On the Death-bed Our Lord Chose for Himself.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Death-bed Our Lord Chose for Himself.
Represent to yourself the awful, the heartrending scene, when our Lord having reached the summit of Calvary, and having been rudely stripped of His garments, prepares to stretch Himself upon the hard cross. The cross then is the couch whereon He will breathe out His sacred soul! What a death-bed for Him!
1st. Consider that Jesus expires in the practice of obedience. Patient as a lamb led to the slaughter, without a murmur, without offering the slightest opposition, the Saviour, forsaken and destitute, stretches Himself upon the cross. There He lies, an unresisting victim, as Isaac was in times gone by. This is the last act of obedience which He performs on earth, the last link in the chain of the acts of obedience of which His life was an unbroken series; it is the accomplishment of the Apostle’s words: “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even to the death of the cross.” (Phil. ii. 8.) The spirit of obedience which led Him to the crib now leads Him to the cross. As out of obedience He lay in that, so out of obedience He lies, on this. In obedience He began His life in Bethlehem, He ends it in obedience on Calvary. My soul, what feelings do these thoughts arouse in you? How will it be with you when you lie on your death bed? Shall you lie down upon it as the last link in a long golden chain of acts of obedience? Will it be for you a hard or a soft couch? If you wish to know, listen and I will tell you. Your death-bed will be soft if you lie down upon it as one already dead; it will be hard if you do so as one still living. All depends upon the extent in which you follow the instructions of the Seraphic Father, St. Francis, who having confined a disobedient Brother in a dark dungeon, said to him: “Art thou dead, Brother?” The penitent monk answered: “Yes, Father, I deserve to die on account of my sin.” Touched by this humble reply, the saint bade the monk go forth, if he was truly dead. “Obey,” he said, “the minutest sign of your Superior’s wishes, and offer no more resistance to his commands than a dead body would, which is incapable of withstanding anything. I want dead men, not living, for my followers.” If, my soul, you are still living in the sense in which St. Francis employed the term, cast yourself to-day with our Lord upon His death-bed.
2d. Consider the extreme poverty that marks our Lord’s death-bed, and His extreme poverty when He places Himself upon it. Every one, even the poorest beggar, has a pillow whereon to rest his head at the last, or at any rate the earth provides him with one; he has a covering wherein to wrap himself, or at least his own clothes are left to him. Jesus had not even those. As He had no birthplace as other men have, so He was destitute of the death-bed which is the portion of ordinary mortals. His couch is the cross, His pillow the crown of thorns, His shroud is the wounds, the streaming blood, that cover His mangled body. This is indeed the utmost limit of poverty which our Lord practises; as He began His life with it, so with it He ends His life. Ask yourself, my soul, what impression does the sight of this most poverty-stricken of death-beds, of the unspeakable poverty in which the Redeemer died, make on you? How will it be with you when you lie on your death-bed? Will your departure out of this world be a poor parting from a poor existence to enter upon one that is infinitely rich and eternal? You are a Priest; you hold daily in your hands Jesus in His poverty, and those hands ought to be the hands of one at least poor in spirit. You are a Religious. Poverty is your vocation, and God grant that you may be able to take as your own the words of St. Francis: “Lord Jesus, show me the path of poverty which Thou didst love so well. Have compassion on me, for I too love poverty so fervently that without it I have no rest; and Thou knowest that Thou Thyself hast infused this love into my breast.”
3d. Consider how hard and painful our Lord’s death bed was. Think how His torn and mangled body was extended upon the hard wood. Remember the excruciating pain caused by the nails wherewith He was fastened to the cross, and you will not think light of the agony of that death-bed. Think how He lay upon it, His eyes raised to Heaven, a victim upon the altar of the cross to make atonement for the sins of the world! It is the last sacrifice, the last act of renunciation, the last scene in the long drama of woe. What are your feelings, my soul, as you contemplate this death-bed? What will they be when you too lie on your death-bed? Will your death-bed also be an altar, whereon a self-denying Priest, a mortified Religious offers himself to God as a victim, offers the last oblation, the crowning act of a life of sacrifice? Such a victim, or to use St. Bonaventure’s beautiful simile, such a stone, fashioned by the chisel of self-denial and mortification for the heavenly Jerusalem, was St. Francis. Stript of everything, he lay in ashes on the ground, his eyes fixed on Heaven, rapt in the contemplation of the glory that awaited him, with his left hand concealing the wound in his side, the stigmata impressed on his emaciated body. With his last breath he uttered these words: “I Have finished the work given me to do, and I pray our Lord Jesus Christ to teach you what you ought to do,” May Jesus indeed teach us so to live that our death-bed may as nearly resemble the death-bed of our Lord as did that of our Seraphic Father.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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