Preparation for death - 2
II. WE MUST DETACH OURSELVES FROM THE WORLD.
St. Ambrose says that they die well who, at the hour of death, are found dead to the world. Unless we detach ourselves from everything in this world, and do so voluntarily, we shall have to do it of necessity at death, but then with great sorrow and at peril to our eternal salvation.
I. In order to die a happy death it is necessary to endeavour to be at all times such as we desire to be found at the hour of death. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Apoc. xiv. 13). St. Ambrose says that they die well who, at the hour of death, are found dead to the world; that is, detached from the goods from which death will separate us by force. We ought then, from this moment, to accept the spoliation of our goods, and the separation from relatives and from everything in this world. Unless we do it voluntarily during life, we shall have to do it through necessity at death, but with extreme pain and great danger of eternal perdition. Hence St. Augustine says that to settle during life all temporal matters and dispose by will of all the goods we shall have to bequeath, contributes greatly to a tranquil death; because when all worldly affairs are already adjusted, the soul can be entirely occupied in uniting itself to God. At that hour we should think and speak only of God and of Paradise. Those last moments are too precious to be squandered in earthly thoughts. At death is completed the crown of the elect; for it is then, perhaps that they reap the greatest harvest of merits, by embracing, with resignation and love, death and all its pains.
But the Christian who has not been in the habit of exciting these sentiments during life, will not have them at the hour of death. Hence some devout souls, with great spiritual profit to themselves, are accustomed to renew every month, after being at Confession and Communion, the Protestation for Death* along with the Christian acts, imagining themselves at the point of death, and to be near their departure from this world. Unless you do this during life you will find it very difficult to do it at death. In her last illness, that great servant of God, Sister Catherine of St. Albert, of the Order of St. Teresa, sent forth a sigh, and said, "Sisters, I do not sigh through fear of death, for I have lived for twenty-five years in expectation of it; but I sigh at the sight of so many deluded Christians, who spend their life in sin and reduce themselves to the necessity of making peace with God at death, when I can scarcely pronounce the Name of Jesus."
O my Redeemer, Thy death is my hope. To Thy wounded hands I recommend my soul. Into thy hands I commend my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of Truth (Ps. xxx. 6). O my Jesus, Thou hast given Thy Blood for my salvation: do not suffer me to be separated from Thee. I love Thee, O eternal God, and hope to love Thee for eternity. Mary, my Mother, assist me at the awful moment of death. To thee I now consign my soul; I recommend myself to thee. Deliver me from hell.
*See Prayers and Devotional Exercises of St. Alphonsus, Saturday after Septuagesima; Spiritual Reading or Volume I, Part II, pages 377-385.
II. Examine, then, if you are now attached to anything on this earth, to any person, to any honour, to your house, to your money, to conversations or amusements; and reflect that you are not immortal. You must one day, and perhaps very soon, take leave of them all. Why, then, do you cherish any attachment to them, and thus expose yourself to the risk of an unhappy death? Offer from this moment all to God: tell Him you are ready to give up all things whenever He pleases to deprive you of them. If you wish to die with resignation you must from this moment resign yourself to all the contradictions and adversities which may happen to you, and must divest yourself of all affections to earthly things. Imagine yourself to be on the bed of death, and you will despise all things in this world. "He," says St. Jerome, "who always thinks that he is one day to die readily despises all things."
If you have not yet chosen a state of life, make choice of that state of life which at death you will wish to have selected, and which will make you die with greater peace. If you have already made your choice of a state of life, do now what at death you will wish to have done in that state. Spend every day as if it were the last of your life; and perform every action, every exercise of prayer; make every Confession and Communion as if they were the last of your life. Imagine yourself every hour at the point of death, stretched on a bed, and that you hear that Proficiscere de hoc mundo which announces your departure from this world. Oh! how powerfully will this thought assist you to walk in the way of God, and to detach your heart from this earth! Blessed is that servant whom, when his Lord shall come, he shall find him so doing (Matt. xxiv. 46). He who expects death every hour will die well, though death should come suddenly upon him.
Every Christian should be prepared to say at the moment the news of death is announced to him: Then, my God, only a few hours remain; during the short remainder of the present life, I wish to love Thee to the utmost of my power, that I may love Thee more perfectly in Heaven. But little remains for me to offer to Thee. I offer Thee these pains, and the sacrifice of my life in union with the sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered for me on the Cross. Lord, the pains which I suffer are few and light compared with what I have deserved; such as they are, I embrace them as a mark of the love which I bear Thee. Provided I am to love Thee for eternity, I resign myself to all the punishments Thou wishest to send me in this or the next life. Chastise me as much as Thou pleasest, but do not deprive me of Thy love. I know that, on account of having so often despised Thy love, I deserved never more to love Thee; but Thou canst not reject a penitent soul. I am sorry, O Sovereign Good, for having offended Thee. I love Thee with my whole heart, and place all my trust in Thee.
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