“O death, where is thy sting?” 1 Cor, xv, 53
If I, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, have meditated with you upon the manifold miseries which drape our lives with the sable hue of gloom, I have also reminded you how Christ, the luminous Sun of justice, shines even amid this mournful night and brightens it with the most consoling rays of hope. There is, however, a still greater likeness between a dark and starless night and the condition of the departing soul. Oh, how terrible is the darkness which overshadows it at the approach of that moment which is to witness the separation of the soul from that body to which it has been so long and so intimately united – when it must depart alone, and, uncheered by the companionship of even one earthly friend, enter on a path all new and strange, “the house of its eternity!” The sight leaves the dim and fading eyes, and night comes for that dying man, although the sun's bright glow may fill the room. But, alas! The shadows fall deeper still when despair sets in, and envelop the departing soul in a night of desolation and woe.
Yes, even to God's saints has it been given to walk through the dark valley of bitter agony before they could enter the joys of heaven. The great Saint Hilary trembled when his death hour approached, thinking of the words of Saint Paul; “It is terrible to fall into the hands of the living God;” but taking courage, he exclaimed: “What! You have served God for seventy years, and now are afraid to appear before Him. Fear not, my soul, but go forth to meet your God;” and so he departed, full of holy hope.
Would you also, my brethren, be blessed with the sweet confidence of Saint Hilary at the hour of death? It is in your power –
For what animates the dying Christian who has faithfully served his Lord, is a glance at the crucifix which is placed in his hands; for Christ is the Sun which brightens the dark hour of death.
O Maey, Mother of a happy passage, as the twilight of life gathers over our souls, assist us by thy prayers, that our eyes may unclose upon the eternal day!
I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
As we read in the lives of the holy fathers in the desert, who lived in their little cells in Egypt, it came to pass that an Abbot of great renown lay on his dying bed. His spiritual children, who loved and revered him for his wonderful sanctity, gathered from far and near to witness that edifying death and pray for the departing soul. The face of the dying man was illumined with divine love as he uttered distinctly the words “Behold, the choir of patriarchs approaches to meet me.” The hermits, in awe, remained silent, and ventured not to speak; when, after a short pause, there fell upon the listening group an exultant cry: “Behold, the venerable prophets are coming to meet me.” – After a brief silence his countenance became still more brilliant as, lifting up his voice, he exclaimed: “The apostles of Christ are here, and wish to bear me away to heaven.” --Another interval of silence; the lips of the venerable servant of God moved again; and on being asked with whom he was conversing, he replied: “The angels are here, and wish me to go with them, that they may introduce me to the joys of heaven; but I ask them to leave me here still longer, that I may perform more penance for my sins.” One of the fathers then said: “Venerable Abbot, you do not need to do longer penance.” – And behold, his face shone as if he were in an ecstasy of delight, and he cried: “Jesus, my Saviour cometh!” – And with these words the lovely dawn of a happy eternity broke upon his soul, as it went forth to dwell forever with God.
My dearest Christians, a similar halo of consolation may one day irradiate your dying bed, if you be but faithful, when Christ the Lord, not only in vision, but with body and soul, divinity and humanity, comes to your hearts. The priest will administer to you the Sacred Host as viaticum before you go to receive the reward of a well-spent life.
This blessed assurance which I give you, however, from this holy place, can not be offered to every dying person, but only to such as have believed and hoped and loved during life, and who have observed all the commandments of God and of His Church. Even they as I said before, may in their last agony, by the permission of God, feel a great interior desolation for their greater purification, that they may enter at once into everlasting bliss.
We have considered the trials which, from the cradle to the grave, are the lot o man, in my discourse of yesterday, and beheld the five rays which come from the sorrowful heart of the agonizing Jesus, to encourage us amid these trials and troubles, and also in the many and violent temptations which will encompass the soul.
In the terrors of death's dark night, my dear brethren, there will be seven consoling rays in the seven words which Jesus spoke upon the cross, and of those I will speak to-night.
“Father, forgive.” This is the first ray which illumines the night of death for the faithful child of the Church. It is a most sweet solace for those who have never offended God by mortal sin – who have ever cherished unspotted the white robe of their baptismal innocence. Alas! They are but few. We know that the angelic youth Saint Aloysius received the tidings of his approaching death with the greatest joy, for he immediately entoned the Te Deum.
But few who pass the morning of life, not to speak of those who have borne the burdens of years, leave this world with their baptismal innocence unstained. I look around this sacred edifice and see before me a goodly multitude who have come hither to commemorate the Saviour's death, and perhaps – alas! I fear 'tis more than a perhaps – many of them have so deeply offended the crucified Saviour that conscience torments them and gives them no rest; and they say: “What will become of us if, in our dying moments, Satan holds up the long list of our offenses in all their enormity?” Do not depair: confess those sins with fervent sorrow; the blood of Jesus will wash the guilt away; else, why did He cry to the eternal God: “Father, forgive?”
It may be that, although you have sinned, you have already repented and sought reconciliation with God by a good confession. If so, how sweet those words for you: “Father forgive”! And Who uttered them? The same Christ Who said to His Apostles and their successors in the holy ministry to the end of time: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained;” – the Same Jesus Who, to strengthen you at the hour of death, instituted the sacrament of Extreme Unction, which washes away the least trace and stain of sin from the the soul, and even the relics of sin. It is the same Saviour Who will forgive your sins at any time while the breath still lingers in your body even at the very final moment, through the infinite merits of His passion and death. Yes, my brethren, He will do this if you but turn your dying eyes upon Him with a confiding and repentant heart; for a single drop of His precious blood, of which the value is infinite, would be sufficient to redeem a thousand worlds.
Why, then, O Christians – why should you despond? Christ is praying for you to the Father. He, the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sins of the world, has He forgotten you? Detach your hearts from earthly goods and pleasures, for, believe me, what darkens the dying moments of so many Christians is an undue attachment to them. If a person, during the course of a long life, has set his heart upon the riches of this world and labored to amass its treasures, how grieved will he not be, at the hour of death, to feel that they are slowly, but surely slipping from his grasp!
Oh, then, “die daily” to the world! Seek first the Kingdom of heaven, and you may indeed cry out: “O death, where is thy sting?”
“This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” These consoling words were spoken by Christ upon the cross. Oh, what a flood of light they pour upon the obscure night of the departing soul! The thought – “I leave the delights and treasures of the world; but what are they in comparison to those which await me in heaven?” – inspires the heart with the wish to possess the goods of the Lord in the country of the living, and to enjoy that bliss of which Saint Paul affirms: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
What throws a shadow of gloom over the dying hour is the grief the sufferer feels at leaving behind the friends he sees weeping around his bed. This is a feeling from which even pious souls are not exempt. But, Christians, be consoled: Jesus from the cross cried out: “Woman, behold thy son! Son, behold thy Mother!” If you have honored Mary, like a good child, and followed her holy example, then will she assist you in your last moments, even though father, mother, sister, and brothers, should forsake you.
Oh, what a luminous ray of celestial light is contained in the thought: “The Holy virgin will be with me; Saint Joseph, the Archangel, Saint Michael, and all the saints whom I have begged to obtain for me a happy death, will surround me; my guardian angel will defend me from the spirits of evil, and strengthen me to resist their attacks.”
It is true that I must leave those who are dear to me, but I will be welcomed by those of my friends who await me in heaven. Oh, what joy to be forever united with them in a home where neither death nor sorrow can enter!
“My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” thus did Christ pray in accordance with the psalm which predicted His sufferings. The pious child of the Church need never complain that God has forsaken him. Christ comes to him in the viaticum, to strengthen his soul in the supreme moment of his last agony.
My friends, it is hard to die. Death is a punishment of original sin. But how encouraging the thought: “it is the act, the most precious act, by which I give back my life to Him Who bestowed it, if I so overcome myself that I resign myself willingly to His divine decree and unite my will so entirely to His as to desire this very death, in this very place; and in this manner, and all because my loving Saviour wished it so.”
If, beloved in Christ, you can meet death with such entire resignation, the flames of Purgatory will be extinguished for you, and you Lord and Judge will bid you enter at once into the joys of His heavenly, home.
“I thirst!” This plaintive cry deeply affected the Blessed Virgin and Saint John. Happy the Christian who has lived only for Jesus. At the hour of death who has lived only for Jesus. At the hour of death his heart will be filled with the desire of the Apostle “who longed to be dissolved and to be with Christ;” and this the more because death takes from us the possibility of ever again committing sin.
“It is consummated.” What a sweet assurance of rest and peace is contained herein! The burning love from the heart of the dying Saviour illumines the words with the brightest rays of consolation and hope. “It is consummated.” The life of toil and sacrifice of three and thirty is over; the cruel scourging; the sharp pain of the stinging thorns, the anguish of the crucifixion, are over: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” O blessed eve which heralds the dawn of eternal glory! What a consoling ray of divine hope, not only for the Saviour, but for the Christian about to leave this world, if he too has been faithful unto death ! How trifling will then be all the labors, toils, and mortifications he endured for the love of God, and how sweet the thought of the consequent bliss which awaits his soul!
Let us so regulate our lives that we may taste this sweetness not only at the close of life, but at the close of the day when we sink into sleep, “the image of death.” “It is consummated.” “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” One glance at the crucified Jesus is sufficient to inspire the heart with the certain that sustained Saint Francis Xavier in his last moments, as he pressed His image to his lips: “O my crucified Love, I have trusted in Thee and will never be confounded.”
Dearest Jesus, so dispose our hearts in life that at the last dread hour You may appear to us as the glorious Sun of justice, to brighten with these sevenfold rays the gathering gloom which fain would darken our passage into eternity. --Amen!