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ON A HAPPY DEATH.
ST. MECHTILDIS was once praying for a certain pious person, saying; “O most loving God, I beseech Thee that in her last moments Thou wilt purify her, and grant unto her certainty and confidence of attaining to Thee.” To which our Lord answered, “What prudent man would of his own accord throw into the sea the merchandize and goods which he has brought to the port? Therefore, when I shall have brought into port and to the end of life, her soul which I have guarded amid the various storms of the world, and shall have disposed of it according to My good pleasure, I will also assume it into glory.”
Again St. Mechtildis received this answer from our Lord when she prayed God that He would deign to be with another pious person in the last moments of her life, and to give her the assurance of remaining 272with her; “The wise man throws not away the gold that he has acquired with labour and that is very dear to him. Nor will I abandon for ever her for whom thou prayest, who has been sanctified by My Humanity, and received life through My Spirit in Baptism.
St. Mechtildis in colloquy with our Lord said; “How comes it, most sweet God, that when I think myself about to die, I feel little or no joy in it, while many anticipate that hour with great delight and desire?” The Lord answered; “This comes to pass by My dispensation; because if thou didst desire to die, thou wouldst by thy desire so move and attract My divine Heart, that I could not deny thee what i lion didst seek.” Then she said, “How is it that I, though so miserable, am not terrified when I remember that I am to die, while those who are very perfect sometimes fear death?” To which the Lord replied; Wherefore shouldst thou fear, who hast received My Heart as the pledge of an eternal compact, and for a house of refuge and an everlasting habitation?”
The blessed Gertrude, from the firm confidence she had in the goodness of God, often wished to die; and again she was so united to the Will of God, that she was equally ready to live or to die, according to the good pleasure of God. She was once on a journey, when having ascended a certain mountain, she fell down a slippery place, and rejoicing in spirit, she said to our Lord; “O good Jesus, how well it would have been for me if this accident had been the occasion of my attaining to Thee more speedily!” And as those who were present asked her whether she feared not 273to die without being fortified by the Sacraments, she answered, “I do indeed desire with all my heart to be fortified by the holy Sacraments before I die; nevertheless I confidently prefer to them the providence and the will of the Lord my God; and whether He wills me to depart hence by a sudden or by a lingering death, His good pleasure will be acceptable to me. For by whatever manner of death I shall pass out of this world, I hope that the mercy of God will never fail me, without which I cannot obtain salvation.” And the same St. Gertrude before her death spoke to our Lord in these words; “O my Lord, although it be beyond all delights desirable and joyful to me to be brought out of the prison of the flesh, and united to Thee; yet if Thou wiliest that I should remain here, I would rather live in extreme misery even to the day of judgment, to the praise of Thy Name.” This resignation of the will the Lord declared to be most pleasing to Him.
Christ said to St. Bridget of some sick person: “Fear not, O daughter, she will not die, for her works are pleasing to Me.” And when she was dead, the Son of God again said, “Behold, O most dear one, that is true which I said; for she is not dead but liveth, because her glory is great. In the just, the separation of the soul from the body is no more than sleep, since they awaken to eternal life. But you may truly call it death, when the soul being separated from the body, lives in everlasting death and punishment.” He who loves worldly prosperity and gives not thanks to God, and having lived dissolutely dies in sinful dispositions, 274dies a bad death, even though his death be tranquil. On the other hand he who loves God with his whole heart, even though he be afflicted in many ways, and oppressed by long illness, and though he leave his body by a horrible, painful, and despised death, lives and dies happily; because in the elect, tribulation and a cruel death diminish or remove the punishment due to sin, and increase their reward. He who lives a good life cannot die a bad death.
Doubtless death is to the just the harbour of repose, as saith St. Ambrose, To this harbour the holy Simeon looked forward, when holding in his arms the Child Jesus, and desiring to be delivered and brought out of the prison of the body, he said: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, Lord, in peace” (St. Luke, ii. 29). But someone being at the hour of death may say that he is not just, and neither can nor ought to hope as the just hope. Let him who speaks thus trust in Christ, who justifies the wicked, and let him be humble and of good will; for thus being by faith and love united to God, he will by the grace of God be just. And if a pious man at the approach of death feels sad and fearful through weakness, let him cast upon God this terror and sadness, and resigning himself to it, let him look towards God with confident hope. In order to mitigate the fear of death, let him also recall to mind the words of the only begotten Son of God (who is eternal Truth) saying in the Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me although he be dead, shall live: and every one that liveth and believeth in Me, shall not 275die for ever” (St. John, xi. 25, 26). Let him also meditate on these words of the Apostle St. Paul: “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. xiv. 8). Let him reflect how willing to die were the just of ancient times, when the gates of the heavenly kingdom were not yet opened. For we read at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, that when the people of Israel were already near the promised land, the Lord said to Moses who was leading that people: “Go up into Mount Nebo, and see the land which I will deliver to the children of Israel. Thou shalt see the land, and thou shalt not enter into it, but thou shalt be gathered to thy people, as Aaron thy brother died in Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people; because you trespassed against me in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of contradiction” (Deut. xxxii. 49, 50). And the Holy Scripture shortly after adds these words: “Then Moses went upon Mount Nebo and died there, by the commandment of the Lord” (Deut. xxxiv. 1, 5). Behold with what resignation of mind to the good pleasure of God, Moses, the friend of the Most High, accepted death. He entered not indeed into that visible land, but he was received into an invisible and better land, that is to say, into the secret bosom of peace, the limbus, where the souls of the just reposed in great tranquillity. If the ancients were thus ready to die, surely we ought not unwillingly to endure death, now 276that the entrance to the heavenly country has opened to us by Christ.
Let the dying man firmly hold the Catholic faith, and holily receive the Sacraments of the Church, if he can obtain them; and let him rely rather on the merits of Jesus Christ, than on his own. Let him confide much in the prayers and the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the other Saints. Let him keep before his eyes the image of Jesus crucified, and reflect upon that ineffable charity with which our Lord willed to suffer and to die, and thus let him hide himself and repose wholly in His open and bleeding Wounds, beseeching Him that He will deign to wash away all his sins in those sacred Wounds. Let him offer himself to the Lord to bear out of true love, according to His most sweet will, all the bitterness of suffering and death itself, and whatsoever the Lord may be pleased to send him in time and in eternity. If he acts thus, if he resigns himself utterly to the divine Will, humbly, lovingly, and fully trusting in the immense mercy and goodness of God, it cannot be that he should die a bad death. His death will be precious in the sight of the Lord (Psal. cxv. 15), even if he alone had committed all the sins of the whole world. Such a one deservedly rejoices in the presence of death, since his beauteous soul (which is a pure, rational spirit in the likeness of God), is about to be released from this miserable and painful prison, that it may henceforth without impediment enjoy its blessedness. There is no exercise more profitable to a man at the hour of death, than to give himself up 277freely to the will of God, and turning to Him out of pure love, to confide firmly in His loving-kindness.
A certain friend of God being asked what he would do at the approach of death, if he had lived long in grievous sin, answered: “If I had lived for forty years always in sin, and when the hour of my dissolution was at hand, I had sincerely confessed my sins, and it for the space only of one angelical salutation I had been able with perfect love from the bottom of my heart so to betake myself to God as to be found wholly converted to Him and turned away from all sin, then indeed I should depart out of this life us it pure and innocent. But if I had yielded to only one sin. and I were to depart hence contrite and grieving after a confession rightly made, I should then die as a penitent.”
Our Lord has deigned to reveal to some of His friends, that the words which we are about to give, being spoken in the ears of the dying and recited before them, or being uttered and reflected on by themselves, are of such wonderful virtue that no one holding the Catholic faith can perish, if in his last moments he is able with a true and sincere heart humbly to pronounce these words or to meditate upon them within himself. They are as follows: “O Lord God, I am that miserable one, whom Thou of Thy fatherly goodness hast created, and redeemed from the power of the enemy through the most ignominious Death of Thy only begotten Son; Thou alone hast power and dominion over me, and art able to save me 278according to Thy boundless mercy, in which I hope and trust.”
The Virgin Mary Mother of God said to St. Mechtildis: “I will, as a most loving mother, without fail be present at the death of all those who piously and holily serve me, and will console and protect them.” In like manner the other Saints are undoubtedly ready to succour at the hour of death those who venerate and invoke them with devotion.
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