Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To Be One of Mary's Clients

I'll probably die when I least expect it. That is my sense, anyway. Death for me will come "as a thief in the night." It almost happened that way for me once already. Then again, I really have no idea.

I do know several people who are close to me who are looking death in the eyes from an illness. The dreaded cancer takes one down this road slowly and tortuously. That path may await me as well. It's the "thief in the night" once again, just in a different guise. But certainly I will die, and I won't have a say in the manner or method. What to do? I intend to go down like a Christian, but I'll need a lot of help to do so.

A while back, I shared the letter Blaise Pascal wrote to his sister upon the death of his father. I liked the way Blaise turned an inevitabilty into a rite of passage for Christians. Not something to fear, but something to celebrate. That's a pretty contrarian idea and always has been. Below are thoughts on how the Blessed Mother can help us prepare for that day. These words were written by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, and founder of the Redemptorists.  But, get this,  he says we can call him "St. Al" for short. That's him in the portrait below.

St. Al's feast day is coming up on August 1, but I'll be away from the good ship YIMCatholic, on shore leave, at that time. Before I go, though, I'll leave you with a little taste of St. Al's book entitled The Glories of Mary. This particular section provides a window on the "business" of the Blessed Virgin that I, as a recent convert, am unfamiliar with. These words, however, are comforting to me, because when I face this test, I'll need all the support I can get. As far as I'm concerned, she can sign me up as a "client" right this minute. Where is my pen?

Mary renders Death sweet to her Clients.

"He that is a friend loveth at all times; and a brother is proved in distress," says the book of Proverbs. We can never know our friends and relations in the time of prosperity; it is only in the time of adversity that we see them in their true colors. People of the world never abandon a friend as long as he is in prosperity; but should misfortunes overtake him, and more particularly should he be at the point of death, they immediately forsake him.

Mary does not act thus with her clients. In their afflictions, and more particularly in the sorrows of death, the greatest that can be endured in this world, this good Lady and Mother not only does not abandon her faithful servants, but as, during our exile, she is our life, so also is she, at our last hour, our sweetness, by obtaining us a calm and happy death.

For from the day on which Mary had the privilege and sorrow of being present at the death of Jesus her Son, who was the head of all the predestined, it became her privilege to assist also at their deaths. And for this reason the holy Church teaches us to beg this most Blessed Virgin to assist us, especially at the moment of death: Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death!

0 how great are the sufferings of the dying! They suffer from remorse of conscience on account of past sins, from fear of the approaching judgment, and from the uncertainty of their eternal salvation. Then it is that hell arms itself, and spares no efforts to gain the soul which is on the point of entering eternity; for it knows that only a short time remains in which to gain it, and that if it then loses it, it has lost it for ever. "The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath knowing that he hath but a short time."(Rev xii,12)

And for this reason the enemy of our salvation, whose charge it was to tempt the soul during life, does not choose at death to be alone, but calls others to his assistance, according to the prophet Isaias : "Their houses shall be filled with serpents"(Isaias xiii, 21) And indeed they are so; for when a person is at the point of death, the whole place in which he is, is filled with devils, who all unite to make him lose his soul.

It is related of St. Andrew Avellino, that ten thousand devils came to tempt him at his death. The conflict that he had in his agony with the powers of hell was so terrible, that all the good religious who assisted him trembled. They saw the Saint's face swelled to such a degree from agitation, that it became quite black, every limb trembled and was contorted; his eyes shed a torrent of tears, his head shook violently; all gave evidence of the terrible assault he was enduring on the part of his infernal foes. All wept with compassion, and redoubled their prayers, and at the same time trembled with fear, on seeing a Saint die thus.

They were, however, consoled at seeing, that often, as if seeking for help, the Saint turned his eyes towards a devout picture of Mary; for they remembered that during life he had often said that at death Mary would be his refuge. At length God was pleased to put an end to the contest by granting him a glorious victory; for the contortions of his body ceased, his face resumed its original size and color, and the Saint, with his eyes tranquilly fixed on the picture, made a devout inclination to Mary (who it is believed then appeared to him), as if in the act of thanking her, and with a heavenly smile on his countenance tranquilly breathed forth his blessed soul into the arms of Mary. At the same moment; a Capuchiness, who was in her agony, turning to the nuns who surrounded her, said, "Recite a Hail Mary; for a Saint has just expired."

Ah, how quickly do the rebellious spirits fly from the presence of this queen! If at the hour of death we have only the protection of Mary, what need we fear from the whole of our infernal enemies? David, fearing the horrors of death, encouraged himself by placing his reliance in the death of the coming Redeemer and in the intercession of the Virgin Mother. "For though," he says, " I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me(Psalm xxiii, 4).

Cardinal Hugo, explaining these words of the royal prophet, says that the staff signifies the cross, and the rod is the intercession of Mary; for she is the rod foretold by the prophet Isaias: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root"(Isaias, xi, 1). "This Divine Mother," says Saint Peter Damian, "is that powerful rod with which the violence of the infernal enemies is conquered."

And therefore does St. Antoninus encourage saying, "If Mary is for us, who shall be against us?" When Father Emanuel Padial, of the Society of Jesus, was at the point of death, Mary appeared to him, and to console him, she said: "See at length the hour is come when the angels congratulate with thee, and exclaim: 0 happy labours, 0 mortifications well requited! And in the same moment an army of demons was seen taking its flight, and crying out in despair: Alas ! we can do nought, for she who is without stain defends him."

In like manner, Farther Gaspar Haywood was assaulted by devils at his death, and greatly tempted against faith: he immediately recommended himself to the most Blessed Virgin, and was heard to exclaim, "I thank thee, Mary; for thou hast come to my aid." St. Bonaventure tells us that Mary sends without delay the prince of the heavenly court, Saint Michael, with all the angels, to defend her dying servants against the temptations of the devils, and to receive the souls of all who in a special manner and perseveringly have recommended themselves to her. The Saint, addressing our Blessed Lady, says,

"Michael, the leader and prince of the heavenly army, with all the administering spirits, obeys thy commands, 0 Virgin, and defends and receives the souls of the faithful who have particularly recommended themselves to thee, 0 Lady, day and night."

The prophet Isaias tells us that when a man is on the point of leaving the world, hell is opened and sends forth its most terrible demons, both to tempt the soul before it leaves the body, and also to accuse it when presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ for judgement. The prophet says, "Hell below was in an uproar to meet thee at thy coming; it stirred up the giants for thee"(Isaias xiv. 9).

But Richard of Saint Lawrence remarks, that when the soul is defended by Mary, the devils dare not even accuse it, knowing that the judge never condemned, and never will condemn, a soul protected by his august Mother. He asks, "Who would dare accuse one who is patronised by the Mother of Him who is to judge ?" Mary not only assists her beloved servants at death and encourages them, but she herself accompanies them to the tribunal-seat of God. As St. Jerome says, writing to the virgin Eustochia, "What a day of joy will that be for thee, when Mary, the Mother of our Lord, accompanied by choirs of virgins, will go to meet thee.'

The Blessed Virgin assured Saint Bridget of this; for, speaking of her devout clients at the point of death, she said, "Then will I, their dear Lady and Mother, fly to them, that they may have consolation and refreshment." St. Vincent Ferrer says, that not only does the most Blessed Virgin console and refresh them, but that "she receives the souls of the dying." This loving Queen takes them under her mantle, and thus presents them to the Judge, her Son, and most certainly obtains their salvation.

This really happened to Charles the son of St. Bridget, who died in the army, far from his mother. She feared much for his salvation on account of the dangers to which young men are exposed in a military career; but the Blessed Virgin revealed to her that he was saved on account of his love for her, and that in consequence she herself had assisted him at death, and had suggested to him the acts that should be made at that terrible moment.

At the same time the Saint saw Jesus on His throne, and the devil bringing two accusations against the most Blessed Virgin: the first was, that Mary had prevented him from tempting Charles at the moment of death; and the second was, that this Blessed Virgin had herself presented his soul to the Judge, and so saved it without even giving him the opportunity of exposing the grounds on which he claimed it. She then saw the Judge drive the devil away, and Charles's soul carried to heaven.

Ecclesiasticus says, that "her bands are a healthful binding,"(Eccl. vi, 31) and that "in the latter end, thou shalt find rest in her" (Eccl. vi, 29). 0, you are indeed fortunate, my brother, if at death you are bound with the sweet chains of the love of the Mother of God! These chains are chains of salvation and they are chains that will insure your eternal salvation, and will make you enjoy in death that blessed peace which will be the beginning of your eternal peace and rest.

Father Binetti, in his book on the perfections of our blessed Lord, says, "that having attended the death-bed of a great lover of Mary, he heard him, before expiring, utter these words: "0 my father, would that you could know the happiness that I now enjoy from having served the most holy Mother of God; I cannot tell you the joy that I now experience."

Father Suarez (in consequence of his devotion to Mary, which was such that he used to say that he would willingly change all his learning for the merit of a single Hail Mary) died with such peace and joy, that in that moment he said, "I could not have thought that death was so sweet;" meaning, that he could never have imagined that it was possible, if he had not then experienced it, that he could have found such sweetness in death.

You, devout reader, will, without doubt, experience the same joy and contentment in death, if you can then remember that you have loved this good Mother, who cannot be otherwise than faithful to her children who have been faithful in serving and honoring her, by their visits, rosaries, and fasts, and still more by frequently thanking and praising her, and often recommending themselves to her powerful protection.

You can read more of The Glories of Mary at the YIM Catholic Book Shelf. Here too is a link to many prayers asking Our Blessed Mother to pray for us.