Love of the World Fuels the Fear of Death – A Meditation on a Teaching of St. Cyprian

112414As November winds down and Advent still looms, the traditional meditation we make on the four last things (death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell) is still operative. A classic writing by St. Cyprian comes to mind. It is a meditation on the fundamental human struggle to be free of undue attachment to this world and to have God (and the things waiting for us in Heaven) as our highest priority.

In this meditation, St. Cyprian has in mind the Book of James and the Epistle of St. John. Yes, surely these dramatic texts are present in his mind as he writes. Hence, before pondering St. Cyprian, it may be good to reference these forceful and uncompromising texts:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God … Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:4,8).

The Lord Jesus, of course, had first said,

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24).

And St. John also adds,

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

Nothing is perhaps so difficult to imagine, especially for us moderns, as being wholly free of the enticements of the world. These texts, so adamant and uncompromising, shock us by their sweeping condemnation of “the world.” For who can really say that he has no love for the world?

We may, however, be able to find temporary refuge in some distinctions. The adulterous love of attachment and the preference for the world over its creator is certainly to be condemned. Yet surely the love for what is good, true, and beautiful in the world is proper. St. Paul speaks of those things “which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:3-5).

However, our distinction, though proper, cannot provide most of us with full cover, since we also know that the adulterous love of this world is still aplenty in our soul, however much noble love we also have. And the lust of the world is more than willing to sacrifice the good, the true, and the beautiful (not to mention God himself) for baser pleasures.

Only God can free us. And while some are gifted to achieve remarkable poverty of spirit long before departing this world, most of us are not ultimately freed from the lust of this world until God uses the dying process itself to free us. Slowly we die to this world as we see our skills, strength, and looks begin to fade as we age. And as old age sets in, we say farewell to friends, perhaps a spouse, and maybe the home we owned. Our eyesight, hearing, and general health begin to suffer many and lasting assaults; complications begin to set in.

For those who are faithful (and I have made this journey with many an older parishioner as well as some family members), it begins to become clear that what matters most is no longer here in this world, that our true treasure is in Heaven and with God. A gentle longing for what is above grows. For those who are faithful, slowly the lust of this world dies as we let God do His work.

Yet too many, even of those who believe, resist this work of God. While a natural fear of death is to be expected, too many live in open denial of and resistance to what is inevitably coming. Our many medicines and creature comforts help maintain the illusion that we can hold on to this world, and some people try to tighten their grip on it. A natural fear of death is supplanted by a grasping, clinging fear, rooted in a lack of faith and little desire for God.

And this is where we pick up with St. Cyprian:

How unreasonable it is to pray that God’s will be done, and then not promptly obey it when he calls us from this world!

Instead we struggle and resist [death] like self-willed slaves and are brought into the Lord’s presence with sorrow and lamentation, not freely consenting to our departure, but constrained by necessity.

And yet we expect to be rewarded with heavenly honors by him to whom we come against our will! Why then do we pray for the kingdom of heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we should rather serve the devil here, than reign with Christ.

The world hates Christians, so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you?

John is most urgent in his epistle when he tells us not to love the world by yielding to sensual desires. Never give your love to the world, he warns, or to anything in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. All that the world offers is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and earthly ambition. The world and its allurements will pass away, but the man who has done the will of God shall live for ever.

Our part, my dear brothers, is to be single-minded, firm in faith, and steadfast in courage, ready for God’s will, whatever it may be.

Banish the fear of death and think of the eternal life that follows. That will show people that we really live our faith.

We ought never to forget, beloved, that we have renounced the world. We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it.

What man, stationed in a foreign land, would not want to return to his own country as soon as possible? Well, we look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, brothers and children longs for us to join them. Assured though they are of their own salvation, they are still concerned about ours. What joy both for them and for us to see one another and embrace! O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death! O the supreme and endless bliss of everlasting life!

There is the glorious band of apostles, there, the exultant assembly of prophets, there, the innumerable host of martyrs, crowned for their glorious victory in combat and in death. There, in triumph, are the virgins who subdued their passions by the strength of continence. There the merciful are rewarded, those who fulfilled the demands of justice by providing for the poor. In obedience to the Lord’s command, they turned their earthly patrimony into heavenly treasure.

My dear brothers, let all our longing be to join them as soon as we may. May God see our desire, may Christ see this resolve that springs from faith, for he will give the rewards of his love more abundantly to those who have longed for him more fervently (Treatise on Mortality: Cap 18:24, 26: CSEL 3, 308, 312-314).

Amen.

As November ends but Advent begins, remember the four last things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Prepare to meet God eagerly; run toward Him with joy and confidence, calling on Him who made you for Himself. Death will surely come. Why not let it find you joyful, victorious, and confident—eager to go and meet God?

20 Replies to “Love of the World Fuels the Fear of Death – A Meditation on a Teaching of St. Cyprian”

  1. Monsignor Pope,
    Its not that im afraid of death, its just not knowing WHEN it will come.
    Mostly, im ready and willing to go, BUT there are those times when i fall
    and need to go to Confession first. Its really the WHEN more than the HOW.
    Although it would be nice to go in ecstasy, after receiving Holy Communion
    — takes care of the when and how quite nicely. But not right after ive comitted
    a grave sin.

    I know, but even the just man falls 7 times a day.

  2. This may be the dumbest question ever asked of you but…where is the line drawn between sinful, unhealthy attachments to this world and ordinary day to day concerns? i think we all know the biggies listed above, but i get confused and do not want to be over scrupulous.

    1. i am not seeking a private consult. But since you’ve been addressing the more subtle aspects of sin, i thought to ask about in the case of worldly preoccupation, where might hidden dangers lie. i can ask either of my spiritual directors anent this, but ithought wrongly, i believed it might be more instructive asking here. Thank you and God bless you.

      1. st ignatius might be of help to you. his principle and foundation is that

        one must use other created things, in so far as they help toward the Lord, and free oneself from them in so far as they lead us from the Lord.

        The moral life is one of applying God’s wisdom like this to specific situations. This is everyone’s call, and our very deciding either forms us toward his likeness or deforms us away from it.

        1. Thank you Shiberoo and God bless you. i like this very much because it speaks to a balance born of wisdom. Now at least i have a wise answer to offer to those who are seeking answers. i pray you enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving.

          1. I believe it was Ignatius who said that we should have a holy indifference to the things of this world.

    2. Maybe those things or persons that keep us or pull us away from God. Id say those are unhealthy and sinful attachments. Otherwise, family and friends that help us on our faith journey, to heaven. Id say those are keepers.

      God bless you on your project in Sacramento, Candida.
      Your Cali neighbor – anna

      1. Thank you Anna. i was thinking about some people who spend up to 8 hours a day, clipping coupons and driving miles out of their way, to redeem them for items they do not need. That, it seems to me is a worldly preoccupation. Whereas simply researching a product, to get the best value is not. Hoarding is another. You have the right of it Anna. Anything that pulls us away from our God, where we have no time to pray or show Him our love. God bless you and thank you. This Thanksgiving we are celebrating with our folks out there on the streets. The beauty is that all the dishes are being bought paid for and prepared by some very loving unselfish men and women. No public donations and we look to feed, based on last year, 200 people. I pray you and yours have a loving and wonderful Thanksgiving. If you are ever out this way, drop by and visit 🙂

        1. Candida, you are generous! Thanks for the invitation.
          Id love to be a part of something wonderful like your Thanksgiving.
          Happy Thanksgiving…. God bless

    3. Candida,

      I would suggest if you can’t bring yourself to thank God for something, that you feel it belongs to you first, that would be an unhealthy attachment. It does not have to be a just a good thing, it can be people, situations, joys, suffering.

      Finding a way to sincerely thank The Lord for everything you have recieved (which is everything) on a frequent basis (all the time), will help you let go of those attachments.

  3. Thank you, Msgr. Pope. I’ve been struggling with this so hard this year. Watching my children grow, seeing my one child with a serious health issue, has put me at odds with the idea of our mortality. I hate to think of life as so beyond our control. Your essay has opened my eyes a little to how this reflects my clinging to this life. It is hard, when you are taking care of such immediate, material needs each day, to keep my intent on Jesus. Perhaps priests in ministry share this conundrum with mothers of young children?

  4. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I do enjoy Msgr. Pope’s blog. This piece was particularly encouraging to me; it is amazing how much we worship our own “jars of clay” and spend so much time, energy and money trying to hold them together for a few more years. I am not saying that we should abuse our bodies, but as the pastor mentions here, we have lost our way when it comes to priorities. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom from Cyprian and the Scriptures.

  5. I can’t help it – I love this life. To live at this time and place, at the peak (so far) of human achievement, is certainly a blessing. When I think of all the billions who have ever lived, few of them could even have imagined the abundance that is readily available to me. Even that I have the time and resources to read this blog daily is truly remarkable. Believe me, I’m not wealthy. I’m a pretty normal guy living a pretty normal life, but finally seeing the fantastic blessing in all of it.
    Yet, Monsignor is right. My faith says that I should gladly let it all go for what comes next. And so I shall. I just hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

    1. Shalom, not to sound overboard, you may post at the blog a lot, so you may be a pretty serious Christian, and I hear your thought on Being Thankful.

      ( You all may like this web-page: http://www.robinsweb.com/inspiration/countyourblessings.html )

      Not being though maybe like the rich young ruler in the Gospels is wise — he was grieved or grieved a bit, in following Jesus, because he didn’t want to give up his possessions.

      I shouldn’t of maybe wrote ‘hate this life’ — there may be no knowledge with that.

      – The Bible says — set your affections on things above not on things on the earth — http://www.thebemaseat.com

      – John 12:25 says: He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

      so maybe there is value in the words I spoke 🙂

      I said that because my family is possibly getting ???? Mom/Dad/Sisters/Brother — they may not want me to go over for Thanksgiving dinner (minus my brother, he’s in NJ — I’m/we’re in FL) — because they don’t want to hear about Jesus End Time Stuff it may be.

      Like Jesus said, not trying to be evil here: The world doesn’t hate you, but it hates me, because I keep telling it that its ways are bad.

      The U.S. is almost $18 Trillion in Debt !!
      35 States Now For Gay Marriage !!!!!! (Jesus Return like the Days of Lot)
      55 Million Abortions

      And it’s almost like they are maybe deaf.

      The Apostasy/Falling Away is here in this day and age: http://blog.adw.org/2014/11/are-these-the-outer-bands-of-a-coming-judgment/

      John 12:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

      (Dying living to self, and living to God to produce fruit for Him 🙂 (If you have a job, keep job — Like Paul said: something like, stay in whatever state you were called) —- I’m kind of with this a bit though — Jesus: Don’t work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to Eternal Life. And: Follow me, I will make you fishers of men.

      Fruits of the Spirit = Yes
      Self = no Jesus

      God’s Blessings/Much Love,

      Victor

  6. Monsignor Pope, I so appreciate your posts on the Four Last Things! It is extremely helpful to find encouragement in holding to the Church’s teaching on eternity, when all the influences surrounding us in the world might make us questions our convictions. Thank you especially for the perspective you provide on the subject of death, which is particularly helpful to me at present.

  7. I never thought of Advent as “looming.” Although it’s busy enough that maybe I should! 😉

    The 5th anniversary of my mother’s death was 10 days ago. In the last two weeks of her life, Mom clearly was done with this world. Her passing surely was a blessing to her.

  8. Dear Cynthia BC, please don’t worry about Advent as “looming”, but as a reminder that the birth of our Lord was just around the corner, so to speak, those many years ago. If you have no fear, our Christian seasonal events will eventually become a joy to you and yours, as they did your mother. God Bless you, Cynthia. Keep the faith.

  9. Great references. One might also check out 1 Timothy 6:3-10, which concludes with the concept of love of money being “the root of…” which is oft misquoted as money, in itself, being the concept.
    In the pre-amble there’s some clarity about the suspicions and conflict which this inspires so that those involved are “robbed of the truth” (NIV) and a warning of thinking that godliness can be a means to financial gain.
    Seems to disapprove of the prosperity gospel which I’ve heard of. Been creeped out since first hearing of it. A better way appears to be mentioned in the last chapter of the Book of Malachi at the conclusion of the Old Testament. Give (not negotiate a deal with) God and receive benefit according to His will.

Comments are closed.