All of us will die!
The Church’s definition for death is the separation of the immortal soul from the body. The soul is the substantial form of the body. This means that it is the soul that makes our body human. The soul remains in the body as long as the body can maintain the activities that are proper to the soul – like thinking and eating. Once the body gets to the point where the soul can no longer act through the body, then the soul departs from it. Death is God’s dose of reality. It brings man to a state of sobriety about his condition and his state. It brings home to man that he is sinful. Because he is plagued both by original and actual sin, his sentence is death. Death is something that makes us sober from the drunkenness that the things of this world can bring. Death brings us away from the pleasures of this world that come and go. Death reminds us that all things in this life are passing and meaningless unless they are referred back to the One who carries out the sentencing for our sinfulness – God. St. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death. If we turn from God searching for things that cannot provide life, He will give us what we asked for. Through death we learn that we are not the final arbiters of right and wrong, of truth and falsity, or reality. While many people do not want to accept that there is an absolute truth out there, one thing that they will agree upon is that we are all going to die.
Death is God telling us what to do. He ultimately has power over our life and our death. He tells us in the scriptures that death is a punishment for sinfulness, for not doing what He told us to do. Saint Alphonsus Liguori tells us that “death is the end of all things as it deprives us of everything except that which is in our soul.” When you die, there are three things that you take with you. The first is the merits that you gained in this world by doing good works in the state of grace. If you are not in the state of grace when performing a good work, it merits nothing in the eyes of God. While the work is still “good” it merits nothing in the way of a heavenly reward. The second of the three things is your state of grace. The last things that you take with you are your virtues and your vices. If you have vices, you will go to purgatory where they will be purged unless you die as a martyr. A martyr relinquishes all things of this life to pursue God alone. This means that he has forsaken all things in this life to which his vices have been ordered. Our vices are ordered toward particular created things that we like. In death we are cut off from them. This is one of the reasons why the souls in purgatory can no longer sin. You bring your virtues and your vices with you when you stand before God in judgment.
Life is short and death comes quickly. This is why the saints tell us not to waste time. It is on earth that you have the opportunity to merit a higher place in heaven. As Saint Paul says “Run to win the prize.” By this he means, strive for the highest place in heaven that you can before you die. God has preordained that when the angels fell from heaven, it left gaps in the hierarchy of grace. So, God created man so that he can take the place of the angels who had fallen. This means that He has a specific place for each person in heaven. Death reminds us that we only have a certain amount of time to achieve that standard. Because of our failings in this life, most people will not achieve what God had planned for us in this life. The saints do because of their perfection. We must do all that we can to purge ourselves to merit that place in heaven that God has planned for us. We do not know the day or the hour of our death. It is by God’s grace that he gives us the time to get to confession to clear up our mortal sins and obtain the grace to turn back to Him. God knows how we will die and has a specific type of death planned for each of us. The saints embrace the type of death that God had envisioned for them.
The death of the sinner
St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us that scripture is clear about the death of those that do their own will. The death of a sinner is the worst type of death. People who live life this way see death as the worst thing that could happen to them because God is putting an end to their sin. Because certain people are so habituated in sin, the Catholic Church previously held that the death penalty was acceptable in these cases so as to prevent the soul from lower its place in hell.
St. Alphonsus goes on to say that the death of the sinner is fraught with all sorts of troubles. Demons will be present to tempt the departing soul with the sins of his past life and things that he has never even done before. The demons try to get the soul focused on its predominant fault. Each of us has a vice that is the worst of all of them. St. Theresa of Avila tells us to work on that particular vice to eliminate it from our life. This will eliminate other vices in our life that pertain to it. Then you move on to the next one until you have finally gotten rid of them all. By doing so, you remove the ability for the demons to use them against you at the hour of your death. We can be our own worst enemy at our death if we do not address this. St. Alphonsus says that the demons come to claim their property. If the soul is in a state of sin, then the soul is their property. Those in sin suffer from the fear of hell and judgment, though this is not enough to drive them to repentance. St. Thomas says that when we get into a certain disposition relative to a vice, it begins to give us a certain pleasure – for example anger or sorrow. Those who get accustomed to the fear of damnation, actually get a certain pleasure out of it. For this reason St. Bonaventure says that those about to be damned enjoy the danger associated with it. They do not think that damnation is that bad so there is no motivation for repentance.
A Catholic that leads a life of holiness and grace has a clear understanding of the reality of the final judgment, the reality of death, and the meaning of that and what comes next – heaven or hell. These people have an understanding of the immortality of a soul. St. Thomas says that one of the reasons that there is a resurrection is that when the soul is separated from the body, it is in an unnatural state. It is designed to operate through matter – it is what makes us human. This is why the souls in heaven want their body back. So these Catholics that understand this attempt to care for their soul to make sure that it ends up in the right place. There is a qualitative difference for those participating in a funeral mass that have an understanding for this immortal state of a soul. In the Requiem Mass it is stated that “God you transform life not take it away.” Those who recognize this have a sense of peace. As a Catholic you can receive the sacraments and prepare yourself for death having the peace that results from this. Catholicism is the hardest religion to live and the easiest to die!
Those who are sinners have remorse for the loss of their life as they can no longer commit sins. They have remorse of conscience – that is their conscience nags them. The conscience does three things. It tells us that something we are about to do is either good or bad, it tells us that what has been done in the past is either good or bad, and it nags us. Souls in hell suffer from a constant remorse and sorrow for the sins that they committed that caused their damnation.
We die the way we lived! If we habitually sinned in life, our habits are not going to leave us on our deathbed. So if you do not want to remain in sin when you die, you must work to eradicate those sins from your life now.
The death of a lukewarm soul
The lukewarm tried a little bit toward having a faith in this life though never really excelled at it. This type of person tends to be focused on their health rather than the state of their soul. St. Alphonsus tells us that these people are filled with confusion and error in part because of the uncertainty about the outcome of their lives.
Most people think that the lack of sin in life is the highest that you can reach. It is not! The saints make it clear that this is the beginning of the spiritual life. The first step in the spiritual life is to stop sinning. While people will say that this is not possible – it is! There is grace! If you have perfect fidelity to grace God will slowly and surely lead you out of sinning. Those who do not stop sinning have an uncertainty about the outcome of their life because the disposition of their soul may not be able to fight off the demonic attack that will come as they are dying. They tend to doubt God’s mercy and providence. They suffer from the attachments of this world. This person is concerned with the disposition of his earthly goods rather than focused on the preparation of his soul for death. They lack fervor when they die. They fear that they have not made sufficient reparation for their sins. Most people have the idea that when they go to confession they don’t ever have to think about those sins again. This is not true. Every sin that you commit is going to be presented at the general judgment. Through God’s mercy they may have been forgiven, they have caused other problems such as vices and imperfections. Every time you commit a sin it leaves disorders in the soul. So when you go to confession and confess your sin, the sin is forgiven returning you to a state of grace. However, the effects of the sin continue. This means that we have to perform actions to root these effects out so that we will be perfected. Because to committed these sins you detracted from the glory of God and you have to pay Him back. It is like theft! All of creation is God’s property which He created for Himself and His own glory. When you commit a sin you detract from His glory. This is why acts of reparation are required for sins of our past life. The lukewarm soul realizes that he has not made sufficient reparation for his sins. He regrets that he did not do enough.
The death of the just soul
Death is also an act of God’s mercy in two ways. It is an act of mercy for those living a life of holiness because they are relieved of the toils and sufferings of this life. Saint Teresa of Avila talks about the “rendering of the veil” which is the desire to see God. It is death that is keeping you from seeing God. In the highest state of perfection we constantly seek God’s will for our life. Most think that having a desire for death is morbid and that there is something wrong with that way of thinking. On the contrary, when one is striving for perfection they are ordering their faculties towards God. The Baltimore Catechism tells us that we are created to love and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him in the next life. This means that we are created to be perfectly ordered towards God. The more we are focused on God, the more rightly ordered we become, and the more peaceful we become. Therefore, for the soul of the just death is actually a joyful thing as they are getting beyond this life and heading toward that which they have spent this life trying to achieve. To the just soul, death is a great grace as they know that they will not be able to sin any longer. For those striving for perfection, sin is a nuisance and is painful. He rejoices in not having to deal with the disorders associated with original sin. St. Ambrose says that “death is the burial of vices.” Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones. Death of the good person is pleasing to God as the soul reaches that goal for which it has been striving.
Death is accompanied with suffering. The reason God finds the death of the just man precious is because they merit more. They are offering up their sufferings, their very life as it is the last thing that they can offer to God. Death is the end to toils and pains. Death does not cause fear to the just, rather provides a peace. The souls of the just have no reason to fear, for they have no concerns about making up for the sins of their past life. Nor do they have to fear their judgment. They desire to embrace the sufferings of their death in order to give more glory to God. Death of the just is a victory. Attempts by demonic temptation are in vain. The perfected long for death because it is the means for going to God. Death is the means to eternal life. St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us that “the just die with a foretaste of celestial joy.” The souls of the just die with a sense of tranquility.
What can we do to prepare ourselves for death?
First, don’t wait until the last minute to prepare for death. Next, begin working on your sins and imperfections now. Then, pray for final penitence. There is a common misunderstanding that God gives all these graces on the deathbed needed to be saved. This is not true. St. Alphonsus Liguori says that God preordains that only a certain number of mortal sins will be tolerated in a particular individual’s life. Once this limit is reached, God “cuts him off”. No one can repent for their sins without grace. It is possible for someone to pray for this individual asking God to give them another chance which God may allow. The moral of the story is to get your life in order and stop sinning. Don’t suffer from the sin of presumption. The grace for your salvation may come earlier in life than at your deathbed. You must be faithful to that grace from the time that it is offered. Pray that on your deathbed that you will receive the grace to be sorry for your sins. Pray a daily rosary. The Blessed Mother has promised for those who pray a daily rosary that they will not die an “unprovided for death” – they shall not perish and will receive graces at their death. So, praying a daily rosary is a sign of predestination to heaven and a sign of hope. Do not presume that you are going to be able to pull off the big “I am sorry Lord” at the end as there may not be the time or grace. Don’t be presumptuous. Get to confession regularly. Make acts of contrition on a habitual basis – be sorry for your sins. Why? Remember that you are going to take your habits with you to your death. Keep your life simple and your conscience clear. Stay detached from things. Don’t sin! If you do sin, get to confession. Spiritually profit from your time here on earth. Avoid spiritual sloth. St. Thomas says that sloth is a sorrow, hatred, or distaste for holy things – like prayer. Meditate frequently on the vanity of the world and the need for salvation. Make acts of charity. Make acts of hope so that you will depend on God’s providence for your salvation and that on your deathbed you can avoid despair. Get into the habit of prayer. Work on your focus while praying so that on your deathbed you are not distracted. Practice a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart. Our Lord says that those who establish a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart shall find in His heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of death. This is an assurance from God that He will give you that which you need on your deathbed and during any last agony. Go to First Friday devotions, which is a devotion to the Sacred Heart. This you can offer up for the grace to receive final penitence. This devotion assures you of a place of refuge in your final hours. Have a strong devotion to the mercy of God and make reparation for the sins of your past life so that you will have no fear of the judgment that stands between you and heaven.
Your death is coming! God knows the exact moment in time that your soul will depart from your body. He wants you to gain as much merit as you can for your place in heaven. Don’t waste time!
Thank you to Father Ripperger for sharing his teachings with us and for allowing us to post these notes from his teachings. For more content on other topics from Father Ripperger, see the following link: