Tuesday, November 2, 2010

St. Cyprian on All Faithful Departed

We should not mourn for our fellow humans who have been freed from this world by the summons of the Lord, since we know that they are not lost but have been sent before us. In departing, they lead the way. As travelers, as voyagers, they should be longed for, but not lamented. Neither should dark clothing be worn here, inasmuch as they have already assumed white garments there.

Let us give the pagans no occasion to censure us deservedly and justly, on the ground that we grieve for those, as if entirely destroyed and lost, who we say are living with God. Let them not censure us on the ground that we do not show by the testimony of the heart and breast the faith which we declare in speech and word! We are prevaricators of our hope and faith, if what we say seems pretended, feigned, and falsified. It is no value to show forth virtue in words but destroy truth in deeds.

Furthermore, the apostle Paul rebukes and blames any who may be sorrowful at the death of their dear ones: "We would have you be clear," he says, "about those who sleep in death; otherwise you might yield to grief, like those who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, God will bring forth with him from the dead those also who have fallen asleep believing in him."

Our Lord Jesus Christ himself admonishes us, saying: "I am the resurrection and the life: those who believe in me, even though they die, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." If we believe in Christ let us have faith in his words and promises, that we who are not to die forever may come in joyful certainty to Christ with whom we are to conquer and reign for eternity.

As to the fact that meanwhile we die, we pass by death to immortality. Eternal life can not succeed unless it has befallen us to depart from the here and now. This is not an end but a passage, a crossing over to eternity. Who would not hasten to better things? Who would not pray to be more quickly changed and reformed to the image of Christ and to the dignity of heavenly grace, since the apostle Paul declares: "We have our citizenship in heaven; it is from there that we eagerly await the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body."

Let us embrace the day which assigns each of us to an [eternal] dwelling, which on our being rescued from this life and released from the snares of the world, restores us to paradise and to the kingdom. What person, after being abroad, would not hasten to return to one's own country? Who, when hurrying to sail to one's family, would not more eagerly long for a favorable wind so that one might quickly embrace those who are loved?

We account paradise our own country. A great number of our dear ones there await us, parents, sisters and brothers, children. A dense and copious throng longs for us, already secure in their safety but still anxious for our salvation. To these, my beloved, let us hasten with eager longing! Let us pray that it may befall us speedily to be with them, speedily to come to Christ.

~ St. Cyprian of Carthage, from the Treatise on Death
(written on the outbreak of a plague in the year 252)

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