DEATH OF THE JUST
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
Considered 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” (Sermon 1–Nov 2, 1148–on the passing of Bishop Malachy, Life of St. Malachy of Armagh). Finis laborum–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” (Job 14:1). Behold a picture of our life; it is short, and all full of miseries, of infirmities, of fears, and passions. “What,” says Seneca, “do worldlings who desire a long life, seek, but a continuation of torments?” “Tanquam vita petitur supplicii mora” (Epistle 101 “On the Futility of Planning, Seneca the Younger). *’What,” says St. Augustine, “is a prolongation of life, but a prolongation of suffering?” ”Quid est diu va vere, nisi diu torqueri?” (Serm. xvii., de Verbum Dominum). 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. “Haec vita homini non ad quietem data est, sed ad laborem” (Serm. xliii). Hence Tertullian has justly said, that when God abridges life, he abridges pain. “Longum Deus adimit tormentum cum vitam concedit brevet.” 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. “Ut mors remedium videatur, esse non poena.” 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” (Revelation 14:13).
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” (Wisdom 3:1). 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.” 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 have a better and lasting substance” (Hebrews 10:34). 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 lovest 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 remains of life, and feels consoled in uniting the sacrifice of his death with 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” (Psalm 4:9). O 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 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 afterwards, 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 much as thou dost deserve, 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 seek 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 to 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, the greatest of my pains will consist in being at a distance from thee. I go, O Lord, to count the moments that shall elapse before thou shalt call me. Have mercy on a soul that loves thee with all her power, and that sighs to see thee, that she 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 meditated. Give me holy perseverance, give me thy love. Assist me, O Mary, mother of God; pray to Jesus for me.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art: The Death of St. Catherine of Siena, Girolamo di Benvenuto (1470-1525), PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.