ON THE PRACTICAL DEATH, OR ON WHAT ORDINARILY HAPPENS AT THE DEATH OF MEN OF THE WORLD – St. Alphonsus

ON THE PRACTICAL DEATH, OR ON WHAT ORDINARILY HAPPENS AT THE DEATH OF MEN OF THE WORLD.

” Behold, a dead man was carried out, the only son of his mother.” LUKE vii. 12. 

IT is related in this day’s gospel that, going to the city of Naim, Jesus Christ met a dead man, the only son of his mother, who was carried out to be buried. ”Behold, a dead man was carried out.” Before we proceed further, let us stop at these words and remember death. The holy Church directs her ministers to say to Christians every year, on Ash Wednesday: ”Memento homo quia pulvis es, et in pulverum reverteris.” Remember man, thou art but dust, and into dust thou shalt return. Oh! would to God that men had death always before their  eyes; if they had, they certainly should not lead such bad lives. Now, beloved brethren, that the remembrance of death may be impressed upon you, I will this day place before your eyes the practical death, or a description of what ordinarily happens at the death of men of the world, and of all the circumstances attending it. Hence we shall consider, in the first point, what happens at the time of the last illness: in the second point, what happens when the last sacraments are received; and, in the third, what happens at the time of death.

First Point – What happens at the time of the last illness.

I do not intend in this discourse to speak of a sinner who had always lived in habitual sin; but of a worldling, who is careless about his salvation, and always entangled in the affairs of the world, in contracts, enmities, courtships, and gaming. He has frequently fallen into mortal sins, and after a considerable time has confessed them.

In a word, he has been a relapsing sinner, and has generally lived in enmity with God, or, at least, has been generally perplexed with grievous doubts of conscience. Let us consider the death of such persons, and what ordinarily happens at their death.

2. Let us commence at the time at which his last illness appears. He rises in the morning, he goes out to look after his temporal affairs; but while he is engaged in business, he is assailed by a violent pain in the head, his legs totter, he feels a cold shivering, which runs through every member, a sickness of the stomach, and great debility over the whole body. He immediately returns home and throws himself on the bed. His relatives, his wife and sisters, run to him, and say: ”Why have you retired so early? Are you unwell ?” He answers: ”I feel sick. I am scarcely able to stand; I have a great head-ache.”“Perhaps” they say, ”you have got a fever.”“It must be so,” he replies, “send for a physician. ” The physician is immediately sent for.

In the meantime the sick man is put to bed, and there he is seized with a cold fit, which makes him shiver from head to foot. He is loaded with covering, but the cold continues for an hour or two, and is succeeded by a burning heat. The physician arrives, asks the sick man how he feels; he examines the pulse, and find he has a severe attack of fever. But, not to alarm him, the physician says: You have fever: but it is trifling. Have you given any occasion to it? The sick man replies: I went out by night a few days ago, and caught cold; or, I dined with a friend, and indulged my appetite to excess.

It is worth nothing, the physician says: it is a fulness of stomach, or more probably one of these attacks which occur at the change of season. Eat nothing to-day: take a cup of tea; be not uneasy; be cheerful; there is no danger. I will see you tomorrow. Oh! that there was an angel, who, on the part of God, would say to the physician: What do you say? Do you tell me that there is no danger in this disease? Ah! the trumpet of the divine justice has, by the first symptoms of his illness, given the signal of the death of this man: for him the time of God’s vengeance has already arrived.

3. The night comes, and the poor invalid gets no rest. The difficulty of breathing and headache increase. The night appears to him a thousand years. The light scarcely dawns when he calls for some of the family. His relatives come, and say to him: Have you rested well? Ah! I have not been able to close my eyes during the entire night. O God! how much do I feel oppressed! Oh! how violent are the spasms in my head! I feel my temples pierced by two nails. Send immediately for the physician; tell him to come as soon as possible. The physician comes, and finds the fever increased; but still he continues to say: ”Have courage;  there is no danger.

The disease must take its course. The fever which accompanies it will make it disappear.” He comes the third day, and finds the sick man worse. He comes on the fourth day, and symptoms of malignant fever appear. The taste on the mouth is disagreeable; the tongue is black; every part of the body is restless; and delirium has commenced. The physician, finding that the fever is acute, prescribes purging, bloodletting, and iced water. He says to the relatives: Ah! the sickness is most severe; I do not wish to be alone. Let other physicians be called in, that we may have a consultation. This he says in secret to the relatives, but not to the sick man on the contrary, not to frighten him, he continues to say: ”Be cheerful; there is no danger.”

4. Thus, they speak of remedies, of more physicians, and of a consultation; but not a word about confession or the last sacraments. I know not how such physicians can be saved. Where the Bull of Pope Pius the Fifth is in force, they expressly swear, when they receive the diploma, that, after the third day of his illness, they will pay no more visits to any sick man until he has made his confession. But some physicians do not observe this oath, and thus so many poor souls are damned. For, when a sick man has lost his reason, of what use is confession to him? He is lost.

Brethren, when you fall sick, do not wait till the physician tells you to send for a confessor; send for him of your own accord; for physicians, through fear of displeasing a patient, do not warn him of his danger until they despair, or nearly despair of his recovery. Thus, brethren, send first for your confessor call first for the physician of the soul, and afterwards for the physician of the body. Your soul is at stake, eternity is at stake; if you err then you have erred for ever; your mistake shall be for ever irreparable.

5. The physician, then, conceals from the sick man his danger; his relatives do what is still worse they deceive him by lies. They tell him that he is better, and that the physicians give strong hopes of his recovery. treacherous relatives! barbarous relatives, who are the worst of enemies! Instead of warning the sick man of his danger (as is their duty, particularly if they are parents, children, or brothers), that he may settle the accounts of his soul, they flatter him, they deceive him, and cause him to die in the state of damnation.

But, from the pains, oppression, and restlessness which he feels, from the studied silence of friends who visit him, and from the tears which he sees in the eyes of his relatives, the poor invalid perceives that his disease is mortal. Alas! he says, the hour of death is come; but, through fear of giving me annoyance, they do not warn me of it.

6. No; his relatives do not let him know that he is in danger of death; but because they attend to their own interest, about which they are more solicitous than they are about anything else, they bring in a scrivener, in the hope that the dying man will leave them a large portion of his property. The scrivener arrives. Who is this? asks the sick man. The relatives answer: He is a scrivener. Perhaps, for your own satisfaction, you would like to make your will. Then is my sickness mortal? Am I near my end? No, father, or brother, they say: we know that there is no necessity for making a will; but you must one day make it, and it would be better to do it now, while you have the full use of all your faculties.

Very well, he replies; since the scrivener is come, and since you wish me to do it, I will make my last will. The scrivener first asks the sick man in what church he wishes to be buried, in case he should die. Oh! what a painful question! After choosing the place of his interment, he begins to dispose of all his goods. I bequeath such an estate or farm to my children; such a house to my brother; such a sum of money to a friend; and such an article of furniture to an acquaintance.

O miserable man, what have you done? You have submitted to so much fatigue, you have burthened your conscience with so many sins, in order to acquire these goods; and now you leave them for ever, and bequeath them to such and such persons. But there is no remedy; when death comes we must leave all things.

This separation from all worldly possessions is very painful to the sick man, whose heart was attached to his property, his house, his garden, his money, and his amusements. Death comes, gives the stroke, and separates the heart from all the objects of its love. This stroke tortures the sick man with excruciating pain.

Ah, brethren! let us detach our hearts from the things of this world before death separates us from them with so much pain, and with such great danger to our salvation.

Second Point – What happens at the time in which the sacraments are received.

7. Behold! the dying man has made his will. After the eighth or tenth day of his illness, seeing that he is daily growing worse, and that he is near his end, one of his relatives asks: ”When shall we send for his confessor? He has been a man of the world. We know that he has not been a saint.” They all agree that the confessor should be sent for; but all refuse to speak to the sick an on the subject.

Hence they send for the parish priest, or for some other confessor, to make known to the dying man his danger, and the necessity of receiving the last sacraments. But this is done only when he has nearly lost the use of his faculties. The confessor comes; he inquires from the family about the state of the sick man, and the sort of life which he led.

He finds that he has been careless about the duties of religion, and, from the circumstances which he hears, he trembles for the salvation of the poor soul. Understanding that the dying man has but a short time to live, the confessor, first of all, orders the relatives to leave the room, and to return to it no more. He then approaches and salutes the sick man.

The latter asks: “Who are you? I am, replies the confessor, the parish priest, Father Such-aone. Do you wish me to do anything for you? Having heard that you had a severe attack of illness, I have come to reconcile you with your Creator. Father, I am obliged to you; but I beg of you for the present to let me take a little rest; for I have got no sleep for several nights, and I am scarcely able to speak. Recommend me to God.

8. Knowing the dangerous state of the soul and body of the sick man, the confessor says: We hope that the Lord and the most holy Virgin will deliver you from this illness; but, sooner or later, you must die. Your illness is very severe. You would do well to make your confession, and to adjust the affairs of your soul. Perhaps you have scruples of conscience. I have come on purpose to calm the troubles of your mind.

Father, I should have to make a long confession; for my conscience is perplexed and burdened with sin. At present I am not able to do it. I feel a lightness in my head, and I can scarcely breathe. Father, we will see about it tomorrow, at present I am not able. But who knows what may happen? Some attack may come on, which will not leave you time to make your confession. Father, do not torment me any longer. I have said that I am not able; it is impossible for me to do it.

But the confessor, who knows that there is no hope of recovery, feels himself obliged to speak more plainly, and says: I think it is my duty to inform you that your life is about to close. I entreat you to make your confession: for, perhaps, tomorrow you shall be dead. Why, father, do you say so? Because, replies the confessor, so the physicians have said. The poor dying man then begins to rage against the physicians, and against his friends. Ah! the traitors have deceived me.

They knew my danger, and have not informed me of it. Ah! unhappy me! The confessor rejoins, and says: Be not alarmed at the difficulties of making your confession: it is enough to mention the most grievous sins which you remember. I will assist you. Be not afraid. Begin at once to tell your sins. The dying man forces himself to commence his confession; but his mind is all confusion; he knows not where to begin; he tries to tell his sins, but is not able to explain himself. He feels but little, and understands still less, what the confessor says to him.

O God! At such a time, and in such a state, worldlings are obliged to attend to the most important of all affairs the affair of eternal salvation! The confessor hears, perhaps, many sins, bad habits, injuries done to the property and character of others, confessions made with little sorrow and with little purpose of amendment. He assists the dying man as well as he can, and, after a short exhortation, tells him to make an act of contrition. But, God grant that he may not be as insensible to sorrow as the sick man who was attended by Cardinal Bellarmine.

When the Cardinal exhorted him to make an act of contrition, he said: Father, do not trouble yourself; these things are too high for me; I do not understand them. In the end, the confessor absolves the dying man; but who knows if God absolves him?

9. After giving him absolution, the confessor says: Prepare yourself, now, to receive Jesus Christ for your viaticum. It is now, replies the sick man, four or five hours after night; I will communicate in the morning. No: perhaps in the morning time shall be no more for you; you must at present receive the viaticum and extreme unction. Ah, unhappy me! the dying man says; am I then at the point of death? He has reason to say so; for the practice of some physicians is, to put off the viaticum till the patient is near his last, and till he has lost, or nearly lost, his senses. This is a common delusion.

According to the common opinion of theologians, the viaticum ought always to be administered when there is danger of death. It would be useful here to observe, that Benedict the Fourteenth, in his fifty- third Bull (in Euchol. Grace., . 46, ap. Bullar, tom. 4), says, that extreme unction may be given whenever the sick man”labours under a grievous illness.” Hence, whenever the sick can receive the viaticum, they can also receive the sacrament of extreme unction. It is not necessary to wait, as some physicians recommend, till they are near the agony, or till they lose their senses.

10. Behold! the viaticum arrives, the sick man hears the bell. Oh! how he trembles! The trembling and terror increase when he sees the priest coming into the room with the holy sacrament, and when he beholds around his bed the torches of those who assisted at the procession.

The priest recites the words of the ritual: “Accipe frater viaticum corporis Domini nostri Jesu Christi qui te custodiat ab hoste maligno, et perducat in vitam æternum. Amen.” Brother, receive the viaticum of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he may preserve you from the wicked enemy, and that he may bring you to eternal life. He receives the consecrated host upon his tongue: the priest then gives him a little water to enable him to swallow it; for his throat is dry and parched.

11. The priest afterwards gives the extreme unction; and begins by anointing the eyes while he says the following words: “Per istam sanctam unctionem, et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Deus, quidquid per visum deliquisti.” He then anoints the other senses the ears, the nostrils, the mouth, the hands, the feet, and the loins, saying: ”Quidquid per aditum deliquisti per odoratum, per gustum et locutionem, per tactum, per gressum, et lumborum delectationem.” And, during the administration of the extreme unction, the devil is employed in reminding the sick man of all the sins he committed by the senses by the eyes, the ears, the tongue, the hands; and says to him: After so many sins can you expect to be saved? Oh! what terror is then caused by every one of those mortal sins, which are now called human frailties, and which, worldlings say, God will not punish! Now they are disregarded; but then every mortal sin shall be a sword that will pierce the soul with terror. But let us come to what happens at death.

Third Point – What happens at the time of death.

12. After having administered the sacraments the priest departs, and leaves the dying man alone. He feels more terror and alarm after the sacraments than before he received them; for he knows that his entire preparation for them was made in the midst of great confusion of mind and great uneasiness of conscience.

But the signs of approaching death appear: the sick man falls into a cold sweat; the sight grows dim, and he no longer knows the persons that attend him: he has lost his speech, and can scarcely breathe. In the midst of this darkness of death he continues to say: ”Oh! that I had time, that I had another day, with the use of my faculties, to make a good confession!” For, the unhappy man has great doubts about the confession which he has made: he feels that he was not able to excite himself to make a true act of sorrow. But, what time? what day? “Time shall be no longer.” (Apoc. x. 6.)

The confessor has the book open to announce to him his departure from this world. “Profiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo.” Depart, Christian soul, from this world. The dying man continues to say within himself: “O lost years of my life! fool that I have been!” But when does he say this? When the scene is about to close for him; when the oil in the lamp is just consumed; and when the great moment has arrived on which his eternal happiness or misery depends.

13. But behold! his eyes are petrified; his body takes the posture of a corpse; the extremities, the hands and feet, have become cold. The agony commences; the priest begins to recite the prayers for the recommendation of a departing soul. After having read the recommendation, he feels the pulse of the dying man, and feels that it has ceased to beat. Light, he says, immediately the blessed candle. O candle! O candle! show us light, now that we have health; for, at the hour of death, thy light shall serve only to terrify us the more. But already the breathing of the sick man is not so frequent; it has begun to fail This is a sign that death is very near.

The assisting priest raises his voice, and says to the poor man in his agony: Say after me O God, come to my aid; have mercy on me. My crucified Jesus, save me through thy passion. Mother of God, intercede for me. St. Joseph, St. Michael, the archangel, my holy angel-guardian, and all ye saints in Paradise, pray to God for me. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and Mary, I give you my heart and my soul. But behold the last signs of death; the phlegm is confined in the throat; the dying man sends forth feeble moans; the tears rush from his eyes; finally he twists the mouth, he distorts the eyes, he makes a few pauses, and at the last opening of the mouth, he expires and dies.

14. The priest then brings a candle to the mouth of the dead man, to try if he be still alive: he sees that the flame is not moved, and thence infers that life is extinct. He says: Requiescat in pace. May he rest in peace. And turning to the bystanders, announces that he is dead. ”I hope,” he adds, ”he is gone to heaven.” He is dead, and how has he died?

No one knows whether he is saved or damned; but he has died in a great tempest. Such is the death of those unfortunate men who, during life, have cared little about God. ”Their souls shall die in a  storm.” (Job xxxvi. 14.) Of every one that dies it is usual to say that”he is gone to heaven.” He is gone to heaven if he deserved heaven; but, if he merited hell, he has gone to hell. Do all go to heaven? Oh! how few enter into that abode of bliss!

15. Before the body is cold he is covered with a worn out garment; because it must soon rot with him in the grave. Two lighted candles are placed in the chamber; the curtain of the bed on which the dead man lies is let down, and he is left alone. The parish priest is sent for, and requested to come in the morning and take away the corpse.

The priest comes; the deceased is carried to the church; and this is his last journey on this earth. The priests begin to sing the”De profundis clamavi ad te Domine,” etc. The spectators, who look at the funeral as it passes, speak of the deceased. One says: ”He was a proud man.” Another: ”Oh! that he had died ten years ago!” A third: ”He was fortu nate in the world; he made a great deal of money! he had a fine house, but now he takes nothing with him. ”

And while they speak of him in this manner he is burning in hell. He arrives at the church, and is placed in the middle, surrounded by six candles. Tho bystanders look at him, but suddenly turn away their eyes, because his appearance excites horror. The Mass is sung for his repose, and after Mass, the”Libera ;” and the function is concluded with these words: Requiescat in pace May he rest in peace. May he rest in peace, if he died in peace with God; but, if he has died in enmity with God, what peace what peace can he enjoy? He shall have no peace as long as God shall be God.

The sepulchre is then opened, the corpse is thrown into it; the grave is covered with a tombstone; and he is left there to rot and to be the food of worms. It is thus that the scene of this world ends for each of us. His relatives put on mourning; but they first divide among themselves the property which he has left. They shed an occasional tear for two or three days, and afterwards forget him. And what shall become of him? If he be saved, he shall be happy for ever; if damned, he must be miserable for eternity. 

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ALL ENDS, AND SOON ENDS – St. Alphonsus

” The grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven.” MATT. vii. 30.

BEHOLD! all the goods of the earth are like the grass of the field, which Today is blooming and beautiful, but in the evening it withers and loses its flowers, and the next day is cast into the fire. This is what God commanded the Prophet Isaias to preach, when he said to him: ”Cry” And I said: What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field.” (Isa. xl. 6.) Hence St. James compares the rich of this world to the flower of grass: at the end of their journey through life they rot, along with all their riches and pomps. ”The rich. . . .because as the flower of the grass shall he pass away.

For the sun rose with a burning heat, and parched the grass, and the flower thereof fell off, and the beauty of the shape thereof perished: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” (St. James i. 10, 11.) They fade away and are cast into the fire, like the rich glutton, who made a splendid appearance in this life, but afterwards”was buried in hell.” (Luke xvi. 22.) Let us, then, dearly beloved Christians, attend to the salvation of our souls, and to the acquisition of riches for eternity, which never ends; for everything in this world ends, and ends very soon.

 First Point – Everything ends

1. When one of the great of this world is in the full enjoyment of the riches and honours which he has acquired, death shall come, and he shall he told: “Take order with thy house; for thou shalt die, and not live.” (Isa. xxxviii. 1.) Oh! what doleful tidings! The unhappy man must then say: Farewell, world! farewell, O villa! farewell, grotto! farewell, relatives! farewell, friends! farewell, sports! farewell, balls! farewell, comedies! farewell, banquets! farewell, honours! all is over for me. There is no remedy: whether he will or not, he must leave all. ”For when he shall die, he shall take nothing away; nor shall his glory descend with him.”  (Ps. xlviii. 18.) St. Bernard says, that death produces a horrible separation of the soul from the body, and from all the things of this earth. ”Opus mortis horrendum divortium.” (Serm. xxvi., in Cant.)

To the great of this world, whom worldlings regard as the most fortunate of mortals, the bare name of death is so full of bitterness, that they are unwilling even to hear it mentioned; for their entire concern is to find peace in their earthly goods. ”O death!” says Ecclesiasticus, ”how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that hath peace in his possessions. ” (Eccl. xli. 1.) But how much greater bitterness shall death itself cause when it actually comes miserable the man who is attached to the goods of this world! Every separation produces pain.

Hence, when the soul shall be separated by the stroke of death from the goods on which she had fixed all her affections, the pain must be excruciating. It was this that made king Agag exclaim, when the news of approaching death was announced to him: “Doth bitter death separate me in this manner?” (I Kings xv. 32.) The great misfortune of worldlings is, that when they are on the point of being summoned to judgment, instead of endeavouring to adjust the accounts of their souls, they direct all their attention to earthly things. But, says St. John Chrysostom, the punishment which awaits sinners, on account of having forgotten God during life, is that they forget themselves at the hour of death. ”Hac animadversione percutitur impius, ut moriens obliviscatur sui, qui vivens oblitus est Dei.”

2. But how great soever a man’s attachment to the things of this world may be, he must take leave of them at death. Naked he has entered into this world, and naked he shall depart from it. ”Naked,” says Job, ”I came out of my mother‟s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” (Job i. 21.) In a word, they who have spent their whole life, have lost their sleep, their health, and their soul, in accumulating riches and possessions shall take nothing with them at the hour of death: their eyes shall then be opened; and of all they had so dearly acquired, they shall find nothing in their hands. Hence, on that night of confusion, they shall be overwhelmed in a tempest of pains and sadness.

”The rich man, when he shall sleep, shall take away nothing with him! He shall open his eyes and find nothing… a tempest shall oppress him in the night.” (Job xxvii. 19, 20.) St. Antonine relates that Saladin, king of the Saracens, gave orders at the hour of death, that the winding sheet in which he was to bo buried should be carried before him to the grave, and that a person should cry out: ”Of all his possessions, this only shall Saladin bring with him.” The saint also relates that a certain philosopher, speaking of Alexander the Great after his death, said: Behold the man that made the earth tremble. ”The earth,” as the Scripture says, “was quiet before him.” (1 Mach. i. 3.) He is now under the earth. Behold the man whom the dominion of the whole world could not satisfy: now four palms of ground are sufficient for him. ”Qui terram heri conculcubat, hodie ab ea conculcatur; et cui heri non sufficiebat mundus hodie sufficiunt quatuor ulnæ terræ.”

St. Augustine, or some other ancient writer, says, that having gone to see the tomb of Caesar, he exclaimed: ”Princes feared thee; cities worshipped thee; all trembled before thee; where is thy magnificence gone ?” (Serm. xxxviii. ad Fratr.) Listen to what David says: ”I have seen the wicked highly exalted and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus. And I passed by, and lo! he was not.” (Ps. xxxvi. 35, 36.) Oh! how many such spectacles are seen every day in the world! A sinner who had been born in lowliness and poverty, afterwards acquires wealth and honours, so as to excite the envy of all. When he dies, every one says: He made a fortune in the world; but now he is dead, and with death all is over for him.

3. ”Why is earth and ashes proud ?” (Eccl. x. 9.) Such the language which the Lord addresses to the man who is puffed up by earthly honours and earthly riches. Miserable creature, he says, whence comes such pride? If you enjoy honours and riches, remember that you are dust. “For dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” (Gen. iii. 19.) You must die, and after death what advantage shall you derive from the honours and possessions which now inflate you with pride?

Go, says St. Ambrose, to a cemetery, in which are buried the rich and poor, and see if you can discern among them who has been rich and who has been poor; all are naked, and nothing remains of the richest among them but a few withered bones. ”Respice sepulchra, die mihi, quis ibi dives, quis pauper sit”(lib. vi. exam., cap. viii). How profitable would the remembrance of death be to the man who lives in the world!”He shall be brought to the grave, and shall watch in the heap of the dead.” (Job xxi. 32.)

At the sight of these dead bodies he would remember death, and that he shall one day be like them. Thus, he should be awakened from the deadly sleep in which perhaps he lives in a state of perdition. But the misfortune is, that worldlings are unwilling to think of death until the hour comes when they must depart from this earth to go into eternity; and therefore they live as attached to the world, as if they were never to be separated from it. But our life is short, and shall soon end: thus all things must end, and must soon end.

Second Point – All soon ends

4. Men know well, and believe firmly, that they shall die; but they imagine death is far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short. “Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries. Who cometh forth like a flower and is destroyed.” (Job xiv. 2.) At present the health of men is so much impaired, that, as we see by experience, the greater number of them die before they attain the age of seventy. And what, says St. James, is our life but a vapour, which a blast of wind, a fever, a stroke of apoplexy, a puncture, an attack of the chest, causes to disappear, and which is seen no more?”

For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while.” (St. James iv. 15.)”We all die,” said the woman of Thecua to David, ”and like waters that return no more, we fall down into the earth.” (2 Kings xiv. 14.) She spoke the truth; as all rivers and streams run to the sea, and as the gliding waters return no more, so our days pass away, and we approach to death.

5. They pass; they pass quickly. ”My days, ” says Job, “have been swifter than a post.” (Job ix. 25.) Death comes to meet us, and runs more swiftly than a post; so that every step we make, every breath we draw, we approach to death. St. Jerome felt that even while he was writing he was drawing nearer to death. Hence he said: ”What I write is taken away from my life.” “Quad scribo de mea vita tollitur.” Let us, then, say with Job: Years passed by, and with them pleasures, honours, pomps, and all things in this world pass away, ”and only the grave remaineth for me.” (Job xviii. 1.)

In a word, all the glory of the labours we have undergone in this world, in order to acquire a large income, a high character for valour, for learning and genius, shall end in our being thrown into a pit to become the food of worms. The miserable worldling then shall say at death: My house, my garden, my fashionable furniture, my pictures and rich apparel, shall, in a short time, belong no more to me;”and only the grave remaineth for me.”

6. But how much soever the worldling may be distracted by his worldly affairs and by his pleasures how much soever he may be entangled in them, St. Chrysostom says, that when the fear of death, which sets fire to all things of the present life, begins to enter the soul, it will compel him to think and to be solicitous about his lot after death. “Cum pulsare animam incipit metus mortis (ignis instar præsentis vitæ omnia succendens) philosophari eam cogit, et futura solicita mente versari.” (Serm. in 2 Tim.) Alas! at the hour of death “the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” (Is xxxv. 5.)

Then indeed shall he opened the eyes of those blind worldlings who have employed their whole life in acquiring earthly goods, and have paid but little attention to the interests of the soul. In all these shall be verified what Jesus Christ has told them that death shall come when they least expect it. ”At what hour you think not the Son of Man will come.” (Luke xii. 40.)

Thus, on these unhappy men death comes unexpectedly. Hence, because the lovers of the world are not usually warned of their approaching dissolution till it is very near, they must, in the last few days of life, adjust the accounts of their soul for the fifty or sixty years which they lived on this earth. They will then desire another month, or another week, to settle their accounts or to tranquillize their conscience. But”they will seek for peace, and there shall he none.” (Ezec. vii. 25.)

The time which they desire is refused. The assistant priest reads the divine command to depart instantly from this world. ”Proficiscere, anima Christian! de hoc mundo. ”“Depart, Christian soul, from this world.” Oh! how dangerous the entrance of worldlings into eternity, dying, as they do, amid so much darkness and confusion, in consequence of the disorderly state of the accounts of their souls.

7. ”Weight and balance are the judgments of the Lord.” (Prov. xvi. 11.) At the tribunal of God, nobility, dignities, and riches have no weight; two things only our bins, and the graces bestowed on us by God make the scales ascend or descend. They who shall be found faithful in corresponding with the lights and calls which they have received, shall be rewarded; and they who shall be found unfaithful, shall be condemned.

We do not keep an account of God’s graces; but the Lord keeps an account of them; he measures them; and when he sees them despised to a certain degree, he leaves the soul in her sins, and takes her out of life in that miserable state. ”For what things a man shall sow those also shall he reap.” (Gal. vi. 8.) From labours undertaken for the attainment of posts of honour and emolument, for the acquisition of property and of worldly applause, we reap nothing at the hour of death: all are then lost. We gather fruits of eternal life only from works performed, and tribulations suffered for God.

8. Hence, St. Paul exhorts us to attend to our own business. “But we must entreat you, brethren…. that you do your own business.” (1 Thess. iv. 10, 11.) Of what business, I ask, does the Apostle speak? Is it of acquiring riches, or a great name in the world? No; he speaks of the business of the soul, of which Jesus Christ spoke, when he said: “Trade till I come.” (Luke xix. 13.) The business for which the Lord has placed, and for which he keeps us on this earth, is to save our souls, and by good works to gain eternal life. This is the end for which we have been created. ”And the end eternal life.” (Rom. vi. 22.)

The business of the soul is for us not only the most important, but also the principal and only affair; for, if the soul be saved, all is safe; but if the soul be lost, all is lost. Hence, we ought, as the Scripture says, to strive for the salvation of our souls, and to combat to death for justice that is, for the observance of the divine law. ”Strive for justice for thy soul, and even unto death fight for justice.” (Eccl. iv. 33.) The business which our Saviour recommends to us, saying: Trade till I come, is, to have always before our eyes the day on which he shall come to demand an account of our whole life. Page 184 of 233

9. All things in this world acquisitions, applause, grandeur must, as we have said, all end, and end very soon. ”The fashion of this world passeth away.” (1 Cor. vii. 31.) The scene of this life passes away; happy they who, in this scene, act their part well, and save their souls, preferring the eternal interests of the soul to all the temporal interests of the body. ”He that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.” (John xii. 26.)

Worldlings say: Happy the man who hoards up money! happy they who acquire the esteem of the world, and enjoy the pleasures of this life! folly! Happy he who loves God and saves his soul! The salvation of his soul was the only favour which king David asked of God. ”One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after.” (Ps. xxvi. 4.) And St. Paul said, that to acquire the grace of Jesus Christ which contains eternal life, he despised as dung all worldly goods. ”I count all things as loss and I count them as dung, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil, iii. 8.)

10. But certain fathers of families will say: I do not labour so much for myself as for my children, whom I wish to leave in comfortable circumstances. But I answer: If you dissipate the goods which you possess, and leave your children in poverty, you do wrong, and are guilty of sin. But will you lose your soul in order to leave your children comfortable? If you fall into hell, perhaps they will come and release you from it? O folly! Listen to what David said: ”I have not seen the just man forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread.” (Ps. xxxvi. 25.)

Attend to the service of God; act according to justice; the Lord will provide for the wants of your children; and you shall save your souls, and shall lay up that eternal treasure of happiness which can never be taken from you a treasure not like earthly possessions, of which you may be deprived by robbers, and which you shall certainly lose at death. This is the advice which the Lord gives you: ”But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matt. vi. 20.)

In conclusion, attend to the beautiful admonition which St. Gregory gives to all who wish to live well and to gain eternal life. ”Sit nobis in intentione æternitas, in usu temporalitas.” Let the end of all our actions in this life be, the acquisition of eternal goods; and let us use temporal things only to preserve life for the little time we have to remain on this earth. The saint continues: ”Sicut nulla est proportio inter æternitatem et nostræ vitæ tempus, ita nulla debet esse proportio inter æternitatis, et hujus, vitæ curas.”

As there is an infinite distance between eternity and the time of our life, so there ought to be, according to our mode of understanding, an infinite distance between the attention which we should pay to the goods of eternity, which shall be enjoyed for ever, and the care we take of the goods of this life, which death shall soon take away from us

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The Glories Of Mary – Part 4

The Glories Of Mary

by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI

SECTION IV
MARY IS ALSO MOTHER OF PENITENT SINNERS.

MARY assured St. Bridget tbat she was mother not only of the just and innocent, but also of sinners, provided they wish to amend. When a sinner becomes penitent, and throws himself at her feet, he finds this good mother of mercy more ready to embrace and aid him than any earthly mother could be. This St. Gregory wrote to the princess Matilda: Desire to cease from sin, and I confidently promise you you will find Mary more prompt than an earthly mother in thy behalf.” But whoever aspires to be the son of this great mother, must first leave off sinning, and then let him hope to be accepted as her son. Richard, commenting upon the words, “Then rose up her children, ” remarks, that first comes the word rose up, surrexerunt, and then children, jilii; because he cannot be a son of Mary who does not first rise from the iniquity into which he has fallen.

For, says St. Peter Chrysologus, he who does works contrary to those of Mary, by such conduct denies that he wishes to be her son. Mary is humble, and will he be proud? Mary is pure, and will he be impure? Mary is full of love, and will he hate his neighbor? He proves that he is not, and does not wish to be the son of this holy mother, when he so much disgusts her with his life. The sons of Mary, repeats Richard of St. Laurence, are her imitators in chastity, humility, meekness, mercy. And how can he who so much disgusts her with his life, dare to call himself the son of Mary? A certain sinner once said to Mary, “Show thyself a mother;” but the Virgin answered him, “Show thyself a son.” Another, one day, invoked this divine mother, calling her mother of mercy. But Mary said to him, “When you sinners wish me to aid you, you call me mother of mercy, and yet by your sins make me the mother of misery and grief.” “He is cursed of God that angereth his mother.” His mother that is, Mary, remarks Richard. God curses every one who afflicts this his good mother, by his bad life or his wilfulness.

I have said wilfulness, for when a sinner, although he may not have left his sins, makes an effort to quit them, and seeks the aid of Mary, this mother will not fail to assist him, and bring him to the grace of God. This St. Bridget once learned from Jesus Christ himself, who, speaking with his mother, said: “Thou dost aid those who are striving to rise to God, and dost leave no soul without thy consolation.” While the sinner, then, is obstinate, Mary cannot love him; but if he finds himself enchained by some passion which makes him a slave of hell, and will commend himself to the Virgin, and implore her with confidence and perseverance to rescue him from his sin, this good mother will not fail to extend her powerful hand, she will loose his chains, and bring him to a state of safety. It is a heresy, condemned by the sacred Council of Trent, to say that all the prayers and works of a person in a state of sin are sins.

St. Bernard says that prayer is the mouth of a sinner, although it is without supernatural excellence, since it is not accompanied by charity, yet is useful and efficient in obtaining a release from sin; for, as St. Thomas teaches,f the prayer of the sinner is indeed without merit, but it serves to obtain the grace of pardon; for the power of obtaining it is based not upon the worth of him who prays, but upon the divine bounty, and upon the merits and promise of Jesus Christ, who has said, “Every one that asketh receiveth.” The same may be said of the prayers offered to the divine mother. If he who prays, says St. Anselm, does not deserve to be heard, the merits of Mary, to whom he commends himself, will cause him to be heard. Hence St. Bernard exhorts every sinner to pray to Mary, and to feel great confidence in praying to her; because if he does not deserve what he demands, yet Mary obtains for him, by her merits, the graces which she asks of God for him. The office of a good mother, says the same saint, is this: if a mother knew that her two sons were deadly enemies, and that one was plotting against the life of the other, what would she do but endeavor in every way to pacify him ?

Thus, says the saint, Mary is mother of Jesus, and mother of man; when she sees any one by his sin an enemy of Jesus Christ, she can not endure it, and makes every effort to reconcile them. Our most indulgent lady only requires the sinner to commend himself to her, and have the intention to reform. When she sees a sinner coming to implore mercy at her feet, she does not regard the sins with which he is laden, but the intention with which he comes. If he comes with a good intention, though he have committed all the sins in the world, she embraces him, and this most loving mother condescends to heal all the wounds of his soul; for she is not only called by us the mother of mercy, but she really is such, and shows herself such by the love and tenderness with which she succors us. The blessed Virgin herself expressed all this to St. Bridget, when she said to her, However great may be a man s sins, when he turns to me, I am immediately ready to receive him; neither do I consider bow much he has sinned, but with what intention he comes; for I do not disdain to anoint and heal his wounds, because I am called, and truly am, the mother of mercy.

Mary is the mother of sinners who desire to be converted, and as a mother she cannot but compassionate them, and it even seems that she regards the woes of her poor children as her own. When the woman of Chanaan implored Jesus Christ to liberate her daughter from the demon which tormented her, she said: “Have mercy on me, oh Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil.”f But as the daughter, not the mother, was tormented by the devil, it would seem that she should have said, “Oh Lord, have mercy on my daughter,” not “have mercy upon me ;” but no, she said: ” Have mercy upon me,”and with reason, for all the miseries of children are felt as their own by their mothers. Exactly thus Mary prays God, says Richard of St. Laurence, when she commends to him a sinner who has recommended himself to her “Have mercy upon me.”

It is as if she said to him, My Lord, this poor creature, who is in sin, is my child; have pity on him, not so much on him as on me who am his mother. Oh, would to God that all sinners would have recourse to this sweet mother, for all would certainly be pardoned by God. Oh Mary, exclaims St. Bouaventure, in wonder; thou dost embrace, with maternal affection the sinner who is despised by the whole world! neither dost thou leave him until he is reconciled to his Judgelf The saint here intends to say that the sinner who remains in sin is hated and rejected by all men; even insensible creatures, fire, air, the earth would punish him, and inflict vengeance upon him in order to repair the honor of their insulted Lord. But if this wretch has recourse to Mary, does she banish him from her presence? No: if he comes asking for help, and intending to amend, she embraces him with the affection of a mother, and does not leave him until she has reconciled him to God by her powerful intercession, and re-established him in his grace.

We read in the 2d book of Kings, that the wise woman of Thecua said to David: “My Lord, I had two sons, and for my misfortune one has killed the other; so that I have already lost a child; justice would now take from me my other and only son; have pity on me a poor mother, and do not let me be deprived of both my children.” Then David had compassion on this mother, and liberated the criminal, and restored him to her. It appears that Mary offers the same petition when God is angry with a sinner, who has recourse to her: Oh my God, she says to him, I had two sons, Jesus and man; man has killed my Jesus on the cross; thy justice would now condemn man; my Lord, my Jesus is dead; have mercy upon me, and if I have lost one, do not condemn me to lose the other also. Ah, God assuredly does not condemn those sinners who have recourse to Mary, and for whom she prays; since God himself has given these sinners to Mary for her children.

The devout Lanspergius puts these words into the mouth of our Lord: I have commended sinners to Mary as her children. Wherefore she is so watchful in the performance of her office that she permits none to be lost who are committed to her care, especially those who invoke her, and uses all her power to lead them back to me. And who can describe, says Blosius, the goodness, the mercy, the fidelity, and the charity with which this our mother strives to save us, when we invoke her aid? Let us prostrate ourselves, then, says St. Bernard, before this good mother, let us cling to her sacred feet, and leave her not until she gives us her blessing, and accepts us for her children. Who could distrust the goodness of this mother? said St. Bonaventure.

Though she should slay me, I will hope in her; and, confident in my trust, I would die near her image, and be saved. And thus should every sinner say who has recourse to this kind mother: Oh my Lady and mother, I deserve for my faults that thou shouldst banish me from thy presence, and shouldst punish me for my sins; but even if thou shouldst cast me off and slay me, I shall never lose confidence in thee and in thy power to save me. In thee I entirely confide, and if it be my fate to die before some image of thine, re commending myself to thy compassion, I should have a certain hope of my salvation, and of going to praise thee in heaven, united to all thy servants who called upon thee for aid in death, and are saved. Let the following example be read, and let the reader judge if any sinner can distrust the mercy and love of this good mother, if he has recourse to her.

EXAMPLE

It is narrated by Belluacensis that in Ridolio, a city of England, in the year 1430, there lived a young nobleman named Ernest, who gave all his patrimony to the poor, and entered a monastery, where he led so holy a life that he was greatly esteemed by his superiors, particularly for his special devotion to the most holy Virgin. It happened that a pestilence prevailed in that city and the citizens had recourse to that monastery to ask the prayers of the monks. The abbot ordered Ernest to go and pray before the altar of Mary, and not to quit it until she had given him an answer. The youth remained there three days, and received from Mary, in answer, some prayers, which were to be said. They were said, and the plague ceased. It happened afterwards that this youth became less ardent in his devotion to Mary; the devil assailed him with many temptations, especially to impurity, and to a desire to flee from the monastery; and having neglected to recommend himself to Mary, he resolved to take flight by casting himself from the wall of the monastery; but passing before an image of the Virgin which stood in the corridor, the mother of God spoke to him, and said: “My son, why do you leave me?”

Ernest was overwhelmed with surprise, and, filled with compunction, fell on the earth, saying: “My Lady, behold, I have no power to resist, why do you not aid me?” and the Madonna replied: “Why have you not invoked me? If you had sought my protection, you would not have been reduced to this; from this day commend yourself to me, and have confidence.” Ernest returned to his cell ; but the temptations were renewed, yet he neglected to call upon Mary for assistance. He finally fled from the monastery, and leading a bad life, he went on from one sin to another, till he became an assassin. He rented an inn, where in the night he murdered unfortunate travellers and stripped them of all they had. Pne night, among others, he killed the cousin of the governor of the place, who, after examination and trial, condemned him to the gallows. But during the examination, a young traveller arrived at the inn, and the host, as usual, laid his plans and entered his chamber to assassinate him: but on approaching the bed, he finds the young man gone and a Christ on the cross, covered with wounds, in his place. Our Lord, looking compassionately at him, said: “Is it not enough that I have died once for thee? Dost thou wish to slay me again? Do it, then; lift thy hand and kill me!”

Then the poor Ernest, covered with confusion, began to weep, and exclaimed: “Oh Lord, behold me ready to return to thee, who hast shown me so much mercy.” He immediately left the inn to go back to the monastery and do penance; but the officers of justice overtook him on the way, he was carried before the judge, and in his pres ence confessed all the murders he had com mitted. He was at once condemned to death, without even being allowed time for confession. He commended himself to Mary. He was hung upon the gallows, but the Virgin prevented his death. She herself released him, and said to him: “Return to the monastery; do penance; and when you shall see in my hand a paper containing the pardon of thy sins, then prepare to die. Ernest returned, and having related all to the abbot, did great penance. After many years, he saw in the hand of Mary the paper containing his pardon; he then prepared for his last end, and died a holy death.

PRAYER

Oh Mary, sovereign queen, and worthy mother of my God, most holy Mary! Finding myself so vile, so laden with sin, I dare not approach thee and call thee mother. But I cannot let my miseries deprive me of the consolation and con fidence I feel in calling thee mother. I know that I deserve to be rejected by thee, but I pray thee to consider what thy son Jesus has done and suffered for me; and then cast me from thee if thou canst. I am a poor sinner, who, more than others, have despised the divine Majesty; but the evil is already done. To thee I have recourse: thou canst help me; oh, my mother, help me. Do not say that thou canst not aid me, for I know that thou art omnipotent, and dost obtain whatever thou desireth from thy God. If then thou sayest that thou canst not help me, at least tell me to whom I must have recourse for succor in my deep distress. With St. Anselra, 1 will say to thee, and to thy Son : Have pity on me, oh thou, my Redeemer, and pardon me, thou my mother, and recommend me to pardon; or teach me to whom I may have recourse, who is more compassionate than you, and in whom I may have more confidence. No, neither in heaven nor on earth can I find one who has more compassion for the miserable, or who can aid me more than you. Thou, oh Jesus, art my father, and thou, oh Mary, art my mother. You love those who are the most wretched, and you seek to save them. I am worthy of hell, and of all beings the most miserable; you need not to seek me, neither do I ask you to seek me; I present my self to you with a sure hope that I shall not be abandoned by you. Behold me at your feet; my Jesus, pardon me; my Mary, help me.

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ON AVOIDING BAD COMPANY – St. Alphonsus

“There met him ten men that were lepers… As they went, they were made clean.” LUKE xvii. 12, 14.

IN this day’s gospel it is related, that ten lepers of a certain town met Jesus Christ, and entreated him to heal the leprosy under which they laboured. The Lord bid them go and present themselves to the priests of the temple; but before they reached the temple they were cured. Now it may be asked why our Saviour, who could heal them in an instant, wished them to go to the priests, and healed them on the way.

A certain author (Anthony of Lisbon) says that Jesus Christ foresaw that, had he cured them on the spot, they, by remaining in the place and conversing with the other lepers, from whom they took the leprosy, should easily relapse into the same disease. Therefore, he first wished them to depart from the place and then healed them. Whatever may be thought of this reason, let us come to the moral sense which may be deduced from it.

The leprosy resembles sin. As the leprosy is a contagious disease, so the bad habits of the wicked infect others who associate with them. Hence, the leper who wishes to be cured shall never be healed unless he separates from bad companions. He that keeps company with robbers soon becomes a thief. In this discourse I shall show, that, to lead a good life, it is necessary to avoid bad companions.

1. “A friend of fools,” says the Holy Ghost, “shall become like them.” (Prov. xiii. 20.) Christians who live in enmity with God are, Father M. Avila used to say, all fools, who deserve to be shut up in a mad-house. For, what greater madness can be conceived than to believe in hell and to live in sin? But the man who contracts an intimacy with these fools shall soon be come like them. Although he should hear all the sermons of the sacred orators, lie will continue in vice, according to the celebrated maxim: ”Examples make greater impressions than words.”

Hence the Royal Prophet has said: ”With the elect thou wilt be elect, and with the perverse thou wilt be perverted.” (Ps. xvii. 27.) St. Augustine says, that familiarity with sinners is as it were a hook which draws us to communicate in their vices. Let us, said the saint, avoid wicked friends, ”lest by their company we may be drawn to a communion of vice.” St. Thomas teaches, that to know whom we should avoid is a great means of saving our souls. Firma tutela salutis est, sciro quem fugiamus.”

2. “Let their way become dark and slippery, and let the angel of the Lord pursue them.” (Ps. xxxiv. 6.) All men in this life walk in the midst of darkness and in a slippery way. If, then, a bad angel that is, a wicked companion, who is worse than any devil pursue them, and endeavour to drive them into an abyss, who shall be able to escape death?”Talis eris,” says Plato, “qualis conversatio quam sequeris ?” And St. John Chrysostom said, that if we wish to know a man‟s moral habits, we have only to observe the character of the friends with whom he associates; because friendship finds or makes him like his friends. ”Vis nosse hominem, attende quorum familiaritate assuescat: amicitia aut pares invenit, aut pares fecit.”

First, because, to please his friends, a man will endeavour to imitate them; secondly, because, as Seneca says, nature inclines men to do what they see others do. And the Scripture says: * They were mingled among the heathens, and learned their works.” (Ps. cv. 35.) According to St. Basil, as air which comes from pestilential places causes infection, so, by conversation with bad companions, we almost imperceptibly contract their vices. ”Quemadmodum in pestilentibus locis sensim attractus aër latentem corporibus morbuin iujicit sic itidem in  prava couversatione maxima a nobis mala hauriuntur, etiamsi statim incommodum non sentiatur.” (St. Bas., Hom, ix., ex var. quod Deus, etc.) And St. Bernard says that St. Peter, in consequence of associating with the enemies of Jesus Christ, denied his Master. ”Existens cum passionis dominicæ ministris, Doininum, negavit.”

3. But how, asks St. Ambrose, can bad companions give you the odour of chastity, when they exhale the stench of impurity? How can they infuse into you sentiments of devotion when they themselves fly from it? How can they impart to you a shame of offending God, when they cast it away?”Quid tibi demonstrant castitatem, quem non habent? Devotionem quam non sequuntur? Verecundiam quam projiciunt?”

St. Augustine writes of himself, that when he associated with bad companions, who boasted of their wickedness, he felt himself impelled to sin without shame; and to appear like them, he gloried in his evil actions. ”Pudebat,” he says, ”me esse pudentem.” (Lib. 2, de Conf., c. ix.) Hence Isaias admonishes you to”touch no unclean thing.” (Isa. lii. 11.)

Touch not what is unclean: if you do, you too shall be polluted. He that handles pitch, says Ecclesiasticus, shall certainly be denied with it; and they who keep company with the proud shall be clothed with pride. The same holds for other vices: ”He that toucheth pitch shall be denied with it; and he that hath fellowship with the proud shall put on pride.” (Eccl. xiii. 1.)

4. What then must we do? The Wise Man tells us that we ought not only to avoid the vices of the wicked, but also to beware of treading in the ways in which they walk. ”Restrain thy foot from their paths.” (Prov. i. 15.) That is, we should avoid their conversations, their discourses, their feasts, and all the allurements and presents with which they will seek to entice us into their net. ”My son,” says Solomon, “if sinners shall entice thee, consent not to them.” (Prov. i. 10.)

Without the decoy, birds are not enticed into the fowler’s net. ”Will the bird fall into the snare upon the earth if there be no fowler?” (Amos iii. 5.) The devil employs vicious friends as decoys, to draw so many souls into the snare of sin. “My enemies, ” says Jeremias, ”have chased me, and have caught me like a bird without cause.” (Lamen. iii. 52.) He says, without cause.

Ask the wicked why they have made a certain innocent young man fall into sin, and they will answer: We have done it without cause; we only wish to see him do what we ourselves do. This, says St. Ephrem, is one of the artifices of the devil: when he has caught a soul in his net, he makes him a snare, or a decoy, to deceive others. ”Cum primum capta fuerit, anima, ad alias decipiendas fit quasi laqueus.”

5. Hence, it is necessary to avoid, as you would a plague, all familiarity with those scorpions of hell. I have said that you must avoid familiarity with them that is, all fellowship in their banquets or conversation; for never to meet them is, as the Apostle says, impossible. ”Otherwise you must needs go out of this world.” (1 Cor. v. 10.) But, it is in our power to abstain from familiar intercourse with them. ”But now I have written to you not to keep company, etc. with such a one, not so much as to eat.” (Ibid. v. 11.) I have called them scorpions: so they have been called by the Prophet Ezechiel. ”Thou art among unbelievers and destroyers, and thou dwellest among scorpions.” (Ezec. ii. 6 )

Would you live in the midst of scorpions? You must, then, fly from scandalous friends, who, by their bad examples and words, poison your soul. ”A man‟s enemies shall be they of his own household.” (Matt. x. 36.) Wicked friends, that are very familiar and intimate with us, become the most pernicious enemies of our souls. ”Who,” says Ecclesiasticus, ”will pity an enchanter struck by a serpent, or any that come near wild beasts? So it is with him that keepeth company with a wicked man.” (Eccl. xii. 13.)

If the man that makes free with serpents, or with ferocious wild beasts, be bitten or devoured by them, who will take pity on him? And so it is with him who associates with scandalous companions; if, by their bad example he be contaminated and lost, neither God nor man will have compassion on him; because he was cautioned to fly from their society.

6. One scandalous companion is enough to corrupt all who treat him as a friend. ”Know you not,” says St. Paul, ”that a little leaven corrupts the whole lump ?” (1 Cor. v. 7.) One of these scandalous sinners is able, by a perverse maxim, to infect all his companions. They are the false prophets whom Jesus Christ warns us to avoid. “Beware of false prophets.” (Matt. vii. 15 )

False prophets deceive, not only by false predictions, but also by false maxims or doctrines, which are productive of the greatest mischief. For, as Seneca says, they leave in the soul certain seeds of iniquity which lead to evil. ”Semina in animo relinqueunt, quæ inducunt ad malum. ”

It is too true that scandalous language, as experience proves, corrupts the morals of those who hear it. “Evil communications,” says the Apostle, corrupt good manners. ” (1 Cor xv 63.) A young man refuses, through the fear of God, to commit a certain sin: an incarnate devil, a bad companion comes and says to him what the serpent said to Eve: “No; you shall not die the death.” (Gen. iii. 4.) What are you afraid of? How many others commit this sin? You are young; God will have pity on your youth. They will as is written in the book of Wisdom, say Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present-let us everywhere leave tokens of joy (ii 6 9) Come with us; let us spend our time in amusement and in joy. ”O nimis imqua amicitia,” says St. Augustine, cum dicitur, eamus, facimus: pudet non esse impudentum O cruel friendship of those who say let us go and do etc.: it is a shame not to be shameless. He who hears such language is ashamed not to yield to it and not be as shameless as they who utter it

7. When any passion is kindled within us, we must be particularly careful in selecting the persons whom we will consult. For, then the passion itself will incline us to seek counsel from those who will probably give the advice which is most agreeable to the passion. But from such evil counsellors, who do not speak according to God, we should fly with greater horror than from an enemy; for their evil counsel, along with the passion which is excited, may precipitate us into horrible excesses.

As soon as the passion shall subside we shall see the error committed, and the delusion into which we have been led by false friends. But the good advice of a friend, who speaks according to Christian truth and meekness preserves us from every disorder, and restores calm to the soul.

8. ”Depart from the unjust,” says the Lord, and evils shall depart from thee.” (Eccl. vii. 2.) Fly, separate from wicked companions, and you shall cease to commit sin. ”Neither let the way of evil men please thee. Flee from it: pass not by it: go aside and forsake it.” (Prov. iv. 14, 15.) Avoid the ways in which these vicious friends walk, that you may not even meet them. ”Forsake not an old friend; for the new will not be like to him.” (Eccl. ix. 14.) Do not leave your first friend, who loved you before you came into the world. ”I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” (Jer. xxxi. 3.) Your new friends do not love you; they hate you more than your greatest enemy: they seek not your welfare, as God, does, but their own pleasures, and the satisfaction of having companions of their wickedness and perdition.

You will, perhaps, say: I feel a repugnance to separate from such a friend, who has been solicitous for my welfare; to break off from him would appear to be an act of ingratitude. What welfare? What ingratitude? God alone wishes your welfare, because he desires your eternal salvation. Your friend wishes your eternal ruin; he wishes you to follow him, but cares not if you be damned. It is not ingratitude to abandon a friend who leads you to hell; but it is ingratitude to forsake God, who has created you, who has died for you on the cross, and who desires your salvation.

9. Fly then from the conversation of these wicked friends. ”Hedge in thy ears with thorns, hear not a wicked tongue.” (Eccl. xxviii. 28.) Beware of listening to the language of such friends; their words may bring you to perdition. And when you hear them speak improperly arm yourself with thorns, and reprove them, not only for the purpose of rebuking, but also of converting them. ”Ut non solum,” says St. Augustine, ”repellantur sed etiam compungantur.” Listen to a frightful example, and learn the evil which a wicked friend does.

Father Sabatino relates in his “Evangelical Light” that two friends of that kind were one day together. One of them, to please the other, committed a sin; but after they had separated he died suddenly. The other, who knew nothing of his death, saw, in his sleep, his friend, and, according to his custom, ran to embrace him. But the deceased appeared to be surrounded with, fire, and began to blaspheme the other, and to upbraid him for being the cause of his damnation. The other awoke and changed his life. But his unhappy friend was damned; and for his damnation there is not, and shall not be, any remedy for all eternity.

Traditional Catholic with a wife, 10 kids, 5 cats and 2 dogs. To learn why this lay person is running this blog rather than a priest, go here.

The Glories Of Mary – Part 3

HOW GREAT IS THE LOVE OF OUR MOTHER FOR US.

by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI

If, then, Mary is our mother, let us consider how much she loves us. The love of parents for their children is a necessary love, and for this reason, as St. Thomas observes, children are commanded in the divine law to love their parents; but there is no command, on the other hand, given to parents to love their children, for love towards one s own offspring is a love so deeply planted in the heart by nature herself, that even the wild beasts, as St. Ambrose says, never fail to love their young.

It is said that even tigers, hearing the cry of their whelps when they are taken by the hunters, will plunge into the sea to swim after the vessels where they are confined. If, then, says our most loving mother Mary, even tigers cannot forget their young, how can I forget to love you, my children ? And, she adds, even if it should happen that a mother could forget her child, it is not possible that I can forget a soul which is my child.

Mary is our mother, not according to tHe flesh, but by love: “I am the mother of fair love. ” Hence she becomes our mother only on account of the love she bears us; and she glories, says a certain author, in being the mother of love; because, having taken us for her children, she is all love towards us. Who can describe the love of Mary for us miserable creatures?

Arnold of Carnotensis says that, at the death of Jesus Christ, she ardently desired to die with her Son for our sake. So that, as St. Ambrose adds, when her Son hung dying on the cross, Mary offered herself to his murderers, that she might give her life for us.

But let us consider the reasons of this love, for thus we shall better understand how this good mother loves us. The first reason of the great love that Mary bears to men, is the great love she bears to God. Love to God and man is contained in the same precept, as St. John has written: “This commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother ;” so that one increases as the other increases. Hence what have the saints not done for love of the neighbor, because they have loved God so much? They have gone so far as to expose and lose liberty and even life for his salvation.

Let us read what St. Francis Xavier did in India, where, for the sake of the souls of those barbarians, he climbed mountains, and exposed himself to in numerable dangers to find those wretched beings, in the caverns where they dwelt like wild beasts, and to lead them to God. St. Francis de Sales, to convert the heretics of the province of Chablais, risked his life by crossing a river every day for a year, on his hands and knees, upon a frozen beam, that he might go to the other side to preach to those stubborn men. St. Paulinus became a slave, to obtain liberty for the son of a poor widow. St. Fidelis, to bring the heretics of a cerrtain place back to God, willingly consented, in preaching to them, to lose his life. The saints, then, because they have loved God so much, have done much for love of the neighbor. But who has loved God more than Mary? She loved God more, in the first moment of her life, than all the saints and angels have loved him in the whole course of theirs; as we shall consider at length, when we speak of the virtues of Mary.

She herself revealed to sister Mary of the Crucifixion, that the fire of love with which she burned for God was so great, that it would in a moment inflame heaven and earth; and that, in comparison to it, all the flames of the burning love of the seraphim were as cool breezes. Therefore, as there is none among the blessed spirits who loves God more than Mary; so there is, and can be none, except God, who loves us more than this our most loving mother. If the love of all mothers for their children, of all husbands for their wives, and of all saints and angels for their devoted servants, were united, it would not be so great as the love that Mary bears to one soul alone. Father Nierembergh says that the love which all mothers have borne to their children is a shadow when compared with the love which Mary bears to any one of us. Truly she alone loves us more, he adds, than all the angels and saints united.

Moreover, our mother loves us much, because we have been commended to her as children by her beloved Jesus, when, before expiring, he said to her: “Woman, behold thy son;” signifying by the person of John, all men, as we have before remarked. These were the last words of her Son to her. The last remembrances left by beloved friends at the moment of their death are greatly valued, and the memory of them is never lost. Moreover, we are children extremely dear to Mary, because we cost her so much suffering. Those children are much dearer to a mother whose lives she has preserved; we are those children, for whom, that we may have the life of grace, Mary suffered the pain of sacrific ing the dear life of her Jesus; submitting, for our sake, to see him die before her eyes in cruel torments.

By this great offering of Mary we were then born to the life of divine grace. So, then, we are children very dear to her, because we were redeemed at such a cost of suffering. Accordingly, as we read of the love which the eter nal Father has manifested for men by giving his own Son to death for us, “God so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son :” as St. Bonaventure remarks, it may be said of Mary also, that she so loved us as to give her only-begotten Son And when did she give him to us? She gave him to us, says Father Nieremberg, when first she consented to his death; she gave him to us, when others deserted him through hatred or through fear, and she alone could have defended, before the judges, the life of her Son. We can easily believe that the words of so wise and tender a mother would have had a great power, at least with Pilate, to induce him to abstain from condemning to death a man whom he knew and declared innocent. But no, Mary would not utter even one word in favor of her Son, to prevent his death, upon which our salvation depended; finally, she gave him to us again at the foot of the cross, in those three hours when she was witnessing his death; because then, at every moment, she was offering up for us his life, with the deepest grief, and the greatest love for us, at the cost of great trouble and suffering, and with such firmness, that if executioners had been wanting, as St. Anselm and St. Antoninus tell us, she herself would have crucified him in obedience to the will of the Father, who had decreed he should die for our salvation.

And if Abraham showed a similar fortitude in consenting to sacrifice his son with his own hands, we must believe that Mary would certainly have done the same, with more resolution, as she was holier, and more obedient than Abraham. But to return to our subject. How grateful should we be to Mary, for an act of so much love! for the sacrifice she made of the life of her Son, in the midst of so much anguish, to obtain salvation for us all! The Lord, indeed, re warded Abraham for the sacrifice he was prepared to make to him of his son Isaac; but what can we render to Mary for the life of her Jesus, as she has given us a Son more noble and beloved than the son of Abraham? This love of Mary, says St. Bonaventure, greatly obliges us to love her, seeing that she has loved us more than any other created being loves us, since she has given for us her only Son, whom she loved more than herself.

And from this follows another reason why we are so much beloved by Mary: because she knows that we have been purchased by the death of Jesus Christ. If a mother should see a servant redeemed by a beloved son of hers, by twenty years of imprisonment and suffering, for this reason alone how much would she esteem that servant! Mary well knows that her Son came upon earth solely to save us miserable sinners, as he himself declared: “I have come to save what was lost.” And to save us he has consented to lay down his life for us: “Becoming obedient unto death.”

If Mary, then, had little love for us, she would slightly value the blood of her Son, which was he price of our salvation. It was revealed to St. Elizabeth, the nun, that Mary, from the time she was in the temple, was always praying that God would quickly send his Son to save the world. Now, how much more certainly must we believe that she loves us, after she has seen us so greatly prized by her Son, that he deigned to purchase us at such a cost!

And because all men have been redeemed by Jesus, Mary loves and favors all. She was seen by St. John clothed with the sun: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun.” She is said to be clothed with the sun, because, as “There is no one that can hide himself from his heat,” so there is no one living on the earth who is deprived of the love of Mary. From the heat of the sun, as it is explained by the venerable Raymond Jordan, who through humility called himself the Idiot, that is, from the love of Mary. And who, says St. Anthony, can comprehend the care which this loving mother has of us all? Therefore, to all she offers and dispenses her mercy. For our mother has desired the salvation of all, and has co-operated with her Son in the salvation of all.

It is certain that she is concerned for the whole human race, as St. Bernard affirms ;| hence the practice of some devout servants of Mary is very useful, who, as Cornelius a Lapide relates, have the habit of praying our Lord to grant them those graces which the blessed Virgin is seeking for them, using these words: “Oh Lord, give me what the most holy Virgin Mary is asking for me.” And this is well, as à Lapide adds, for our mother desires greater things for us than we think of asking for ourselves.

The devout Bernardine de Bustis says, that Mary is more desirous to do us good, and bestow favors upon us, than we are to receive them. There fore blessed Albertus Magnus applies to Mary the words of wisdom: ” She preventeth them that covet her, so that she first showeth herself unto them.” So great is the love, says Richard of St. Laurence, which this good mother bears us, that when she perceives our neces sities, she comes to relieve them. She hastens before she is invoked.

If Mary, then, is good to all, even to the ungrateful and negligent, who have but little love for her, and seldom have recourse to her, how much more loving must she not be to those who love her and often invoke her! “She is easily seen by them that love her. ” Oh, how easy it is, exclaims the same blessed Albertus, for those who love Mary to find her, and find her full of love and pity!

I love them that love me,”she assures us, and declares that she can not but love those who love her. And although our most loving lady loves all men as her chil dren, yet, says St. Bernard, she recognizes and loves especially those who most tenderly love her. Those happy lovers of Mary, as the Idiot asserts, are not only loved, but served by her.

Leonard the Dominican, as we read in the chronicles of his order, who was accustomed to recommend himself two hundred times a day to this mother of mercy, when he was on his death-bed, saw one beautiful as a queen by his side, who said to him: Leonard, do you wish to die and come to my Son and me? ” “Who are you? ” answered the religious. “I am the mother of mercy,” replied the Virgin; “you have many times invoked me, and now I come to take you: let us go to paradise.” On that same day Leonard died, and we hope that he followed her to the kingdom of the blessed.

“Ah, most sweet Mary, blessed is he who loves you the venerable brother John Berchmans, of the society of Jesus, used to say: “If I love Mary, I am sure of perseverance, and I shall obtain from God whatsoever I wish.” And this devout youth was never satisfied with renewing his intention, and often repeated to himself : “I will love Mary, I will love Mary.”

Oh,how much this our good mother exceeds all her children in affection, even if they love her to the extent of their power! “Mary is always more loving than her lovers,”says St. Ignatius, martyr. Let us love her as much as St. Stanislaus Kostka, who loved this his dear mother so tenderly, that when he spoke of her, every one who heard him desired to love her also; lie invented new titles hy which he honored hef name; he never commenced an action without first turning to her image and asking her blessing; when he recited her office, her rosary, and other prayers, he repeated them with such affectionate earnestness,that he seemed speaking face to face with Mary; when he heard the Salve Regina sung, his soul and even his countenance was all on fire; when asked one day hy a father of the society, as they were going together to visit an altar of the blessed Virgin, how much he loved her,”Father,” he answered, “what can I say more than she is my mother ? ” And that father tells us how the holy youth spoke these words with such tender emotion of voice, countenance, and heart, that he appeared not a man,but an angel discoursing the love of Mary.

Let us love her as much as blessed Hermann, who called her his beloved spouse, whilst he also was honored by Mary with the same name. As much as St. Philip Neri, who felt wholly consoled in merely thinking of Mary, and on this account named her his delight. As much as St. Bonaventure, who not only called her his lady and mother, but, to show the tender affection he bore her, went so far as to call her his heart and his soul: Hail, lady, my mother; yea, my heart, my soul.” Let us love her as much as her great lover St. Bernard, who loved his sweet mother so much, that he called her “the ravisher of hearts:” f whence the saint, in order to express to her the ardent love he bore her, said to her, “Hast thou not stolen my heart? ”

Let us name her our beloved mistress, as St. Bernardine of Sienna named her, who went every day to visit her before her sacred image, in order to declare his love in the tender colloquies he held with his queen. When he was asked where he went every day, he answered that he went to find his beloved. Let them love her as much as St. Louis of Gonzaga, who burned continually with so great love of Mary, that as soon as he heard the sound of the sweet name of his dear mother, his heart kindled, and a flame perceptible to all, lighted up his countenance. Let us love her like St. Francis Solano, who, distracted by a holy passion for Mary, sometimes went with a musical instrument to sing of love before her altar, saying that, like earthly lovers, he was serenading his beloved queen.

Let us love her as so many of her servants have loved her, who had no way left of manifesting their love to her. Father Jerome of Trexo, of the Society of Jesus, delighted in calling himself the slave of Mary, and as a mark of his servitude went often to visit her in a church: and what did he do there? He watered the church with the tears of that tender love which he felt for Mary; then he wiped them with his lips, kissing that pavement a thousand times, remembering that it was the house of his beloved mistress. Father Diego Martinez, of the same society, who, on account of his devotion to our Lady, on the feasts of Mary, was carried by angels to heaven, that he might see with how much devotion they were celebrated there, said, “Would that I had all the hearts of the angels and the saints to love Mary as they love her. Would that I had the lives of all men, to devote them all to the love of Mary!”

Let others love her as Charles the son of St. Bridget loved her, who said that he knew of nothing in the world which gave him so much consolation as the thought of how much Mary was beloved by God; and he added, that he would accept every suffering rather than that Mary should lose, if it were possible for her to lose it, the least portion of her greatness; and if the greatness of Mary were his, he would renounce it in her behalf, because she was more worthy of it. Let us desire to sacrifice our life in testimony of our love to Mary, as Alphonso Rodriguez desired to do. Let us, like Francesco Binanzio, a religious, and Radagunde, wife of King Clotaire, engrave with sharp instruments of iron upon our breast the sweet name of Mary. Let us, with red-hot iron, impress upon our flesh the beloved name, that it may be more distinct and more enduring, as did her devoted servants Battista Archinto and Agostino d Espinosa, both of the Company of Jesus.

If, then, the lovers of Mary imitate, as much as possible, those lovers who endeavor to make known their affection to the person beloved, they can never love her so much as she loves them. I know, oh Lady, said St. Peter Damian, how loving thou art, and that thou lovest us with un conquerable love. The venerable Alphonso Rodriguez, of the Society of Jesus, was once standing before an image of Mary; and there burning with love for the most holy Virgin, broke forth into these words: “My most amiable mother, I know that thou lovest me, but thou dost not love me so much as I love thee.” Then Mary, as if wounded in her love, spoke to him from that image and said: “What dost thou say what dost thou say, oh Alphonso? Oh, how much greater is the love I bear thee than the love thou bearest me! Know that the distance from heaven to earth is not so great as from my love to thine.”

With how much reason, then, did St. Bonaventure exclaim: Blessed are those whose lot it is to be faithful servants and lovers of this mosl loving mother! For this most grateful queen is never surpassed in love by her devoted servants. Mary, in this respect, imitating our loving Redeemer Jesus Christ, makes by her favors a twofold return to him who loves her. I will exclaim, then, with the enamored St. Anselm: May my heart languish, may my soul melt with your never-failing love. May my heart always burn and my soul be consumed with love for you, oh Jesus, my beloved Saviour, oh my dear mother Mary. Grant then, oh Jesus and Mary, since without your grace I cannot love you, grant to my soul, not through my merits, but through yours, that I may love you as you deserve. Oh, God! the lover of men, thou hast died for thy enemies, and canst thou deny to him who asks it, the grace of loving thee and thy mother?

EXAMPLE.

It is narrated by Father Auriemma,] that a. poor shepherdess loved Mary so much that all her delight was to go to a little chapel of our Lady, on a mountain, and there in solitude, while her sheep were feeding, to converse with her beloved mother and pay her devotion to her. When she saw that the figure of Mary, in relief, was unadorned, she began, by the poor labor of her hands, to make a drapery for it.

Having gathered one day some flowers in the fields, she wove them into a garland, and then ascending the altar of that little chapel, placed it on the head of the figure, saying: “Oh, my mother, I would that I could place on thy head a crown of gold and gems; but as I am poor, receive from me this poor crown of flowers, and accept it as a token of the love I bear thee.” Thus this devout maiden always endeavored to serve and honor her beloved Lady. But let us see how our good mother, on the other hand, rewarded the visits and the affection of her child. She fell ill, and was near her end. It happened that two religious passing that way, weary with travelling, stopped to rest under a tree; one fell asleep and the other watched, but both had the same vision.

They saw a company of beautiful virgins, and among them there was one who, in loveliness and majesty, surpassed the rest. One of the brothers addressed her, and said: “Lady, who art thou? and where art thou going?” “I am the mother of God,” she replied, “and I am going to the neighboring village, with these holy virgins, to visit a dying shepherdess, who has many times visited me.” She spoke thus and disappeared. These two good servants of God proposed to each other to go and visit hei also. They went towards the place where the dying maiden lived, entered a small cottage, and there found her lying upon a little straw. They saluted her, and she said to them: “Brothers, ask of God that he may permit you to see the company that surrounds me.” They were quickly on their knees, and saw Mary, with a crown in her hand by the side of the dying girl, consoling her. Then those holy virgins began to sing, and with that sweet music the blessed soul was released from the body. Mary crowned her, and took her soul with her to paradise.

PRAYER

Oh Lady, Ravisher of hearts I would ex claim with St. Boriaventure; who, with the love and favor thou dost bestow upon thy servants, dost ravish their hearts; take my miserable heart also, which desires so earnestly to love thee. Thou, oh my mother, with thy beauty hast enamored a God, and hast drawn him from heaven into thy bosom, and shall I live without loving thee? No. I will say to thee with thy loving child John Berchmans: “I will never rest until I have attained a tender love for my mother Mary.” No, I will not rest until I am certain of having obtained a love a constant and tender love for thee, my mother, who hast loved me with so much tenderness even when I was so ungrateful towards thee. And where should I now be if thou, oh Mary, hadst not loved me, and obtained so many favors for me? If then thou hast loved me so much when I did not love thee, how much more may I confide in thy goodness, now that I love thee?

I love thee, oh my mother, and would wish for a heart capable of loving thee, for all those unhappy beings who do not love thee. Would that my tongue could praise thee with the power of a thousand tongues, in order to make known thy greatness, thy holiness, thy mercy, and thy love, with which thou lovest those who love thee. If I had riches, I would employ them all for thy honor; if I had subjects, I would make them ail thy lovers; for thee and for thy glory I would give my life, if it were required. I love thee, oh my mother, but at the same time I fear that thou dost not love me, for I have heard that love makes lovers like those they love. If then I find myself so unlike to thee, it is a proof that I do not love thee. Thou so pure, I so unclean; thou so humble, I so proud; thou so holy, I so sinful. But this, oh Mary, is to be thy work; since thou lovest me, make me like unto thyself. Thou hast the power to change the heart; take then mine and change it. Let the world see what thou canst do for those who love thee. Make me holy make me worthy of thy Son. Thus I hope; thus may it be.

Traditional Catholic with a wife, 10 kids, 5 cats and 2 dogs. To learn why this lay person is running this blog rather than a priest, go here.