The Death of the Just.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” – Ps. cxv. 15.
The Death of the Just is a Rest.
The Death of the Just is a Rest.
Viewed according to the senses, death excites fear and terror; but viewed with the eyes of faith, it is consoling and desirable. To sinners it appears full of terror; but to the saints it is amiable and precious. “It is precious.” says St. Bernard, “as the end of labors, the consummation of victory, the gate of life.”1 It is the end of toils and labor. Man, says Job, born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries.2 Behold a picture of our life: it is short and all full of miseries, of infirmities, of fears, and of passions. What, says Seneca, do worldlings, who desire a long life, seek, but a continuation of torments?3 What, says St. Augustine, is a prolongation of life, but a prolongation of suffering?4 Yes; for, as St. Ambrose tells us, the present life is given us, not for repose, but that we may labor, and by our toils merit eternal glory.5 Hence Tertullian has justly said, that when God abridges life he abridges pain.6 Hence, though man has been condemned to death in punishment of sin, still the miseries of this life are so great, that, according to St. Ambrose, death appears to be a remedy and relief, rather than a chastisement.7 God pronounces happy all who die in his grace, because they terminate their labors and go to repose. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. From henceforth now saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labors.8
The torments which afflict sinners at death do not disturb the peace of the saints. The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them.9 That proficiscere which is so full of terror to worldlings does not alarm the saints. The just man is not afflicted at the thought of being obliged to take leave of the goods of the earth, for he has always kept his heart detached from them. During life he has constantly said to the Lord: Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever.10 Happy you, said the Apostle to his disciples, who have been robbed of your goods for the sake of Jesus Christ. You took with joy the being stripped of your goods, knowing that you had a better and a lasting substance.11 The saint is not afflicted at bidding an eternal farewell to honors, for he always hated them, and considered them to be what they really are—smoke and vanity. He is not afflicted in leaving relatives, for he loved them only in God, and at death he recommends them to his heavenly Father, who loves them more than he does; and having a secure confidence of salvation, he expects to be better able to assist them from heaven than on this earth. In a word, he who has constantly said during life, My God and my all, continues to repeat it with greater consolation and greater tenderness at the hour of death.
He who dies loving God, is not disturbed by the pains of death; but, seeing that he is now at the end of life, and that he has no more time to suffer for God, or to offer him other proofs of his love, he accepts these pains with joy. With affection and peace he offers to God these last moments of life, and feels consoled in uniting the sacrifice of his death to the sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered for him on the Cross to his eternal Father. Thus he dies happily, saying; In peace in the self-same I will sleep and I will rest.12 Oh! how great the peace of the Christian who dies abandoned and reposing in the arms of Jesus Christ, who has loved us to death, and has condescended to suffer so cruel a death in order to obtain for us a death full of sweetness and consolation.
Affections and Prayers.
O my beloved Jesus! who, to obtain for me a happy death, hast freely submitted to so painful a death on Calvary, when shall I see Thee? The first time I shall behold Thee, I shall see Thee as my judge in the very place in which I shall expire. What shall I then say? What wilt Thou say to me? I will not wait till that moment to think of what I shall say: I will meditate on it now. I will say to Thee: My Redeemer! Thou art the God who hast died for me. I have hitherto offended Thee; I have been ungrateful to Thee; I did not deserve pardon, but afterward, assisted by Thy grace, I have entered into myself, and, during the remainder of my life, I have bewailed my sins, and Thou hast pardoned me. Pardon me again, now that I am at Thy feet, and give me a general absolution of all my sins. I did not deserve ever again to love Thee, because I have despised Thy love; but Thou in Thy mercy hast drawn my heart to Thee, so that if I have not loved Thee as Thou deservest, I have at least loved Thee above all things, and have left all to please Thee. I see that Paradise and the possession of Thy divinity in Thy kingdom is too much for me; but I cannot live at a distance from Thee, now, especially, after Thou hast shown me Thy amiable and beautiful countenance. I therefore ask for Paradise, not to enjoy greater delights, but to love Thee more perfectly. Send me to Purgatory as long as Thou pleasest. Defiled as I am at present, I do not wish to enter into the land of purity, and to see myself among those pure souls. Send me to be purified; but do not banish. me forever from Thy presence. I shall be content to be one day, whenever Thou pleasest, called to Paradise to sing Thy mercies for all eternity. Ah. my beloved Judge! raise Thy hand and bless me; tell me that I am Thine, and that Thou art and shalt be forever mine. I will always love Thee, and Thou wilt forever love me. Behold, I go to a distance from Thee; I go into fire: but I go in peace, because I go to love Thee, my Redeemer, my God, my all! I am content to go; but during my absence from Thee, I go, O Lord! to count the moments that will elapse before Thou callest me. Have mercy on a soul that loves Thee with all its power, and that sighs to see Thee, that it may love Thee better.
This I hope, O my Jesus! to say to Thee at death. I entreat Thee to give me the grace to live in such a manner that I may then say to Thee what I have now thought. Give me holy perseverance, give me Thy love. Assist me, O Mary! Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.
The Death of the Just is a Victory.
The Death of the Just is a Victory.
God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more.13 Then, at death the Lord will wipe away from the eyes of his servants all the tears that they have shed in this world, where they live in the midst of pains, of fears, of dangers, and of combats with hell. The greatest consolation which a soul that has loved God will experience in hearing the news of death, will arise from the thought that it will soon be delivered from the many dangers of offending God, to which it is exposed in this life, from so many troubles of conscience, and from so many temptations of the devil. The present life is an unceasing warfare with hell, in which we are in continual danger of losing our souls and God. St. Ambrose says that in this life we walk among snares: we walk continually amid the snares of enemies, who lie in wait to deprive us of the life of grace. It was this danger that made St. Peter of Alcantara say at death to a religious who, in attending the saint, accidentally touched him: “Brother, remove, remove from me; for I am still alive, and am still in danger of being lost.” The thought of being freed by death from the danger of sin consoled St. Teresa, and made her rejoice as often as she heard the clock strike, that another hour of the combat was passed. Hence she would say: “In each moment of life I may sin and lose God.” Hence, the news of approaching death filled the saints with consolation; because they knew that their struggles and dangers were soon to have an end, and that they would soon be in secure possession of that happy lot in which they could never more lose God.
It is related in the lives of the Fathers, that one of them who was very old, when dying, smiled while the others wept. Being asked why he smiled, he said, “Why do you weep at seeing me go to rest?”14 Likewise St. Catharine of Sienna in her last moments said: “Rejoice with me; for I quit this land of pains, and go to a place of peace.” If, says St. Cyprian, you lived in a house whose walls, and roof, and floors were tottering, and threatened destruction, how ardently would you desire to fly from it! In this life everything menaces the ruin of the soul; the world, hell, the passions, the rebellious senses, all draw us to sin and eternal death. Who, exclaimed the Apostle, shall deliver me from the body of this death?15 Oh! how great will be the joy of the soul in hearing these words: “Come, my spouse, depart from that land of tears, from the dens of lions who seek to devour you, and to rob you of the divine grace.”16 Hence, St. Paul, sighing for death said that Jesus Christ was his only life; and therefore he esteemed death his greatest gain, because by death he acquired that life which never ends. To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.17
In taking a soul while it is in the state of grace out of this world, where it may change its will and lose his friendship, God bestows on it a great favor. He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding.18 Happy in this life is the man that lives in union with God; but, as the sailor is not secure until he has arrived at the port and escaped the tempest, so the soul cannot enjoy complete happiness until it has left this world in the grace of God. “Praise,” says St. Maximus, “the felicity of the sailor: but not until he has reached the port.”19 Now, if at his approach to the port the sailor rejoices, how much greater ought to be the joy and gladness of a Christian who is at the point of securing eternal salvation?
Moreover, it is impossible in this life to avoid all venial sins. For, says the Holy Ghost, a just man shall fall seven times.20 He who quits this life ceases to offend God. “For,” says St. Ambrose, what is death but the burial of vices?”21 This consideration makes the souls that love God long for death. The Venerable Vincent Caraffa consoled himself at death, saying: “By ceasing to live, I cease forever to offend God.” And St. Ambrose said: “Why do we desire this life, in which, the longer we live, the more we are loaded with sins?”22 He who dies In the grace of God can never more offend him, says the same holy doctor.23 Hence, the Lord praises the dead more than any man living, though he be a saint.24 A certain spiritual man gave directions that the person who should bring him the news of death, should say: “Console yourself; for the time has arrived when you will no longer offend God.”
Affections and Prayers.
Into Thy hands,I commend my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth.25 Ah, my sweet Redeemer! what should become of me if Thou hadst deprived me of life when I was far from Thee? I should now be in hell, where I could never love Thee. I thank Thee for not having abandoned me, and for having bestowed on me so many great graces in order to gain my heart. I am sorry for having offended Thee. I love Thee above all things. Ah! I entreat Thee to make me always sensible of the evil I have done in despising Thee, and of the love which Thy infinite goodness merits. I love Thee: and I desire to die soon, if such be Thy will, that I may be freed from the danger of ever again losing Thy grace, and that I may be secure of loving Thee forever. Ah, my beloved Jesus! during these remaining years of my life, give me strength to do something for Thee before I die. Give me strength against all temptations, and against my passions, but particularly against the passion which has hitherto most violently drawn me to sin. Give me patience in all infirmities, and under all the injuries which I may receive from men. I now, for the love of Thee, pardon all who have shown me any contempt, and I beg of Thee to bestow upon them the graces which they stand in need of. Give me strength to be more diligent in avoiding even venial faults, about which I have been hitherto negligent. My Saviour! assist me. I hope for all graces through Thy merits. O Mary, my Mother, and my hope! I place unbounded confidence in thee.
The Death of the just is the Entrance to Life.
The Death of the just is the Entrance to Life.
Death is not only the end of labors, but it is also the gate of life, says St. Bernard.26 He who wishes to see God must necessarily pass through this gate. This is the gate of the Lord; the just shall enter into it.27 St. Jerome entreated death to open its gates to him. “Death, my sister, if you do not open the door to me, I cannot enter to enjoy my Lord.”28 Seeing in his house a picture which represented a skeleton with a scythe in the hand, St. Charles Borromeo sent for a painter, and ordered him to erase the scythe, and to paint a golden key, in order that he might be more and more inflamed with a desire of death, which opens Paradise, and admits us to the vision of God.
If, says St. John Chrysostom, a king had prepared for one of his subjects apartments in his own palace, but for the present obliged him to live in a tent, how ardently would the vassal sigh for the day on which he should leave the tent to enter into the palace! In this life the soul, being in the body, is as it were confined in a prison, which it must leave in order to enter the celestial palace. Hence, David prayed to the Lord to bring his soul out of prison.29 When the holy Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms, he asked no other grace than to be delivered from the prison of the present life. “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord.”30 “As if detained by necessity, he,” says St. Ambrose, “begs to be dismissed.” The Apostle desired the same grace when he said: I am straitened, having a desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ.31
How great was the joy of the cup-bearer of Pharaoh when he heard from Joseph that he should soon be rescued from the prison and restored to his situation! And will not a soul that loves God exult with gladness at hearing that it will soon be released from the prison of this earth, and go to enjoy God? “While we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord.”32 While the soul is united to the body, it is at a distance from the vision of God, as if in a strange land, and excluded from its true country. Hence, according to St. Bruno, the departure of the soul from the body should not be called death, but the beginning of life.33
Hence, the death of the saints is called their birthday; because at death they are born to that life of bliss which will never end. St. Athanasius says: “To the just, death is only a passage to eternal life.”34 “O amiable death,” says St. Augustine, “who will not desire thee, who art the end of evils, the close of toils, the beginning of everlasting repose?”35 Hence the holy Doctor frequently prayed for death, that he might see God.36
The sinner, as St. Cyprian says, has just reason to fear death; because he will pass from temporal to eternal death.37 But he who is in the state of grace, and hopes to pass from death to life, fears not death. In the life of St. John the Almoner, we read that a certain rich man recommended to the prayers of the saint an only son, and gave the saint a large sum of Money to be distributed in alms, for the purpose of obtaining from God a long life for his son. The son died soon after; but when the father complained of his death, God sent an angel to say to him: “You sought for your son a long life: he now enjoys eternal life in heaven,” This is, as was promised by the Prophet Osee, the grace which Jesus Christ merited for us. O death, I shall be thy death.38 By dying for us, Jesus has changed death into life. When Pionius, the Martyr, was brought to the stake, he was asked by those who conducted him, how he could go to death with so much joy. “You err,” replied the saint: “I go not to death, but to life.”39 Thus, also, the mother of the youthful St. Symphorian exhorted him to martyrdom. “My son,” said she, “life is not taken away from you; it is only exchanged for a better one.”
Affections and Prayers.
O God of my soul! I have hitherto dishonored Thee by turning my back upon Thee; but Thy Son has honored Thee by offering to Thee the sacrifice of his life on the cross. Through the honor which Thy beloved Son has given Thee, pardon the dishonor which I have done Thee. I am sorry. O Sovereign Good! for having offended Thee; and I promise henceforth to love nothing but Thee. From Thee I hope for salvation: whatever good is in me at present is the fruit of Thy grace; to Thee I ascribe it all. By the grace of God, I am what I am.40 If I have hitherto dishonored Thee, I hope to honor Thee for eternity by blessing and praising Thy mercy forever. I feel a great desire to love Thee. This Thou hast given me: I thank Thee for it, O my love! Continue, continue the aid which Thou hast begun to give me. I hope to be henceforth Thine, and entirely Thine. And what greater pleasure can I enjoy than that of pleasing Thee, my Lord! who art so amiable, and who hast loved me so tenderly! O my God! I ask only love, love, love; and hope always to ask of Thee, love, love, until, dying in Thy love, I reach the kingdom of love, where, without evermore asking it, I shall be full of love, and never for a single moment cease to love Thee for all eternity, and with all my strength. Mary, my mother! who lovest thy God so intensely, and who desirest so vehemently to see him loved, obtain for me the grace to love him ardently in this life, that I may love him ardently forever in the next.
1Pretiosa mors, tanquam finis laborum, victoriæ consummatio, vitæ janua.” – In Trans. Mal. s. 1.
2“Homo natus de muliere, brevi vivens tempore, repletur multis miseriis.” – Job, xiv. 1.
3“Tanquam vita petitur supplicii mora.” – Ep. ci.
4“Quid est diu vivere, nisi diu torqueri.” – Serm. 84. E. B.
5“Hæc vita homini non ad quietem data est sed ad laborem.” – Serm 42.
6Longum Deus adimit tormentum, cum vitam concedit brevem.
7“Ut mors remedium videatur esse, non pœna.” – De Cain et Ab. l. 2, c. 10.
8“Beati mortui, qui in Domino moriuntur. Amodo jam dicit spiritus, ut requiescant a laboribus suis.” – Apoc. xiv. 13.
9“Justorum animæ in manu Dei sunt, et non tanget illos tormentum mortis.” – Wis. iii. 1.
10“Deus cordis mei, et pars mea, Deus, in æternum.” – Ps.lxxii. 26.
11“Rapinam bonorum vestrorum cum gaudio suscepistis, cognoscentes vos habere meliorem et manentem substantiam..” – Heb. x. 34.
12“In pace in idipsum dormiam et requiescam.” – Ps. iv. 9.
13Absterget Deus omnem lacrymam ab oculis eorum, et mors ultra non erit.” – Apoc. xxi. 4.
14“Ex labore ad requiem vado, et vos ploratis?” – Lib. 5, l. 11, n. 52.
15“Quis me liberatit de corpore mortis hujus?” – Rom. vii. 24.
16“Veni de Libano sponsa mea, veni de cubilibus leonum.” – Cant. iv. 8.
17“Mihi vivere Christus est et mori lucrum.” – Phil. i. 21.
18“Raptus est ne malitia mutaret intellectum ejus.” – Wis iv. 11.
19“Lauda navigantis, felicitatem sed cum pervenit ad portum.” – In Nativ. D. Eus. hom. 2.
20“Septies enim cadet justus.” – Prov. xxiv. 16.
21“Quid est mors, nisi sepultura vitiorum?” – De bon, mort. c. 4.
22“Quid vitam istam desideramus, in qua quanto diutius quis fuerit, tanto majori oneratur sarcina peccatorum?” – Ibid. c. 2.
23“Mortuus descivit peccare.” – In Ps. cxviii. s. 18.
24“Laudavi magis mortuos quam viventes.” – Eceles. iv. 2.
25“In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum; redemisti me, Domine Deus veritatis.” – Ps. xxx. 6.
26Finis laborum, vitæ janua.
27“Hæc porta Domini, justi intrabunt in eam.” – Ps.cxvii. 20.
28“Aperi mihi, dulcis soror.” – In Ep. Eus. ad Dam.
29“Educ de custodia animam meam.” – Ps. cxli. 8.
30“Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine.” – Luke, ii. 29.
31“Desiderium habens dissolvi, et esse cum Christo.” – Phil. i. 23.
32“Dum sumus in corpore. peregrinamur a Domino.” – 2 Cor. v. 6.
33“Mors dicenda non est, sed vitæ principium.” – De Virginit.
34Non est justis mors, sed translatio.
35“O mors desiderabilis malorum finis, laboris clausula, quietis principium.” – De Vis. inf., l. 1, c. 6.
36“Eja moriar Domine ut te videam.” – Sol. an. an. D. c. 1.
37“Mori timeat qui ad secundam mortem, de hac morte transibit.” – De Mortal.
38“Ero mors tua, o mors!” – Osee, xiii. 41.
39“Erratis, non ad mortem, sed ad vitam contendo.” – Ap Eus. l. iv. c. 14.
40“Gratia Dei sum id quod sum.” – 1 Cor. xv. 10.