Considerations on the eternal truths



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Desire of the Worldling: at Death.
Oh, how clearly are the truths of faith seen at the hour of death ! But then they only serve to increase the an­guish of the dying Christian who has led a bad life, par­ticularly if he has been consecrated to God, and has had greater facilities for serving him, more time for exercises of piety, more good examples and more inspirations. O God ! what torture will he feel in thinking and saying: I have admonished others, and my life has been worse than theirs. I have left the world, and have cherished attachment to worldly pleasures and vanities. What re­morse will he feel in thinking that with the lights which he had received from God a pagan would become a saint ! With what pain will his soul be racked when he remembers that he ridiculed in others certain practices of piety, as if they were weaknesses of mind; and that he praised certain worldly maxims of self-esteem, or of self-love, such as: It is necessary to seek our own ad­vancement ; We ought to avoid suffering, and indulge in every amusement within our reach.
The desire of the wicked slall perish (Ps. cxi, 10). How ardently shall we desire at death the time which we now squan­der away ? In his dialogues, St. Gregory relates that a certain rich man, called Crisorius, who had led a wicked life, seeing at death the devils who came to carry him off, exclaimed: Give me time, give me time until to-mor­row. They replied: O fool! do you now seek for time? You have had so much time, but have wasted it and have spent it in committing sin; and now you seek for time. Time is now no more. The unhappy man con­tinued to cry out and call for assistance. To his son Maximus, a monk, who was present, he said: O my son, assist me ! O Maximus, come to my aid ! With his face on fire, he flung himself furiously from one side of the bed to the other; and in that state of agitation, scream­ing aloud, like one in despair, he breathed forth his un­happy soul.
Alas ! during this life, these fools love their folly; but at death they open their eyes, and confess that they have been fools. But this only serves to increase their fear of repairing past evils ; and dying in this state, they leave their salvation very uncertain. My brother, now that you are reading this point, I imagine that you too say: This is indeed true. But if this is true, your folly and misfortune will be still greater, if after knowing these truths during life, you neglect to apply a remedy in time. This very point which you have read will be a sword of sorrow for you at death.
Since, then, you now have time to avoid a death so full of terror, begin instantly to repair the past; do not wait for that time in which you can make but little prepara­tion for judgment. Do not wait for another month, nor for another week. Perhaps this light which God in his mercy gives you now may be the last light and the last call for you. It is folly to be unwilling to think of death, which is certain, and on which eternity depends; but it would be still greater folly to reflect on it, and not prepare for judgment. Make now the reflections and resolutions which you would then make; they may be made now with profit—then without fruit; now, with confidence of saving your soul—then, with diffidence as to your salvation. A gentleman who was about to take leave of the court of Charles the Fifth, to live only to God, was asked by the Emperor why he thought of quit­ting the court. The gentleman answered: To secure salvation, it is necessary that some time spent in peniten­tial works should intervene between a disorderly life and death.
Affections and Prayers.
O my God ! I will no longer abuse Thy mercy. I thank Thee for the light Thou now givest me, and I promise to change my life. I see that Thou canst not bear with me any longer. I will not wait until Thou either dost send me to hell, or dost abandon me to a wicked life, which would be a greater punish­ment than death itself. Behold, I cast myself at Thy feet; re­ceive me into favor. I do not deserve Thy grace; but Thou hast said : The wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him in whatsoever day he shall turn from his wickedness (Ezek. xxxiii, 12). If then, O my Jesus! I have hitherto offended Thy infinite goodness, I now repent with my whole heart, and hope for pardon. I will say with St. Anselm : “ Ah ! since Thou hast redeemed me by Thy blood, do not permit me to be lost on account of my sins.” Look not on my ingratitude; but have regard to the love which made Thee die for me. If I have lost Thy grace. Thou hast not lost the power of restoring it to me. Have mercy on me then, O my dear Redeemer! Pardon me, and give me grace to love Thee ; for I purpose henceforth to love nothing but Thee. Among; so many possible creatures. Thou hast chosen me to love Thee. I make choice of Thee, O Sovereign Good ! to love Thee above every good. Thou goest before me with Thy cross; I am will­ing to follow Thee with the cross which Thou wilt give me to carry. I embrace every mortification and every pain that comes from Thee. Do not deprive me of Thy grace, and I am con­tent. Mary, my hope! obtain for me from God perseverance and the grace to love him ; and I ask nothing more.
THIRD POINT.
Tardy Regrets of a Dying Person.
The dying man who has neglected the salvation of his soul, will find thorns in everything that is presented to him—thorns in the remembrance of past amusements, rivalries overcome and pomps displayed; thorns in the friends who will visit him, and in whatever their presence shall bring before his mind; thorns in the spiritual Fathers who assist him in turn ; thorns in the Sacra­ments of Penance, Eucharist, and Extreme Unction, which he must receive; thorns even in the crucifix which is placed before him. In that sacred image he will read his want of correspondence to the love of a God who died for his salvation.
O fool that I have been ! the poor sick man will say, with the lights and. opportunities that God has given me, I could have become a saint. I could have led a life of happiness in the grace of God; and after so many years that he gave me, what do I find but torments, distrust, fears, remorse of conscience and accounts to render to God ? I shall scarcely save my soul. And when will he say this ? When the oil in the lamp is on the point of being consumed, and the scene of this world is about to close forever; when he finds himself in view of two eternities, one happy, the other miserable; when he is near that last gasp on which depends his exerlasting bliss or eternal despair, as long as God shall be God. What would he then give for another year, month, or even another week, with the perfect use of his faculties ? In the stupefaction, oppression of the chest, and difficulty of breathing, under which he then labors, he can do nothing; he is incapable of reflection, or of applying his mind to the performance of any good act: he is, as it were, shut up in a dark pit of confusion, where he can see nothing but the ruin which threatens him, and which he feels himself unable to avert. He would wish for time; but the assisting priest shall say to him, Proficiscere; adjust your accounts as well as you, can in the few moments that remain, and depart. Do you not know that death waits for no one, respects no one?
Oh ! with what dismay will he then think and say: This morning I am alive; this evening I shall probably be dead ! To-day I am in this room; to-morrow I shall be in the grave! and where will my soul be found? With what terror will he be seized when he sees the death candle prepared ? When he hears his relatives ordered to withdraw from his apartment, and to return to it no more? When his sight begins to grow dim? Finally, how great will be his alarm and confusion when he sees that, because death is at hand, the candle is lighted? O candle, O candle, how many truths will you then unfold ! How different will you make things appear then from what they appear at present! O how clearly will you show the dying sinner that all the goods of this world are vanities, folly, and lies? But of what use is it to understand these truths when the time is past of profit­ing by them ?
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God ! Thou wilt not my death, but that I be converted and live. I thank Thee for having waited for me till now, and I thank Thee for the light which Thou givest me at this moment. I know the error I have committed in preferring to Thy friendship the vile and miserable goods for which I have despised Thee. I repent, and am sorry with my whole heart for having done Thee so great an injury. Ah ! do not cease, during the remainder of my life, to assist me by Thy light and grace to know and to do all that I ought to do in order to amend my life. What shall it profit me to know these truths when I shall be deprived of the time in which they may be re­duced to practice ? Deliver not up to beasts the souls, that confess to Thee (Ps. lxxiii, 19). When the devil tempts me to offend Thee again, ah! I entreat Thee, my Jesus, through the merits of Thy Passion, to stretch forth Thy hand and to preserve me from falling into sin, and from becoming again the slave of my enemies. Grant that in all temptations I may have recourse to Thee, and that I may not cease to recommend myself to Thee as long as the temptations continue. Thy blood is my hope, and Thy good­ness is my love. I love Thee, my God, worthy of infinite love; grant that I may always love Thee. Make known to me the things from which I ought to detach my heart, that I may be en­tirely Thine: I wish to detach my heart from them : but give me strength to execute this desire. O Queen of heaven ! O Mother of God! pray for me, a sinner. Obtain for me the grace that in all temptations I may never omit to have recourse to Jesus and to thee, who, by thy intercession, preserves from falling into sin all who invoke thee.
CONSIDERATION VIII.
The Death of the Just.
“ Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”— Ps. cxv. 15.
FIRST POINT.
The Death of the Just is a Rest.
viewed according to the senses, death excites fear and terror; but viewed with the eyes of faith, it is consoling and desirable. To sinners it appears full of terror; but to the saints it is amiable and precious. “It is precious,” says St. Bernard, “as the end of labors, the consumma­tion of victory, the gate of life.” (In Trans. Mal. s. 1). It is the end of toils and labor. Man, says Job, born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries (Job, xiv, 1). Behold a picture of our life: it is short and all full of miseries, of infirmities, of fears, and of passions. What, says Seneca, do world­lings, who desire a long life, seek, but a continuation of torments ? (Ep. ci). What, says St. Augustine, is a prolongation of life, but a prolongation of suffering? (Serm. 84, E.B.). Yes; for, as St. Ambrose tells us, the present life is given us, not for repose, but that we may labor, and by our toils merit eternal glory. (Serm. 42). Hence Tertullian has justly said, that when God abridges life he abridges pain. Hence, though man has been condemned to death in punishment of sin, still the miseries of this life are so great, that, according to St. Ambrose, death appears to be a remedy and relief, rather than a chastisement (De Cain et Ab. I, 2, c. 10). God pronounces happy all who die in his grace, because they terminate their labors and go to repose. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. From henceforth now saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labors (Apoc. xiv, 13).
The torments which afflict sinners at death do not dis­turb the peace of the Saints. The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them (Wis. Iii, 1). That proficiscere which is so full of terror to world­lings does not alarm the Saints. The just man is not afflicted at the thought of being obliged to take leave of the goods of the earth, for he has always kept his heart detached from them. During life he has constantly said to the Lord: Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever (Ps. lxxii, 26). Happy you, said the Apostle to his disciples, who have been robbed of your goods for the sake of Jesus Christ. You took with joy the being stripped of your goods, knowing that you had a better and a lasting substance (Heb. X, 34). The Saint is not afflicted at bidding an eternal farewell to honors, for he always hated them, and considered them to be what they really are—smoke and vanity. He is not afflicted in leaving relatives, for he loved them only in God, and at death he recommends them to his heavenly Father, who loves them more than he does; and having a secure confidence of salvation, he expects to be better able to assist them from heaven than on this earth. In a word, he who has constantly said during life, My God and my all, continues to repeat it with greater consolation and greater tenderness at the hour of death.
He who dies loving God, is not disturbed by the pains of death; but, seeing that lie is now at the end of life, and that he has no more time to suffer for God, or to offer him other proofs of his love, he accepts these pains with joy. With affection and peace he offers to God these last mo­ments of life, and feels consoled in uniting the sacrifice of his death to the sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered for him on the Cross to his eternal Father. Thus he dies happily, saying: In peace in the self-same I will sleep and I will rest (Ps. iv, 9). Oh ! how great the peace of the Chris­tian who dies abandoned and reposing in the arms of Jesus Christ, who has loved us to death, and has conde­scended to suffer so cruel a death in order to obtain for us a death full of sweetness and consolation.
Affections and Prayers.
O my beloved Jesus ! who, to obtain for me a happy death, hast freely submitted to so painful a death on Calvary, when shall I see Thee? The first time I shall behold Thee. I shall see Thee as my judge in the very place in which I shall expire. What shall I then say? What wilt Thou say to me? I will not wait till that moment to think of what I shall say; I will meditate on it now. I will say to Thee : My Redeemer ! Thou art the God who hast died for me. I have hitherto offended Thee; I have been ungrateful to Thee; I did not deserve pardon, but afterward, assisted by Thy grace, I have entered into my­self, and, during the remainder of my life, I have bewailed my sins, and Thou hast pardoned me. Pardon me again, now that I am at Thy feet, and give me a general absolution of all my sins. I did not deserve ever again to love Thee, because I have despised Thy love; but Thou in Thy mercy hast drawn my heart to Thee, so that if I have not loved Thee as Thou deservest, I have at least loved Thee above all things, and have left all to please Thee. I see that Paradise and the possession of Thy divinity in Thy kingdom is too much for me; but I cannot live at a distance from Thee, now, especially, after Thou hast shown me Thy amiable and beautiful countenance. I therefore ask for Paradise, not to enjoy greater delights, but to love Thee more perfectly. Send me to Purgatory as long as Thou pleasest. Defiled as I am at present, I do not wish to enter into the land of purity, and to see myself among those pure souls. Send me to be purified; but do not banish me forever from Thy presence. I shall be content to be one day, whenever Thou pleasest, called to Paradise to sing Thy mercies for all eternity. Ah. my be­loved Judge ! raise Thy hand and bless me ; tell me that I am Thine, and that Thou art and shall be forever mine. I will al­ways love Thee, and Thou wilt forever love me. Behold, I go to a distance from Thee; I go into fire: but I go in peace, because I go to love Thee, my Redeemer, my God, my all! I am con­tent to go; but during my absence from Thee, I go, O Lord ! to count the moments that will elapse before Thou callest me. Have mercy on a soul that loves Thee with all its power, and that sighs to see Thee, that it may love Thee better.
This I hope, O my Jesus! to say to Thee at death. I entreat Thee to give me the grace to live in such a manner that I may then say to Thee what I have now thought. Give me holy per­severance, give me Thy love. Assist me, O Mary! Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.
SECOND POINT.
The Death of the Just is a Victory.
God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more (Apoc. Xxi, 4). Then, at death the Lord will wipe away from the eyes of his servants all the tears that they have shed in this world, where they live in the midst of pains, of fears, of dangers, and of combats with hell. The greatest consolation which a soul that has loved God will experience in hearing the news of death, will arise from the thought that it will soon be delivered from the many dangers of offending God, to which it is exposed in this life, from so many troubles of conscience, and from so many temptations of the devil. The present life is an unceasing warfare with hell, in which we are in continual danger of losing our souls and God. St. Am­brose says that in this life we walk among snares : we walk continually amid the snares of enemies, who lie in wait to deprive us of the life of grace. It was this danger that made St. Peter of Alcantara say at death to a relig­ious who, in attending the Saint, accidentally touched him: “Brother, remove, remove from me; for I am still alive, and am still in danger of being lost.” The thought of being freed by death from the danger of sin consoled St. Teresa, and made her rejoice as often as she heard the clock strike, that another hour of the combat was passed. Hence she would say: “In each moment of life I may sin and lose God.” Hence, the news of approaching death filled the Saints with consolation; because they knew that their struggles and dangers were soon to have an end, and that they would soon be insecure possession of that happy lot in which they could never more lose God.
It is related in the lives of the Fathers, that one of them who was very old, when dying, smiled while the others wept. Being asked why he smiled, he said: “ Why do you weep at seeing me go to rest ?” (Lib. 5, l. 11, n. 52). Like­wise St. Catharine of Sienna in her last moments said: “Rejoice with me; for I quit this land of pains, and go to a place of peace.” If, says St. Cyprian, you lived in a house whose walls, and roof, and floors were tottering, and threatened destruction, how ardently would you desire to fly from it! In this life everything menaces the ruin of the soul; the world, hell, the passions, the rebellious senses, all draw us to sin and eternal death. Who, exclaimed the Apostle, shall deliver me from the body of this death ? (Rom. vii, 24). Oh ! how great will be the joy of the soul in hearing these words: “Come, my spouse, depart from that land of tears, from the dens of lions who seek to devour you, and to rob you of the divine grace.” (Cant. iv, 8). Hence, St. Paul, sighing for death said that Jesus Christ was his only life; and therefore he esteemed death his greatest gain, because by death he acquired that life which never ends. To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil. 1, 21).
In taking a soul while it is in the state of grace out of this world, where it may change its will and lose his friendship, God bestows on it a great favor. He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding (Wis. iv, 11). Happy in this life is the man that lives in union with God; but, as the sailor is not secure until he has arrived at the port and escaped the tempest, so the soul cannot enjoy complete happiness until it has left this world in the grace of God. "Praise," says St. Maximus, “the felicity of the sailor: but not until he has reached the port” (In Nativ. D. Eus. hom. 2). Now, if at his approach to the port the sailor rejoices, how much greater ought to be the joy and glad­ness of a Christian who is at the point of securing eternal salvation ?
Moreover, it is impossible in this life to avoid all venial sins. For, says the Holy Ghost, a just man shall fall seven times (Prov. xxiv, 16). He who quits this life ceases to offend God. " For," says St. Ambrose, " what is death but the burial of vices?" (De Bon. Mort. c. 4). This consideration makes the souls that love God long for death. The Venerable Vincent Caraffa consoled himself at death, saying: " By ceasing to live, I cease forever to offend God." And St. Ambrose said: " Why do we desire this life, in which, the longer we live, the more we are loaded with sins?" (Ibid. c. 2). He who dies in the grace of God can never more offend him, says the same holy doctor (In Ps. cxviii, s. 18). Hence, the Lord praises the dead more than any man living, though he be a saint (Eccles. iv, 2). A certain spiritual man gave directions that the person who should bring him the news of death, should say: "Console yourself; for the time has arrived when you will no longer offend God."
Affections and Prayers.
Into Thy hands, I commend my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth. (Ps. xxx, 6). Ah, my sweet Redeemer! what should become of me If Thou hadst deprived me of life when I was far from Thee? I should now be in hell, where I could never love Thee. I thank Thee for not having abandoned me, and for having bestowed on me so many great graces in order to gain my heart. I am sorry for having offended Thee. I love Thee above all things. Ah ! I entreat Thee to make me always sensible of the evil I have done in despising Thee, and of the love which Thy infinite goodness merits. I love Thee; and I desire to die soon, if such be Thy will, that I may be freed from the danger of ever again losing Thy grace, and that I may be secure of loving Thee forever. Ah, my beloved Jesus! during these remaining years of my life, give me strength to do some­thing for Thee before I die. Give me strength against all temp­tations, and against my passions, but particularly against the passion which has hitherto most violently drawn me to sin. Give me patience in all infirmities, and under all the injuries which I may receive from men. I now, for the love of Thee, pardon all who have shown me any contempt, and I beg of Thee to bestow upon them the graces which they stand in need of. Give me strength to be more diligent in avoiding even venial faults, about which I have been hitherto negligent. My Saviour! assist me. I hope for all graces through Thy merits. O Mary, my Mother, and my hope! I place unbounded confi­dence in thee.
THIRD POINT.
The Death of the Just is the Entrance to Life.
Death is not only the end of labors, but it is also the gate of life, says St. Bernard . He who wishes to see God must necessarily pass through this gate. This is the gate of the Lord; the just shall enter into it (Ps. cxvii, 20). St. Jerome en treated death to open its gates to him. " Death, my sister, if you do not open the door to me, I cannot enter to enjoy my Lord." (In Ep. Eus. ad Dam.). Seeing in his house a picture which represented a skeleton with a scythe in the hand, St. Charles Borromeo sent for a painter, and ordered him to erase the scythe, and to paint a golden key, in order that he might be more and more inflamed with a desire of death, which opens Paradise, and admits us to the vision of God.
If, says St. John Chrysostom, a king had prepared for one of his subjects apartments in his own palace, but for the present obliged him to live in a tent, how ardently would the vassal sigh for the day on which he should leave the tent to enter into the palace ! In this life the soul, being in the body, is as it were confined in a prison, which it must leave in order to enter the celestial palace. Hence, David prayed to the Lord to bring his soul out of prison (Ps. cxli, 8). When the holy Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms, he asked no other grace than to be delivered from the prison of the present life. " Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord." (Luke ii, 29). "As if detained by nec-cessity, he," says St. Ambrose, "begs to be dismissed." The Apostle desired the same grace when he said : I am straitened, having a desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ (Phil. I, 23).
How great was the joy of the cup-bearer of Pharaoh when he heard from Joseph that he should soon be res­cued from the prison and restored to his situation ! And will not a soul that loves God exult with gladness at hearing that it will soon be released from the prison of this earth, and go to enjoy God ? "While we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord." (2 Cor. v. 6). While the soul is united to the body, it is at a distance from the vision of God, as if in a strange land, and excluded from its true country. Hence, according to St. Bruno, the departure of the soul from the body should not be called death, but the beginning of life." (De Virginit.).
Hence, the death of the Saints is called their birth­day; because at death they are born to that life of bliss which will never end. St. Athanasius says: "To the just, death is only a passage to eternal life." "O amia­ble death," says St. Augustins, " who will not desire thee, who art the end of evils, the close of toils, the be­ginning of everlasting repose ?" (De Vis. inf., l. 1, c. 6). Hence the holy Doc­tor frequently prayed for death, that he might see God.
The sinner, as St. Cyprian says, has just reason to fear death ; because he will pass from temporal to eternal death (De Mortal.). But he who is in the state of grace, and hopes to pass from death to life, fears not death. In the life of St. John the Almoner, we read that a certain rich man recommended to the prayers of the Saint an only son, and gave the Saint a large sum of money to be distributed in alms, for the purpose of obtaining from God a long life for his son. The son died soon after; but when the father complained of his death, God sent an Angel to say to him: "You sought for your son a long life: he now enjoys eternal life in heaven." This is, as was promised by the Prophet Osee, the grace which Jesus Christ merited for us. O death, I shall be thy death (Osee, xiii, 41). By dying for us, Jesus has changed death into life. When Pionius, the Martyr, was brought to the stake, he was asked by those who conducted him, how he could go to death with so much joy. " You err," re­plied the Saint: " I go not to death, but to life." (Ap Eus. 1, iv, c. 14). Thus, also, the mother of the youthful St. Symphorian ex­horted him to martyrdom. "My son," said she, "life is not taken away from you; it is only exchanged for a better one."
Affections and Prayers.
O God of my soul! I have hitherto dishonored Thee by turn­ing my back upon Thee; but Thy Son has honored Thee by offering to Thee the sacrifice of his life on the cross. Through the honor which Thy beloved Son has given Thee, pardon the dishonor which I have done Thee. I am sorry, O Sovereign Good ! for having offended Thee ; and I promise henceforth to love nothing but Thee. From Thee I hope for salvation : what­ever good is in me at present is the fruit of Thy grace; to Thee I ascribe it all. By the grace of God, I am what I am (1 Cor. xv, 10). If I have hitherto dishonored Thee, I hope to honor Thee for eternity by blessing and praising Thy mercy forever. I feel a great desire to love Thee. This Thou hast given me: I thank Thee for it, O my love ! Continue, continue the aid which Thou hast begun to give me. I hope to be henceforth Thine, and entirely Thine. And what greater pleasure can I enjoy than that of pleasing Thee, my Lord ! who art so amiable, and who hast loved me so tenderly! O my God! I ask only love, love, love; and hope always to ask of Thee, love, love, until, dying in Thy love, I reach the kingdom of love, where, without evermore asking it, I shall be full of love, and never for a single moment cease to love Thee for all eternity, and with all my strength. Mary, my mother! who lovest thy God so intensely, and who desirest so vehemently to see him loved, obtain for me the grace to love him ardently in this life, that I may love him ardently forever in the next.
CONSIDERATION IX.
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