Lesson #16 On Death

                    Mary’s School of Sanctity                   

Lesson #16  The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius — ON DEATH [In the state of grace vs. In the state of mortal sin]

In addition to the meditation on both the pains of the senses and the horrific pain of the loss of God, we now include a meditation on death.  This also was not included in St. Ignatius’s original Spiritual Exercises; however, it is so valuable for fostering man’s proper desire for God and to work for God’s glory and praise.  Furthermore, if we are to acquire the holy indifference[1] that St. Ignatius wants us to have and keep, we must meditate on death, not only within the framework of the Spiritual Exercises, but also on a regular basis. In other words, he who meditates often on death will be able to prepare for death and die well. 

This meditation will be set out in the style of St. Ignatius.

The preparatory prayer is the same as usual, I ask God Our Lord the grace that all my intentions, actions, and works may be directed purely to the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.

The FIRST PRELUDE is the mental representation of the place.  Here it will be to see with my imagination my death bed or the scene of my death.

The SECOND PRELUDE is to ask for the grace:

1) to understand the gravity of sin now while there is still time for me; 2) to truly see that my life here on the earth is a test in which I am merely an exile; 3) to see that I must be detached from this world in order to have an intense desire for God in heaven, and 4) to be convinced that by understanding these truths, I will be preparing to die well.

The FIRST POINT is to consider what death is in itself. First, I will consider the following attributes of death.

1) Death is certain—all humans have to die.

2) Death takes everything—our possessions, our time, our body.

3) Death is painful— [the separation of the soul from the body] an instantaneous change.  A person may linger and be ‘dying’ for a long period of time but the actual substantial change which occurs when the soul departs the body is one intensely painful moment.

4) Death’s circumstances are unknown. — No one knows the actual time and place in which he will die. God could reveal this to someone, but for most people He does not reveal these facts.

The SECOND POINT is to consider what will happen to me spiritually at my death, e.g., what spiritual battles will I encounter at my death?

I will also consider what my death would be like if I am in the state of grace.  I will contrast this with what my death would be like if I am in the state of mortal sin.

Furthermore, I will consider what the spiritual struggle and combat at death will involve for both of these states of soul.

The COLLOQUY: the possibilities for the colloquy are numerous. I will let the Holy Ghost guide me for my colloquy. I will draw on the considerations which struck my heart the most and address myself to Our Lord, Our Lady, St. Joseph or all three.  I will pour out my heart to them, now thanking them for their mercy, now petitioning for their help at my death so I can die well, etc.

Considerations for the FIRST POINT:

One can surely take many different aspects about death into consideration, but we will limit them to the following four attributes of death.

1) Death is certain—all humans have to die. 

“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.”  Hebrews, 9:27.

In the book of Genesis, it is revealed to us that man has to die. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”  Genesis, 3:19.

Death came into the world as a consequence of Adam’s sin. Therefore, no one can escape the hand of death.  There is absolutely nothing we can do to avoid death. Tradition teaches that Our Lady died even though she was conceived without original sin.  Yet, death for her was a fitting imitation of her Divine Son.  Enoch walked with God and was seen no more [Gen.5:24].  Elias was taken up in a fiery chariot with fiery horses into heaven in front of the prophet Eliseus [4 Kings, ch. 2]. Yet we know from the book of the Apocalypse that these two prophets will be martyred by the Antichrist. Hence, they will have to die like everybody else.

2) Death takes everything—our possessions, our time, our body. “For we brought nothing into this world: and, certainly, we can carry nothing out.”  [1Timothy 6:7]  Our Lord reminds us of this fact in His parable about the rich man who had plenty and thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said: This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and will build greater; and into them will I gather all things that are grown to me, and my goods.  And I will say to my soul: thou hast much goods laid up for many years take thy rest; eat, drink, make good cheer.”

Our Lord continues, “But God said to him: Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee: and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?”  St. Luke’s Gospel, 12:16-20.

At death, we will have no more time.  No more time to praise, revere, and serve God.  The time for merit will be over and the time to increase in our love for God will be over.  Likewise, the time to offend God is over and we can do no more damage to our souls then.  All is ended.  All is final.  No one will go with us for we go alone. Our bodies must be left behind.

Simply stated, our souls will be summoned to the tribunal.  Our souls will be “naked” and we, along with our works, will undergo the scrutinizing inspection of God.  

3) Death is painful— [Death is the separation of the soul from the body] an instantaneous change.  This is the separation of a person’s two parts which are more intimately connected together than a person is connected with his own arm or leg – which separation is painful indeed! 

A person may linger and be ‘dying’ for a long period of time, but the actual substantial change which occurs when the soul departs from the body is one intensely painful moment.  We often hear people say such things as, “At least so-and-so didn’t suffer, or he/she died so peacefully and didn’t suffer much”, or “He or she passed quietly in his/her sleep”.  No, we must not be fooled into thinking that because someone was non-responsive at death, that his/her death wasn’t painful. Death is THE MOST PAINFUL MOMENT OF LIFE!!  No other suffering in life is as painful as death. This is because death involves acute physical suffering coupled with mental suffering.  No one is exempt from this suffering, not even infants.

People talk about giving the dying person morphine so he/she will not suffer too much.  We must remember that death is supposed to be painful and the pains of death are for our benefit and purification.  They are meant to be offered up to God as reparation for our sins. We are intended to imitate Christ in His suffering and death. We are intended to unite our death to Christ’s Passion and death. Life is a trial to see if we will be faithful to Christ, and death is our final exam.       

4) Death’s circumstances are unknown.—No one knows the actual time and place in which he will die. God could reveal this to someone but for most people He does not reveal this.  In fact, St Gregory tells us that God conceals the time of our death so that we will always be prepared to die.[2]

St. Bernard says, “Since, then, death may take away life at any time and in any place, we ought, if we wish to die well and save our souls, to live always in expectation of death.”[3]

Scripture also warns us that the timing of death is unknown to us, in order for us to take the means to prepare for it: “Delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day; for His wrath shall come on a sudden, and in the time of vengeance He will destroy thee.” Ecclesiasticus, 5:8-9.

Here is how St. Paul warned the Thessalonians to prepare for death:

But of the times and moments, brethren, you need not, that we should write to you: For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night.  For when they shall say: Peace and security, then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape.  But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief.  For all you are the children of light and children of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness.  Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do: but let us watch, and be sober.  For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunk, are drunk in the night.  But let us, who are of the day, be sober, having on the breast plate of faith and charity and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation. Thessalonians, 5:1-8.

Here are the words of Our Lord warning us to be always ready for death:

Watch ye, therefore, because you know not what hour your Lord will come.  But this know ye, that if the good man of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open.  Wherefore, be you also ready, because at what hour you know not, the Son of man will come.  St. Matthew’s Gospel, 24:42-44, cf., St. Luke’s Gospel, 12:39.

And again:

Behold, I come as a thief.  Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.  Apocalypse, 16:15.

St. Peter echoes these words:

Wherefore, dearly beloved, waiting for these things, be diligent that you may be found before Him unspotted and blameless in peace.  1 Peter, 3:14.

Likewise, Holy Mother Church warns us and prays for us in the Litany of the Saints for the Rogation Days, “From a sudden and unprovided death, deliver us, O Lord.” This invocation carries with it a 300 days indulgence which inspires us to say it often.

This fact – that we know not the hour, the moment, or the circumstances of our death – helps us to remember what St. Paul tells us to work out our salvation in all fear and trembling.  With this sober thought, let us pass on to the consideration of the second point.

Considerations for the SECOND POINT:

Why is death so terrifying for us humans?  Is it only because of the horrific pain of the separation of the soul and body?  No, it is because of the unknown beyond.  We will meet Jesus Christ our Judge and He will be all just, and the time of mercy will be over.  Furthermore, there will be the formidable foe to taunt us especially at our last hours.  St. Gregory reminds us with the following words what this will mean.  He tells us:

Consider well how terrible is the hour of death, and how appalling the remembrance of our evil deeds will be at that time.  For the spirits of darkness will recall all the harm they have done us, and remind us of the sins which we have committed at their instigation.  They will not go to the deathbed of the godless only, but they will be present with the elect, striving to discover something sinful whereof to accuse them.  Alas! How will it fare with us hapless mortals in that hour, and what can we say for ourselves, seeing how innumerable are the sins to be laid to our charge?  What can we answer our adversaries, when they place all our sins before us, with the object of reducing us to despair?[4]

Fr. Cochem also tells us in his book The Last Four Things, “It is the opinion of many of the Fathers, that every one, when expiring, sees the evil enemy, at any rate at the moment of drawing his last breath, if not before.  How appalling this sight is, and with what terror it must inspire the dying, exceeds the power of words to declare.”[5]

What will our death be like?  It really depends on how we have lived.

If the tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be.  Ecclesiasticus, 11:4.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori explains the meaning of this passage in this quote from one of his sermons about death.

If, when the tree of your life is cut down, you fall to the south, that is, if you obtain eternal life, how great shall be your joy at being able to say: I shall be saved; I have secured all; I can never lose God; I shall be happy for ever. But, if you fall to the north, that is, into eternal damnation, how great shall be your despair! Alas! You shall say, I have erred, and my error is irremediable! Arise, then, from your tepidity, and, after this sermon, make a resolution to give yourselves sincerely to God. This resolution will insure you a good death, and will make you happy for eternity.[6]

With these realities in mind let us consider the two types of death possible to a man—death in the state of grace or in the state of mortal sin.

Death in the State of Grace

“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: and their departure was taken for misery: and their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace.”  Wisdom, 1:1-3.

These are very consoling words of Scripture.  They remind us that God will not ever abandon us.   The quotes given above about the attacks of the evil one at our death are dreadful, yet we know that our heavenly helpers will be with us to defend us. Our Lady and St. Joseph will come to assist us.  Also, we know that our guardian angel and patron saints will protect us.

We should work hard to foster a great love for Our Lady and St. Joseph.  By being close friends with this holy couple, they become our heavenly parents, too.  By speaking to them very often, this will help us to develop the habit of having recourse in prayer to them.  In this way we will build our confidence in them and their special protection against the evil foes who at our death will be trying desperately to drag our thoughts to darkness and despair.  Then, even when we are in the greatest weakness of our lives, that is, when we are dying – we will still be directing our thoughts and prayers to them.

Likewise, we should not forget that if we are faithful in praising, revering, and serving God in our lives, then we will look forward to finishing our course here on earth and be out of the danger of losing our souls.

How then can we be faithful in praising, revering, and serving God?  We must work on being detached from earthly goods in order to put our hearts on eternal things and on our service of God.  We must be zealous in His service because our entire eternity will be determined by how well we served Him.

Fr. Hurter, in his Sketches for the Exercises of an Eight Day’s Retreat, says:

“Whilst we have time let us work good.” [Gal 6:10] “Defraud not thyself of the good day, and let not the part of a good gift overpass thee.” [Eccl.,14:14] therefore spend your days in such a manner that you can say every evening what our Divine Redeemer said on the evening of His earthly life: “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” [John 17, 4]  Then we can hope to hear the consoling words of the divine Judge: “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” [Matt. 25:23] [7]

Therefore, death in the state of grace is a beautiful thing.  When we live loving God with all our might, then we have peace with God.  We accept what He deems best to send us even if we do not understand His plan.  We soon build trust in His Providence and will be willing to die trusting in Him.   

Now let us consider the tragedy of death in the state of mortal sin.

Death in the State of Mortal Sin

What kind of death can a person in mortal sin expect?  Whether a person be a hardened sinner, a careless sinner who foolishly thinks that he will convert on his deathbed, or a worldling who doesn’t give any serious thought of death, death will come and find him unprepared.  Hell awaits him.  Despair seizes him.  He has been living in hellish pride, no doubt, for quite some time now.

He has been living in selfishness and accustomed to giving in to sensuality.  Where was God in his life?  He either put God completely out of the picture or only had a little corner reserved for God and any communication with God.  He talked to God only when he wanted something from God. He had no real friendship with God.  He totally disregarded Our Lord’s words, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

St. Alphonsus de Liguori describes the scene:

How will the dying man, who has always lived in sin, be able, in the midst of the pains, the stupefaction, and the confusion of death, to repent sincerely of all his past iniquities?  I say sincerely, because it is not enough to say and to promise with the tongue: it is necessary to promise with the heart.  …  What terror and confusion will seize the unhappy Christian who has led a careless life, when he finds himself overwhelmed with sins, with the fears of judgment, of hell, and of eternity!  Oh!  What confusion will these thoughts produce when the dying sinner will find his reason gone, his mind darkened, and his whole frame assailed by the pains of approaching death.  He will make his confession; he will promise, weep, and seek mercy from God, but without understanding what he does; and in this tempest of agitation, of remorse, of pains and terrors, he will pass to the other life.  The people shall be troubled, and they shall pass [Job, 34; 20].[8]

Another striking quote of St. Alphonsus is, “Having loved sin till death, he has also loved the danger of damnation.  Hence the Lord will justly permit him to perish in that danger in which he has voluntarily lived till the end of his life.”[9]

St. Paul puts the situation of the unrepentant sinner aptly when he says, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked.  For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap.  For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall he reap corruption.” Galatians, 6:7-8.

And what of the typical worldling who has been caught up in the pleasures of the world—one who wanted all sorts of material things and comforts?  When death approaches, he will finally realize that he must leave everything behind.  How empty he will find his life then.  He will see that he has led a very shallow life.  All the pampering of his flesh and the luxuries that he wallowed in, he can have them no more.

And of course, as we have said above, the devil will torment him now, saying that it is too late to be truly sorry and it is not worth humbling himself to beg God’s mercy. The devil will try whatever trick worked the best with the poor sinner before.  He can easily use the trick of despair or presumption.  Certainly, the devil will try with all his might to see that this poor wretch makes it to hell and makes absolutely no attempt at true repentance.

COLLOQUY: Accordingly, now after having considered these very sobering truths, I can certainly pour out my heart to the Sacred Heart and thank him for His example of how to die.  I will thank Our Lord and Our Lady for all the mercy shown to me up to this point. I will thank God for all of His insights and blessings, especially for allowing me to understand death better through considering death in all its aspects.

I will ask God for the grace of final perseverance.

I will talk to Our Lady, my Mother, to assist me in life and especially at my death.

Likewise, I will talk with St. Joseph and beg him to help me always, and especially as I draw my last breath.  

In our next lesson, we will consider both the PARTICULAR JUDGMENT and the GENERAL JUDGMENT in order to keep enhancing our love for God and to foster an even greater desire in our souls to persevere in making our greatest efforts in all we do for Him.


[1]            The explanation of holy indifference is given in June, 2022, Lesson #11 The Principle and Foundation Part IIhttps://catholiccandle.org/2022/06/27/lesson-11-the-principle-and-foundation-part-ii/


[2]           This quote is taken from St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Preparation for Death, in his consideration five, The Uncertainty of the Hour of Death.


[3]           This quote is taken from St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Preparation for Death, in his consideration five, The Uncertainty of the Hour of Death

[4]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 15.


[5]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 19.

[6]           Quote from St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Sermon XXXIII for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

[7]           Quoted form Sketches for the Exercises of an Eight Day’s Retreat by Hugo Hurter, SJ., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck, ©1918, third edition, 1926, St. Louis, MO and London, page 81.

[8]           This quote is taken from St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Preparation for Death, in his consideration six, The Death of a Sinner.


[9]            This quote is taken from St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s Preparation for Death, in his consideration six, The Death of a Sinner.