A person looking at God directs his sight to the sun like an eagle.
Saint Hildegard von Bingen
Saint Alphonsus, whose feast day it is today, has a book on Preparation for Death – in other words, preparation to make the last leg of the journey to the Church of Heaven. Let it be said in advance that I like this little book. We want to avoid hell. We want to love Jesus, now and for eternity. This little book is wonderful for that.
Actually, I think it’s wonderful for that both individually-personally and communally-personally. Towards the beginning of the meditations in the book, my father Alphonsus writes about Scripture indicating that, for one whose life has been lived away from God, at the moment of death, conversion is more difficult. He adds,
Reason tells us the same; for, at death, men of the world shall find their understanding weak and darkened, and their heart hardened by the bad habits which they have contracted. Their temptations will then be more violent; how can they resist at death who were almost always accustomed to yield to temptations during life? To change their heart a most powerful grace would be then necessary. But is God obliged to give them such a grace? Have they merited such a grace by the scandalous and disorderly life which they have led? And on that last hour depends their happiness or misery for eternity. How is it possible that he who reflects on this, and believes the truths of faith, does not leave all to give himself to God, who will judge us all according to our works.
And to this I say a great AMEN. I agree with every word here spoken by this Doctor of the Church. And I agree with the parts he left unsaid, too, but which are really, truly contained within the words he wrote.
There are sinners, up to their heart, their neck, their very breath, in sin. “To change their heart a most powerful grace would be then necessary… Have they merited such a grace by the scandalous and disorderly life which they have led?” No? Then, let us “merit” it for them. Let us go to the Cross with Jesus and, upon Calvary with him, offer everything we have to God and merit the most powerful graces to be used by divine providence at the right time and in the right way for the passing of all: that none, especially those we know, may die in the absolute horror of mortal sin and be deprived of the light of God’s face. Oh yes, it is difficult. The “most powerful graces” are needed. It is arduous. It is hard. It takes blood. But it is what is asked of us.
“How is it possible that he who reflects on this, and believes the truths of faith” – which include the fact that God desires all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4), that Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost (Lk 19:10) – “does not leave all to give himself to God…” Indeed, how is it possible to abandon one’s neighbour? to declare that there are people (especially any we know) in hell? to give up? Just how is it possible? When one sits down and digests what that would mean, then one gets up and says, “I am nothing, my Jesus. But my brothers and sisters cannot be allowed to become nothing. Do with me what you will. Anything, everything. Please, for the salvation of the world depends on the Church giving herself and her merits for the arduous cause that is so dear to you: the salvation of all, the seeking and saving of the lost. Whatever you wish, Lord, whatever you wish; just accomplish your will. May those powerful graces somehow, somehow, be merited. We ask you to look on the infinite merits of Jesus, who wills all to be saved. This is what counts, for you have revealed it to be your will.”
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Immediately before, and for a good while after, my religious conversion, I was of the opinion that to lead a religious life meant one had to give up all that was secular and to live totally immersed in thoughts of the Divine. But gradually I realized that something else is asked of us in this world and that, even in the contemplative life, one may not sever the connection with the world. I even believe that the deeper one is drawn into God, the more one must “go out of oneself”, that is, one must go out to the world in order to carry the divine life into it.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
The road of sanctity is not a road of honours, but rather a road of misunderstandings and humiliations. When you encounter difficulties, don’t discourage yourself too quickly. Run without delay to the tabernacle to sigh with Jesus, telling him: “Jesus, I have only the thought of abandoning you. Deign to change my will. I’m very sad, and all I can do is ask you to accept my sadness. I can’t find peace… I can’t stop myself from crying… accept my tears with gentleness.”
Little Brother Marcel Văn CSsR (1928–1959)
The daughter of an excellent physician and surgeon, being in a continual fever, and knowing that her father loved her entirely, said to one of her friends: “I feel very great pain, but I do not think of remedies, for I do not know what might serve for my cure; I might desire one thing, and another might be necessary for me. Do I not then gain more by leaving this care to my father, who knows, who can do, and who wills for me, all that is required for my health? I should do wrong by willing anything, for he wills all that is profitable to me. I will only wait to let him will to do what is expedient; and when he comes to me, I will only look at him, testify my filial love for him, and show him my perfect confidence.” And on these words she fell asleep.
Meanwhile, her father, judging that it was fit to bleed her, disposed all that was necessary, and waking her up asked her if were willing to suffer the operation. “My father,” she said, “I am yours; I know not what to will for my cure; it is yours to will and do for me what seems good to you; it is enough for me to love and honour you with all my heart, as I do.”
So her arm is tied, and her father himself opens the vein. And while the blood flows, this loving daughter looks not at her arm nor at the spurring blood, but keeping her eyes fixed on her father’s face, she says only, from time to time: “My father loves me, and I, I am entirely his.”
And when all was done she did not [hastily] thank him but only repeated her words of filial confidence and love.
Saint Francis de Sales
O Lord, wealth of the poor, how admirably You sustain souls, revealing Your great riches to them gradually and not permitting them to see them all at once. When I see Your great Majesty hidden in so small a thing as the Host, I cannot but marvel at Your great wisdom. O my God, if You did not conceal Your grandeur, who would dare to come to You so often, to unite with Your ineffable Majesty a soul so stained and miserable?
Saint Teresa of Jesus