"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Men should often renew their good resolutions, and not lose heart because they are tempted against them."

St Philip Neri

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"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.

 
  LIFE EVERLASTING
   

By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP

 

PART 2 : DEATH AND JUDGEMENT

 

8. THE GRACE OF A HAPPY DEATH - THE GIFT OF PERSEVERANCE

 
Perseverence is defined: that gift which makes the moment of death coincide with the state of grace, either continued or restored. Let us see, first, what Scripture and tradition say of this grace. Then we
shall listen to the explanation furnished by the theology of St. Thomas. [66] Scripture attributes to God the grace of death in the state of grace.

In the Book of Wisdom, on the subject of the death of the just as opposed to the death of the wicked, we read: "His soul pleased God, therefore the Lord hastened to bring him out of the midst of iniquities."
[67] In the New Testament we read these words of St. Peter: "The God of all grace, who has called us unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will Himself perfect you and confirm you and establish you." [68] St. Paul says: I am confident that He who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ." [69] Again to the Romans: "To them that love God all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints.... And whom He predestined, them He also called. And whom He called, them He also justified. And whom He justified, them He also glorified." [70] This glorification supposes that
God preserves the soul in that grace which justifies it. He says to Moses: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy." [71] This mercy of final perseverance is given to all the elect.

St. Augustine [72] says that death in the state of grace is a pre-eminent gift of God, even in the case of infants. In the case of adults this gift sustains their own voluntary and meritorious choice, and hinders them from being cast down by adversity. But while each predestined soul will have this gift, none can know, without special revelation, that he will persevere. Hence we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. St. Augustine [73] adds that this gift is not given to us according to our merits, but according to the will of God, a will very secret, very wise, very beneficent. Only to God does it belong to give it, since He alone determines the end of our life. But this gift, even if it cannot be merited, can be obtained by humble supplication. [74]

St. Thomas Aquinas [75] explains this doctrine. His teaching, generally admitted by theologians, may be reduced to this: The principle of merit, namely, the state of grace, cannot be merited, since a cause cannot be the effect of itself. But final perseverance is nothing but grace, preserved by God up to the moment of death. Hence it cannot be merited. It depends on God alone, who alone can preserve the state of grace or restore to the state of grace. Yet this final perseverance can be obtained by humble and confident prayer, which we address, not to divine justice as in the case of merit, but to divine mercy.

Whence comes it, then, that we can merit eternal life, if we cannot merit final perseverance? The reason runs thus: Eternal life, far from being the principle of merit, is the terminus and the goal of merit. We shall obtain it on condition that we do not lose our merits. St. Thomas adds: "Since free will is of itself changeable, even after it has been healed by habitual grace, it is not in its power to fix itself immutably in good. It can choose this good, but it cannot realize it." [76]

The Council of Trent [77] confirms this traditional doctrine. "This succor is a great gift, very gratuitous, which we cannot obtain except from Him who, according to St. Paul, [78] can sustain him who stands and lift up him who falls." The Council adds that, without special revelation, we cannot in advance be certain of receiving this gift, but we can and should hope firmly for it, battling against temptation, and working out our salvation by the practice of good works.

As regards the grace given for this last meritorious act, Thomists hold that this grace is intrinsically efficacious, that is, efficacious of its own self, though without violating in any way the liberty which it actualizes. Molinists say, on the contrary, that it is efficacious extrinsically, namely, by our consent which God had foreseen by scientia media. According to Thomists, such prevision would put a passivity in God, who would thereby become dependent in His foreknowledge on a created determination which would not come from God Himself.

If we cannot be certain in advance of the grace of a good death, we can nevertheless exercise the signs of predestination, particularly those that follow: care to preserve ourselves from mortal sin, the spirit of prayer, humility which draws down grace, patience in adversity, love of neighbor, assistance to those who are afflicted, a sincere devotion to our Lord and His Holy Mother. In this sense, according to the promise made to St. Margaret Mary, those who have received Communion in honor of the Sacred Heart on the first Friday of nine successive months can have the confidence of obtaining from God the grace of a good death. A condition is here understood, namely, that the nine Communions have been made well. The grace of receiving them well is a grace given to the elect by the Sacred Heart. [79]

The Death of the Just

In the Old Testament the death of the just is painted in that of Tobias: At the hour of his death he calls to him his son and the seven sons of his son and says to them: "Hearken, my children, to your father: Serve the Lord in truth, and seek to do the things that please Him. And command your children that they do justice and almsdeeds, and that they be mindful of God and bless Him at all times in truth and with all their power."
[80]

In the Book of Ecclesiasticus [81] we read that the just man is not scandalized by the inequality of human conditions, and that it is especially at the time of his death that he judges wisely. Why are there poor and rich? Why are there those who are unfortunate and those who are fortunate? Ecclesiasticus replies: Why does one day excel another and one light another, and one year another year, when all come from the sun? By the knowledge of the Lord they were distinguished . . . and He ordered the seasons and holidays of them; . . . some of them God made high and great days, and some of them He put in the number of ordinary days. And all men are from the ground and out of the earth, from whence Adam was created. With much knowledge the Lord hath divided them and diversified their ways. Some of them hath He blessed and exalted, . . . and some of them hath He cursed and brought low." God gives to every man according to his works. The just man sees this above all at the moment of his death.

In the same Book of Ecclesiasticus we read that God hears the prayer of the poor man, especially at the time when this man has to die, and that He punishes hearts that are without pity. "The Lord is judge, and there is not with Him respect of person; the Lord will not accept any person against a poor man; He will hear the prayer of him that is wronged . . . (and of) the widow.... The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds, and he will not depart till the most High beholds." [82] This doctrine is verified particularly at the hour of death. God will be with him in that last hour. These high thoughts occur repeatedly in the Old Testament, and still more in the New, which sees clearly in the death of the just man the prelude of eternal life.

It was the writer's privilege to see the death of a just man, a poor man, Joseph d'Estengo, who lived with his family in the eighth story of a house near the Campo Santo in Rome. He was gangrened in his four
limbs, suffered much from the cold, especially when his nerves began to writhe before death. Nevertheless he never complained. He offered all his sufferings to the Lord for the salvation of his soul, for his own people, for the conversion of sinners. Then he was struck by rapid consumption, and had to be carried to the other extremity of Rome, to the hospital of the Littorio, where three weeks later he died, in a perfect state of abandonment to God in the middle of the night.

At the precise instant when he died, his elderly father, a very good Christian, who was at the other extremity of the city, heard the voice of his son saying: "Father, I am going to heaven." And his excellent mother dreamed that her son mounted up to heaven with healed hands and feet, just as he will be in fact after the resurrection of the dead.

I count it one of the great graces of my life that I knew this poor man, who was pointed out to me by a Vincentian helper who said: "You will be happy to know him." She spoke truly. He was a friend of God. His death confirmed this. Blessed are they who die in the Lord. He was one of those "who taste death" as the prelude of eternal life.

Preparation for Death

The just man awaits death, prepares himself for it by vigilance, above all by a reverent fear, recalling his past sins and considering the expiations that are to come. He has a vivid faith in everlasting life, the goal of his journey, the inamissible possession of God in the beatific vision, union with Christ the Redeemer, union with His holy Mother, with the saints, with those whom he has known, who have died or who will die in a Christian manner.

To this faith the just man joins a confidence ever more firm in the help of God, who enables him to arrive at his goal. And as his charity grows greater day by day, the Holy Spirit [83] gives testimony to his spirit that he is a child of God. Hence arises the certitude of tendency, which strengthens hope in him more and more. The just man also urges friends to warn him of approaching death. It is a lack of faith when friends do not dare warn a sick person that he is going to die. It is a sin. They deceive him and prevent him from preparing himself. It is good to have an understanding with one special friend that each may warn the other.

Finally it is appropriate that, as man nears the goal of his life, he often make the sacrifice of his life in union with the sacrifice of the Mass, which perpetuates on the altar the sacrifice of the cross. Let him unite his own life and death with the four ends of all sacrifice: adoration, to recognize the sovereign excellence of the Creator; secondly, reparation, to expiate past sins; thirdly, supplication, to gain the grace of final perseverance; fourthly, thanksgiving, for innumerable benefits which God prepared for us from all eternity, which we have received daily from the time of our birth.

Daily offering of our life is counseled by His Holiness, Pius X: "Lord, my God, whatever be the kind of death which it pleases Thee to reserve for me, I from this moment on receive that death with all my heart and with all my soul. I accept that death from Thy hands, with all its anguish, pains, and sorrows."

Thus prepared, we may hope to sacrifice our life at the last moment in union with the Masses that will be celebrated then, far or near, in union with the oblation, always living, of the heart of Christ, who ceases not to intercede for us. [84] A last act of love for God obtains the remission of a great part of the temporal punishment due to sin, and thus shortens purgatory. A very good practice is to have Mass celebrated for obtaining the grace of graces, which is that of a good death. The Christian is fortified by the grace of extreme unction against the natural horror of death, and against the temptations of the enemy of salvation. In sorrow at leaving those whom he loves, a Christian is consoled by the Holy Viaticum, by the prayers for the dying. These prayers are extraordinarily beautiful, especially the following: "Go forth, Christian soul, go forth in the name of the almighty Father who created thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who has suffered for thee, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who has been given to thee, in the name of the glorious and holy mother of God, the Virgin Mary, in the name of blessed Joseph, her spouse, in the name of the angels and archangels, the thrones and dominations, the principalities and powers, the cherubim and seraphim, in the name of the patriarchs and prophets, in the name of the apostles, the evangelists, the martyrs, the confessors, the virgins, and of all holy men and women of God. May thy dwelling today be in peace, in the heavenly Jerusalem, with Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

Thus the blessed come down to surround the Christian soul, to carry it from the Church on earth into the Church in heaven.

Bossuet [85] has a little work called Preparation for Death. Faith, hope, and charity are founded on an act of perfect abandonment: "O my God, I abandon myself to Thee. My fear is that I may not abandon myself completely to Thee through Jesus Christ. I put the cross of Thy Son between my sins and Thy justice. My soul, why art thou sad, why dost thou trouble me? Hope in Him, say to Him with all your power: 'O my God, Thou art my salvation. The time is approaching when faith is
to turn into vision. My Savior, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief. Sustain my feebleness. I have nothing to hope in from myself, but Thou hast commanded me to hope in Thee. I rejoice when I hear them say that I shall go into the house of the Lord. When shall I see Thee, my one and only God? My God, my strength, my life, I love Thee. I rejoice in Thy power, in Thy eternity, in Thy goodness. Soon, in a moment, I shall be able to embrace Thee. Take me to Thyself."'

"Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowliness made like the body of His glory, according to the operation whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.... And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." [86]

After these words of St. Paul, Bossuet continues: "My Savior, I run to Thy feet in the Garden of Olives. I lie prostrate with Thee on the ground. I draw near, as near as possible, to Thine own holy body, to receive on my body the precious blood which flows from Thy veins. I take in my two hands the chalice which Thy Father gives me. Come, consoling angel of Jesus Christ, who is now suffering and agonizing in my members. Flee away, ye powers of hell. O my Savior, let me say with Thee: 'All is consummated. I commend my soul into Thy hands. Amen.' My soul, let us commence the eternal Amen, the eternal Alleluia, the joy and the song of the blessed for all eternity. Adieu, my mortal brethren. Adieu, holy Catholic Church. Thou hast borne me in thy bosom, hast nourished me with thy milk. Continue to purify me by thy sacrifices, because I die in unity with thee and in thy faith. And yet, O holy Church, I do not leave thee. I go to find thee in heaven, thy own home, where I shall find thy apostles, thy martyrs, thy confessors, thy virgins, with whom I shall sing forever the mercies
of the Lord." Let us conclude with St. John of the Cross: "In the evening of our life, we shall be judged by love, namely, by the sincerity of our love for God, for our own soul, for our neighbor."

 
 
 

   
 
66. St. Augustine, De dono perseverantiae, chaps. 13, 14, 17; St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q.109, a. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10; q.114, a.9; IIa IIae, q. 137, a.2. See the commentaries of Cajetan, John of St. Thomas, the Salmanticenses, Gonet, Billuart, and Hugon. See also Dict. theol. cath., "Perseverance finale," by A. Michel.
67. Wis. 4:11-13.
68. 1 Pet 5:10.
69. Phil. 1:6.
70. Rom 8:28-33.
71. Rom 9:14.
72. De dono perseverantiae, chaps. 13, 14,17.
73. Ibid., chap. 13.
74. Ibid., chap. 6, no. 10 (Suppliciter emereri potest).
75. Ia IIae, q.114, a.9.
76. IIIa IIae, q. 137, a.4.
77. Denz., 806, 826, 832.
78. Rom. 14:4.
79. See Dict. theol. cath., "Coeur-sacre," by Father Jean Bainvel, S.J.: "The promise is absolute, supposing that the Communions have been well made. That which is promised is final perseverance, which brings with it contrition and the last sacraments in the necessary measure." See ibid., the original text of this great promise of the Sacred Heart.
80. Tob. 14:10.
81. Ecclus. 33:7-15.
82. Ibid., 35:11-17.
83. Rom 8:16.
84. Heb 7:25.
85 Opuscule sur la preparation a la morte.
86. Phil. 3:20, 4:7.