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 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.
will be set out in the style of St. Ignatius.
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.
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.
PRELUDE is to ask for the grace:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
will consider what the spiritual struggle and combat at death will involve for
both of these states of soul.
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.
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,
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that
watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
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.
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
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
for the SECOND POINT:
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?
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
will our death be like? It really depends on how we have lived.
tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall,
there shall it be. Ecclesiasticus, 11:4.
Alphonsus de Liguori explains the meaning of this passage in this quote from
one of his sermons about death.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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,
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.”
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,
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
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.
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