Saturday, November 18, 2006

Alter Christus - Preparedness for Death

The month of November, dedicated to the Holy Souls, is a propitious time to bring home to our flocks the salutary lessons of death. But let us also not neglect our own needs. We may well fancy Our Lord addressing to us, His priests, the solemn warning: "et vos estote parati", lest we fail to apply to ourselves what we so insistently urge upon our Christians: the necessity of being always prepared to die.


If we want to be ready to die when the hour for it will actually strike, the only sure way is to be ready now. Else our chances of preparing ourselves are very problematic. A sudden death, of course, would deprive us of all immediate preparation. But even in the more habitual occurrence of death from illness, how frequently one's expectations of a fervent preparation are frustrated! Whether from rapid physical collapse or from insidiously growing debility the powers of the soul may lose very soon all vigour: and what we had flattered ourselves would be days of exceptional fervour, may easily turn out but a disappointing time of helpless stupor and spiritual listlessness. God grant that it may prove otherwise for us, but our experience of death­ beds warns us sufficiently of what may befall us. . .

Let us then beware of the dangerous but frequent inclina­tion to postpone our preparation till our last illness, or at least till later. It seems always too soon to think now of preparing for death: Have we any assurance that death is yet far off? Are we afraid that the thought of death might hasten its coming, or that it would cast a gloom over our life, or diminish our interest and energy for the day's work?. . . All very crude and unspiritual impressions. We must frequently exorcize them from the minds of our Christians: perhaps we may have to dislodge them from our own as well? . . .

The only true wisdom is to be always prepared to die. How often the Master inculcated this into His hearers:
"Be prepared... watch... because you know not what hour your Lord will come."
At all times then must we expect Him: we must live in the dispositions in which we wish to die and everyone of our actions must be a fit pre­paration for death.

* Is the thought of death familiar to me? Do I seek in it a constant incentive to fervour and holiness?

Or do I not rather shun it, looking upon it as an unwarranted intruder for the present, to be put off for some later time in the distant future?

Let me view my life in the true perspective of faith: it is an exile, a pilgrimage, a journeying towards God. Then I will have no difficulty in cherishing the thought of death which is to bring me home to my Father, and I will find my sanctification and consolation in it.


I will test whether I am ready to die, by examining what I would think of the state of my soul if I were suddenly told that I am to die today. Let me put to myself some general questions which will help me to realize what I would feel if I were on my death-bed now.

First of all, is there nothing in my past life that should cause me serious anxiety at appearing before the tribunal of God? Have my confessions been complete and sincere about all the matters that required sacramental absolution? . . .

Free by the grace of God from all such worries, can I also rest satisfied with my habitual generosity to conquer my passions and resist temptations, with my efforts to grow in virtue and perfection, with my fidelity to spiritual exer­cises? Is my private life one of real fervour?

And as pastor of souls? Can I say, I have been habitually faithful to my duties: zealous in administering the Sac­raments, in preaching and catechizing, in endeavouring to reclaim sinners and convert non~Catholics? Have I given to my flock the example of piety and recollection, of detach­ment from worldly goods and pleasures, of devotedness to the poor and the suffering?

I take a last general glance at my priestly life on which the curtain is going to fall, and ask myself: What will right­ minded people think of the kind of priest I have been to them? and what will be the just Judge's sentence on my stewardship?

* Lord Jesus, give me grace to see my life now in the light in which I shall see it when faced with the final "Redde rationem villicationis tuae", and grant me strength to set things right while there is time. . .


Besides the general means already mentioned, viz. to live with our mind and our heart fixed on high, "peregrini et hospites super terram", let us briefly enumerate some particular means which will greatly help:

The monthly recollection, to be habitually accompanied with an explicit "preparation for death".

The weekly confession, with its cleansing of all past and present stains in the Precious Blood of Christ.

The daily examen of con­science, which might be very different from our too cursory and superficial exercise, if we began it with an act of the presence of God "before whom I may have to appear very soon".

Our last prayer every night, to be an echo of the last prayer of Christ on the Cross: "Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum."

The occasional practice of performing some of our actions, (v.g., offer this holy Mass, recite this breviary) as if it were to be the last action of our life.

Above all an ever-growing trust in the merciful love of the Sacred Heart who is to judge us, and in the oft-implored protection of our Mother ". . . in the hour of our death".

"Cordibus nostris, quaesumus, Domine, gratiam tuam benignus infunde: ut peccata nostra castigatione voluntaria cohibentes, temporaliter potius maceremur, quam suppliciis deputemur aeternis. Per C.D.N." (Friday after Passion Sunday; cf. also 10th and 12th Sunday after Pentecost).
Adapted from Alter Christus, Meditations for Priests by F.X. L'Hoir, S.J. (1958)
Meditation 47.

Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood.

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