Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Preparation for Death - Consideration X

Means of Preparing for Death.
“Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.” – Eccl. vii. 40.
Not to Wait till the Last Moment.
All confess that they must die, and die only once, and that nothing is of greater importance than to die well; because on death depends whether, we shall be forever in bliss or forever in despair. All know that our eternal happiness or our eternal unhappiness depends on leading a good or a bad life. How then does it happen that the greater part of Christians live as if they were never to die, or as if to die well or ill were of little moment! They live in sin because they do not think of death. Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.1 We must be persuaded that the hour of death is not fit for settling the accounts of the soul, and securing the great affair of eternal salvation. In worldly matters prudent men take measures in due time to secure temporal gain—to obtain a situation of emolument. To preserve or restore bodily health the necessary remedies are not deferred a single moment. What would you say of the man who should put off his preparation for a trial on which his life depended till the day of trial arrived? Would you not stigmatize as a fool the general who should not begin to lay in a supply of provisions and arms till the city is besieged? Would it not be folly in a pilot to neglect till the time of the tempest, to provide the vessel with an anchor and a helm? Such precisely is the folly of the Christian who neglects to tranquillize his conscience till death arrives.
When sudden calamity shall fall on you, and destruction, as a tempest, then shall they call upon me, and I will not hear. . . . Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way.2 The time of death is a time of storm and confusion. At that awful hour sinners call on God for assistance; but they invoke his aid through the fear of hell, which they see at hand, and not with true contrition of heart. It is for this reason that God is deaf to their cry; it is for this reason also that they will then taste the fruit of their wicked life. What they have sown they shall reap.3 Ah! it will not then be enough to receive the sacraments; it is necessary at death to hate sin, and to love God above all things. But how can he, then, hate forbidden pleasures, who has loved them till that moment? How can he love God above all things, who has till then loved creatures more than he has loved God?
The Lord called the virgins foolish who wished to prepare their lamps when the bridegroom was nigh. All have a horror of a sudden death, because there is no time to settle the accounts of conscience. All confess that the saints have been truly wise, because they prepared for death during life. And what are we doing? Shall we expose ourselves to the danger of preparing for death when it arrives? We ought to do at present what we shall then wish to have done. Oh! what pain will then arise from the remembrance of time lost, and still more from the remembrance of time spent in sin: time given by God to merit eternal life but now past, and never to return! What anguish will the sinner feel when he shall be told: You can be steward no longer!4 There is no more time for doing penance, for frequenting the sacraments, for hearing sermons, for visiting Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrament, or for prayer. What is done is done. To make a good confession, to remove several grievous scruples, and thus tranquillize the conscience, would require a better state of mind and time more free from confusion and agitation. But time will be no more.5
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God! had I died on one of the nights known to Thee, where should I be at present? I thank Thee for having waited for me; I thank Thee for all those moments which I should have spent in hell from the first moment that I offended Thee. Ah! give me light, and make me sensible of the great evil I have done Thee in voluntarily losing Thy grace, which Thou didst merit for me by the sacrifice of Thy life on the cross. Ah my Jesus, pardon me: I am sorry from the bottom of my heart, and above all things, for having despised Thee, who art infinite goodness. Ah! assist me, O my Saviour! that I may never lose Thee again. Alas, my Lord! if I return again to sin, after so many lights and graces which Thou hast bestowed upon me, I should deserve a hell to be made on purpose for myself. Through the merits of that blood which Thou hast shed for my sake, do not permit me ever more to offend Thee. Give me holy perseverance, give me Thy love. I love Thee, and I wilt never cease to love Thee till death. My God, have mercy on me for the love of Jesus Christ. O Mary, my hope! do thou too have pity on me; recommend me to God: thy recommendations are never rejected by that God who loves thee so tenderly.
Put Our Conscience in a Good State, and Regulate Our Lives.
Brother, since it is certain that you will die, go as soon as possible to the foot of the crucifix; thank your crucified Redeemer for the time which in his mercy he gives you to settle the affairs of your conscience; and then review all the irregularities of your past life, particularly of your youth. Cast a glance at the commandments of God: examine yourself on the duties of the state of life in which you have lived, and on the society you have frequented: mark down in writing the sins you have committed; make a general confession of your whole life; if you have not as yet made one. Oh! how much does a general confession contribute to regularity of life in a Christian! Consider that you have to settle accounts for eternity; and take care to adjust them as if you were on the point of rendering these accounts to Jesus Christ at judgment. Banish from your heart every sinful affection, and every sentiment of rancor; remove every ground of scruple on account of the injury done to the property or character of others, or of scanda1 to your neighbor; and resolve to fly from all those occasions in which you should be in danger of losing God. Remember that what now seems difficult will appear impossible at the hour of death.
It is still more important for you to resolve to practise the means of preserving your soul in the grace of God. These means are,—hearing Mass every day, the meditation on the eternal truths, the frequentation of the sacraments of penance and Eucharist at least every eight days, the visit every day to the Most Holy Sacrament, and to an image of the divine Mother, attendance at her confraternity, spiritual reading, examination of conscience every evening, some special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, along with fasting every Saturday in her honor. Above all, resolve to recommend yourself frequently to God and to the Blessed Virgin, and frequently to invoke, in the time of temptations, the sacred names of Jesus and Mary. These are the names by which you will be able to secure a happy death, and to obtain eternal life.
The practice of these means will be for you a great sign of your predestination. And as to the past, trust in the blood of Jesus Christ, who now gives you these lights, because he desires your salvation; and trust in the intercession of Mary, who obtains these lights for you. Oh! if you adopt this mode of life; and place great confidence in Jesus and Mary, what aid will you receive from God, and what strength will your soul acquire! Dearly beloved reader, give yourself then instantly to God, who invites you, and begin to enjoy that peace of which you have been hitherto deprived through your own fault. And what greater peace can a soul enjoy than to be able to say, in going to rest at night: Should death come this night, I hope to die in the grace of God! How happy the man who, amid the terrors of thunder or of, earthquakes, is prepared to accept death with resignation, should God be pleased to send it!
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my Lord! with what fervor do I thank Thee for the light which Thou gavest me! I have so often abandoned Thee and turned my back upon Thee; but Thou hast not abandoned me. Hadst Thou abandoned me I should now be blind, as I have hitherto wished to be; I should be obstinate In my sins, and should not have the desire either to renounce sin or to love Thee. I now feel a great sorrow for having offended Thee, a great desire to be in the state of grace. I feel a hatred of these accursed delights which have made me lose Thy friendship. These sentiments are all graces which come from thee, and make me hope that Thou wilt pardon and save me. Since, then; after all my sins, Thou hast not abandoned me—since Thou now wishest to save me, behold, O Lord! I give myself entirely to Thee. I am sorry, above all things, for having offended Thee; and I propose to lose life a thousand times rather than forfeit Thy grace. I love Thee, O my sovereign Good! I love Thee, O my Jesus! who hast died for me; and I hope in Thy blood, that Thou wilt not permit me to be ever again separated from Thee. O my Jesus! I will never more lose Thee. I wish to love Thee always during life. I wish to love Thee at death. I wish to love Thee for all eternity. Preserve me then, O Lord! at all times, and increase my love for Thee. This favor I ask through Thy merits. Mary, my hope! pray to Jesus for me.
We must Detach Ourselves from the World.
It is also necessary to endeavor to be at all times in the state in which we desire to be at death. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.6 St. Ambrose says that they die well who, at the hour of death, are found dead to the world; that is, detached from the goods from which death will separate us by force. We ought then, from this moment, to accept the spoliation of our goods, and the separation from relatives and from everything in this world. Unless we do it voluntarily during life, we shall have to do it through necessity at death, but with extreme pain and great danger of eternal perdition. Hence St. Augustine says, that to settle during life all temporal matters, and dispose by will of all the goods we shall have to bequeath, contribute greatly to a tranquil death; because when all worldly affairs are already adjusted, the soul may be entirely occupied in uniting itself to God. At that hour, we should think and speak only of God and of Paradise. These last moments are too precious to be squandered in earthly thoughts. At death is completed the crown of the elect; for it is then, perhaps, that they reap the greatest harvest of merits, by embracing, with resignation and love, death and all its pains.
But the Christian who has not been in the habit of exciting these sentiments during life, will not have them at the hour of death. Hence some devout souls, with great spiritual profit to themselves, are accustomed to renew every month, after being at confession and Communion, the Protestation of death along with the Christian acts, imagining themselves at the point of death, and to be near their departure from this world.7 Unless you do this during life you will find it very difficult to do it at death. In her last illness, that great servant of God, Sister Catharine of St. Alberts, of the order of St. Teresa, sent forth a sigh, and said, “Sisters, I do not sigh through fear of death, for I have lived for twenty-five years in expectation of it; but I sigh at the sight of so many deluded Christians, who spend their life in sin, and reduce themselves to the necessity of making peace with God at death, when I can scarcely pronounce the name of Jesus.”
Examine then, O my brother, if you are now attached to anything on this earth, to any person, to any honor, to your house, to your money, to conversations or amusements; and reflect that you are not immortal. You must one day, and perhaps very soon, take leave of them all. Why then do you cherish any attachment to them, and thus expose yourself to the risk of an unhappy death? Offer from this moment all to God: tell him you are ready to give up all things whenever he pleases to deprive you of them. If you wish to die with resignation you must from this moment resign yourself to all the contradictions and adversities which may happen to you, and must divest yourself of all affections to earthly things. Imagine yourself on the bed of death, and you will despise all things in this world. “He,” says Jerome, “who always thinks that he is to die, easily despises all things.”8
If you have not yet chosen a state of life, make choice of that state of life which at death you will wish to have selected, and which will make you die with greater peace. If you have already made choice of a state of life, do now what at death you will wish to have done in that stare. Spend every day as if it were the last of your life; and perform every action, every exercise of prayer, make every confession and Communion, as if they were the last of your life. Imagine yourself every hour at the point of death, stretched on a bed, and that you hear that Proficiscere de hoc mundo which announces your departure from this world. Oh! how powerfully will this thought assist you to walk in the way of God, and to detach your heart from this earth! Blessed is that servant whom, when his Lord shall come, he shall find him so doing.9 He who expects death every hour will die well, though death should come suddenly upon him.
Affections and Prayers.
Every Christian ought to be prepared to say at the moment the news of death is announced to him: Then, my God, only a few hours remain; during the short remainder of the present life. I wish to love Thee to the utmost of my power, that I may love Thee more perfectly in heaven. But little remains for me to offer to Thee. I offer Thee these pains, and the sacrifice of my life in union with the sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered for me on the Cross. Lord! the pains which I suffer are few and light compared with what I have deserved; such as they are, I embrace them as a mark of the love which I bear Thee. Provided I am to love Thee for eternity, I resign myself to all the punishments which Thou wishest to send me in this or the next life. Chastise me as much as Thou pleasest, but do not deprive me of Thy love. I know that, on account of having so often despised Thy love, I deserved never more to love Thee; but Thou canst not reject a penitent soul. I am sorry, O Sovereign Good! for having offended Thee. I love Thee with my whole heart, and place all my trust in Thee. Thy death, O my Redeemer! is my hope. To Thy wounded hands I recommend my soul. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of Truth.10 O my Jesus, Thou hast given Thy blood for my salvation: do not suffer me to be separated from Thee. I love Thee, O eternal God, and hope to love Thee for eternity. Mary, my Mother, assist me at the awful moment of death. To thee I now consign my spirit; to thee I recommend myself. Deliver me from hell.

1“In omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua, et in æternum non peccabis.” – Ecclus. vii. 40.
2“Cum . . . interitus quasi tempestas ingruerit . . ., tunc invocabunt me, et non exaudiam . . .; comedent fructus vim suæ.” – Prov. i. 27.
3“Quæ seminaverit homo, hæc et metet. “ – Gal. vi. 8.
4“Jam non poteris amplius villicare.” – Luke, xvi. 2.
5“Tempus non erit amplius.” – Apoc. x. 6.
6“Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur.” – Apoc. xiv. 13.
7The formula of this PROTESTATION is to be found in the post "A Christian’s Rule of Life - Chapter 4."
8“Facile contemnit omnia, qui se semper cogitat esse moriturum.” – Ep. ad Paulin.
9“Beatus ille servus, quem, cum venerit Dominus ejus, invenerit sic facientem.” – Matt. xxiv. 46.
10“In manus tuas commendo, spiritum meum; redemisti me, Domine Deus veritatis.” – Ps. xxx. 6.

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