“Death viewed according to the senses terrifies and causes fear; but when viewed with the eyes of faith it consoles and becomes desirable. It appears terrible to sinners, but lovely and precious to the saints” – St. Alphonsus Ligouri
As you may have already realized, this post is on preparing for death. I will begin with a consideration from St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s book, “Preparation for Death.”
Imagine that you behold a person who has just expired.
Look at that body still laid on the bed, the head fallen on
the chest, the hair in disorder and still bathed in the
sweat of death, the eyes sunk, the cheeks hollow, the
face the color of ashes, the lips and tongue like iron, the
body cold and heavy. The beholders grow pale and
tremble. How many, at the sight of a deceased relative or
friend, have changed their life and retired from the world!
Still greater horror will be excited when the body begins
to putrefy. Twenty-four hours have not elapsed since the
death of that young man, and his body has already begun
to exhale an offensive smell. The windows must be
opened; a great quantity of incense must be used; and, to
prevent the communication of disease to the entire
family, he must soon be transferred to the church, and
buried in the earth. “ If he has been one of the rich or
nobles of the earth, his body shall send forth a more
intolerable stench,” («Gravius foetent divitum corpora» In
Hexamer. 1. 6, c. 8) says Saint Ambrose.”
We’re not getting out of here alive. Sure, we may try, and some of us try very hard to do whatever it takes to prolong our life, or lives of others, even when it no longer makes sense to do so. Why is this the case? I submit that it is because many people fear death, due primarily to the fact that they believe that this is all there is. But, there is hope. Death is not the end. Thanks to our Blessed Lord, who opened up the gates of Heaven for us, and won for us our Salvation, we can spend eternity with God in Heaven, adoring Him in eternal happiness with the angels and the Saints, if we are in a state of grace. There is nothing to fear.
Do not be mistaken, this does not mean that we have a free pass. We do not earn our salvation, however though we have been Justified in Christ, we must become sanctified to inherit eternal life. This sanctification is vital.
In case you didn’t catch that, sanctification is absolutely vital to our eternal life, and death is the threshold we must pass to get there. One thing is for certain. Death is the one journey that we will go through alone. And so we must do everything to live our lives “free from debt,” in a state of grace, prepared to die.
*But how can I do this?*
“Remember thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”
It is said that the Carthusian Monks live their lives in complete silence, being able to speak but once a year. When this time comes around, they say only one thing: “Frater Memento Mori” (Latin), or, “brother, remember your death.” To be prepared for our own death, we must constantly remind of ourselves of the shortness of this life, that we could be gone at any moment, in order that we may do everything possible to be prepared to die at any moment. St. Camillus de Lellis, upon seeing the graves of the dead, said to himself, “If these could live again, what would they not do for eternal life? And I who have time, what do I do for my soul?”
We need to live our life doing everything possible to grow in holiness, and to live in a state of grace, prepared for our death.
Here are some practical tips to help you do this:
1. Frequent confession. The Church encourages confession once a month (every 4 weeks), if not more often. Holy mother Church requires that you go at least once per year. If it is possible, try to find a specific confessor that you can go to, or consider finding a spiritual director (they can be your confessor as well).
2. Find a Spiritual Director. Pope Benedict XVI said, in May, 2011 while reflecting on the Carmelite institute emphasis on spiritual direction that “As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ,” the Pope stated. “Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God.”
3. Pray. Pray always. Pray without ceasing.
It says in the Psalms “A contrite and humble heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psalms 4:19).
St. Alphonsus Ligouri says that there are two graces necessary for eternal salvation. The first is the grace of divine love or love of God. This love/charity (Humility) contains in it all of the other virtues. The second is that of perseverance. St. Alphonsus said that “neglecting this, many miserable sinners, after receiving pardon, do not continue in the grace of God; they are forgiven, but because they omit to ask of God the grace of perseverance, especially in the time of temptation, they fall again.” (Of course, the pardon that St. Alphonsus speaks of is that received in confession).
Pray always. Pray for the grace to love God, and for the grace to persevere.
4. Ask for Mary’s help in your growth in holiness. Consecrate yourself to her and in your devotion to her, she will bring you to Jesus, and she will help you to grow in holiness. Imitate her virtues, and in imitating her, you will naturally imitate and become like our Lord. As St. Louis de Montfort says in his book, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all God’s creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus. That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin.
5. Daily examination of conscience.
This is key. I was talking with a friend recently, and we got on this topic, where he asked why he should to a daily examination of conscience. IF we do not take the time to daily question ourselves on where we went wrong, we will become more callused to our sins and imperfections, and fail to notice them. We will then fail to know to what needs to be corrected in ourselves. You have probably heard this many times, but I’ll say it again here. The doctor can’t fix you if you don’t tell him what needs fixing. Examining your conscience daily allows for you to say “Hey, I really messed this up today. I know I need to work harder on that one tomorrow. God, give me the grace of perseverance.” With looking at each daily examination as a collective whole, you can get a real picture of where you need to grow and you can then take proactive steps to get there (and also ask for the grace of perseverance to not fail again, especially in a particular matter).
6. Frequent communion.
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
Need I say more?
7. Mortification. We will not take our bodies with us when we die. To deny ourselves from pleasures (food, time on the internet, frivolous spending, etc.) reminds of this and helps us to set our eyes on Heaven. Make a personal commitment to fast or make sacrifices. St. Alphonsus says “This is true love of the body, to load it with mortifications here, that it may be happy in eternity; and to deny it those pleasures which will render it unhappy in eternity.”
8. Spend some time praying and meditating on death in a Catholic Cemetery. Your body will be laid to rest there someday.
Prepare hard, guys. Prepare now. Don’t wait another moment. Start tonight. Set a date for confession. Do your examination. Spend some time in prayer. If you don’t really have a prayer life, start with even 10 or 15 minutes. Start with something! St. Alphonsus writes, “learn, then, how to profit of this time which God in His mercy gives you; do not wait, to desire time to do well when there will be no more time, and it shall be said to you,
“Time shall be no more: depart.” Make haste, it is now time to leave this world; make haste, what is done is done.”
St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Preparation For Death