16 September 2010

Death: the Passage to Eternity

Today is the feast of Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr, and Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr. For the Carthusian Order, eight of the twelve Lessons proclaimed at Matins were from the work of Saint Cyprian of Carthage on ‘Mortality’. Here is what the monks reflected on.

Beloved brethren, very many of you have adamant feelings, a firm faith, and a fervent spirit that cannot be moved by worldly enticements; and, like a strong and stable rock, you are able to shatter the turbulent onsets of the world and the raging waves of time, these temptations fail to win your heart and you are not overcome; but I observe some of you who resist with less courage and will not implement the divine power and the invincibility of your heart. Is such behaviour due to weakness of mind or lack of faith? Is love for the world or fragility of life caused by the softness of gender, or even worse, through error from the truth? The matter may not be disguised nor kept in silence. I could not give up in my own inadequacy, and with my full strength, and with a discourse steeped in Scripture, the slothfulness of a luxurious disposition must be restrained, and he who has begun to be already a man of God and of Christ, must be found worthy of God and of Christ.

Beloved, he who wars for God ought to acknowledge himself as one who, placed in the heavenly camp, already hopes for divine things, so that we may have no trembling at the rising of storms and tempests of the world. Remember that the Lord had foretold these events would come and exhorted us with His foreseeing words. He prophesied about wars, famines and plagues, with the intention of strengthening the people of His Church for endurance of things to come; and lest an unexpected and new dread should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the end times. Behold, the very things occur which were spoken; and since those occur which were foretold before, whatever things were promised will also follow; as the Lord Himself promises, saying, ‘But when you see all these things come to pass, know that the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Saint Luke 21:31).

Beloved, the Kingdom of God is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world. Already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. What room is there here for anxiety and solicitude? Who, in the midst of these things, is trembling and sad, except he who is without hope and faith? For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ. It is for him to be unwilling to go to Christ who does not believe that he is about to reign with Him.

We live in hope, and believe in God, certain that Christ suffered for us and rose again. We abide in Christ, and through Him and in Him rising again; so why are we ourselves unwilling to depart from this life? Why do we grieve for our friends when they depart as if they were lost? Christ Himself, our Lord, encourages us and says, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believes in Me, though he die, yet shall live; and whosoever lives and believes in Me shall not die eternally’ (Saint John 11:25-26). If we believe in Christ, let us have faith in His words and promises; and since we shall not die eternally, let us come with a glad security to Christ, with Whom we are both to conquer and to reign forever.

If we should succumb to death, do not forget that we are passing through death to immortality; eternal life cannot follow, unless we depart from this life. That is not an end, but a transition, a journey through time, a passage to eternity. Who would not hasten to better things? Who would not crave to be changed and renewed into the likeness of Christ, and to arrive more quickly to the dignity of heavenly glory? The apostle Paul teaches us, ‘For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall change the body of our humiliation, and conform it to the body of His glory’ (Philippians 3:20-21). Christ the Lord promises that we shall be such, that we may be with Him, and that we may live with Him in eternal mansions, and may rejoice in the heavenly Kingdom, ‘Father, I will that they also whom You have given to Me be with Me where I am, and may see the glory which You have given to Me before the world was made’(Saint John 17:24).

He who is intended to enter the dwelling-place of Christ, the glory of the heavenly Kingdom, ought not to grieve or mourn; but rather, in accordance with the Lord's promise, in accordance with his faith in the truth, to rejoice in his departure and transfer into the afterlife. We know that Enoch was taken up, because he pleased God. The Scripture says in the Book of Genesis, ‘Enoch pleased God; and afterwards he was not found, because God translated him’ (Genesis 5:24). To have been pleasing in the sight of God means to have merited to be translated from the influences of the world. For through Solomon the Holy Spirit teaches that they who please God are more early taken, and are more quickly set free, lest while they are delaying longer in this world they should be polluted with the corruptions of the world. It is written in the Book of Wisdom, ‘He was taken away lest wickedness should change his understanding. For his soul was pleasing to God; wherefore He hastened to take him away from the midst of wickedness’ (Wisdom 4:11, 14).

It is for him to wish to remain long in the world whom the world invites by the enticements of earthly pleasure. Since the world hates the Christian, why do you love that which hates you? Why do you not rather follow Christ, who both redeemed you and loves you? In his first letter, John urges us not to love the world nor follow the desires of the flesh. He writes: ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the lust of the world. And the world shall pass away, and the lust thereof; but he who does the will of God abides for ever, even as God abides for ever’ (1 Saint John 2:15-17). My beloved brethren, with a sound mind, with a firm faith, with a robust virtue, let us be prepared for the whole will of God: laying aside the fear of death, let us think on the immortality which follows.

Brethren, we must not lose sight that we have renounced the world, and are now living here as guests and strangers. We welcome the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us from here, and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to Paradise and the Kingdom. What traveller would not hasten to return home? What sailor hastening to return to his friends not eagerly desire a favourable wind, that he might the sooner embrace his loved ones? Our home is heaven. Our fathers are the patriarchs: why do we not hasten and run, that we may behold our country, that we may greet our true family? There are a great number of our dear ones awaiting us, and a dense crowd of parents, brothers, children, are longing for us, already assured of their own safety, and still solicitous for our salvation. What a great joy to attain to their presence and their embrace! What a pleasure is there in the heavenly kingdom, without fear of death!