THE DEATH OF THE JUST
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints (Ps. cxv. 15).
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 labours, the consummation of victory, the gate of life.” It is the end of toils and labours. Man, says Job, born of 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? What, says St. Augustine, is a prolongation of life, but a prolongation of suffering? Yes, for as St. Ambrose tells us, the present life is given us not for repose, but that we may labour, and by our toils merit eternal glory. 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. God pronounces happy all who die in His grace, because they terminate their labours 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 labours (Apoc. xiv. 13).
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 think 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 afterwards, assisted by Thy grace, I entered into myself, and, during the remainder of my life, I 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 despised Thy love; but Thou in Thy mercy drew 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 Thee in Thy kingdom is too great a reward; 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 Jesus, 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.
Thus, I hope, O my Jesus, to speak 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 now propose. Give me holy perseverance, give me Thy love. Assist me, O Mary; Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.
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! Depart! 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 have a better and a lasting substance (Heb. x. 34). The Saint is not afflicted at bidding an eternal farewell to honours, 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 the 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 he 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 abandoning himself to, and reposing in the arms of Jesus Christ Who has loved us unto death, and has condescended to suffer so cruel a death in order to obtain for us a death full of sweetness and consolation.