Last week the Church celebrated the feast day of St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr. Condemned for being a Christian during the reign of the emperor, Valerian, the account of Cyprian’s trial has survived the ravages of history. The account makes for interesting reading:
Galerius Maximus: “Are you Thascius Cyprian?”
St. Cyprian: “Yes, I am.”
Galerius Maximus: Have you posed as the pontiff of a sacrilegious group?”
St. Cyprian: “I have.”
Galerius Maximus: “Our most venerable emperors have commanded you to perform the religious rites.”
St. Cyprian: “I will not do so.”
Because he refused to deny Christ by offering incense to the pagan gods of Rome, Cyprian was summarily sentenced to death and executed by the sword that day, the 14th of September, in the year 258. Faithful Christians retrieved his body that night, and with a candlelight procession, led him to a cemetery along the Mappalian Way where he was buried. His prayers, like those of all the martyrs, continue to support us today.
But consider again the directness of his answers in court: “Yes, I am . . . I have . . . I will not.” When accused of being a follower of Christ, St. Cyprian neither equivocated nor hesitated. He did not compromise nor rationalize. He refused to explain himself or offer excuses. St. Cyprian was a Christian, period. And if his loyalty to Christ meant suffering and death, so be it.
You and I are Christians, too. Are we as direct in our testimony as St. Cyprian was? Living in a culture where the following of Christ is often viewed as foolish or irrational, the temptation to hedge our bets is strong. It can be very easy, when faced with the accusations of our friends and the pressure of our culture, to compromise or equivocate our faith. Maybe we hide the fact of our Christianity. Maybe we do and say things that increase our popularity and acceptance, but deny and injure Christ. Maybe we accept the benefits that Jesus offers while refusing to accept his cross. I admit that way too many times, my own courage has failed.
In his recent installation homily as the new archbishop of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput said: “It’s crucial for those of us who are bishops not simply to look like bishops but to truly be bishops.” The same can be said of me and my brother priests: We need to not just look like priests but to truly be priests. And the same can be said of you, no matter your vocation or state in life: It’s crucial to not simply look like a Christian but to truly be a Christian.
Living for Christ is not easy. It never has been nor will it be. But our world, burdened by war, moral confusion and hopelessness, needs the presence and healing power of God’s Son. You and I are his hands and feet and presence. But we cannot play games or pretend. Either we are a Christian or we are not. When the world asks, “Are you also one of his followers?” let us answer directly, “I am!” St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr, pray for us.
Be assured of my prayers,
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