Please offer prayers for the departed servant of God my father, Richard Hawthorne, who passed away today and for the comfort of those he has left behind. Requiescat in pace, Daddy.
Death is a tragic mercy. Tragic because of the pain of being separated from someone we love, the regret of things not said often enough and the disappointed of lost opportunities. Yet death is often also a mercy for each of us as we depart since we do not have to live forever in bodies that wear out or with souls weakened by the sins to which we are prone in our fallen human condition.
I chose the picture for this post because of its symbolism. This is one of the many proto-icons in the catacombs where the first Christians worshiped to avoid the pagan Roman authorities. The young veiled woman is a symbol of the Church or of the soul in prayer- indeed she is in the “orans” position, the way ancient Christians usually stood to pray with their arms stretched out in the form of a cross. Above her is a peacock which our spiritual forefathers chose to represent immortality. This is because of an ancient legend that the flesh of the peacock did not decay. It also became associated with the Resurrection of Christ because every year it sheds its feathers and grows newer and brighter ones in their place. If the peacock is portrayed drinking from a vase it symbolizes the Christian drinking the waters of eternal life. Also, the “multitude of eyes” on the peacock’s stunningly beautiful tail reminds us of the all-seeing eye of God who “shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Apocalypse 21:4).
The following quotes are ones that I have shared with friends who had recently experienced the loss of a loved one and I find that they comfort me now in my time of grief. I am posting them here now that they may stand as a perpetual reminder for myself and an ever present resource for anyone who happens across this page.
Both of these quotes are from Blessed Augustine whose poignant pain at the loss of his mother made him a wonderful counselor when consoling others:
“Of necessity we must be sorrowful when those whom we love leave us in death. Although we know that they have not left us behind forever but only gone ahead of us, still when death seizes our loved one, our loving hearts are saddened by death itself. Thus the apostle Paul does not tell us not to grieve but “not to grieve like those who are without hope.”
Let us grieve, therefore, over the necessity of losing our loved ones in death but with the hope of being reunited with them. If we are afflicted we still find consolation. Our weakness weights us down, but faith bears us up. We sorrow over the human condition, but find our healing in the divine promise …” (Sermon 172)
And this, from a letter he wrote to his spiritual daughter Sapida on the loss of her beloved brother:
There is nothing in the sorrow of mortals over their dearly beloved dead which merits displeasure; but the sorrow of believers ought not to be prolonged. If, therefore, you have been grieved till now, let this grief suffice, and sorrow not as do the heathen,
who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:12).For when the Apostle Paul said this, he did not prohibit sorrow altogether, but only such sorrow as the heathen manifest who have no hope. For even Martha and Mary, pious sisters, and believers, wept for their brother Lazarus, of whom they knew that he would rise again, though they knew not that he was at that time to be restored to life; and the Lord Himself wept for that same Lazarus, whom He was going to bring back from death; (Jhn. 11:19-35) wherein doubtless He by His example permitted, though He did not by any precept enjoin, the shedding of tears over the graves even of those regarding whom we believe that they shall rise again to the true life. Nor is it without good reason that Scripture says in the book of Ecclesiasticus:
Let tears fall down over the dead, and begin to lament as if you had suffered great harm yourself; but adds, a little further on, this counsel,
and then comfort yourself for your heaviness. For of heaviness comes death, and the heaviness of the heart breaks strength. (Sirach 38:16-18)
Your brother, my daughter, is alive as to the soul, is asleep as to the body:
Shall not he who sleeps also rise again from sleep? God, who has already received his spirit, shall again give back to him his body, which He did not take away to annihilate, but only took aside to restore. There is therefore no reason for protracted sorrow, since there is a much stronger reason for everlasting joy. For even the mortal part of your brother, which has been buried in the earth, shall not be for ever lost to you—that part in which he was visibly present with you, through which also he addressed you and conversed with you, by which he spoke with a voice not less thoroughly known to your ear than was his countenance when presented to your eyes, so that, wherever the sound of his voice was heard, even though he was not seen, he used to be at once recognized by you. These things are indeed withdrawn so as to be no longer perceived by the senses of the living, that the absence of the dead may make surviving friends mourn for them. But seeing that even the bodies of the dead shall not perish (as not even a hair of the head shall perish), (Lk. 21:18) but shall, after being laid aside for a time, be received again never more to be laid aside, but fixed finally in the higher condition of existence into which they shall have been changed, certainly there is more cause for thankfulness in the sure hope for an immeasurable eternity, than for sorrow in the transient experience of a very short span of time. This hope the heathen do not possess, because they know not the Scriptures nor the power of God, (Mt. 22:29) who is able to restore what was lost, to quicken what was dead, to renew what has been subjected to corruption, to re-unite things which have been severed from each other, and to preserve thenceforward for evermore what was originally corruptible and short lived. These things He has promised, who has, by the fulfilment of other promises, given our faith good ground to believe that these also shall be fulfilled. Let your faith often discourse now to you on these things, because your hope shall not be disappointed, though your love may be now for a season interrupted in its exercise; ponder these things; in them find more solid and abundant consolation. For if the fact that I now wear (because he could not) the garment which you had woven for your brother yields some comfort to you, how much more full and satisfactory the comfort which you should find in considering that he for whom this was prepared, and who then did not require an imperishable garment, shall be clothed with incorruption and immortality!” (Letter 263)
Blessed Augustine’s citation from Ecclesiasticus deserves to be read in full, “16 My son, let your tears fall for the dead, And as one suffering grievously, begin the lament. With the honor due him, wrap his body And take care of his burial. 17 Weep bitterly and lament fervently; Do your mourning according to what he deserves For a day or two to avoid slander; Then be comforted for your grief. 18 For grief is a cause of death, And a grief-stricken heart will sap your strength. 19 Grief also abides in misery, And the life of a poor man weighs down his heart. 20 Do not give your heart to grief; Drive it away, remembering the end of life. 21 Do not forget, for there is no coming back; And you cannot help the dead man by grieving, But will only injure yourself. 22 Remember my end, since yours is also like it: “Mine yesterday, yours today.” 23 When the dead man is at rest, let his remembrance cease, And be comforted for him in the exodus of his spirit.” (Ecclesiasticus/ Sirach 38:16-23)
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.”
-2 Corinthians 1:3-5