from the annals of history unto our current day
Considerations by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
from the book, 'Preparation for Death'
The Death of the Just
"Right dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Ps. cxvi. 13.
WHEN we view death according to the senses, it terrifies and affrights us, but when we view it with the eye of faith, it consoles us and makes us desire it. It appears terrible to sinners, but lovely and very precious to saints. St. Bernard tells us, that "death is precious as the end of labours, the consummation of victory, the gate of life." "The end of labour," yes, truly, does death put an end to our labours and toil. "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble." (Job xiv. i.)
Behold what our life is; it is short, it is full of misery, infirmities, fears, and passions. The worldly, who desire a long life, what do they seek, observes Seneca, but a longer time of suffering? If we continue to live, do we not continue to suffer? as St. Augustine himself remarks. Yes, indeed, because, according to St. Ambrose, our present life was not given to us for repose, but for work, and by that work to make ourselves worthy of eternal life. When God, as Tertullian justly observes, shortens the life of any one, He shortens his suffering. Hence it is, that although death was given to man as a punishment for sin, yet, notwithstanding this, the miseries of this life are such, as St. Ambrose remarks, that death would appear to be given to us rather as a relief than a punishment. God calls those who die in His grace blessed, because their labours are finished, and they go to their rest. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours." (Rev. xiv. 13.)
The torments which afflict the sinners, when dying, do not trouble the saints. "The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them." (Wisd. iii. I.) The saints do not grieve when they hear that which terrifies the worldly so much. The saints are not troubled when they have to leave their worldly goods, for they have kept their hearts severed from them. They go about ever repeating to themselves, "God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." (Ps. Ixxiii. 25.)
Blessed are you, writes the Apostle to his disciples, who have been stripped of all your earthly possessions, for the sake of Jesus Christ. "Ye. . . took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in Heaven a better and an enduring substance." (Heb. x. 34.) They do not grieve
at leaving the honours, because they always detested them, and reckoned them, as they indeed are, nothing but smoke and vanity; they esteemed loving God, and being loved by God, their only honour. They do not grieve at leaving their relations, because they have only loved them in God; when dying,
they commend them to that Heavenly Father, who loves them more than they, and trusting to be saved, they hope to be able to help them more, when they are in Paradise, than while on this earth. Finally, what they have ever said in life, "My God and my all," they repeat, with greater consolation and tenderness, when dying.
He, therefore, who dies loving God, is not tormented by the fears which death brings with it; but, on the contrary, he is pleased with them, thinking that his life is now ended, and that there is no more time to suffer for God, and to offer Him any more proofs of his love. Then, lovingly and peacefully, he gives Him these last moments of his life, and consoles himself in uniting the sacrifice of his death with the sacrifice which Jesus Christ once offered for him on the cross to His eternal Father. And thus he joyfully expires, saying, "I will lay me down in peace and take my rest." (Ps. iv. 9.) Oh, what peace to die, given up to and reposing in the arms of Jesus Christ, Who has loved us even unto death, and was willing to endure a cruel death, to obtain a sweet and peaceful death for us.
Affections and Prayers
O my beloved Jesus, Who, to obtain a happy death for me, wast willing to die a death so bitter upon Calvary, when shall I behold Thee? The first time that I shall see Thee it will be as my Judge, in that same place in which I shall breathe forth my soul. And then what shall I say to Thee? What wilt Thou say to me? I will not wait until that time to think what I shall say. I will think now. I will say to Thee, My dear Redeemer, Thou art the same Who hast died for me. At one time I did offend Thee, I was ungrateful to Thee, and I did not deserve Thy pardon; but afterwards, being assisted by Thy grace, I repented, and during the remainder of my life, I have mourned because of my sins, and Thou hast pardoned me. Pardon me once more, now that I am at Thy feet, and do Thou Thyself give me a general absolution for my sins. I did not deserve to love Thee any more, for having despised Thy love; but Thou in Thy mercy hast drawn my heart to Thee, and if it has not loved Thee as Thou ought to be loved, at least, it has loved Thee above all
other things, giving up everything in order to please Thee. Now what wilt Thou say to me? I can see, that Paradise and possessing Thee in Thy kingdom, is a blessing too great for me, but I cannot trust myself to live far from Thee, especially now, that Thou hast once let me see Thy beautiful and lovely face. Therefore, I seek to live in Paradise, not that I may be happy there, but that I may love Thee more.
And now, my beloved Judge, raise Thy hand and bless me, and tell me that I am Thine, and that Thou wilt be mine for ever. I would ever love Thee, do Thou ever love me. Have mercy upon a soul that loves Thee with all its strength, and longs to see Thee, so as to love Thee more.
Even thus do I hope, O my Jesus, do I hope then to speak to Thee. In the meantime, I pray Thee to grant me grace so to live that when dying, I may say to Thee that which I have just thought. Give me holy perseverance, and give me Thy love.
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death." (Rev. xxi. 4.) Therefore, in death the Lord will wipe away from the eyes of His servants the tears which they have shed, living as they do in trouble, in fears, in dangers, and in battles with hell. What can be greater consolation to a soul that has loved God when death is announced, than the thought, that soon it will be freed from the many dangers that there are in this life of offending God, from the many stings of conscience, and from the temptations of the devil. This present life is a continual warfare with hell, in which we are in constant danger of losing our souls, and then our God. St. Ambrose tell us, that upon this earth we are ever walking amidst the snares of the enemy who lies in wait to rob us of the life of grace. It was this danger which caused St. Peter of Alcantara to say when dying to a religious who, when assisting him, touched him, "My brother, keep away from me, because I am still living and am yet in danger of being eternally lost!" It was this danger also that caused St. Teresa to be consoled each time that she heard the clock strike, rejoicing that another hour of warfare was passed, for she said, "At any moment of my life I may sin, and by doing so I may lose God." Therefore it is, that the saints are so rejoiced when death is "announced to them, knowing, as they do, that very soon their battles and their dangers will be ended, and that they, within a very short time, will reach that happy state when they will no longer be able to lose God.
It is related in the lives of the Fathers, that once when an aged Father was dying in Scythia, he laughed when the others wept; on being asked why he laughed, he answered, "Wherefore do you weep, knowing, as you do, that I am going to my rest?" Likewise, Catherine of Sienna,when she was dying, said, "Rejoice with me, for I am leaving this world of sorrows, and I am going to a place of rest." St. Cyprian observes, that if some one were living in a house, the walls of which were falling down, and the floors and roof were shaking, so that everything was threatening ruin, would not such an one be very desirous to quit that house? In this life, all things are threatening ruin to the soul, the world, hell, the passions, the rebellious senses; these all draw us on to sin and to everlasting death. The apostle exclaims, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?" (Rom vii. 34.) Oh, what joy will the soul feel when it hears those words, "Come with Me from Lebanon, My spouse, with Me from Lebanon. . . from the lions' dens." (Sol. Song iv. 8.) Come, my spouse, come from the place of tears, and from the dens of lions that are seeking to devour thee, and to make thee lose the Divine grace. Therefore St. Paul desiring death, said that Jesus Christ was his only life; and therefore, he thought that to die was his greatest gain, since, in dying, he obtained that life which has no end. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil. i. 21.)
It is a great favour which God grants to that soul that is in a state of grace to take it from this world, where, at any time, it may become changed, and may lose the friendship of God! "He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding." (Wisd. iv. II.) Happy in this life is he who is united to God; but, like the sailor, who cannot be called safe until he has arrived in port, and is escaped from the tempest: even so, a soul cannot be called fully happy until it has departed this life in the favour of God.
Now, if it causes joy to the sailor when, after many dangers, he has almost safely arrived in port, how much more shall not he rejoice who is just on the point of securing eternal salvation? Besides, in this life it is impossible to live without committing sin, at least venial sin: "For a just man falleth seven times." (Prov. xxiv. 16.) He who is leaving this life, ceases to give offence to God. St. Ambrose asks, "What is death but the sepulchre of vice!" It is even this that makes death so desirable to the lovers of God. With this the venerable Vincent Caraffa consoled himself when dying, by saying, "When I cease to live, I shall cease to offend God." And St. Ambrose also said, "Wherefore do we desire this life, in which the longer any one lives the greater will be the burden of sins with which he is laden."
He who dies in the grace of God, is placed in a state in which he cannot, neither does he know how, to offend God. "The dead know not how to sin," remarks the same saint. Therefore the Lord praises the dead, more than any man living, although he may be a saint. "Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living." (Eccles. iv. 2.) A certain good man ordered, that he, who should come to announce his death to him, should say, "Rejoice, because the time is come when thou shalt no more offend God."
Affections and Prayers
"Into Thy hands I commend my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth." (Ps. xxxi. 5.) Ah, my sweet Redeemer, where should I have now been if Thou hadst allowed me to die when I was living far from Thee? I should now be in hell.where I could never love Thee more. I thank Thee for not having abandoned me, and for having granted me so many graces to win my heart to Thee. I am very sorry for having offended Thee. I love Thee above all things. I pray Thee ever to make me more sensible of the evil I have committed in despising Thee, and of the love which Thy Infinite Goodness deserves. I love Thee, and I would like soon to die if it be Thy holy will, in order to be freed from the danger of ever losing Thy holy grace, and to be sure of loving Thee for ever in eternity. Ah, during the years that may remain to me of my life give me strength, my beloved Jesus, to do something for Thee before death shall overtake me. Give me strength to withstand the temptations and passions, and especially against that passion which for the past time has most caused me to displease Thee. Give me patience in infirmity, and under the wrongs that I may receive from men. I now pardon, through Thy love, all who may have despised me, and I pray Thee to give them those graces which they may desire. Give me strength to be more diligent in avoiding even venial sins, concerning which I know that I am negligent. Help me, my Saviour, I hope for all things because of Thy merits.
Not only is death the end of our labours, but it is even the gate of life, as St. Bernard observes. He who wishes to enter in, and see God, must pass through this gate. "This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter into it." (Ps. cxviii. 20.) St. Jerome called out to death, and said, "Open to me, my sister." My sister, death, if thou dost not open the door, I cannot go in to enjoy my Lord. St. Charles Borromeo, having a painting in his house which represented a skeleton with a scythe in the hand, called for the painter, and ordered him to erase the scythe, and to paint a golden key; desiring by this, that the wish for death should ever be kindled in his heart, for death is that key which must open the gate of heaven for us to see God.
St. John Chrysostom observes, that if a king had prepared an apartment in his palace for some one, but for some time desired that person to live in a hovel, how much would he not desire to leave the hovel, and to go to the palace? The soul during this life being in the body, is as it were in a prison, from which she must pass to enter into the kingdom of heaven; therefore David prayed, saying, "Bring my soul out of prison." (Ps. cxlii. 9.) And the holy Simeon, when he had the Infant Jesus in his arms, sought for no other favour than death, so as to be freed from the prison of this life, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace." (S. Luke ii. 29.) S. Ambrose also says, "he seeks, as if he were held by necessity, to be dismissed." The Apostle also desired the same grace when he said, "having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ," (Phil. i. 23.)
What joy the cup-bearer of Pharaoh felt when he heard from Joseph, that he should soon be released from prison and should return to his post! And a soul that loves God, does it not rejoice when it hears that within a short time it will be released from the prison of this world, and will go to enjoy God? "Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord." (2 Cor. v. 6.) Whilst we are united to the body, we are far from the sight of God ; as it were in a foreign land, and far from our own country; and therefore St. Bruno remarks, that our death ought not to be called death, but life. Hence the death of the saints is called their birth-day; yes, because when they die they are borne to that blessed life which will never have an end. St. Athanasius observes, that "the just die not, but are translated." To the just death is no other than the transition to eternal life. "O beautiful death," says St. Augustine, "and who is he that does not long for thee, seeing that thou art the end of all work the end of toil, and the beginning of eternal rest?" Therefore the saint earnestly prayed, saying, "May I die, O Lord, that I may see Thee."
St. Cyprian observes, that death must indeed be feared by the sinner, because he will pass from a temporal to an eternal death. "Let him fear to die who shall pass to the second death;" but he who is in the grace of God, does not fear death, because he will pass from death to an eternal life. In the life of St. John the Almoner it is related, that a certain rich man recommended his only son to the saint, and gave him much alms, so that the saint might obtain a long life for his son from God; but the son soon afterwards died. As the father was grieving over the death of his son, God sent an angel to him, who said, "Thou didst seek a long life for thy son; know that he is now enjoying it eternally in Paradise." This is the grace that Jesus Christ obtained for us, as it was promised in Hosea, "O death, I will be thy plague." (Hos. xiii. 14.) Jesus, in dying for us, made our death to become life. When Pionius the martyr was being borne to the scaffold, he was asked by those who led him, "How it was he could go so joyfully to death?" The saint made answer, " You deceive yourselves; I go not to death, but to life." Even thus was the youthful St. Symphorian encouraged by his mother when the time of his martyrdom drew nigh, "O my son, life is not taken away from thee; it is exchanged for a better."
Affections and Prayers
O God of my soul, for the time past I have dishonoured Thee, in turning away from Thee; but Thy Son has honoured Thee in sacrificing His life to Thee upon the Cross. Through the honour done to Thee by Thy dearly beloved Son, forgive the dishonour that I have done Thee. I am very sorry, O my Sovereign Good, for having offended Thee; and I promise from this day forward to love none other but Thee. I hope for my salvation from Thee. Whatever I have now that is good, is all of Thy mercy; I know that I receive it all from Thee: "By the grace of God I am what I am." (i Cor. xv. 10) If during the time past I have dishonoured Thee, I hope to honour Thee for ever in eternity in blessing Thee for Thy mercy. I feel a great desire to love Thee; but Thou givest me the desire; and I thank Thee for it, O Jesus, my Love. Continue, Oh, continue to help me, as Thou hast already done; for I hope from this day forward to be Thine, and Thine alone. I renounce all worldly pleasures; for what greater pleasure can I have than pleasing Thee, my Lord, Who art so lovely, and Who hast loved me so much? I only seek for love, O my God; and I hope ever to seek it from Thee; until dying in Thy love, I shall reach the kingdom of love, where, without asking any more for it, I shall be filled with love, and I shall never for one moment cease to love Thee, with all my strength, for ever in eternity.
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