Since, therefore, by our forty days’ observance we have wished to bring about this effect, that we should feel something of the Cross at the time of the Lord’s Passion, we must strive to be found partakers also of Christ’s Resurrection, and “pass from death unto life,” while we are in this body. For when a man is changed by some process from one thing into another, not to be what he was is to him an ending, and to be what he was not is a beginning. But the question is, to what a man either dies or lives: because there is a death, which is the cause of living, and there is a life, which is the cause of dying. And nowhere else but in this transitory world are both sought after, so that upon the character of our temporal actions depend the differences of the eternal retributions. We must die, therefore, to the devil and live to God: we must perish to iniquity that we may rise to righteousness. Let the old sink, that the new may rise; and since, as says the Truth, “no one can serve two masters,” let not him be Lord who has caused the overthrow of those that stood, but Him Who has raised the fallen to victory.
~ Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon 71
“[T]here is a death, which is the cause of living, and there is a life, which is the cause of dying”—Why did I write my post for Great Friday, when in this simple phrase Pope St. Leo the Great said what I strove to say in 1,200 words?
Well, in my defense, I had not yet read this. And anyway, it is good to meditate on the words of the fathers and the heart of the Gospel, again and again and again.
I have been thinking again about Fr. Neuhaus’s phrase, that we are “born toward dying.” In this, of course, he is right, as I have previously written. Death is the most certain fact of life. It is the condition into which we are born.
Yet the fathers, such as St. Gregory the Theologian, also speak of death and resurrection, like baptism, as a sort of new birth: “The Word recognizes three Births for us; namely, the natural birth, that of Baptism, and that of the Resurrection.”
In this sense—as Fr. Neuhaus would certainly affirm—for those of us who “look forward to the resurrection of the dead” (Nicene Creed), we also die toward birth, i.e. we are dead toward rising.
“[T]here is,” in fact, “a life, which is the cause of dying.” Firstly, all mortal life. Secondly, a faithless life.
Yet, “there is a death, which is the cause of living.” Christ’s death, first of all. Our dying to ourselves, our asceticism, secondly. And thirdly, for those who have the grace of the first two, our own physical deaths. Thus we commemorate the saints and martyrs of the Church on the anniversaries of their deaths, knowing that for them it is more like a birthday.
Christ is risen! Let us too die with him daily, that we may rise daily, and “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). For he is risen indeed and “has raised the fallen to victory.”