SIX VOLUMES IN ONE BY THE DISTINGUISHED EXPONENTS OF CATHOLICISM REV. HENRY DODRIDGE, D. D. REV. HENRY EDWARD MANNING, D. D.REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada REV. STEPHEN KEENAN REV. BERNARD VAUGHAN, S. J. REV. THOMAS N. BURKE, O. P.
What more striking example of this confident hope can we find than that of the glorious St. Martin? Seeing the devil beside his bed at the hour of death, he cried out, "What art thou doing here, cruel beast? Thou wilt find no mortal sin in my soul by which thou mayest bind me. I go, therefore, to enjoy eternal peace in Abraham's bosom." Equally touching and beautiful was the confidence of our holy Father, St. Dominic. Seeing the religious of his order weeping around his bed, he said to them, "Weep not, my children, for I can do you more good where I am going than I could ever hope to do on earth." How could the fear of death overcome one who so confidently hoped to obtain Heaven, not only for himself, but also for his disciples? Far, then, from fearing death, the just hail it as the hour of their deliverance and the beginning of their reward. In his commentary on the Epistle of St. John, St. Augustine writes, "It cannot be said that he who desires to be dissolved and to be with Christ endures death with patience, but rather that he endures life with patience and embraces death with joy." It is not, therefore, with cries and lamentations that the just man sees his end approaching, but – like the swan, which is said to sing as death draws near – he departs this life with words of praise and thanksgiving on his lips. He does not fear death, because he has always feared God, and he who fears God need fear nothing else. He does not fear death, because his life has been a preparation for death, and he who is always armed and ready need not fear the enemy. He does not fear death, because he has sought during life to secure in virtue and good works powerful advocates for that terrible hour. He does not fear death, because he has endeavored, by devoted service, to incline his Judge in his favor. Finally, he does not fear death, because to the just, death is only a sweet sleep, the end of toil, and the beginning of a blessed immortality. Nor can the accompanying accidents and pains of death alarm him, for he knows that they are but the throes and pangs in which he must be brought forth to eternal life. He is not dismayed by the memory of his sins or the rigor of God's justice, since he has Christ for his Friend and Advocate. He does not tremble at the presence of Satan and his followers, for his Redeemer, who has conquered Hell and ! death, stands at his side. For him the tomb has no terrors, for he knows that he must sow a natural body in order that it may rise a spiritual body, that this corruptible must put on incorruption. (Cf. 1Cor. 15:42,44).
Since, as we have already remarked, the end crowns the work, and, as Seneca tells us, the last day condemns or justifies the whole life, how can we, beholding the peaceful and blessed death of the just and the miserable departure of the wicked, seek for any other motive to make us embrace a life of virtue? Of what avail will be the riches and prosperity which you may enjoy during your short stay in this life, if your eternity will be spent in the endless torments of Hell? Or how can you shrink from the temporary sufferings that will win for you an eternity of happiness? Of what advantage are learning and skill, if the sinner uses them only to acquire those things which flatter his pride, feed his sensuality, confirm him in sin, make him unfit to practice virtue, and thus render death as bitter and unwelcome as his life was pleasant and luxurious? We consider him a wise and skillful physician who prudently seeks by every it means to restore the health of his patient, since this is the end of his science. So is he truly wise who regulates his life with a view to his last end, who constantly employs all the means in his power to fit himself for a happy death. Behold, then, dear Christian, the twelve fruits of virtue in this life. They are like the twelve fruits of the tree of life seen by St. John in his prophetic vision. (Cf. Apoc. 22:2). This tree represents Jesus Christ, and is also a symbol of virtue with its abundant fruits of holiness and life. And what fruits can be compared to those which we have been considering? What is there more consoling than the fatherly care with which God surrounds the just? What blessings equal those of divine grace, of heavenly wisdom, of the consolations of the Holy Spirit, of the testimony of a good conscience, of invincible hope, of unfailing efficacy in prayer, and of that peaceful and happy death with which the just man's life is crowned? But one of these fruits, rightly known and appreciated, should suffice to make us embrace virtue. Think not that you will ever regret any labor or any sacrifice made in pursuit of so great a good. The wicked do not strive to attain it, for they know not its value. To them the kingdom of Heaven is like a hidden treasure. (Cf. Matt. 13:44). And yet it is only through the divine light and the practice of virtue that they will learn its beauty and worth. Seek, therefore, this light, and you will find the pearl of great price. Do not leave the source of eternal life to drink at the turbid streams of the world. Follow the counsel of the prophet, and taste and see that the Lord is sweet. Trusting in Our Saviour's words, resolutely enter the path of virtue, and your illusions will vanish. The serpent into which the rod of Moses was converted was frightful at a distance, but at the touch of his hand it became again a harmless rod. To the wicked, virtue wears a forbidding look; to sacrifice their worldly pleasures for her would be to buy her at too dear a rate. But when they draw near they see how lovely she is, and when they have once tasted the sweetness she possesses they cheerfully surrender all they have to win her friendship and love. How gladly did the man in the Gospel hasten to sell all he had to purchase the field which contained a treasure! (Cf. Matt. 13:44).
Why, then, do Christians make so little effort to obtain this inestimable good? If a companion assured you that a treasure lay hidden in your house, you would not fail to search for it, even though you doubted its existence. Yet though you know, on the infallible word of God, that you can find a priceless treasure within your own breast, you do nothing to discover it. Oh! That you would realize its value! Would that you knew how little it costs to obtain it, and how "nigh is the Lord unto all them that call upon him, that call upon him in truth" (Ps. 144:18)! Be mindful of the prodigal, of so many others who have returned from sin and error, to find, instead of an angry Judge, a loving Father awaiting them. Do penance, therefore, for your sins, and God will no longer remember your iniquities (Cf. Ezech. 18:21-22). Return to your loving Father; rise with the dawn and knock at the gates of His mercy; humbly persevere in your entreaties, and He will not fail to reveal to you the treasure of His love. Having once experienced the sweetness which it contains, you will say with the spouse in the Canticle, "If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing." (Cant. 8:7).