Today is the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1882
“And when He came nigh to the gates of the city, behold! a dead man was carried out,
the only son of his mother; and she was a widow.”–Luke 7.
Christ, accompanied by a great multitude, approaches the city of Naim, and behold! the corpse of a youth was just borne out of the city gates, followed by a number of people, and his grief-stricken mother. It seemed an accidental meeting, and yet it was not so. Christ, the life, meets death, and again breathes life into the corpse. This unexpected meeting, especially as the dead body was that of a youth, reminds us of the certainty and proximity of death and of the uncertainty of life. It is ordained that all men shall die, as Holy Scripture assures and experience teaches us; and yet, how careless man is in this regard, and what little benefit he derives from meditating upon this truth. Nevertheless it is a truth which, when duly considered, will exert a most decided influence on our lives, and will urge us to arrange the affairs pertaining to our salvation.
Holy Scripture assures us even in the Old Testament: “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.” St. Paul speaks of this continual remembrance of death as “The answer of death within us.
How sincerely I wish that, with St. Paul, we may all feel the continual warning of approaching and certain death–the answer of death within us–and that we may not be seized with that forgetfulness of death, which is, alas! so common. Mary, patroness of a happy death, pray for us that we live in such manner, as to die, in your arms, the death of the blessed! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
When St. Anthony was lying on his death-bed, he was surrounded by hundreds of his spiritual sons, and they begged of him : “Holy father, you are about to leave us; advise us: which is the most influential, the powerful thought to animate one with great zeal in the service of God?” St Anthony replied: “Brethren, live every day as if it were to be the, last.”
With these words St. Anthony referred to the certainty and nearness of death, but at the same time also to the uncertainty as regards the time, the place, and the manner of death. Nothing else in this world is infallibly certain and sure. The wealthiest may become indigent; the most powerful may lose his crown ; the healthiest may be stricken with disease. Yes, even as regards the last judgment, and heaven and hell. No one knows with infallible certainty what shall be his portion forever; but one thing every one knows he must die.
A multitude followed the corpse of the youth. Every person who joined the procession must have thought within himself: I shall also one day be thus borne to my grave. But when? No one knows. This youth who is borne away as a corpse did certainly not imagine that he was to die before his aged mother.
He who constantly reflects upon what I have said, and lives as if every day were his last, needs no further incentive in order to lead a holy life. And why? This will appear evident when we reflect in what Christian perfection consists, and how the remembrance of certain and approaching death will influence us in this respect.
In the first place, Christian perfection requires a heart free from sin. Shun evil. Therefore a person must, above all things, be able candidly to put this question to his conscience: Am I in the state of mortal sin or not? But this must be done as candidly and earnestly as if we were certain to die the following moment and be judged.
And when a man has thus proven himself, his faith requires of him, that he reconcile himself to God by an entire and sincere confession. But nothing will better bring about this change than the remembrance of the certainty and proximity of death. If one confesses in such a manner, as he will wish to have done when the cold sweat of death stands upon his brow, he will confess well. And that our confessions may really be good and valid, let this truth urge us to the conscientious performance of this duty; do it well; you do not know whether you will ever again have another opportunity; it is, perhaps, your last confession.
“Father, this is probably your last confession,” thus St. Vincent de Paul was addressed by one of his spiritual sons. The saint replied: “Friend, for a number of years I have said to myself: This confession will, perhaps, be my last.”
But to reconcile ourselves to God is not our only obligation; the most important duty is, not to sin again, not to suffer a relapse. What causes a relapse? Fresh temptations. These temptations come to us in divers ways: We are tempted by the concupiscence of the flesh; the world tempts us by her allurements and pleasures; Satan tempts and endeavors to deceive us by investing forbidden objects with delusive charms and attractions. It is especially by means of the honors, possessions, and enjoyments of this life that the world, the flesh, and the devil tempt us. And, no doubt, these things, viewed in the light of the present, possess various charms, and can become snares and dangerous temptations.
But the vivid remembrance of the certain approach of death will nip all these temptations in the bud, and will render them powerless. For what are all worldly possessions, when viewed in the twilight of life’s fading day? Dust! What are all the honors of this world? Vapor! What are all sensual enjoyments? Dross!
And even the satisfaction which man enjoys for a time in the possession of wealth, honors, and sensual pleasures will soon end in death.
If we listen to the voice of death within us, the power of temptation will be completely destroyed; because this remembrance of death is inseparably connected with the remembrance of that which is to come after death, and which will decide our eternal destiny. Therefore, the Apostle after saying: “It is appointed for all men once to die,” immediately adds: “And after this the judgment.”
How could man remain in the state of sin, if he constantly reflected upon the terrors of judgment, or how ever relapse into sin! The Memento mori–the remembrance that very soon death will usher you into eternity is the surest preventive against the evil of sin.
This constant remembrance of our end likewise effects the sanctification of our lives, and encourages us in our endeavors to attain Christian perfection; it urges us to accomplish the holy will of God perfectly, in all places and at all times; it puts us in mind of the value of time, and the necessity of making good use of the present; it encourages us not to lose a single moment in the great work of our salvation, nor to neglect the increase of our glory in heaven. But nothing can so clearly prove the inestimable value of time as death, the certainty and nearness of death!
“Time, thou art worth as much as God,” St. Chrysostom was wont to say ; ” for on every hour of time depends a crown for eternity; to win time, is to win God; to lose time, is to lose God.”
Death deprives us of this exceedingly precious gift; a gift for which the angels and saints of heaven envy us.
Now, that we live but once, this once will decide our eternity; this was a maxim of the saints. When once time has flown, it will never again return. We feel this most vividly when attending a death-bed, and considering the last breath which the dying person draws. Now he has expired now his eternal fate is sealed. Not another opportunity of performing a good deed, of increasing his heavenly joys.
I ask: Is there any thing which can urge us more to improve our time for the approaching eternity, than this certainty and proximity of death, this voice of death within us? Oh, that every case of death brought to our notice would remind us with renewed force of the certain approach of eternity!
You should do more; every evening whilst offering your prayers to God, reflect upon some particular circumstance of your death. Think of your last confession, of your last Holy Communion, of extreme unction; and of what you will experience when your soul takes leave of your body; think of your grave, of your appearance before the judgment seat of Christ.
Do this, and no doubt the advice of St. Anthony will not only prove beneficial to his religious sons, but also to you, for the sanctification of your whole life! Amen!
“And when he came nigh to the gates of the city, behold a dead man
was carried out, the only son of a widow.”–Luke 7.
There is nothing more certain than death. Everything else is morally certain, possible, probable, as far as regards our future.
Last year we reflected upon the influence this consideration exercises upon our will; it causes us to form the resolution of living as true children of the Church, according to our vocation, to avoid sin, to practise virtue, and to make the best use of time. Even the longest life, how brief it is! and how near is death! How short is a year! Observe how quickly the moon waxes and wanes, and, after thirteen of these changes, a year has passed. And the life of man numbers but seventy or eighty years, and how few reach this age! the majority of those born into the world die as children, and many in the prime of life! The deceased of whom the Gospel of today makes mention is a youth.
You will die,–that is certain; and you will die soon,–this, too, is certain; but how and where you will die is uncertain, also the manner of your death. But it is not exactly so in reference to the moral condition of your soul; and its state, at the time of death, is of the utmost importance.
A proverb says: “As is life, such is death,” therefore, if you have lived indifferently, the troubled death bed of the tepid Christian awaits you; but if you have lived a zealous and holy life, then on your death-bed you will feel the consolation of the just.
Brethren, let us today reflect upon this contrast, and in our dying moments we shall not regret having done so, provided we profit by the light that the Holy Ghost will send to illumine our minds. Mary, our protectress in death, obtain for us, from your beloved Son, the consoling death of the just! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
What, in the first place, causes the lukewarm Christian sadness and affliction of mind on his death-bed, is inordinate attachment to the goods of this world. No doubt, all who lead an indifferent life will attach themselves more or less to the things of this world; but it is particularly the case with persons who have labored incessantly and under great difficulties to acquire temporal possessions, and who have anxiously provided for their comfort.
This country furnishes many instances of this kind. Many a one who came over from Europe at first settled in the backwoods; there he occupied a log-cabin, and by dint of labor cleared and cultivated the land. Then he erected a more comfortable dwelling, and gradually gained riches until finally he became affluent. Another commenced business in one of the larger cities, prospered, and became wealthy. But, lo! now death raps at his door, and he feels that he must die; he must take leave of all, and can not take even one penny with him!
No wonder that such a Christian, who, amid temporal cares, has abandoned the practices of devotion and of Christian zeal, sighs, with Agag, at the approach of death: “And dost thou part us thus, O bitter death?”
But how widely different the death of a child of the Church, who has led a fervent life, often thought of heaven, suffered, worked, and fought for it; who has already separated his heart from the transitory things of this world, and, on his death-bed, can joyfully exclaim, with David: “We enter with joy into heaven, to behold, to possess, and to enjoy the things of the Lord in the land of the living! ” Child of the Church, a similar death do I wish you. And what are the conditions? A zealous, truly Catholic life.
What furthermore renders the death-bed of the tepid Christian gloomy and fearful, is the inordinate attachment to blood relations. It is true there is a lawful, holy and sanctifying union among men, ties of relationship, friendship and virtue, and the heart must feel a pang at the moment of separation. But this sorrow will increase the merits of the dying Christian, because he resigns himself to the will of God; and, moreover, his sorrow is assuaged by the hope of a speedy reunion in heaven.
The lukewarm Christian experiences not this consolation; he feels only the grief of parting from those who are near and dear to him in this world. And again, how consoling for the fervent soul will be the thought: I take leave of my dearly loved ones on earth, but what an assembly waits to welcome me in heaven! I hope that very soon I shall be with Jesus and Mary, and all the angels and saints, with all my blessed friends and relations, who are anxiously looking forward to my entrance into the eternal joys. This thought gives comfort to the soul. A similar death do I wish you, my brethren; an active, Catholic, pious life will secure it for you.
The death-bed of a careless Christian is hemmed in with fear and anxiety, because the consolations of our holy religion have lost their power over him, and can not drive away the sadness of death. The tepid Christian may have confessed at times, but how? He felt no apprehension from his numerous relapses, and looked upon them as merely the result of human weakness. But now he becomes alarmed; were not these mortal sins into which he relapsed? Or, during life, he endeavored to persuade himself that he did not sin willfully; he did not consent. But now he fears that his confessions were not valid, because he did not express himself clearly as to this or that sin, or did not confess the number and circumstances, as he was obliged to do.
And what of his communions? Were they not, perhaps, unworthy, or sacrilegious communions? His preparations and thanksgivings were so short, so tepid, and, consequently, without effect. And now that he is to receive Holy Communion for the last time, his bodily sufferings will not permit him to dispose himself devoutly for the reception of the Blessed Sacrament as a preparation for his passage into eternity. He receives his last communion with fear and dread. But how unlike this is the death of him who, on this earth, has lived only for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, who has received Him again and again, and each time more worthily, and who now receives his Lord, Redeemer, and the Spouse of his heart as the viaticum to eternal life! The priest places the Sacred Host upon his tongue, as a pledge of his salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Such a reception of the Holy Eucharist on your death-bed, do I wish you; your life,–a zealous, devout, Catholic life will decide.
What renders the hour of death terrible to a luke warm Christian, is the fear of death itself, and that which follows it the corruption of the body in the grave. Yes, to a petted worldling, who knows nothing of penance and mortification in this life, and who has always pampered his body, and gratified his senses, how dreadful the thought: What shall become of me in my last agony, when the cold sweat of death oozes from every pore, when death shall stretch my limbs? What, when all that remains of me on earth lies moldering in the grave, and is food for worms? It is not surprising that such thoughts fill the soul of an indifferent Christian with fear and distress! But how different the situation, if the dying person is one who has practised, during life, interior and exterior mortification, and who tastes not the bitterness of death, and looks forward to a glorious resurrection! The pious Christian remembers that it is only his body that lies within the grave, and that he shall one day find it again transformed and glorious, and be reunited to it for a blissful eternity.
What finally renders the death-bed of a lukewarm Christian fearful, is the thought of the coming judgment. When a soul is about to leave this world in a tepid and sinful state, even if after a good confession it is reinstated in grace, what a terror, what a fright, must weigh upon it, when, disfigured by the leprosy of countless venial sins, it appears before Christ, not knowing whether these sins may not be mortal! And how the soul will tremble when Christ is about to utter the sentence which will decide its fate for eternity!
Oh, could it but again return to the body, to lead a better, holier life! but then it will be too late, too late! May God preserve you from such anguish!
On the other hand, what a consolation and joy when a devout soul departs this life; and, freed from every stain of sin by the Holy Sacrament of Penance, hastens to the arms of its Redeemer, and, without passing through purgatory, enters at once into the joys of the Lord.
Either the one death or the other will be yours, and your life will decide! May God grant that it will not have been a lukewarm and indifferent, but a holy and virtuous life. Then to you may be applied the words of Holy Writ: “Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints!” Amen!
“And they that carried it stood still.”–Luke 7.
“And they that carried it stood still.” Christ approaches the corpse, but He does not restore the deceased to life as long as the pall-bearers move on. “They that carried it stood still,” probably at a sign given by our Lord.
There is something very striking in this circumstance, if we consider attentively the miracle which Christ wrought at the gates of Naim, in its moral signification. For the raising of the dead to life has reference to the miracle of the conversion from sin to the state of grace, a change from the death of the soul through sin, to the spiritual life through grace.
The four pall-bearers typify four causes of the sinner’s impenitence. These are: the proximate occasion of sin; want of prayer; familiar intercourse with sinners; and inordinate longing after enjoyment!
Yes, these are the four spiritual pall-bearers of the soul dead in sin, and as long as these do not stand still, so long will the funeral procession move on; and there can be no thought of a true conversion and spiritual resurrection. And although at times the sinner may appear to be converted, still we can very soon perceive, that, in the sight of God, he is still a corpse!
Let us today take a glance at the four pall-bearers of the soul dead in sin. Mary, refuge of sinners, pray for us, that we may awaken from the death of sin! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
The first pall-bearer which carries the dead soul of a sinner to its grave, is the proximate occasion of sin! How indispensably necessary the avoidance of the proximate occasion of sin is for a true conversion, can be readily deduced from the earnest and solemn words of Christ: “If thy eye scandalize thee, tear it out and cast it from thee; and if thy hand or foot scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee; for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body go into hell.”
But, alas! how many deceive themselves in this respect, and imagine, if they but form the good resolution of not sinning again, it matters little whether they remain in the proximate occasion of sin; this, in their opinion, is no sin. But that is a delusion proceeding from their defective instruction. The remaining willfully in the occasion of sin, is already a sin; and if there is danger of mortal sins, the sin of remaining in the occasion becomes mortal; because to remain willfully therein, is to expose one’s self willfully to sin, which is in itself an offense.
Experience verifies the warning of the Holy Ghost: “He who loveth danger, shall perish therein.” To remain in the occasion of sin, is like putting fire, if it be but a burning match, to straw, and then saying: I do not want the straw to burn. But it will burn nevertheless, and you will be the cause. This warning has reference especially to the lewd, to drunkards, and to those who are intimate with persons of loose morals.
The second cause of the sinner’s remaining in the sleep of death,–the second pall-bearer of his soul, is the neglect of prayer and the Holy Sacraments. As a rule, persons commit grievous sins only after having first become careless in their prayers and in the reception of the Holy Sacraments. For these are the means of grace ordained by God, and these alone enable us to subdue temptations, and to practise virtue. There are many who sin continually, but at times they appear to be converted; and yet, how very soon they are again spiritual corpses! And why? They omit their morning and night prayers; do not attend divine service; neglect spiritual reading, and the reception of the Holy Sacraments.
We do not go too far in affirming: That all those who begin the day without prayer, who do not think of God during the day, and do not pray at night; who are careless in attending divine service, or do not go to church at all on Sundays and holidays; who are negligent in the reception of the Sacraments, all of these belong to the class of the spiritual dead. They may confess at times, and appear to do better; but until they begin earnestly to say their prayers, to attend divine service as is their duty, and do not receive the Holy Sacraments only at Easter time, but frequently during the course of the year, their conversion will not be a true one. They will very soon lead the old life of sin; nor will they improve in this respect, unless they perform the duties of their holy religion earnestly and fervently, and frequently approach the Holy Sacraments.
The third cause why sinners continue their life of sin–the third pall-bearer of the soul is, familiar intercourse with sinners, their society and company. With the wicked you will be wicked and remain so.
As long as a person does not avoid familiar intercourse with sinners, he will open his heart to numerous temptations, and the bad example of others will have a pernicious influence; upon him. The bad example of sinners may be compared to the diseases of the body. When one is near a sick person, or is obliged to wait on him, one is in great danger of becoming infected with the disease. Physicians who attend the sick, make their visits as brief as possible when the disease is contagious, and hurry away, lest they may become infected!
The same may be said of sinners, whose example proves contagious. Such sinners may justly be compared to lepers. From these you must flee, as Holy Scripture advises. This admonition is addressed particularly to young persons. If your conversion shall prove sincere and lasting, you must avoid familiar intercourse with sinners; otherwise you will soon recommence a life of sin.
The fourth bearer of the spiritual corpse is inordinate longing for enjoyments –the love of sensual, boisterous pleasure, such as balls, plays, and noctural amusements; the reading of bad books, and especially the excessive use of spirituous liquors. Woe to him who already, from his youth, becomes addicted to drink, to frequent gin-shops,–is and gradually becomes a confirmed sot!
Oh! how seldom it occurs that an habitual drunkard is truly converted, that he avoids every occasion of intemperance, and remains faithful to his good resolutions! How often such persons, who, perchance, are not addicted to any other vice, seem to amend and still they do not really change; they lead the same intemperate life! And how sad are the consequences, both for body and soul! They ruin their health, destroy their domestic peace, and are living in the greatest danger of dying unprepared.
Is there, perhaps, a sinner among us whom these four bearers are carrying? Oh! I wish I could today cause them to stand still. For only then will your conversion be sincere, and, by the mouth of the priest, Christ will bid you: “Rise!” and you will be restored to the life of grace.
This standing still reminds us, moreover, of another very important fact. If we wish to be justified in hoping that ours was a true conversion, we must be able to refer to some period of our life, and say: Since that confession–it was a general confession–I did not relapse!
Rejoice, if your conscience gives you this testimony; you are in the right state, and you will be prepared to appear before God, and you will live in Him eternally! Amen! (2)