Good day, and welcome to Communion of Saints from stjeromeschapel.org. I’m your host, Micah Jackson. Today is September 13th, 2008: the feast of Blessed Cyprian.
It is never easy to be a bishop, but it must have been especially difficult to be a bishop during the persecutions of the early Church. It was just this kind of difficult ministry into which God called the man we remember today, Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage. The persecutions were so severe in Carthage, that Cyprian was forced into hiding. Though there were some who considered this action cowardly, but Cyprian considered protecting his life to be necessary so that the people would not be without a shepherd. He continued to lead his flock from hiding through frequent communication by letter.
There were many, though, who were not as strong as Cyprian. They fell away from the faith, or even cooperated with the persecutors under duress. When the persecutions were over, some said that these were traitors to the faith and should be shunned, but Cyprian argued that they could be restored to the community after an appropriate period of penance. His more moderate view prevailed in the Church, and has formed our understanding of Christian forgiveness ever since. When the persecutions returned under the Emperor Valerian, Cyprian was unable to flee. Instead, he was put under house arrest, and finally beheaded.
Cyprian’s understanding of the importance of the bishop is why today we read Jesus’ image of the “Good Shepherd.” Jesus says of himself, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:11-16) One flock, one shepherd. It’s a beautiful image, and one we should strive to live out in our lives, just as Cyprian valued it in his.
The most commonly known thing about Cyprian is that he taught that there can be no salvation outside the Church. Some today see that as exclusivist and even embarrassing. What he actually said was more beautiful than that summary might suggest. He wrote, “If you leave the Church of Christ you will not come to Christ’s rewards, you will be an alien, an outcast, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the Church for your Mother.” Read this way, it’s less a warning about not accepting Christ, and more an invitation to deeper relationship with God and the community of believers. And that’s an invitation we ought to accept.
Let us pray: Almighty God, who gave to your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Thank you for listening to Communion of Saints. Please join us tomorrow at stjeromeschapel.org for the feast of The Holy Cross. I’m Micah Jackson. May God be with you.
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