Saturday, May 07, 2011

Sunday Thought: Keeping Watch

With Christians suffering under a persecution called by the Roman emperor Decius, St. Cyprian wrote from his place of exile a letter entitled "On the Unity of the Catholic Church" to the Christians in Carthage, ending with an exhortation to his sheep thereof, for he was their bishop. Now that Carthage has risen again, as much in need of his words as ever, is there anyone to listen?

This common mind prevailed once, in the time of the Apostles; this was the spirit in which the new community of the believers obeyed Our Lord's command and maintained charity with one another. The Scriptures are witness to it: But the crowd of those who had come to believe acted with one mind and soul. And again: They were all persevering with one mind in prayer with the women and Mary who had been the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. And that was the reason why their prayers were efficacious, that was why they could be confident of obtaining whatever they asked of God's mercy.

But amongst us, that unity of mind has weakened in proportion as the generosity of our charity has crumbled away. In those days, they would sell their houses and estates and lay up to themselves treasure in heaven by giving the money to the Apostles for distribution to those in need. But now, we do not even give tithes on our patrimony, and whereas Our Lord tells us to sell, we buy instead and accumulate. To such an extent have our people lost their old steadfastness in belief. That is why Our Lord says in His Gospel, with an eye on our times: The Son of Man, when he cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth? We see what He foretold happening before our eyes. As to fear of God, or sense of justice, or charity, or good works - faith inspires us to none of them. No one thinks of the fears that the future holds in store: the day of the Lord and the wrath of God, the punishments that await unbelievers, the eternal torments appointed for the betrayers of their faith - no one gives them a thought. Whatever a believing conscience should fear, our conscience, because it no longer believes, fears not at all. If only it believed, it would take heed; if it took heed, it would escape.

Let us do our utmost, dearest brethren, to rouse ourselves, and breaking off the sleep of our past inertia, give our minds to the observance and fulfillment of Our Lord's commands. Let us be such as He told us to be: Let your loins be girt and your lamps burning, and you yourselves like to men who wait for their lord when he shall come from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh they may open to him. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching. Our loins must be girt, lest when the day comes for the campaign, it find us encumbered with trappings. Let our light shine brightly in good works, so that it may lead us from the darkness of this world into the splendor of eternal light. Let us await the sudden coming of Our Lord, ever attentive and on the alert, so that when He shall knock, our faith may be watching, ready to receive from Our Lord the reward of its vigil. Were but these commands obeyed, were but these warnings and precepts observed - it is impossible that we should be tricked and overcome by the devil in our sleep; from being watchful servants we shall, under Christ's lordship, come to reign ourselves.

Cyprian surrendered in 258 A.D. to Valerian's persecutors, becoming by his martyrdom blessed among those watchful servants who so remain.


Beth Impson said...

Human nature doesn't change much, does it.

William Luse said...

It wouldn't seem so.