As we wrap up November and the traditional meditation we make on the four last things (death, judgement, heaven and hell), A classic meditation of St. Cyprian comes to us in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a meditation on a fundamental human struggle to be free of undue attachment to this world and to truly have God, and the things waiting for us in heaven, as our highest priority.
St. Cyprian Writes:
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 forever. (Treatise on Mortality: Cap 18:24, 26: CSEL 3, 308, 312-314)
It is amazing how much loyalty and sweat-equity we give to a world that hates us. Whatever gains we get they are short-term and then we lose everything and are consigned to a stone-cold tomb. What a joke, and the joke is on us. But still we toe the line and follow the world’s demands like slaves to a master; we make compromises and bow before the trinkets of this world, forsaking the unlimited treasure of heaven. Be assured of this that this world and the Prince of this World ( Satan) will never relent in their demands until every last ounce of our integrity is gone; until we are completely compromised and conformed to the futile and wicked ways of a sinking ship. And all the while we think we can keep loyalty to God on some back burner. No, be assured, as Cyprian reminds, the more we embrace the darkness, the harsher to true light seems; the more we grow spiritually weak by indulging the flesh, the more unreal and unrealistic do God’s ways seem. And thus we grow averse to what we say we we love. But as Cyprian reiterates and Scripture teaches:
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)
We ought to long for heaven and to be free of this exile but as Jesus teaches, where our treasure is, our heart will also be. And so we cling to our trinkets. St. Cyprian continues:
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 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.
It is indeed a strange truth that so many of us prefer this earthly bondage and devilish exile and are so averse to death! Understandably we fear the process of dying, or might feel the obligation to accomplish certain tasks (like raising children), but really, for those who love God, the day we day to this world is the greatest day of our life. We may have to journey through purgatory, but even that is so much more blest than this valley of tears and danger. And So Cyprian concludes:
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)
Whether we cling to world or not: Slowly we die to this world as we see our skills, strength and looks begin to fade in late middle age. As old age sets in we say farewell to friends, perhaps a spouse, perhaps the home we owned. Our eyesight, hearing and general health begin to suffer many and lasting assaults, and complications begin to set in. For those who are faithful it begins to occur that what matters most is no longer here; that our true treasure is in heaven and with God. Slowly the lust of this world dies and a gentle longing for what is above grows.
As November ends, remember the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Prepare eagerly to meet God, 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?