Cyprian of Carthage: Seems Horrible and Deadly

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“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:34-36

“The just are dying with the unjust, it is not for you to think that the destruction is a common one for both the evil and the good. The just are called to refreshment, the unjust are carried off to torture; protection is more quickly given to the faithful, punishment to the faithless…

How suitable, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one and examines the minds of the human race; whether the well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, whether masters show compassion for their ailing slaves, whether physicians do not desert the afflicted…

Although this mortality has contributed nothing else, it has especially accomplished this for Christians and servants of God, that we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death. These are trying exercises for us, not deaths; they give to the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown…

Our brethren who have been freed from the world by summons of the Lord should not be mourned, since we know that they are not lost but sent before; that in departing they lead the way; that as travelers, as voyagers are won’t to be, they should be longed for, not lamented…and that no occasion should be given to pagans to censure us deservedly and justly, on the ground that we grieve for those who we say are living.”

Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, writing c. 251 during the plague, in Treatise VII, On the Mortality 15-20 in Treatises, ed. Roy J. Deferrari (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 36; Washington D.C.: CUAP, 1958).

In today’s post we see another early church bishop helping the people think clearly in the midst of a plague. We must care for people but not care about the plague.

In his words, the disease “seems horrible and deadly” but when we have the right perspective, we “learn not to fear death” because by contempt of death we “prepare for the crown.”

Suffering is part of life. If we are not prepared to meet the Lord it perhaps says that we have gotten too comfortable here on this earth. These are strong but sobering thoughts.

So, how should we live in this season of Lent when everyone is in a COVID-19 frenzy? Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Meditate on Romans 12:9-21 and follow God’s leading.

Keep praying, fasting, and giving. Hoarding is a common sinful reaction in crisis. My friend, Roger Lam, reminded me this week that the gap between the rich and poor widens in crisis.

Those who have resources tend to hoard, and those in need tend to suffer. Fasting is the antidote. Set aside personal desires and pursue what God cares about. Keep giving and serving generously. With you!