CONFORMITY TO THE WILL OF GOD
XIII. SPECIAL PRACTICES OF THIS VIRTUE
We must above all be conformed to the will of God in regard to our death, as to the time and manner of it. St. Gertrude one day, when climbing a hill, slipped and fell into a ravine. Her companions asked her afterwards whether she would not have been afraid to die without the Sacraments? The Saint answered that it was her great desire to die fortified by the Sacraments, but she considered that the will of God was better, because the best dispositions one can have when dying would be one’s submission to all that God should will; consequently, she desired whatever death the Lord would be pleased to allot to her. It is related by St. Gregory, in his Dialogues, that the Vandals having condemned to death a certain priest named Santolo, they granted him the choice of the kind of death he would prefer; but the holy man refused to make a selection, saying: “I am in the hands of God, and will suffer the death He permits you to make me suffer; nor do I wish for any other.” This act was so pleasing to God that, when these barbarous men had resolved on having his head cut off, He held back the executioner’s arm; whereupon they acknowledged the great miracle, and spared his life. As to the manner, then, we should esteem that death the best for us which God may have determined to be ours. Save us, Lord (let us ever say, when thinking of our death); and then let us die in whatever manner seemeth good unto Thee.
Then, again, we ought to unite our will to God’s will as to the time of our death. What is this world but a prison in which we have to suffer, and every moment run the risk of losing God? It was this that caused David to exclaim: Bring my soul out of prison (Ps. cxli. 8). It was this fear that made St. Teresa sigh for death. On hearing the clock strike, she felt the utmost consolation in the thought that an hour of her life had passed, an hour in which she was in danger of losing God.
Blessed John of Avila used to say that everyone, even those with imperfect dispositions, should desire death, because of the danger in which we live of losing the Divine grace. What is more precious, or more to be desired than a good death whereby we are secure of never losing the grace of our God? But, you say, “I have as yet done nothing. I have gained nothing for my soul.” But if it be the will of God that your life should terminate now, what good would you be able to do if you were to remain alive contrary to His will? And who knows whether, in that case, you would die such a death as you can have hope of dying now? Who knows whether, through a change of will, you might not fall into other sins, and lose your soul? And even were there nothing else, you could not live without committing at least venial sins. Hence, St. Bernard exclaims: “Why, oh, why do we wish to live, when the longer we live, the more we sin? And it is certain that one of our venial sins displeases God more than all our good works can please Him.
I say, moreover, that he who has but little desire for Paradise shows that he has but little love for God. One who loves desires the presence of the object loved; but we cannot see God without leaving this world; and therefore it is that all the Saints have sighed for death, in order to go and see the Lord Whom they loved. Thus did Augustine sigh, “Oh, may I die, that I may see Thee!” Thus, too, St. Paul: Having a desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ (Phil. i. 23). Thus, again, David: When shall I come and appear before the face of God? (Ps. xli. 3). And thus, speak all those souls that have been enamoured of God. It is related that one day, as a gentleman was out hunting in a forest, he heard a man singing sweetly. On going in that direction, he found a poor leper in a state of semi-putrefaction. He asked him if it was he who was singing? “Yes, sir,” answered the poor leper, “it was I who was singing.” “And how can you sing amid sufferings like these, which are taking your life away?” The leper answered, “There is nothing between my Lord God and myself but this wall of clay, which is my body, and when this obstruction is removed, I shall go to enjoy my God. Seeing, as I do, that it is falling to pieces every day, I therefore rejoice and sing.”