St. Alphonsus and the Death of the Just
I love a good Saint story and St. Alphonsus Ligouri has some of the best. For his sermon for this past Sunday in the Traditional Liturgical calender, he told this short story:
A certain rich man gave to St. John the Almoner a large sum of money to be dispensed in alms, for the purpose of obtaining from God a long life for his only son. The son died in a short time. The father complained of the death of his son; but, to console him, the Lord sent an angel to say to him: “You have sought a long life for your son, and the Lord has heard your prayer; for your son is in Heaven, where he enjoys eternal life”.
On November 9, 2013, my husband and I experienced the one year anniversary of the death of our 19 week gestation son, Judah Callistus. Though I know he is in Heaven, because of the Church’s teachings on the Baptism of Desire, I have found it so difficult not knowing the reason why it happened. The doctors, OBs, and midwives could not find any reason as to the cause of the miscarriage. Due to that, I have spent a long time questioning why he went so early; what I may have done to cause or not done to prevent his death. These questions have vastly gone unanswered, but I was recently reminded about something very important.
The story I mentioned at the beginning hit me like a ton of bricks this weekend. Chris and I had prayed, before any of our two children were conceived and subsequently miscarried, that they would become Saints. Saints are those that the Church formally declares are in heaven interceding for us. The story of St. John the Almoner helped me to realize now more than ever the incredible mercy of God to ensure Judah’s eternal salvation by saving him from the mere occasion of sin.
St. Ambrose says that, “God permitted death to enter the world, that, by dying, men should cease to sin.” What great mercy! When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the world, it separated them and us from God. There was but one possible remedy. Scripture teaches us that the wages for sin is death, and in God’s love for us, He sent his only Son to die in our place, so that not only could we conquer sin in our lives, but that in our own death, there would be a permanent end to sin in our lives and an entrance to eternal life. This is only made possible because of God’s great, passionate love for each one of us.
He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:33
St. Alphonsus Liguori says in his sermons that, “Here the Lord gives us to understand that the kingdom of Heaven – that is, the attainment of eternal beatitude – is like the leaven. By the leaven is understood the divine grace, which makes the soul acquire merits for eternal life. But this eternal life is obtained only when “the whole is leavened”; that is, when the soul has arrived at the end of the present life and the completion of her merits.”
The just need not fear death, for death delivers them from the miseries of this life, from the assaults of their enemies, frees them from further sin, and opens Heaven to them. This is why St. Paul said, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain”. Every moment of our earthly lives, we have the chance to grow in virtue and holiness. It is, however, easy to lose sight of the fact that this life is a constant battlefield against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yet, the battle has already been won and victory is only a matter of cooperating with the work of God’s grace in us.
Victory over death is not possible without the work of grace, given to us by the merits of Christ’s own passion. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy. King David writes in the Psalms that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far he(God) removes our transgressions from us…the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.”
God forgives the sins of those truly repentant of them; who with a true sorrow for their sin and resolve to sin no longer, confess them to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession. Those who truly love the Lord, like the Saints, will not fear death, rather they will long for it, for it is the moment at which they will finally leave this earth, and enter into the fullness of union with God. Saints do not fear death. They fear sin.
At the moment of death, the just’s guardian angel, other patron Saints, and St. Michael the Archangel come to their aid to help them fight against the assaults of Hell in the hour of our death. The Blessed Mother too will come to the aid of those devoted to her, or to those whom she has been recommended.
Death is coming for all of us. The question is, what hope do we have? The answer is that on our own, there is no hope. We, by our own merits, can do absolutely nothing. Only the mercy of God gives us hope. Therefore, we need to hope and trust (not presumptuously), in the mercy of God. We need to frequent the sacraments given to us specifically by God to aid us in our journey to Him through this pilgrimage of life. We also need to pray constantly; spend time each day with God, loving Him and letting Him love us so that He can shape our heart to mirror His, in order that we will be prepared to see His glorious and merciful face at the moment of death.
Lord Jesus Christ, make us Saints.
Judah Callistus, Pray For Us.