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.

 

Self-forgetfulness—letting the Love of God Consume Our Lives

Objective truth series – Reflection #22

In our last several reflections we have been considering focusing more and more on our eternal goal, the work of our lives, namely, the salvation of our souls.  We penetrated more deeply what it really means to save our souls—to see the Beatific Vision!

The emptiness of this world is easy to see especially when we compare this world to the delights of heaven.  We can easily conclude that to see God is worth all the efforts we can make.  Certainly as God gives us a greater desire for heaven, He increases our love for Him.   Yet, there is another aspect of our love of God which emerges especially when we see the world getting more godless every day, namely, the hunger and desire we have to see God loved.  St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in a prayer she composed to the Holy Face, “I am consumed with the desire to love Thee and make Thee loved by all men.”

When we consider how there is so much craziness going on around us in the world, we see the huge apparent sprint of the evil globalists as they try to get more control of everything with each new day.  Furthermore, these globalists have a clear agenda to erase God and His Commandments from the face of the earth.  It is so tempting to only consider our own current dangers and to get anxious about what will happen to us.  However, we must remind ourselves that we are in God’s Providential Hands and there is much consolation in this truth.  Indeed, we also know that God is allowing these events in order to perfect our souls.    

And yet, our focus should naturally turn from ourselves, to the innumerable insults that are hurled against God, His Church, His Blessed Mother, and His Saints.  We can see by the blatant attacks of the enemy, that God is so hated in these neo-pagan times of this great apostasy.  Our hearts ache out of love for God and a desire to console Him.  We should remember that just devotedly doing our duty-of-state with love for God, is a very important way to give Him glory and console Him.   

In this way, too, we begin the life of self-forgetfulness.  The simple focus on wanting to please God and work for His Glory, not only increases our love for Him, but also is God’s means to increase His Divine Friendship in our souls.  God is great and merciful to shower such undeserved goodness on His poor creatures!

 “He must increase: but I must decrease.” [St. John 3:30]  These words of St. John the Baptist apply to us as we strive to do all we can for the greater honor and glory of God and to show Him all our love.  But, more than this, is that this decreasing of ourselves in our own view of ourselves, naturally brings us lower and lower until we see our utter nothingness.  This nothingness does not disturb us because we see it as our natural place.   As Our Lord told St. Catherine of Sienna, “You are she who is not and I am He Who is.”  We are nothing and God is our all.

When we get caught up in our daily service of God and our neighbor out of love for God, our lives are busy working for God and our neighbor.  We may find ourselves trying to help our neighbor in many ways.  Some examples may be: trying to keep up our neighbor’s morale in these times when irrational fears are being pushed on everyone; trying to keep him informed when we are surrounded by false news; trying to convert others back to the pre-Vatican II Faith; or teaching others about the traditional uncompromising Faith which they have never heard about [seeing that we are now 56 years post Vatican II].  “The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few.” [St. Matt. 9:37]

With so much work to do for God’s Glory and to show Him our love, there really is no time or concern to think about ourselves.   We are glad to do all we can for God and spend ourselves in His service.  This is what it means to let our lives be consumed in the love of God.  What a mercy of God to let us serve Him and He accepts our poor service!

Besides such good works to our neighbor for love of God, we’ll find that we love spending time in prayer— adoring God; telling Him our sorrow for our own sins and the sins of the hateful world; telling Him over and over again that we love Him; and thanking Him for all His Goodness and Mercies He has shown to us.

God’s sculpturing of our souls slowly over time does bring many changes in our souls which includes the soul becoming more selfless.  He works patiently on us and if we are docile, His chiseling will not seem painful to us.  We can sense that He is steadily chipping away our selfishness and we naturally find that we want to do things for Him more because we love Him more and more.  In addition, as we see things in the world falling apart around us, and because we know that we do not in any way deserve God’s wonderful mercies that He has showered upon us, our hearts cannot help counting our blessings often.  How could gratitude not grow with each passing day?  We want to do something for Him to thank Him.  We want to share our blessings with other souls!  A consuming need to love God takes over and the desire to see Him loved is part of this. 

With grateful hearts, may God let us burn in the fire of the consummation of His Love!  This is how Divine Friendship works— to spread His Glory, to be spent in His service,  and to care about nothing else than Him!  Oh, if we could truly say like St. Paul, “And I live, now not I: but Christ liveth in me.” [Gal. 2:20]—with heartfelt pangs of love for God we would want to say something like the following:

 For God alone must be my goal,

Only He can full-please a soul,

 Focusing on myself would be,

Like living a lie—death to me.

 

 

To keep my focus on God entire

Brings on love and my soul’s desire

To become selfless, melting flame

To make of God, my only aim.

 

This fits His plan for souls that see,

Solely for Him should the soul be,

The lifetime goal, the soul’s one end

To have Him, as a Divine Friend.

 

With things all ‘round falling apart,

Thus, to tear, God out of each heart,

The devil spreads hatred so wide,

Ne’er wanting souls, to be God’s bride.

 

Fret then, just distracting the soul,

From the purpose of man’s true role,

Intimate union with The Spouse,

Evil seeks this Friendship to douse.

 

The Devil sows then fears and dread

Wanting souls to hate God instead

‘Gainst love of God, and true good deeds

He tempts men to desire false “needs”

 

 So bitter hatred fills the air

And each day more fall to despair

Insults to God are hurled galore

Than seemingly ever before

 

Our souls ache to repair these crimes

The wretched evils of our times,

To give God the glory— His due,

 Knowing He, is loved, by so few.

 

And to help poor folks so confused

Who are attacked and ill-used

Who search for truth, so hard to find

They’re led like sheep to keep them blind.

 

Out of love we help our neighbor,

 Gladly for God do we labor,

For Him our life tirelessly spend,

Knowing by this we love our Friend.

 

Working hard ‘til our eyes grow dim,

Doing all out of love for Him,

Wanting nothing than be consumed,

Giving all until we’re entombed.

 

If we like St. Paul can self-forget

We can grow more in love yet

With our dear Lord, Our Spouse Divine,

E’er adoring the Mystic Vine!

A Great Desire for Heaven

Objective truth series – Reflection #21

In our last reflection we considered how we must die to ourselves in order to work out our salvation.  Because we had already considered working out our salvation in fear and trembling, it logically followed that we must consider working on detachment from our bodies through penance.  In like manner, after considering that doing penance is a way to prepare for the release of our souls from our bodies, the benefit of detachment from the things of this world is also easy to see.

Once one is more detached from this world, the more he finds he is focused on attaining his true home, namely, heaven.  In St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s book Sermons for Sundays, he has an excellent sermon on heaven for the second Sunday of Lent.  He has four key points or reasons why we should ponder heaven and seek heaven.  Indeed any one of these reasons alone would be enough to convince us to ask God earnestly for a great desire for heaven.  Let us consider these four points one at a time.

1) “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.”  (1 Cor. 2:9)

Concerning this point St. Alphonsus describes the beauty we should be longing for.  He says, “According to the Apostle, no man on this earth can comprehend the infinite blessings which God has prepared for the souls that love Him.”[1]

St. Alphonsus goes on to comment that people on earth are so focused on using only their senses and says:

Perhaps we imagine that the beauty of heaven resembles that of a wide extended plain covered with the verdure of spring, interspersed with trees in full bloom, and abounding in birds fluttering about and singing on every side; or, that it is like the beauty of a garden full of fruits and flowers, and surrounded by fountains in continual play.  Oh!  What a Paradise, to behold such a plain, or such a garden! But, oh!  How much greater are the beauties of heaven!  Speaking of Paradise, St. Bernard says: O man, if you wish to understand the blessings of heaven, know that in that happy country there is nothing which can be disagreeable, and everything that you can desire.[2]

St. Alphonsus not only talks about heaven being agreeable to the senses, he goes on to explain more about how all the soul’s desires are satisfied in heaven. 

2) In heaven you have all you can desire. ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ (Apoc. 21:4-5.).[3]  Concerning this point, St. Alphonsus expounds how all our senses will be delighted, saying:

There everything is new; new beauties, new delights, new joys. There all our desires shall be satisfied. The sight shall be satiated with beholding the beauty of that city. How delightful to behold a city in which the streets should be of crystal, the houses of silver, the windows of gold, and all adorned with the most beautiful flowers. But, oh! How much more beautiful shall be the city of Paradise! The beauty of the place shall be heightened by the beauty of the inhabitants, who are all clothed in royal robes; for, according to St. Augustine, they are all kings. How delighted to behold Mary, the queen of heaven, who shall appear more beautiful than all the other citizens of Paradise!  But, what it must be to behold the beauty of Jesus Christ!  St. Teresa once saw one of the hands of Jesus Christ, and was struck with astonishment at the sight of such beauty. The smell shall be satiated with odors, but with the odors of Paradise. The hearing shall be satiated with the harmony of the celestial choirs. St. Francis once heard for a moment an angel playing on a violin, and he almost died through joy. How delightful must it be to hear the saints and angels singing the divine praises! “They shall praise thee for ever and ever.” (Ps. 83:5.) What must it be to hear Mary praising God!  St. Francis de Sales says, that, as the singing of the nightingale in the wood surpasses that of all other birds, so the voice of Mary is far superior to that of all the other saints. In a word, there are in Paradise all the delights which man can desire.”[4]

St. Alphonsus explains how these pleasures of the senses are nothing compared to the actual Beatific Vision.  In his next point he concentrates directly on this Vision.

3) We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.” (1 Cor. 13:12.)  St. Alphonsus explains: “The delights of the soul infinitely surpass all the pleasures of the senses. Even in this life divine love infuses such sweetness into the soul when God communicates Himself to her [viz., the soul], that the body is raised from the earth.  St. Peter of Alcantara once fell into such an ecstasy of love, that, taking hold of a tree, he drew it up from the roots, and raised it with him on high.”[5]

St. Alphonsus continues:

How great is the sweetness which a soul experiences, when, in the time of prayer, God, by a ray of His own light, shows to her [viz., the soul] His goodness and His mercies towards her, and particularly the love which Jesus Christ has borne to her in His passion! She feels her heart melting, and as it were dissolved through love.  But in this life we do not see God as He really is: we see Him as it were in the dark. We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.”  (1 Cor. 13:12.)  Here below God is hidden from our view; we can see Him only with the eyes of faith: how great shall be our happiness when the veil shall be raised, and we shall be permitted to behold God face to face!  We shall then see His beauty, His greatness, His perfection, His amiableness, and His immense love for our souls.[6]

In the three points above St. Alphonsus gives us beautiful incentives to long for heaven in a speculative or thoughtful way, but he adds another incentive which is more of a practical one as well:

4) God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Apoc. 21:4).

Concerning this point, St. Alphonsus tells how our earthly trials will end, saying:

But, after entering into Paradise, the blest shall have no more sorrows. God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”  The Lord shall dry up the tears which they have shed in this life.  And death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow, shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And He that sat on the throne, said: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Apoc. 21:4, 5.)  In Paradise, death and the fear of death are no more: in that place of bliss there are no sorrows, no infirmities, no poverty, no inconveniencies, no vicissitudes of day or night, of cold or of heat.  In that kingdom there is a continual day, always serene, a continual spring, always blooming.  In Paradise there are no persecutions, no envy; for all love each other with tenderness and each rejoices at the happiness of the others, as if it were his own.  There is no more fear of eternal perdition; for the soul confirmed in grace can neither sin nor lose God.[7]

St. Alphonsus then adds these consoling words:

In beholding the beauty of God, the soul shall be so inflamed and so inebriated with divine love, that she [viz., the soul] shall remain happily lost in God; for she shall entirely forget herself, and for all eternity shall think only of loving and praising the immense good which she shall possess forever, without the fear of having it in her power ever to lose it. In this life, holy souls love God; but they cannot love him with all their strength, nor can they always actually love him.  St. Thomas teaches that this perfect love is only given to the citizens of heaven, who love God with their whole heart, and never cease to love Him actually.[8]

These extracts from St. Alphonsus’s beautiful sermon truly show us that we should beg God for a great desire for heaven.  When one asks God for something which is good for the soul, God answers the prayer in a marvelous way. Our Lord Himself told us to seek the kingdom of heaven, saying, “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” [St. Matt. 6:33].

Once God sparks the flame of this desire in the soul, all the things in this world cease to have any real charm or attraction.  This earthly journey is viewed as only an exile because the soul longs for heaven so much.

It is truly an undeserved blessing from God to have a desire for heaven and to be able to see through the allurements of the world—travel, entertainments, and shallow amusements. Then a soul sees the sheer emptiness of this world and all creatures in comparison with God.  God becomes more and more the absolute center of one’s life. God really comes first and He is the basis for all decisions made.  If a soul has this blessing, it is evident because this blessing is very tangible.  Indeed, the soul shutters in fear of losing this insight from God and this objective view of life, of time, and of eternity.  He finds himself begging God to allow him to keep this objective view. In fact, he finds himself begging that God won’t allow him to abandon objective truth.  This outlook is so undeserved.  One knows this to the very marrow of one’s bones.  One feels grateful and tells God thank-you.  With the flame of desire for heaven lighted in the soul, one yearns for heaven everyday more and more and the evils of the present life make our exile here felt evermore keenly.  One could naturally find himself wanting to soar to the heavenly heights to be united with Our Lord, Our Lady, and our heavenly helpers. The soul might express its longing in words such as these:

Oh my soul it is time to die,

For all thy hopes in God must lie,

Doing penance is the sure way,

To break free from the world each day.

 

At the same time desire does grow,

And a need of God more to know,

Detaching thee from worldly cares,

 Well aware of, all of life’s snares.

 

Then with eyes raised, to thy true home,

Keep thou focused, want not to roam,

‘Cause earth is, a distracting sea,

Make it to have, no part with thee.

 

Then burning in thy heart will flame,

Yearning for heaven thy sole aim,

Eye hath not seen, nor ear hath heard,

Desire for heaven is now stirred!

 

 St. Alphonsus teaches so well,

Aching for heav’n, the heart must swell,

Ev’ry delight for ev’ry sense,

Our heart was made that we go hence.

 

Heav’n is more than just higher goal,

‘Tis the one desire, of a soul.

 To stay ever with Love Divine,

Aspire for this, oh soul of mine!

 

Far better than mere sight or sound,

For Divine View, we must be bound,

To keep in mind this View sublime,

The goal of each step, in life’s climb.  

 

 The fulfillment of ev’ry hope,

The one purpose of this life’s scope,

To land safely on heaven’s shore,

Where grief will end forevermore.

 

This wicked world with wicked trends,

My soul and it will ne’er be friends,

This fact makes it easier still,

To want to ever do God’s Will.

 

To burn with more intense desire,

Dear Mary help me to aspire,

So when my death breaks earthly ties,

My soul with thee may ever rise.



[1]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original).

 

[2]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original).

[3]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original).

 

[4]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original; bracketed words added for clarity).

[5]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original; bracketed words added for clarity).

[6]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original).

[7]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original).

 

[8]           Sermons for All the Sundays in the Year, by St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, translated from the Italian of St. Alphonsus M. Liguori, by the late Very Rev. Nicholas Callan, D.D., Roman Catholic College, Maynooth, eighth edition. Dublin, James Duffy & Sons, 15 Wellington Quay; and London, 1 Paternoster Row. 1882. Dublin.  (Emphasis in the original; bracketed words added for clarity).

 

Thoughts on Death: to Die to Oneself

Objective truth series – Reflection #20 — dying to oneself and preparing for death at the same time.

In our last reflection we considered how we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  This work must be unto death.  We cannot stop working with fear and trembling until we have drawn our last breath, knowing that Jesus Christ in His Human Nature will meet us Himself to judge us.

At death the soul seems to recede out of the body—the limbs become colder and as in fainting or being anesthetized, everything [all one’s surroundings] seem to be going farther and farther away.  This is known from people who have been resuscitated and have told what they experienced.   We also know of this type of thing from the lives of the saints— those who were miraculously raised from the dead, and from apparitions of souls from purgatory.  Thus, the soul seems to distance itself from the body and then, of course, the substantial change of the soul actually leaving the body is one horribly painful moment.

This is a very sobering thing to reflect upon.  We must die to ourselves and distance our souls from our bodies now.  We show true love for ourselves and our bodies by thinking of the eternal happiness for our souls and bodies, particularly, by the practice of penance here in this life.  The soul will show love of the body by treating the body distantly, namely, trying to distance one’s will from his material body. When the soul becomes detached from the body in this manner, it consequently will be detached from other material things.  By thinking of the reality that at death our souls must really leave our bodies, it makes the thought of doing penance more acceptable to our wills.  In other words, this gives us an additional incentive and desire to do the penance that Our Lord says is necessary for our salvation.  Let’s face it, even though Our Lord tells us authoritatively that we will perish if we do not do penance, we are not frightened enough to do what is necessary for our souls.

Yet we know that the denial of ourselves is necessary for our salvation by just reading the following quotes from Our Lord Himself:

·         “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it dies it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal.” (St. John 12:24-25)

 

·         “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (St. Luke 9:23)

·         “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” (St. Luke 13:3) and a little farther on He says, “No, I say to you: but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish.”

 

·         “But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” (St. Matt. 24:13)

 

·         “And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” (St. Matt. 11:12).

These words inspire awe and sobriety indeed!  Likewise, Our Lady in her apparitions at La Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima, insists that we Catholics pray and sacrifice for the salvation of our souls and for the conversion of sinners.

Holy Mother Church, the Mystical Bride of Christ, has taught throughout the ages, the importance of doing penance for the reparation of our sins.  We have the season of Lent which is always penitential and had always provided the faithful with the obligation of doing penance.  (Unfortunately, the Conciliar Church, has done away with almost all obligatory penance.)

Yet the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent and the Ember Days are not all the penance that is needed.  Our Lord, Our Lady, and the many saints have all exhorted us to undertake a life of penance in order to discipline our passions and curb/root out our vices. 

Furthermore, we all need to make reparation for all of our sins and this is reason alone to do penance, but our motive for doing penance must be higher than this. We must certainly consider how doing penance and dying to ourselves have many wonderful consequences such as the following:

1) Shows Our Lord that we love Him;

2) Shows Our Lord that we want to be His true friends and disciples;

3) Makes reparation for our past sins and the sins of the world;

4) Makes our souls more Christ-like, precisely because penance disciplines the soul     and purges out vices and imperfections;

5) Prepares our souls for a holy death by strengthening the soul and detaching ourselves from the world;

6) Makes us more selfless; and

7) Gives us more of a longing to be with Our Lord.

Our Lord suffered from the moment of His conception to His last breath on the Cross.  We should desire to imitate Him.  In other words, we should be willing to suffer out of love for Him.  We certainly want our love for Christ to grow.

 In order to imitate Christ, He tells us to follow His examples of selflessness. He Himself said that the Son of Man has no place to lay His Head.  The Gospels are full of details to ponder on the countless ways in which we can imitate Our Lord.

Basically, by dying to ourselves through doing penance to discipline ourselves, we imitate Christ and thus increase our love for Our Lord.  However, we mustn’t forget that by dying to ourselves in our daily lives, it is actually preparing ourselves for death.  What a wonderful precept of Divine Wisdom to command something that has so many beautiful and efficacious consequences for our souls!  How good God is!

In addition to His command to die to ourselves, God also gives us so many examples in the lives of the Saints showing us how to go about doing this internal death through penance.  The edifying examples of the saints give us much encouragement and inspiration for our lives.  The Saints show us how doing penances and offering up our crosses really does lead to a holy life and hence, to a holy death.

One such beautiful example is dear St. Paul who encourages us to die to ourselves when saying, “But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.”(1 Corinth. 9:27)

We should thank God for His loving warnings, and for giving us so many encouraging examples of penance in the lives of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the Saints.   Let us not forget to beg our dear Heavenly Mother, the Mother of Sorrows, and St. Joseph, the Patron of the Dying, to help us die to ourselves daily.  With these means we will be preparing for death as we journey towards death and our hearts might express our tenderest feelings to Our Lord thus:

Oh dearest Lord thou hast us shown,

How of our lives, too fond we’ve grown,

We’ve been too attached to the earth,

We’ve not noted, our souls’ full worth.

 

Yet thou hast taught us by Thy Life,

That ours with pleasures have been rife,

 Penance is the most needful cure,

To die to self we must endure.

 

To prepare our souls for our death,

We must work until our last breath,

And kill the old man in our soul,

Make ready for life’s final goal.

 

And other motives, there are too,

That make penance, crucial to do,

To increase in hearts, love divine,

To things of heaven, to incline.

 

A profound friendship ‘twill inspire,

And kindle our hearts with new fire

Making repairs for our past wrongs,

To Him to whom our debt belongs.

 

True penance is not just for pain,

Hoping only, for us to gain,

Some credit or to inspire awe,

But, because our passions, are raw

 

We know that we need, them to train,

Easier to keep them, in rein,

While doing battle here below,

With this can our love, for Christ grow.

 

Our Lady will help us not tire,

To follow His Path with desire,

And His Divine Precepts to keep,

And be always a faithful sheep.

 

Beseech St. Joseph at our side,

To a holy death he’ll us guide,

With heav’nly helpers we can be,

Safe like them for eternity.

 

St. Paul says, “To die is to gain,”

Our Lord says, to die like grain,

If we die to ourselves in time,

Then for us can death be sublime.

It is a Good Thing to Ask for Tears of Compunction

Objective truth series – Reflection #19

  “With fear and trembling work out your salvation.” (Phil. 2; 12).

In our last reflection, we addressed what it means to have an eternal perspective of life, namely, to live for our last end.  We must work out our salvation every day, and at no waking moment can we stop laboring at this crucial task. 

But what in particular do we think about when considering the salvation of our soul?  It would seem that if we really penetrated the reality that we can lose our souls, we would tremble and quake.   This reality is what St. Paul is admonishing us about in his Epistle to the Philippians.  We simply cannot take our salvation for granted.

We speak of fear and trembling.  One can speak of two kinds of fear—servile fear and filial fear.  Servile fear is the fear of being punished for an evil we’ve done, i.e., as a slave’s fear of his master.  Filial fear is the fear a son has towards his father because the son does not want to displease his father. Filial fear is based on love.

As Catholics we are taught from our childhood to fear hell as a place of punishment and torment.  However, God expects us to have filial fear of Him and that we will want to please Him always.

We know that we owe God everything, and that we owe Him gratitude for everything He has done for us.  We further know that we do not fear God’s Justice enough and we do not love God as we ought.  For example, St. John Chrysostom when referring to the sins of rash judgment, anger, and detraction as being such general vices among men, says, “What hopes of salvation remain for the generality of mankind, who commit without reflection, some or other of these crimes, one of which is enough to damn a soul?”[1]

This quote gives one pause and invokes fear.  What hope do we have of salvation when we are so guilty of so many crimes against Our Dear Lord?  Naturally, compunction should seize our hearts.  Compungere, which means the sting of conscience, should be what we want in order to weep for our sins.  We should consider these words of Our Lord, “Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved much,” which refer to St. Mary Magdalene who was washing His feet with her tears [St. Luke 7; 47].  This quote, coupled with St. Peter’s words, “Charity covereth a multitude of sins,” [1st St. Peter 4:8] should make us want to weep for our sins in order to console Our Lord and Our Lady for the many sins and insults we have committed against them.

Especially in these times of the great apostasy and chastisement, we should want to pray and weep for the offenses that are continually being hurled against Our Lord and Our Lady.  We know that we deserve the punishments of a chastisement for our sins.  Our Lord and Our Lady have told us of the necessity of penance.   Our Lady of Fatima insisted on us praying the Rosary and performing sacrifices for the conversion of sinners and for peace to be obtained through the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart.   

Our Lady’s remedy is not unlike what St. John Chrysostom recommended during his times. As Alban Butler summarizes St. John Chrysostom’s books On Compunction, he notes how St. John prescribes a life of mortification and penance as an essential condition for maintaining a spirit of compunction.  Butler refers to St. John Chrysostom’s analogy that water and fire are not more contrary to each other than a life of softness and delights is opposed to compunction.  In the same vein, Butler relates how Chrysostom states that a love of pleasure renders the soul heavy and altogether earthly; but compunction gives the soul wings, by which she raises herself above all created things.  St. John Chrysostom mentions, too, how Our Lord blesses those who mourn for their sins.

With all of the above in mind, let us not forget to turn to Mary, our Mother of Sorrows, and ask her to teach us about the malice of sin and how much pain we have caused her Divine Son.  She, better than all mankind put together, understands the massive weight of sin that her Beloved Son bore.  Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart was pierced with a sword of sorrow.  She was a first-hand witness of the sufferings of Our Lord.  This is why tradition teaches that she is the Co-Redemptrix and the Queen of Martyrs because she stood at the Foot of the Cross offering herself in union with her Divine Son.

So, begging Our Lord through Our Lady for the gift of tears of compunction, we pray that our hearts can melt.  If we ponder the Passion of Our Lord, the innocence of Our Lady, and how we have both afflicted Our Lord and Our Lady, perhaps our cheeks would be moistened as we say the following:

Oh, if only we could full keep,

The love of Our Lord and Lady deep,

In our minds, each day and night,

How would we bear the sight?

 

Of so much grief, for this blest pair,

For their sorrow, beyond compare,

Attend and see if there like be,

Sorrow that pierced the heart of she,

 

Who was chosen to watch her Son,

And stay with her, beloved One,

While journeyed He, each step with pain,

The ground covered, with precious Stain

 

If tears could well up, as we see,

Each awful wound endured by Thee,

But could our hearts melt like wax,

Tears of Thee, Lord, would we dare ask?

 

Yeah, Lord Thy heart did yield wax-like,

 Poured out like water, without dike,

The nails dug deep, Thy wrist and feet,

With growing love, could our hearts beat?

 

If tears could flow in rivers too,

But woe to us they are so few,

Beg we do now, for an increase

And weeping let us, never cease.

 

Our sins have caused Thee, pain so great,

We cannot full appreciate,

 What our malice has done to Thee,

And the price of, iniquity.

 

And with fear then, do let us quake,

Seeing what Thou, bore for our sake,

 Not displease Thee, in any way,

Working to save, our souls each day. 

 

Mary, our Mother of sorrow,

 Assist us with each new morrow

Without thee, we cannot endure,

And our love cannot, be pure.

 

Mary, us, with compunction fill,

With melted hearts our tears can spill,

 Such a gift, we do not deserve,

From the right path, let us not swerve!



[1]           Of course, our catechism teaches us that the three conditions for mortal sin are: 1) it must be a serious matter or considered to be a serious matter; 2) sufficient reflection; and 3) full consent of the will.  See, e.g., Baltimore Catechism #3, Q.282.  St. John Chrysostom here alludes to sinners becoming callous to their grievous vices.