Peace of the Just at the Hour of Death.
“The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; but they are in peace.” – Wis. iii. 1, etc.
The Just have nothing to fear at the Hour of Death,
The Just have nothing to fear at the Hour of Death,
The souls of the just are in the hands of God. If God holds fast in his hands the souls of the just, who can snatch them from him? It is true that hell does not cease to tempt and attack even the saints at the hour of death; but it also true that God does not cease to assist, and to multiply helps to his faithful servants, whenever their danger is increased. “There,” says St. Ambrose, “is greater aid, where there is greater peril, because God is a helper in due time.”1 David also assures us in the Psalms: A helper in time of tribulation.2 The servant of Eliseus was struck with terror when he saw the city encompassed with enemies; but the saint inspired him with courage, saying: Fear not: for there are more with us than with them.3 He then showed him an army of angels sent by God to defend the city. The devil will come to tempt the dying Christian; but his angel-guardian will come to strengthen him: his holy advocates Will come—St. Michael, whom God has appointed to defend his faithful servants in their last combat with hell, will come; the divine Mother will come to chase away the devils, and to protect her servant; above all, Jesus Christ will come to guard against every temptation of hell, the innocent or penitent sheep for whose salvation he has given his life. He will give that confidence and strength of which the soul shall stand in need in that last struggle with its enemies. Hence, full of courage, it will say: The Lord became my helper.4 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?5 God, says Origen, is more solicitous for our salvation than the devil is for our perdition; for the Lord loves our souls far more than the devil hates them.6
God is faithful, says the Apostle;-he does not permit us to be tempted above our strength.7 But you will say: Many saints have died with great fear of being lost. I answer: We have but few examples of persons who, after leading a holy life, died with fears for their eternal salvation. Belluacensis says that, to purify them at the hour of death from some defect, God sometimes permits holy souls to be disturbed by such fears.8 But generally the servants of God have died with a joyful countenance. At death the judgment of God excites fear in all; but if sinners pass from terror to despair, the saints rise from fear to confidence. St. Antonine relates that in a severe illness, St. Bernard trembled through fear of judgment, and was tempted to despair. But thinking of the merits of Jesus Christ, he drove away all fear, saying to his Saviour: Thy wounds are my merits.9 St. Hilarion also was seized with fear; but he said: “Go forth, my soul; what do you fear? For near seventy years you have served Christ; and are you now afraid of death?”10 As if he said: My soul, what do you fear? have you not served a God who is faithful, and knows not how to abandon at death the Christian who has been faithful to him during life? Father Joseph Scamacca, of the Society of Jesus, being asked if in dying he felt confidence in God, said: “Have I served Mahomet, that I should now doubt of the goodness of my God, or of his desire to save me?
Should the thought of having offended God at some time of our life molest us at death, let us remember that he has protested that he forgets the iniquities of all penitent sinners. If the wicked do penance,—I will not remember all his iniquities.11 But you may ask: How can I be secure of having received pardon from God? St. Basil asks the same question: How can any one be certain that God has forgiven his sins?”12 “He can be certain of pardon.” answers the saint; “if he say: I have hated and abhorred iniquity.”13 He who detests sin, can rest secure of having obtained pardon from God. The heart of man cannot exist without loving some object; it must love creatures or God, If it loves not creatures, it loves God. And who are they that love God? All who observe his commands. He that hath my commandments, and keepth them, he it is that loveth me.14 He then who dies in the observance of the commandments, dies in the love of God; and he that loves fears not. Charity casteth out fear.15
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my Jesus! when will the day arrive on which I can say: My God! I can never lose Thee? When shall I see Thee face to face, and be sure of loving Thee with all my strength for eternity? Ah, my Sovereign Good, my only love! as long as I have life, I shall be in danger of offending Thee and of losing Thy grace. There has been an unhappy time when I did not love Thee, but, on the contrary, despised Thy love. I am sorry for it with my whole soul, and hope that Thou hast already pardoned me. I now love Thee with my whole heart, and desire to do all in my power to love and please Thee. But I am still in danger of refusing Thee my love, and of again turning my back upon Thee. Ah, my Jesus, my life and my treasure! do not permit it. Should this misfortune ever happen to me, take me this moment out of life by the most cruel of deaths; I am content to suffer such a death, and I entreat Thee to send me such a death, sooner than permit me ever to cease to love Thee. Eternal Father! for the love of Jesus Christ, do not abandon me to so great an evil. Chastise me as Thou wishest, I deserve and accept any chastisement Thou pleasest to inflict upon me: but preserve me from the punishment of seeing myself deprived of Thy grace and of Thy love. My Jesus! recommend me to Thy Father. Mary, my Mother! recommend me to thy Son; obtain for me perseverance in his friendship, and the grace to love him; and then do with me what thou pleasest.
The Just Die in a Sweet Peace.
The Just Die in a Sweet Peace.
The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; . . . but they are in peace.16 In the eyes of the unwise the servants of God appear to die, as worldlings do, in sorrow and with reluctance. But God knows well how to console his children in their last moments; and even in the midst of the pains of death he infuses into their souls certain sweetnesses, as foretastes of Paradise, which he will soon bestow upon them. As they who die in sin begin to experience on the bed of death certain foretastes of hell, certain remorse, terrors, and fits of despair; so, on the other hand, the saints, by the frequent acts of divine love which they then make, by their ardent desire and firm hope of soon possessing God, begin to feel that peace which they will afterwards fully enjoy in heaven. To the saints death is not a punishment, but a reward. When He shall give sleep to His beloved, behold the inheritance of the Lord.17 The death of the Christian that loves God is called, not death, but sleep, thus he shall be able to say less, In peace in the selfsame I will sleep and I will rest.18
Father Suarez died with so much peace, that in his last moments he exclaimed: “I could never imagine that death would be so sweet.”19 When Cardinal Baronius was advised by his physician not to fix his thoughts so much on death, he said: “Perhaps you think I am afraid of death. I fear it not; but, on the contrary, I love it.” In going to death for the faith, the Cardinal of Rochester, as Saunders relates, put on his best clothes, saying that he was going to a nuptial feast. Hence at the sight of the scaffold he threw away his staff, and said: “O my feet! walk fast; we are not far from Paradise.”20 Before death he intoned the “Te Deum,” to thank God for giving him the grace to die a martyr for the holy faith; and, full of joy, he laid his head on the block. St. Francis of Assisi began to sing at the hour of death, and invited the brethren to join him. Brother Elias said to him: “Father, at death we ought rather to weep than to sing.” “But,” replied the saint, “I cannot abstain from singing; for I see that I shall soon go to enjoy my God.” A Young nun of the order of St. Teresa, in her last illness said to her sisters in religion who stood round her bed bathed in tears: “O God! why do you weep? I go to enjoy my Jesus. If you love me, rejoice with me.”
Father Granada relates that a certain sportsman found a solitary infected with leprosy, singing in his last agony. “How,” said the sportsman, “can you sing in such a state?” “Brother,” replied the hermit, “between me and God there is nothing but the wall of this body. I now see that my flesh is falling off—that the prison will soon be destroyed, and that I shall go to see my God. It is for this reason that I rejoice and sing.” The desire of seeing God made St. Ignatius the Martyr say that if the wild beasts should not take away his life he would provoke them to devour him.21 St. Catharine of Genoa could not bear to hear death called a misfortune. Hence she would say: “Oh! beloved death, in what a mistaken light are you viewed! Why do you not come to me? I call on you night and day.” St. Teresa desired death so vehemently that she regarded the continuation of life as death hence she composed the celebrated hymn, I die because I do not die. Such is death to the saints.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my supreme good, my God! if for the past I have not loved Thee, I now turn to Thee with my whole soul. I take leave of all creatures, and choose Thee, my most amiable Lord! for the sole object of my love. Tell me what Thou wishest from me: I will do all Thou desirest. I have offended Thee enough: I wish to spend all the remaining moments of life in pleasing Thee. Give me grace to compensate by my love my past ingratitude, which has continued to this moment. I deserve to burn in the fire of hell for so many years; Thou hast sought after me, and hast drawn me to Thyself. Make me now burn with the fire of Thy holy love. I love Thee, O Infinite Goodness! Thou justly claimest all the affections of my heart; for Thou hast loved me more than all others have loved me. Thou alone deservest my love; Thou only do I wish to love. I desire to do everything in my power to please Thee. Do with me whatsoever Thou wishest. For me it is enough to love Thee and to be loved by Thee. Mary, my Mother! assist me; pray to Jesus for me.
The Just in Dying have a Foretaste of Celestial Joy.
The Just in Dying have a Foretaste of Celestial Joy.
And how can he fear death, says St. Cyprian, who hopes to receive a kingly crown in Paradise! “Let us not be afraid to be put to death when we are certain that we shall be crowned after death.”22 How can he fear death when he knows that by dying in the state of grace his body will become immortal? This mortal must put on immortality.23 He that loves God and desires to see him, regards life as a punishment and death as a source of joy, says St. Augustine.24 And St. Thomas of Villanova says that death, if it finds a man sleeping, comes like a thief, robs him, kills him, and casts him into the pit of hell. But if it finds him watching, it comes as an ambassador from God, and salutes him, saying: “The Lord expects you to the nuptial feast: come; I will conduct you to the happy kingdom for which you sigh.”25
Oh! with joy does he expect death who finds himself in the grace of God, and hopes soon to see Jesus Christ, and to hear from him these consoling words: Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many.26 Oh, what consolation will he then receive from his works of penance, his prayers, his detachment from earthly goods, and from all he has done for God! Say to the just man, that it is well; for he shall eat the fruit of his doings.27 Then he who has loved God will taste the fruit of all his holy works. Hence, in hearing that a religious, his friend, died in sentiments of fervent piety, Father Hyppolitus Durazzo, of the Society of Jesus, wept not, but exulted with joy and gladness. But, says St. John Chrysostom, would it not be most unreasonable to believe that heaven is eternal, and to pity those who go to that kingdom of delights?28 What special consolation will the just man receive at the hour of death from the devotions performed in honor of the Mother of God, from the Rosaries he has recited, from his visits to her image, from his fasts on Saturdays, from his frequent attendance at her Confraternities! Mary is called the faithful Virgin. Oh, how great is her fidelity in consoling her faithful servants at the hour of death! A certain person devoted to the Most Holy Virgin said in his last moments to Father Binetti: “Father, you cannot conceive the consolation which the thought of having served Mary infuses at the hour of death. O my Father! if you knew the happiness I feel on account of having served this Mother. I am not able to express it.” How great will be the joy of him who has loved Jesus Christ—who has often visited him in the Most Adorable Sacrament, and has often received him in the Holy Communion, when he sees his Lord entering his room in the Most Holy Viaticum, and coming to accompany him in his passage to eternity! Happy he who will then be able, with St. Philip Neri, to say to his Saviour: “Behold my love! Behold my love! Give me my love.”
But you will, perhaps, say: Who knows what shall be my lot? Who knows but I shall die an unhappy death? Of you who speak in this manner, I ask what is it that causes a bad death? Nothing but Sin. We should then fear sin only, and not death. “It is clear,” says St. Ambrose, “that it is not death that is bitter, but sin; our fears ought not to be of death, but of life.”29 If, then, you desire not to fear death, lead a holy life. With him that feareth the Lord, it shall go well in the latter end.30
Father Colombière held it to be morally impossible that the man who has been faithful to God during life should die a bad death. And before him, St. Augustine said: “He who has lived well cannot die badly. He who is prepared to die fears no death, however sudden.”31 The just man, if he be prevented with death, shall be in rest.32 Since we cannot go to enjoy God without passing through death, St. John Chrysostom exhorts us to offer to God what we are obliged to give him.33 And let us be persuaded that they who offer their death to God, make the most perfect act of divine love which it is in their power to perform; because, by cheerfully embracing that kind of death which God is pleased to send, and at the time and in the manner in which God sends it, they render themselves like the holy martyrs. He who loves God should desire and sigh after death; because it unites him forever to God, and delivers him from the danger of losing God. He who does not desire to see God speedily, and to be secure against the possibility of ever losing God, shows that he has but little love for God. Let us, during life, love him to the utmost of our power. We should make use of life only to advance in divine love: the measure of our love of God at death will be the measure of our love for him in a happy eternity.
Affections and Prayers.
My Jesus! bind me to Thyself so that I may never more be separated from Thee. Make me entirely Thine before I die, that I may see Thee appeased, O my Redeemer! the first time I behold Thee. Thou didst seek after me when I fled away from Thee: ah! do not cast me off, now that I seek after Thee. Pardon me all the offences I have given Thee. From this day I will think only of serving and loving Thee. Thou hast laid me under too many obligations; Thou hast not refused to give Thy blood and Thy life for the love of me. I would wish to be entirely consumed for the love of Thee. O God of my soul! I wish to love Thee ardently in this life, that I may love Thee ardently in the next. Eternal Father! draw my whole heart to Thee: detach it from earthly affections: wound and inflame my whole soul with Thy holy love. Through the merits of Jesus Christ, hear my prayers. Give me holy perseverance, and grant me the grace always to ask it of Thee. Mary, my Mother! assist me, and obtain for me the grace to ask unceasingly of thy Son the gift of holy perseverance.
1“Ibi plus auxilii, ubi plus periculi.” – De Jos. patr. c. 5.
2“Dominus . . . adjutor in opportunitatibus.” – Ps. ix. 10.
3“Noli timere, plures enim nobiscum sunt, quam cum illis.” – 4 Kings, vi. 16.
4“Dominus factus est adjutor meus.” – Ps. xxix. 11.
5“Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea; quem timebo?” – Ps. xxvi. 1.
6“Major illi cura est, ut nos ad salutem pertrahat quam diabolo ut nos ad damnationem impellat.” – In Num. Hom. 20.
7“Fidelis Deus non patietur vos tentari supra id quod potestis.” – 1 Cor. x. 13.
8“Justi quandoque dure moriendo purgantur in hoc mundo.” – Spec. mor. l. 2. p. 1. d. 3.
9“Vulnera tua, merita mea.”
10“Egredere, anima mea; quid times? Septuaginta prope annis servisti Christo, et mortem times?”
11“Si impius egerit pœnitentiam, . . . omnium iniquitatum ejus . . . non recordabor.” – Ezek. xviii. 21.
12“Quomodo certo persuasus esse quis potest, quod Deus ei peccata dimiserit?”
13“Nimirum si dicat: Iniquitatem odio habui et abominatus sum.” – Reg. brev. interr. 12.
14“Qui habet mandata mea et servat ea, ille est qui diligit me.” – John, xiv. 21.
15“Charitas foras mittit timorem.” – 1 John, iv. 18.
16“Justorum animæ in manu Dei sunt, et non tanget illos tormentum mortis; visi sunt oculis insipientium mori . . illi autem sunt in pace.” – Wis. iii. 1.
17“Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum, ecce hereditas Domini.” – Ps. cxxvi. 2.
18“In pace in idipsum dormiam et requiescam.” – Ps. iv. 9.
19Non putabam tam dulce esse mori.
20Ite, pedes; parum a paradiso distamus.
21Ego vim faciam ut devorer.
22“Non vereamur occidi, quos constet quando occidimur, coronari?” – Epis. ad Thibar.
23“Oportet . . . mortale hoc induere immortalitatem.” – 1 Cor. xv. 55.
24“Patienter vivit, delectabiliter moritur.” – In 1 Joh, tr. 9.
25“Te Dominus ad nuptias vocat; veni, ducam te quo desideras.” – De S. Ildeph. conc. 2.
26“Euge, serve bone et fidelis: quia super pauca fuisti fidelis, super multa te constituam; intra in gaudium Domini tui.” – Matt. xxv. 21.
27“Dicite justo quoniam bene: quoniam fructum adinventionum suarum comedet.” – Isa. iii. 10.
28“Fateri cœlum et eos, qui hinc eo commearunt luctu prosequi.” – Ad Vid. jun. tr. 1.
29“Liquet acerbitatem non mortis esse, sed culpæ: non ad mortem metus referendus, sed ad vitam.” – De bon. mort. c. 8.
30“Timenti Dominum bene erit in extremis.” – Ecclus. i. 13.
31“Non potest male mori, qui bene vixerit.” – De Disc. chr., c. 12.
32“Justus autem, si morte præoccupatus fuerit, in refrigerio erit.” – Wis. iv. 7.
33“Offeramus Deo quod tenemur reddere.” – Op. imp. in Matth. hom. 25.