Children and youth are filled with hope and seem willing and able to become anything they choose; as young adults, they must choose a particular way of life yet they still bring new spirit and creative innovation within that vocation; finally, as mature adults they settle into their role with caution and conservatism.

Saint Paul’s main concern regarding pastoral offices is, “Which of these is best adapted to the needs of church life?” The more charismatic type of leadership carries more danger of splintering. Belief in miracles can result in mad fervor where religion becomes a cult, and the cult leader exercises absolute and lucrative control. On the other hand, we must respect the part played by miracles in the Bible and in church history. Whether in church or in our own personal lives, we must not lose faith in miracles or forget Jesus, the miracle worker. The spontaneity of charisma is needed for health in the church, but the virtues expected of bishops and deacons are needed too: an even temper, self-control, modesty of demeanour, good management skills and the rest. Our present pope seems finely attuned to both these values, for the service of God’s people.


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