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.
To-day let your meditation be upon death, as it is represented to us in the holy Gospels. The Evangelists describe three kinds of death, on which we shall do well to meditate for our soul’s welfare: The death of Dives the plutocrat and of Lazarus the beggar, the death of Judas, and the death of St. John the Baptist. Betake yourself in spirit to the death-bed of each of these individuals in turn.
1st. The first of these is described in our Lord’s own words, reported by St. Luke (ch. xvi. 22): “And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died, and he was buried in hell.” Imagine that you see that rich man upon his death-bed. How soft and luxurious is his couch, what elegance and splendor surround the dying man; all that wealth can purchase is at his command. The physicians, attentive and obsequious, stand beside his bed; numerous menials are at hand ready to carry out the slightest wish of their expiring master. But alas! of what use is all this to him? The bed of softest down seems to him hard and uneasy; the display of wealth, the gorgeous adornments of the sick-chamber do but intensify its horrors. And all these officious persons about him how irksome and unnecessary is their presence! Not one of them has power to keep death at bay, not one has power to assuage the pangs of his newly-awakened conscience, not one has power to quench the flames of hell which he feels already consuming him. Alas poor Dives! thou hast in thy death indeed become a beggar. And in the meantime outside at the foot of the stairs, on the marble pavement, there lies a real beggar who is also at the last gasp. His death-bed is hard and poverty-stricken in the extreme, he dies forsaken and alone. And yet, happy mendicant! to thee death is a welcome release; that which makes the rich man poor and miserable makes thee rich and happy; instead of the dogs that come about thee, the only beings who show thee any compassion, thou seest already the angels approaching to carry thee to Abraham’s bosom. Now say, my soul, which of these two death-beds would you choose for yourself? That of the poor man, you will assuredly answer. Well then, be poor in your lifetime. Be poor in spirit, if God has given you wealth; be poor both in spirit and in your outward circumstances, if poverty is your lot on earth or if you have made yourself poor for Christ’s sake. And if amongst my readers there should be a Religious who finds his vow of voluntary poverty weigh hard on him, let him think of death, which is not bitter but sweet for those who have already parted with all things in this world.
2d. Consider next the death of Judas. St. Matthew relates the circumstances in these words: “Then Judas who betrayed Him seeing that he was condemned, repenting himself, brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the ancients, saying: I have sinned in betraying innocent blood. But they said: What is that to us? look thou to it. And casting down the pieces of silver in the temple he departed, and went and hanged himself with an halter.” (ch. xxvii. 3-5.) To this St. Luke adds: “And being hanged he burst asunder in the midst and all his bowels gushed out.” (Acts i. 18.) What a horrible, awful death! Imagine the unhappy apostle making the preparations for suicide in some lonely spot, a prey to the keenest sorrow and remorse the remorse unfortunately of despair in frenzied desperation fastening the rope to a tree. Such is the appalling, the deplorable end of one of the apostles, of one chosen for great things, one on whom graces had been lavished. Here you have an image of the end awaiting the Priest or Religious who has lived in sin, despite his sacred office and high calling, and who struggles against grace to the very last. When death stares him in the face his conscience awakens; an agonized repentance rends his soul, but it is the repentance of despair. All that his dying gaze rests upon is a tacit reproach to him, the crucifix, his breviary, the priestly cassock, the monk’s habit, the very bed whereon he lies; all the sounds that reach his ear, words intended for his consolation, the sweet name of Jesus, his own baptismal name, his name in Religion, the mention of his Guardian Angel, each of these is a fresh pang of conscience. He would fain turn to God in penitence, but it is too late; he has abused His grace too long; he dies full of sorrow, it is true, he even dies with sentiments of bitter sorrow for sin, never felt before, but it is only the repentance of Judas, and therefore to him must be applied the lamentation uttered by St. Augustine: “We must shed many tears over our Brother’s unhappy end. He promised with his lips what he repudiated in his heart. As he lived so he died.”
3d. Consider finally the death of St. John Baptist. St. Mark tells us: “Sending an executioner, he [Herod] commanded that his head should be brought in a dish. And he beheaded him in the prison.” (St. Mark vi. 27.) Undeniably, as far as externals went, that was a wretched, deplorable way to die! The Baptist’s life was sacrificed to the whims of a dancing-girl. He met his death at the hand of the common executioner. His dying chamber is a dungeon, wherein his last sigh is breathed unheard by mortal ear. Yet this is a death precious in the sight of the Lord. John dies a victim of his calling, a victim of his fidelity towards God, of his observance of the divine law; he dies a martyr’s death. That is indeed the most desirable of deaths, a glorious passage from earth to Heaven. St. Francis, St. Antony and countless others earnestly desired such a death as this, and if, my soul, a similar desire springs up in your breast, remember that it only rests with you to die the death of a martyr at least in a spiritual sense. For this nothing more is needed than to die as a Confessor of the Faith. Wherefore be constantly during your life a confessor of your faith and then as such you will die. And if you have the privilege of being a Religious, only take heed that you live as a perfect Religious to your life’s end, and then at your death you can claim a martyr’s palm. For St. Bernard says the Religious state is a perpetual martyrdom; martyrdom of a milder form, it is true, than that terrible and violent death, when the body is hewn in pieces with the sword, but more tedious and difficult to bear because of its long duration. The true Religious who is diligent in the practice of mortification and self-denial, can with as much right as any martyr take on his lips the words of the Psalmist: “For Thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.” (Ps. xliii. 22.) Can you say this? If so, you may look forward in joyous anticipation to a glorious death like that of St. John the Baptist.
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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