THE DEATH OF THE JUST IS A VICTORY.
The present life is an unceasing warfare with hell, in which we are in constant danger. The news of their approaching death filled the Saints with consolation. They knew that their struggles and dangers were soon to have an end and that they should soon be in secure possession of the happy lot in which they could never more lose God.
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 they shed in this world, where they lived in the midst 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 away from me; for I am still alive, and 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 had passed. Hence she would say: “In each moment of life I may sin and lose God.” Hence, the news of their 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 in secure 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 replied: “And why do you weep at seeing me go to rest?” Likewise St. Catherine 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.
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 would have 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.
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, from that land of tears. Come from the dens of the lions (Cant. iv. 8) that seek to devour you, and rob you of the Divine grace.” 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. i. 21).
In taking away 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 favour. 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.” Now, if at his approach to the port the sailor rejoices, how much greater ought not the joy and gladness of a Christian to be 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?” This consideration makes 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?” He who dies in the grace of God can never more offend Him, says the same holy Doctor. Hence, the Lord praises the dead more than any man living, though he be a Saint. (Ecclus. iv. 2). A certain spiritual man gave directions that the person who should bring him the news of death, should say: “Console yourself! The time has arrived when you will no longer offend God.”
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 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.