Listers, when there is a death in the family, it is always very hard to find the right words to say. I always struggle with this and end up bumbling through my condolences. In the end, I always feel that whatever I say is trite even though my attempts were heartfelt and well-meaning. It is especially hard to console a family when they are grieving the loss of a child. Recently, a couple members of my extended family lost not one child but two in the span of one year, so I felt like words were not enough. I decided to seek out the wisdom of the Church Fathers, who always know the right thing to say. What I found was not only uplifting but shed some light on how Catholics ought to view death. Whether it is you who might have lost a child or someone you might know, these quotes from the Church Fathers might be of some consolation. This list is a compilation of my findings:
1. Dwell on the wonderful company your child must be keeping
Well, your child may have departed from you, but he has gone to Christ the Lord. For you his eyes have been shut, but they are opened to the eternal light: he is gone from your table, but is now added to the table of angels. The plant was uprooted from here, but planted in paradise . From the earthly kingdom he was transferred to the heavenly kingdom. You see what was exchanged for what. Are you sad because you no longer see the beauty of the face of your child? But this happens, because you do not see the real beauty of the soul with which he rejoices in the heavenly feast. How beautiful indeed is the eye that sees God! How sweet indeed is the mouth that is adorned with divine melodies!
St. Gregory of Nyssa from A Homily of Consolation Concerning Pulcheria
2. Remember that you remain united to your child through Christ
For why should I weep for thee, my most loving brother, who wast thus torn from me that thou mightest be the brother of all? For I have not lost but changed my intercourse with thee; before we were inseparable in body, now we are undivided in affection; for thou remainst with me and ever wilt remain. And indeed, whilst thou wast living with me, our country never tore thee from me, nor didst thou thyself ever prefer our country to me; and now thou art become surety for that other country, for I begin to be no stranger there where the better portion of myself already is. I was never wholly engrossed in myself, but the greater part of each of us was in the other, yet we were each of us in Christ, in Whom is the whole sum of all and the portion of each severally. This grace is more pleasing to me than thy natal soil, in which is the fruit not of nature but of grace, for in that body which lies lifeless lies the better work of my life, since in this body, too, which I bear is the richer portion of thyself.
St. Ambrose Book 1 of “On the Decease of Satyrus
3.Remember to love God above all things
(Warning! This is one is a bit harsh, but it is something you ought to remind yourself)
Wherefore dost thou lament thy child? Wherefore thine husband? The former , because I had not enjoyed him, you say; the latter, because I expected that I should have enjoyed him longer. And this very thing, what want of faith does it argue, to suppose that thy husband or thy son constitutes thy safety, and not God! How dost thou not think to provoke Him? For often on this account He takes them away, that thou mayest not be so bound to them, so that it may withdraw thy hopes from them. For God is jealous, and wills to be loved by us most of all things: and that, because He loves us exceedingly[…]Love not thy husband more than God, and thou shalt not ever experience widowhood. Or rather, even if it should happen, thou shalt not have the feeling of it. Why? Because thou hast an immortal Protector who loves thee better. If thou lovest God more, mourn not: For He who is more beloved is immortal, and does not suffer thee to feel the loss of him who is less beloved. This I will make manifest to thee by an example. Tell me, if thou hast a husband, complying with thee in all things, one that is respected amongst all, intelligent and wise, and loving thee, thou being esteemed happy on his account, and in conjunction with him shouldest thou bring forth a child, and then before it has arrived at the age of maturity, that child should depart; wilt thou then feel the affliction? By no means. For he that is more beloved makes it disappear. And now if thou love God more than thy husband assuredly He will not soon take him away. But even if He should take him, thou wilt not be sensible of the affliction. For this reason the blessed Job felt no severe suffering, when he heard of the death of his children all at once, because he loved God more than them…
St. John Chrysostom Homily 6 in his Homilies of 1 Thessalonians
4. Your child is in a better place, as cliche as that may sound.
And sayest thou, How is it possible for one that is man not to mourn? I reply if thou wilt reflect how neither the Patriarch nor Job, who both were men, gave way to any thing of the kind; and this too in either case before the Law , and Grace, and the excellent wisdom of the laws [we have]: if thou wilt account that the deceased has removed into a better country, and bounded away to a happier inheritance, and that thou hast not lost thy son but bestowed him henceforward in an inviolable spot. Say not then, I pray thee, I am no longer called “father,” for why art thou no longer called so when thy son abideth? For surely thou didst not part with thy child nor lost thy son? Rather thou hast gotten him, and hast him in greater safety. Wherefore, no longer shalt thou be called “father” here only, but also in heaven; so that thou hast not lost the title “father,” but hast gained it in a nobler sense; for henceforth thou shalt be called father not of a mortal child, but of an immortal; of a noble soldier; on duty continually within [the palace]. For think not because he is not present that therefore he is lost; for had he been absent in a foreign land, the title of thy relationship had not gone from thee with his body […]
St. John Chrysostom Homily 1 of his Homilies on Second Corinthians
5. Honor your child through acts of penance and alms-giving. (This is essential!)
For the honor to the dead is, not wailings and lamentings, but hymns and psalmodies and an excellent life. The good man when he departheth, shall depart with angels, though no man be near his remains; but the corrupt, though he have a city to attend his funeral, shall be nothing profited. Wilt thou honor him who is gone? Honor him in another way, by alms-deeds, by acts of beneficence and public service.
St. John Chrysostom Homily 57 of his Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John.
6. When all other outlets of consolation fail, look to the Resurrection for comfort.
Say not then, “He is perished and shall no more be;” for these be the words of unbelievers; but say, “He sleepth and will rise again,” He is gone on a journey and will return with the King.” Who sayeth this? He that hath Christ speaking in him. “For,” saith he, “if revived, “even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” (1 Thess. iv.14.) If then thou seek thy son, there seek him where the King is, where is the army of the Angels; not in the grace; not in the earth; lest whilst he is so highly exalted, thyself remain groveling on the ground […] If we have this true wisdom, we shall easily repel all this kind of distress; and “the God of mercies and Father of all comfort” comfort all our hearts both those who are oppressed with such grief and those held down with any other sorrow; and grant us deliverance from all despair and increase of spiritual joy; and to all we attain, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom unto the Father, together with the Holy Spirit be glory, power, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
St. John Chrysostom Homily 1 of his Homilies on 2 Corinthians
Listers, if you have any more quotes to add to this list let us know.