* DEATH *
Third Meditation - Preparing for Death
I. Of all beings that live and die only man is capable of looking death in the face and of preparing to receive it long before it comes. He thinks of it; he knows for a certainty that it will come; he expects it, although usually as an unwelcome guest; he passes in review, perhaps, each of the painful impressions which its cold grip will imprint on his spirit and his flesh; he can even foretaste and relish it, with the deliberateness and courage of a long-suffering invalid relishing a bitter medicinal draught.
Has God given us us faculty of foresight merely to torment us and embitter our existence? By no means. Then let us receive it as a useful gift from God, as a stimulant to keep us ever on the watch, ready to accord our Judge a fitting welcome.
II. In the exercise of your ministry take note; you will observe that the general rule is for people to die as they have lived. There is a terrifying exactitude in the phrase attributed to St. Jerome: "Qualis vita, finis ita." In other words: few equip themselves for the final hour by a special and immediate preparation.
There are some who die a sudden death: the bait is swallowed when least feared; and, according to the daily witness of experience, it is not the priestly category that contributes the smallest of quotas to these sad statistics. Others, the majority, die unexpectedly, because no one warns them of the danger, or rather, because people are all for hiding the danger from them: a diabolical conspiracy hatched round the dying to cast them defenseless and prematurely at the feet of Divine Justice.
And there are souls with such an iron grasp on the things of earth that even if the Prophet Isaias were to come himself and warn them in the Lord's Name - thou shalt die and shalt not live (Is. xxxviii, 1) - they would disbelieve him and continue to stake their all on the slenderest hope of a fictitious recovery.
Lord, everything indeed conspires to underline the truth of Thy words:
At what hour you know not, the Son of Man will come.To which of these three classes of people do I belong? Which is my preference? My God, I prefer to take orders from Thee: Be ready.
III. Listen to St. Paul:
"The Son who sanctifies and the sons who are sanctified have a common origin, all of them; He is not ashamed, then, to own them as His brethren. . . .The devil was the prince of death, because by sin and death mankind had fallen under his dominion and into his possession; until Christ, by the merits of His own death, destroyed the devil's title of dominion and possession, and brought deliverance.
And since these children have a common inheritance of flesh and blood, He, too, shared that inheritance with them.
By His death He would depose the prince of death, that is, the devil; He would deliver those multitudes who lived all the while as slaves, made over to the fear of death." (Hebrews ii, 11-15)
Before the death of Christ, to die was seemingly to fall into nothingness, or, at least, to lose the body for ever, the spirit to grope its way through shadows of the unknown. Christ expelled those shadows with His light, and because good Christians now belong to Christ, not to the devil, they are Christ's to live and to die with Him; and therefore, death opens up to them on their departure from this life prospects of unalloyed happiness.
Lord, let me not live like the heathen, a slave to death. Allow me to pluck from the Tree of Thy Cross this luscious fruit: joyful confidence and constant readiness in preparation for my death.
I am going to apply to myself the fruits of the Redemption continually, by faith, love, and flight from sin; and should I fall at any time, I shall rise immediately with an act of contrition and the reception of the Sacrament of Penance. Thus, through Christ's death, I shall live, live all my days not a slave to the fear of ending them badly, but free and assured of my eternal salvation.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!