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Bible Reflections View Comments

Words of Eternal Life
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012
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Throughout our lives, we’re brought to moments of decision that can’t be avoided. Sometimes it happens after a long period of weighing the pros and cons; other times it’s a sudden occurrence that needs to be handled immediately. In either case, there comes a time when we have to make the decision— and live with the consequences. These moments are different for everyone. They might involve beginning or ending a relationship, changing jobs, dealing with medical issues, handling a financial crisis. Decisions that seem demanding to us may seem insignificant to others. Increasingly they involve questions of religious loyalty. We might think that decisions about our faith and religious practice are a 21st-century phenomenon. But in fact they are millennia old.

Our reading from the Book of Joshua was just such a moment of decision, in this case for an entire people. Joshua has taken over leadership from Moses. They have entered into the Promised Land. Their journey through the desert had its moments of crisis and loss of faith. Now that they’re settled, the problems continue. It becomes a question of remembering the things the Lord did for them in rescuing them from Egypt and leading them through the desert. The covenants made with their ancestors must now be renewed with the new generation. Joshua sets the choice before them, to serve the gods of the past, the gods of the people in the new land—or the one God who called them into being as a community. He makes his own declaration: “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve,...As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

In the Gospel, the choice is far more personal. Jesus has presented a difficult teaching. Many of his disciples have turned away, unable to accept the idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Eternal life wasn’t enough of a promise to overcome their established patterns of thought. Finally he turns to his inner circle, his closest companions, and sets the decision before them: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter speaks for the whole group: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

We like to think that these decisions, once made, are made for life. But we know from our lives and those of our families and friends that the questions are always with us. Parents wrestle with the question of how to keep their children in the faith in which they were raised. Marriage can bring a blending of two denominations or even two faiths. Internal wrangling in the institutions of the Church can lead us to lose sight of God’s inspiration and presence in those institutions. Even time takes its toll. We waver, we fall away from an intense commitment, we get caught up in other pursuits.

But just as the questions return again and again, so the answers will be presented anew. Often the questions are intertwined with other moments of crisis in our lives. The decisions then become deeply personal, matters of life and death rather than disembodied debate. The words of eternal life never change, however they might be distorted by human weakness and confusion. The path might change; the destination never does.


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Cornelius: 
		<p>There was no pope for 14 months after the martyrdom of St. Fabian because of the intensity of the persecution of the Church. During the interval, the Church was governed by a college of priests. St. Cyprian, a friend of Cornelius, writes that Cornelius was elected pope "by the judgment of God and of Christ, by the testimony of most of the clergy, by the vote of the people, with the consent of aged priests and of good men." </p>
		<p>The greatest problem of Cornelius's two-year term as pope had to do with the Sacrament of Penance and centered on the readmission of Christians who had denied their faith during the time of persecution. Two extremes were finally both condemned. Cyprian, primate of North Africa, appealed to the pope to confirm his stand that the relapsed could be reconciled only by the decision of the bishop. </p>
		<p>In Rome, however, Cornelius met with the opposite view. After his election, a priest named Novatian (one of those who had governed the Church) had himself consecrated a rival bishop of Rome—one of the first antipopes. He denied that the Church had any power to reconcile not only the apostates, but also those guilty of murder, adultery, fornication or second marriage! Cornelius had the support of most of the Church (especially of Cyprian of Africa) in condemning Novatianism, though the sect persisted for several centuries. Cornelius held a synod at Rome in 251 and ordered the "relapsed" to be restored to the Church with the usual "medicines of repentance." </p>
		<p>The friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian was strained for a time when one of Cyprian's rivals made accusations about him. But the problem was cleared up. </p>
		<p>A document from Cornelius shows the extent of organization in the Church of Rome in the mid-third century: 46 priests, seven deacons, seven subdeacons. It is estimated that the number of Christians totaled about 50,000. </p>
		<p>Cornelius died as a result of the hardships of his exile in what is now Civitavecchia (near Rome). <br /> </p>
American Catholic Blog For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist. —St. Augustine

 
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