Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.1 Why is the death of the saints called precious? "Because," answers St. Bernard,2 "it is so rich in blessings which deserve to be purchased at any cost."
Some persons, attached to this world, would wish that there was no such thing as death; but St. Augustine says, "What is it to live long upon this earth, except to suffer long?"3 "The miseries and difficulties that constantly weary us in this present life are so great," says St. Ambrose, "that death seems rather a relief than a punishment."4
Death terrifies sinners, because they know that from the first death, if they die in sin, they will pass to the second death, which is eternal; but it does not terrify good souls, who, trusting in the merits of Jesus Christ, have sufficient signs to give them a moral assurance that they are in the grace of God. Wherefore, those words, "Depart, Christian soul, from this world," which are so terrible to those who die against their will, do not afflict the saints, who preserve their hearts free from worldly love, and with a true affection can continue repeating, "My God and my all."5
To these, death is not a "torment, but a rest from the pains they have suffered in struggling with temptations, and in quieting their scruples, and their fear of offending God; so that what St. John writes of them is fulfilled: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord! Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors.6 He that dies loving God is not disturbed by the pains that death brings with it; but rather it is delightful to such persons to offer them to God, as the last remains of their life. Oh what peace is experienced by him who dies, when he has abandoned himself into the arms of Jesus Christ who chose for himself a death of bitterness and desolation, that he might obtain for us a death of sweetness and resignation!
my Jesus! Thou art my judge, but Thou art also my Redeemer, who hast died to save me. From my first sin I have deserved to be condemned to hell, but in Thy mercy Thou hast given me a deep sorrow for my sins, wherefore I confidently hope that now Thou hast pardoned me. I have not deserved to love Thee; but with Thy gifts Thou hast drawn me to Thy love. If it is Thy will that this sickness shall bring death to me, I willingly receive it. I see truly that I do not now deserve to enter Paradise; I go content to purgatory, to suffer as much as it pleases Thee; there my greatest pain will be to continue far from Thee, and I shall sigh to come and see Thee and love Thee face to face; therefore, O my beloved Saviour! have mercy upon me.
And what else is this present life, but a state of perpetual peril of losing God? "We walk amidst snares," says St. Ambrose; amidst the deceits of enemies, who seek to cause us to lose the divine grace. Therefore St. Teresa, every time that the clock struck, gave thanks to God that another hour of struggle and peril had passed without sin; and therefore she was so rejoiced at the tidings of her coming death, considering that her struggles were over, and the time was near for her to depart and behold her God.
In this present life we cannot live without defects. This is the motive that makes souls that love God even desire death. It was this thought that, at the time of death, gladdened Father Vincent Carafa, when he said, "Now that I finish my life, I cease to displease God." A certain man gave directions to his attendants, that at the time of his death they should often repeat to him these words, "Comfort thyself, because the time is near when thou wilt no more offend God."
And what else is this body to us but a prison in which the soul is incarcerated, so that it cannot depart to unite itself to God? On this account, St. Francis, inflamed with love, at the hour of his death cried out with the prophet, "Take my soul out of prison." O Lord, deliver me from this prison which prevents me from seeing Thee. O death, worthy of love, who can fear thee and not desire thee, since thou art the end of all toils, and the beginning of eternal life! St. Pionius the martyr, standing by the instruments of death, showed himself so full of joy, that the people who stood by wondered at his delight, and asked him how he could be so happy when he was just going to die. "You are mistaken," said he, as Eusebius relates, "you are mistaken;—I am not hastening to death, but to life."
O most sweet Jesus, I thank Thee for not having called me to death when I was under Thy wrath, and for having won over my soul with such gentle means as Thou hast employed. When I think of the displeasure I have caused Thee, I am ready to die with grief. This my soul, which was lost, I now commit wholly into Thy hands: into Thy hands I commend my spirit; remember, O Lord! that Thou hast redeemed it with Thy death. I love Thee, O infinite goodness! and I desire to depart quickly from this life, that I may come and love Thee with a more perfect love in heaven. And so long as I shall continue to live on this earth, make me continually to comprehend better my obligation to love Thee. O my God! receive me; I give myself wholly to Thee, and I trust in Thee through the merits of Jesus Christ. I also trust in thy intercession, O Mary, my hope!
1" Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum ejus." Ps. cxv. 15.
2In Trans. S. Mai. s. I.
3"Quid est diu vivere, nisi diu torqueri?" Serm. 84 E. B.
4Ut mors remedium esse videatur, non poana.
5Deus meus, et omnia!
6"Beati mortui, qui in Domino moriuntur. Amodo jam dicit Spiritus, ut requiescant a laboribus suis." Apoc. xiv. 13.