The Glories Of Mary
by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI
MARY RENDERS DEATH SWEET TO HER SERVANTS.
"HE that is a friend loveth at all times; and a brother is proved in distress." True friends and relatives are not known in times of prosperity, but in the season of adversity and misery. Worldly friends do not desert their friend when he if in prosperity; but if any misfortune over takes him, particularly in the hour of death, immediately his friends abandon him. Not so does Mary desert her devoted servants. In their distresses, and especially at the trying hour of death, when our sufferings are the greatest that can be endured on earth, she our good Lady and mother cannot abandon her faithful servants; and as she is our life in the time of our exile, so is she also our sweetness in the hour of death, by obtaining for us that it may be sweet and blessed. For since that great day in which it was the lot and the grief of Mary to be present at the death of Jesus, her Son, who was the head of the elect, she obtained the grace of aiding at death all the elect. Hence the holy Church requires us to pray the blessed Virgin, that she would especially aid us in the hour of our death: "Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
The sufferings of the dying are very great, on account of their remorse for sins committed, their dread of approaching judgment, and the uncertainly of eternal salvation. At that moment especially, the devil puts forth all his power to gain the soul that is passing into eternity; knowing that the time is short in which he may win her, and that if he loses her, he has lost her forever. "The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time." And therefore the devil, who has always tempted her in life, will not be satisfied to tempt her alone in death, but calls companions to his aid: "Their houses shall be filled with serpents. " When any one is at the point of death, his house is filled with demons, who unite to accomplish his ruin.
It is related of St. Andrew Avellino, that at the time of his death, ten thousand devils came to tempt him; and we read in his life, that at the time of his agony lie had so fierce a struggle with hell, that it caused all his good religious who were present to tremble. They saw the face of the saint swell from agitation, so that it became black; they saw all his limbs trembling, and greatly agitated, rivers of tears flowed from his eyes, and his head shook violently; all these were signs of the horrible assault he was suffering from the powers of hell. All the religious wept in compassion, redoubled their prayers, and trembled with fear when they saw that a saint died thus. Yet they were consoled by seeing that the saint often turned his eyes, as if seeking help, towards a devout image of Mary, for they remembered that he had often said in life, that in the hour of his death, Mary must be his refuge. It finally pleased God to terminate this struggle by a glorious victory, for the agitation of his body ceased, his countenance gained its natural shape and color, and fixing his eyes tranquilly on that image, he devoutly bowed his head to Mary, who, it is believed, then appeared to him, as if to thank her, and quietly breathed forth in her arms his blessed soul, with heavenly peace depicted on his countenance. At the same time a Capuchin nun, in her agony, turned to the religious who were with her and said: "Say an Ave Maria, for a saint has just died."
Ah, how these rebels flee before the presence of their queen! If, in the hour of death, we have Mary on our side, what fear can we have of all the powers of hell? David, in dread of the agony of death, comforted himself with confidence in the death of his future Redeemer, and in the intercession of the Virgin mother: "For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I fear no evils, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they have comforted me." Cardinal Hugo understands the staff to signify the tree of the Cross, and the rod the intercession of Mary, who was the rod foretold by Isaias: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root." This divine mother, says St. Peter Damian, is that powerful rod by which the fury o the infernal enemies is conquered. Hence St. Antoninus encourages us, saying: If Mary is for us, who is against us? Father Manuel Padial, of the Society of Jesus, being at the point of death, Mary appeared to him, and said, to comfort him: "The hour has at length come when the angels, rejoicing, say to thee, Oh happy labors! oh mortifications well recompensed!" At which words an army of devils was seen taking flight in despair, crying: "Alas! we have no power, for she who is without stain defends him." In like manner, the devils assailed Father Jasper Haywood, when he was dying, with great temptations against faith; he immediately commended himself to the most holy Virgin, and then was heard to exclaim: "I thank thee, oh Mary, that thou hast come to my aid."
St. Bonaventure says that Mary sends the archangel Michael, with all the angels, to the defence of her dying servants, to protect them from the assaults of evil spirits, and to receive the souls of all those who have especially and constantly recommended themselves to her.
When a man leaves this life, Isaias says that hell is in uproar, and sends its most terrible de mons to tempt that soul before it leaves the body, and then afterwards to accuse it when it is presented at the tribunal of Jesus Christ to be judged: "Hell below was in an uproar to meet thee; at thy coming it stirred up the giants for thee." But Richard says, that the demons, when that soul is defended by Mary, will not even dare to accuse it; knowing that a soul protected by this great mother is never, and will never, be condemned. St. Jerome wrote to the virgin Eustochium, that Mary not only assists her dear servants in their death, but also comes to meet them in their passage to the other life, to encourage them and accompany them to the divine tribunal, And this agrees with what the blessed Virgin said to St. Bridget, speaking of her servants when they are at the point of death: "Then I, their most loving Lady and mother, hasten to them in death, that they may have consolation and comfort." St. Vincent of Ferrer adds: The blessed Virgin receives the souls of the dying. The loving queen receives their souls under her protection, and she herself presents them to the judge her Son, and thus certainly procures their salvation, This happened to Charles, son of St. Bridget, who, dying in the perilous profession of a soldier, and far from his mother, the saint feared for his salvation; but the blessed Virgin revealed to her that Charles was saved for the love he bore her, in recompense of which she had assisted him in death, and had suggested to him the Christian acts necessary to be made at that moment. The saint saw at the same time Jesus upon a throne, and the devil bringing two accusations against the most holy Virgin: the first, that Mary had prevented him from tempting Charles at the moment of death; the second, that Mary herself had presented his soul to its judge, and thus had saved without even giving him an opportunity to expose the reasons why he claimed it as his own. She then saw him driven from the presence of the judge, and the soul of Charles taken to heaven.
"Her bands are a healthful binding; in the latter end thou shalt find rest in her." Blessed art thou, oh brother, if in death thou shalt find thyself bound by the sweet chains of love for the mother of God! These chains are chains of salvation, which will secure to thee eternal salvation, and give thee in death that blessed peace which will be the commencement of thy eternal peace and rest. Father Binetti, in his book "On the Perfections of our Lord," relates that having been present at the death of a devoted servant of Mary, he heard from him these words before he breathed his last: "Oh, my Father, if you knew what happiness I find in having served the most holy mother of God! I could not describe to you the joy I feel at this moment." Father Suarez, because he was all his life very devoted to Mary, used to say, that he would willingly exchange all his knowledge for the merit of one Hail Mary, and died with so much joy, that he exclaimed at his last moment, "I never imagined it would be so sweet to die, non putabam tarn dulce esse mori." You too, devout reader, will doubtless feel the same peace and joy, if at death you can remember having loved this good mother, who cannot but be faithful to her children, when they are faithful to her service, paying her their offerings of visits, rosaries, and fastings, and especially thanking her, praising her, and often commending themselves to her powerful pro tection.
Neither will you be deprived of this consolation on account of your sins, if from henceforth you will be careful to live well, and to serve this very grateful and gracious Lady. In the trials and temptations with which the devil will assail you, that he may throw you into despair, she will comfort you, and even come herself to assist you in death. Martin, brother of St. Peter Damian, as the saint himself relates, finding that he had offended God, went one day before an altar of Mary to dedicate himself to her service, putting his girdle around his neck in token of his servitude, and thus said: "My Lady, mirror of purity, I, a poor sinner, have offended God and thee by violating chastity: I have no other remedy than to offer myself as thy servant; to thy service I dedicate myself to-day; receive this rebel, do not despise me." He then laid on the altar a certain sum of money, promising to pay the same every year as a tribute of his devotion to Mary. After some time Martin died; but before his death he was heard one morning to say:
"Arise, arise, pay homage to my Lady;" and afterwards: " What a favor is this, oh queen of heaven, that thou shouldst con descend to visit this thy poor servant. Bless me, oh Lady, and permit me not to be lost after thou hast honored me with thy presence." At this moment his brother Peter entered. Martin related to him the visit of Mary, and how she had blessed him, lamenting that the persons present had not arisen at her entrance; and shortly after quietly passed away to our Lord. Such will be your death also, oh my reader, if you are faithful to Mary, even if in your past life you have offended God. She will give you a sweet and happy death.
And if then you are greatly alarmed and lose courage in view of the sins you have committed, she will come to comfort you as she came to Adolphus, Count of Alsace, who, having quitted the world and become a Franciscan, as the chronicles relate, was very devoted to the mother of God. His last days arrived, and at the remem brance of the life he had led in the world, and the rigor of divine justice, he began to fear death and doubt of his salvation. Then Mary, who never sleeps when her faithful servants are in trouble, accompanied by many saints, appeared to him, and encouraged him with these tender words of consolation: "My dear Adolphus, thou art mine, thou hast given thyself to me, then why dost thou so greatly fear death?" The servant of Mary was consoled by these words, every fear disappeared, and he died in great peace and contentment.
Let us, too, although we are sinners, take courage and have the confidence that Mary will come to assist us in death, and console us by her presence, if we serve and love her during the remainder of our life on this earth. Our queen, speaking one day to St. Matilda, promised that she would be present at the death of all those devoted children who had faithfully served her in life. Oh my God, what a consolation must it be in that last hour of life, when our lot for eternity is to be decided, to find close by our side the queen of heaven, who sustains and comforts us by promising us her protection! Be sides the examples already cited of the assistance afforded by Mary to her faithful servants, they are innumerable others to be found in various books. This favor was granted to St. Clare, to St. Felix, a Capuchin, to the blessed Clara of Montefalco, to St. Theresa, and St. Peter of Al cantara. But for our common consolation, I will mention the few following examples. Father Crasset relatesf that St. Mary of Oignies saw the blessed Virgin by the pillow of a devout widow of Villembroe, who was tormented by a burning fever. The most holy Mary was standing by her side consoling her, and cooling her with a fan. St. John of God, at death, expected a visit from Mary, to whom he was greatly devoted; but finding she did not come, he was afflicted, and perhaps complained a little. But at length the holy mother appeared to him, and as if reproaching him for his want of confidence, said to him these tender words, which should encourage all the servants of Mary: "John, it is not in my heart, at this hour, to desert my children." As if she had said to him: My John, of what were you thinking? that I had abandoned you? Do you not know that I can not abandon my devoted children at the hour of death? I did not come before, because it was not yet time; but now I come ready to take you, let us go to paradise. And soon after the saint expired, and flew to heaven to give thanks eternally to his most loving queen.
I will now relate another example by way of conclusion to the subject of which I have been just speaking, and for the sake of showing how great is the tenderness of this good mother tow ards her children when they are dying.
The pastor of a certain place went to assist at the death-bed of a rich man. He was dying in a splendid house, and a multitude of relations, friends, and servants, surrounded his bed. But among these, the priest saw a number of devils in the shape of hounds, who waited to seize upon his soul, and who actually did so; for he died in sin. At the same time he was sent for by a poor woman, who was dying, and desired the Holy sacraments; not being able to leave the dying rich man, whose soul was so much in need of his assistance, he sent another priest to her, who accordingly went, carrying with him the holy sacrament. He found in the dwelling of that good woman no servants, no retinue, no splendid furniture, for she was very poor, and we may suppose had only a little straw to lie upon. But what does he see? He sees in that apartment a great light, and near the bed of the dying person was Mary the mother of God, who was consoling her, and with a cloth was wiping the sweat from her brow. The priest seeing Mary, had not the courage to enter, but she made a motion to him to approach. He entered, Mary pointed to a seat, that he might sit down and hear the confession of her servant. The poor woman then made her confession, received the holy sacra ment with much devotion, and at last exptred happily in the arms of Mary.
Oh my sweetest mother, what will be the death of me, a poor sinner? Even now, when thinking of that great moment, in which I must die, and be presented at the divine tribunal, and remem bering how often, by my wicked consent, I my self have written my own sentence of condem nation, I tremble, am confounded, and fear great ly for my eternal salvation. Oh Mary, my hopes are in the blood of Jesus, and in thy intercession. Thou art the Queen of heaven! the Lady of the universe! it is sufficient to say that thou art the mother of God. Thou art great, but thy greatness does not separate thee from us; it even inclines thee to have more compassion on our miseries. When our earthly friends are raised to any dignity, they seclude themselves from those whom they have left in a low estate, and will not condescend even to look at them. But it is not so with thy loving and noble heart. Where thou dost behold the greatest misery, there thou art most intent on giving relief. When invoked, thou dost immediately come to our aid, and even anticipate our supplications; thou dost console us in our afflictions, dissipate all tempests, put down our enemies; in a word, thou dost never omit an opportunity of doing us good. Ever blessed be that divine hand which has united in thee so much majesty and so much tenderness, so much greatness and so much love! I always thank our Lord, and congratu late myself that I can regard thy happiness and mine, thy fate and mine as one. Oh consoler of the afflicted, console in his affliction one who re commends himself to thee. I am tortured with remorse for my many sins; I am uncertain whether I have repented of them as I ought to have done; I see how corrupt and imperfect are all my works. The devil is awaiting my death in order to accuse me. Divine justice violated must be satisfied. Oh my mother, what will become of me? If thou dost not aid me, I am lost. Answel me, wilt thou aid me? Oh merciful Virgin, console me; obtain for me strength to amend, and to be faithful to God during what remains to me of life. And when I shall find myself in the last agony of death, oh Mary! my hope, do not abandon me; then more than ever assist me, and save me from despair at the sight of my sins, of which the devils will accuse me. Oh Lady, pardon my boldness; come, then, thyself to console me by thy presence. Grant me this favor which thou hast bestowed on so many; I also desire it. If my boldness is great, greater still is thy goodness, which seeks the most miserable to console them. In this, thy goodness, I trust. May it be to thy eternal glory that thou hast saved from hell a miserable wretch, and brought him to thy kingdom, where I hope to console myself by being always at thy feet to thank, bless, and love thee throughout eternity. Oh Mary, I wait for thee, do not leave me then disconsolate. Come, come. Amen, amen.