PEACE OF THE JUST AT 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.”
Wisdom 3:1-2a, 3b
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 is 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, “there is greater aid, where there is greater peril, because God is a helper in due time” (Ad Jos. c. v.). The servant of Elisha 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” (2 Kings 6:16). He then showed him an army of angels sent by God to defend the city. The devil shall come to tempt the dying Christian; but his angel-guardian shall come to strengthen him; his holy advocates shall come; St. Michael, whom God has appointed to defend his faithful servants in their last combat with hell, shall come; the divine mother shall come to chase away the devils, and to protect her servant; above all, Jesus Christ shall come to guard against every temptation of hell the innocent or penitent sheep for whose salvation he has given his life. He will give her all the confidence and strength which she shall stand in need of in that last struggle with her enemies. Hence, full of courage she shall say, “The Lord became my helper” (cf Psalm 30:11). “The Lord is my light and my salvation; who shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1). 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. “Major illi cura est ut nos ad salutem pertrahat quam diabolo ut nos ad damnationem impellat” (hom xxx in lib. Num.).
God is faithful, says the apostle; he does not permit us to be tempted above our strength. “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able” (1 Cor 10:13). 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 of 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. “Justi quandoque dure moriendo purgantur in hoc mundo.” 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 diffidence. But thinking on the merits of Jesus Christ, he drove away all fear, saying to his Savior, Your wounds are my merits–“Vulnera tua, merita mea.” St. Hillarion 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?” 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 part 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” (Ezekiel 18:21,22). But you may ask, “How can I be secure of having received pardon from God?” St. Basil asks the same question, “How can anyone be certain that God has forgiven his sins?” He can be certain of pardon,” answers the saint, “if he say, ‘I have hated and abhorred iniquity'” (in Reg. inter, xii). 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 keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (John 14:21). He, then, who dies in the observance of the commandments, dies in the love of God; and he that loves, fears not. “Charity castest out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Affections and Prayers
Ah, my Jesus! When shall 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 secure of loving thee with all my strength for eternity? Ah, my Sovereign Good, my only Love, as long as I shall 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 dost please 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.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art: San Miguel Arcangel venciendo al demonio (Saint Michael Archangel defeating the devil), Höllensturz, Altarbild von Johann Michael Rottmayr, 1697, Schlosskapelle St. Michael (Tittmoning), PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.