Commentary on the Gospel of
Today I want to give three separate, short reflections on St. Cyprian, the first reading, and then the Gospel reading.
St. Cyprian lived in north Africa during the third century and, at age 35, became a Christian and later was elected the Bishop of Carthage. This was an age of persecution of Christians. Many Christians fell away during the persecution but then sought to come back afterwards. The question was, Should they be received back into the Church after publicly denying Christ and sacrificing to the gods? Some said, Yes, with no public penance required. Some said that they could never come back. St. Cyprian held a middle ground which eventually won the day; public penance is required for public denial of the faith but they can be restored to Christ and should be. Eventually the persecution included the execution of all clerics and St. Cyprian’s day finally arrived. He was asked to identify himself and sacrifice to the gods. In essence he said, Yes, I am Bishop Cyprian, no, I will not sacrifice to the gods, so get on with it. He was beheaded the same day. He taught faith in Christ with his lips but also with his whole life.
In the first reading St. Paul gives the young Timothy a prescription for being a good minister. His advice helped me tremendously when I became a pastor at age 22 (may God bless those good people who put up with someone that young!). “Attend to yourself and to your teaching,” he says. If you do this, “you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” My training to become a minister focused almost exclusively on the second part of Paul’s advice, namely, the content and method of the teaching. I had to learn how to attend to myself the hard way. It took years for me to figure out that my own spiritual, human, and intellectual growth was as important for me as a teacher as was the teaching itself. People don’t just listen to the teacher; they watch him or her. I recently did some training of catechists for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the workshop on the vocation of the catechist became as important as the first three workshops on the centrality of Christ, the Scriptures, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Those resources are crucial but the reality is that they come to the hearer through the life of the catechist. Catechists must “attend to themselves” if their presentations are going to be effective.
I love the Gospel lesson. Simon, a Pharisee, invites Jesus to dinner. A woman known by all as a sinner shows up and demonstrates great love for Jesus. Simon assumes that Jesus cannot be a legitimate prophet for, if he did, he would know that a sinner was touching him. Jesus asks Simon a question that, applying it to myself, has changed my life. He asks, “Do you see this woman?” Simon didn’t see a human being made in the image of God; he just saw a sinner. No doubt she was a sinner but people are much more than their sins. When I attended law school many years ago there was a clear distinction between the professors and students, on the one hand, and the workers who took care of the shrubs and trees or worked in the kitchen on the other hand. The latter were largely invisible. People didn’t really see them. We were largely white folks and they were mostly Hispanics. It’s not that “we” looked at them like Simon did and thought of “them” as sinners. No, it was probably worse than that. We didn’t see them as sinners. Actually, we didn’t see them at all. When you begin to hang out with Jesus, things change. You start to see people and to see them for who they really are.
Attend to yourself, St. Paul says. Part of doing that is to grow as a human being and begin to see people as Jesus sees them. That is as important as what I proclaim as a teacher.