Originally published 10 August, 2010
The saints tell us that the death of sinners is filled with problems. In this sense they do not mean sinners in the broad sense, because we are all sinners, rather sinners with respect to the unrepentant, those who have not yet turned away from their sins and more than likely don’t want to.
There is a aberrant idea today, that on one’s deathbed he is going to get all kinds of graces to convert and have sorrow for one’s sins. While it is possible, no such teaching exists in scripture and tradition. In fact it is the opposite. St. Jerome teaches: “I hold as certain that he who lived an evil life cannot have a good end.” The bible uses the expression “Mors peccatorum pessima” (Psalm XXXIII:22), the death of sinners is the worst. St. Thomas says concerning this:
Deinde cum dicit, mors peccatorum, ponit effectus divinae providentiae quantum ad malos: et circa hoc duo facit. Primo enim ponuntur pericula malorum. Secundo ostenditur quomodo ab his liberat sanctos suos, ibi, redimet.
Corporalis quidem haec est pessima in malis, quia mittuntur ad pessimum locum. Luc. : mortuus est dives, et sepultus est in inferno. item quia perdunt spem gratiae post mortem. (prover. 11) : mortuo homine impio, nulla erit amplius spes. mors ergo peccatorum pessima est, quia moriuntur in corpore et in anima. spiritualis.
Thus when he says the death of sinners, he places the effect of divine providence in such a manner toward the wicked, and concerning this he does two things. First he describes the perils of the wicked; second, it is shown how God liberates his saints from the wicked, at He shall redeem.
The bodily [death] is certainly the worst among the wicked, for they are sent to the worst place. As Luke says: the rich man died and was buried in Hell. The same [sinners] lose the hope of grace after death. As Proverbs 11 says: when the wicked man dies, there will be no hope. Therefore the death of sinners is worst of all, for they die in both body and soul. (Commentary Psalm 33)
St. Alphonsus teaches in his preparation for death:
How will the dying man, who has always lived in sin, be able, in the midst of the pains, the stupefaction, and the confusion of death, to repent sincerely of all his past iniquities ? I say sincerely, because it is not enough to say and to promise with the tongue: it is necessary to promise with the heart? (Book I, ch. 5)
On one’s death bed, the demons will appear and tempt a person with their most predominant fault or perhaps worse things, and if the sinner has not lead a life of grace and holiness there is ample material for one to be tempted. A very holy priest told me once a story from a nurse in a hospital, of an evil man who was brought there to die, and the nurses could tell he was evil just by the things he would say. Once the nurse looked in because she heard the man screaming in total fright, and saw a dark object standing in front of the man, almost like a void which light could not penetrate and immediately the man died. The demon had come to claim him, because when one lives a life of habitual sin the demons will come and claim their property.
St. Alphonsus teaches again from the same work:
The poor dying sinner will be assailed, not by one,but by many causes of distress and anguish. On the one hand, the devils will torment him. At death these horrid enemies exert all their strength to secure the perdition of the soul that is about to leave this world. They know that they have but little time to gain it, and that if they lose it at death, they shall lose it forever. The Devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time (Apoc. xii, 12). The dying man will be tempted, not by one, but by innumerable devils, who will labor for his damnation. Their houses shall be filled with serpents (Isa. xiii, 21). One will say: Fear not; you will recover. Another: You have been deaf to the inspirations of God for so many years, and do you now expect that he will have mercy on you? Another will ask: How can you make satisfaction for all the injuries you have done to the property and character of your neighbors? Another: Do you not see that your confessions have been null, that they have been made without sorrow or a purpose of amendment? How will you now be able to repair them? On the other hand, the dying man will see himself surrounded by his sins. Evils, says David, shall catch the unjust man unto destruction (Ps. cxxxix, 12).
These sins, says St. Bernard, like so many satellites, shall keep him in chains, and shall say unto him: “We are your works; we shall not desert you” (Medit. C. 2). We are your offspring; we will not leave you; we will accompany you to the other world, and will present ourselves with you to the Eternal Judge. The dying man will then wish to shake off such enemies; but, to get rid of them, he must detest them, he must return sincerely to God. His mind is darkened, and his heart hardened. (ibid)
There is yet another story, far more haunting as it is educational, from a Catholic midwife in Germany. This was during World War I, of a case where a woman was brought to her who was bleeding inexplicably, and the horrific things this woman saw when she was dying.
The wife of the canteen proprietor had been brought to the hospital- in a high fever, half unconscious, delirious, bleeding. “Some woman’s trouble,” said the matron. At that time the sisters refused on principle to deal with such cases. It was forbidden by the rules of the Order.
Alas! yes a woman’s trouble [that is an arranged miscarriage]. As had happened so often of late. But the woman’s general condition pointed to very grave complications. It was not a normal miscarriage. There must be some cause for the high temperature. I racked my brains in search of a clue. These people had come to our village shortly before the War and had taken over a canteen. When the war industries were in full swing they had added a casino for the workers, and later they had opened a cinema… Of course the proprietor of the canteen made a lot of money. Why he was not called up for military service nobody knew. All sorts of stories were whispered about. Tales of secret uproarious nights behind closed shutters, of secluded little nooks and corners to which people could withdraw when they wished to be unseen; of guests from outside who frequented the place. There was a lot of talk, but not a word of anything good.
I have never seen the wife in Church-neither in the Catholic Church, nor in the Evangelical Hall for Worship, nor among the Jewish congregation which sometimes met in one of the schoolrooms.
There was no means of knowing whether I ought to send for priest or parson. The sick woman had nothing with her that afforded a clue to any religious interests; only powder, lipstick, eye-drops, nail file, comb, mirror- a dozen unnecessary things; and a card with a name and the words “healer and masseur,” and written below it in pencil “Successor of Dr. M” [who was discovered earlier to be a secret abortionist]. Then I knew that there was something at the back of this. I removed a large clot of black coagulated blood and with it the arm of a child about five months old. ‘Matron, you must get everything ready for an operation before the doctor comes,’ I said. ‘If there is any chance of saving her life, it will only be by an operation.’
Then followed a terrible night, the most terrible I have ever known; and some gruesome days and nights succeeded it. Yet I wished that my experience could have been shared by all those whom the devil ever tempts with thoughts of abortion.
A midwife is accustomed to so many things- to groans and screams, pain and anguish, blood and horror. Where other women would have long since fallen down in a faint or run away, we have to stay and do our work quietly, firmly and resolutely, as though it were not a living body we held in our hands and as though our own heart were not trembling and bleeding. But such an ed as that of this young woman of thirty I hope that I shall never again be called upon to witness.
The twelve strokes of the church clock sounded through the still warm summer night. It had been an oppressively hot day. All the windows had been flung open to let in the coolness of the night. As a rule, sick people like to hear the hour strike. But when this woman heard it, she stared at the door with eyes full of boundless horror; her gaze flickered in the wide-open eyes; her hair stood on end and she tried to leap out of bed and fling herself out of the open window. “Away-let me get away-” panted the pale lips. Beads of sweat stood out on her brow. It took all our strength to hold her down. Then she huddled herself under the blanket and cried and whimpered in terror and anguish…
Yet there was nothing there. Nothing. Not a shadow not a ray of light. The room was wrapped in peaceful semi-darkness. We turned on another of the lights, but the room almost dark, but then she was worse than ever. At length we had recourse to an injection [pain-killer].
We were very loath to do it, but we could not let the woman remain for hours in such a state of excitement. We were already worn out. We could not rid her of her delirious fancies; we did not know whence they arose; and our attempts to reason with here were quite fruitless.
For a time she lay back exhausted, line one dead. With her haggard, waxen face she might have been a woman of seventy. The the horror crept up to her again and she began to talk…
“Now…now they’re coming again… one after the other, one… two, three.. that one is quite big, almost full-grown…four…five…that one is still quite small….six…seven…eight.that one has his head torn off, how he’s carrying it in his hand, nine…ten…that one has lost his legs, but he’s still moving…he’s been cut in two and he’s bleeding…eleven…twelve…and now only an arm and a leg… What have you done with your head…and your other limbs? Why haven’t you any eyes?”
Suddenly she pulled up the blanket and pressed over her face. “No…no…no…go away…go away… you have no right to live…” and she fell back exhausted.
After a while she started again: “Can you hear them talking? Can you hear them… ‘we cannot see the eternal light…we cannot see the eternal light…give us your eyes mother! You have taken away our eyes, give us yours’. Can’t you hear them?…there…one two…three…” And again the terrible counting up to thirteen.
My heart stood still with horror as I suddenly grasped what it meant. Not, it was impossible. They must be mere fevered dreams, delirious fancies. But I could not rid my mind of the thought, and her last words confirmed it: an arm and a leg had so far come away from the child which had been criminally done to death in its mother’s womb. But that it should be the thirteenth….
“What do you want here…now…today? You are dead…you have never lived…I have no children…who sent you here? There…there…they’re all coming back…one…two…three…Can you hear them calling…can you hear them? ‘We cannot enter into eternal rest…we cannot enter into the eternal rest. You have robbed us of our peace…made us homeless…driven us out of our mother’s womb…you have stolen our rest…give us the eternal rest.’ And the eyes… the dreadful hollow eyes.”
The thin fingers of the dying woman pointed to the wall as she began to count once more”Two…four…six…go away…go away.” She stretched out against invisible shapes until she once more collapsed. But she could not rest. A new horror assailed her:
“There…there…one…two…three…bruised…naked…” and she shuddered as though overcome with loathing. “Don’t touch me… go away…away. Don’t you see anything…don’t you hear how they whimper and wail, how they sob and scream…there…and now again…’we have no garment of grace to cover our nakedness…no wedding garment for the eternal marriage feast…we are shut out…frozen…hungry…give us light…make us warm’… Can’t you hear anything? there…here…one…two…three…”
And suddenly, growing quite frantic again, she screamed out: “Go away…don’t touch me…let…let me go…they want to take my eyes…my heart…let me go…let me go…”
She thrust the Sister violently to one side. But fortunately at this moment the doctor arrived. The head of the child was pushed out with a stream of blood. A rapid diagnosis: immediate operation.
The result confirmed my expectation. The child had been cut to pieces in an attempt to remove it; the mother had received several injuries and peritonitis was already developing. What with this and the prolonged hemorrhage, the end might be expected the following day. Word was sent to the husband.
He took the news very calmly until he learned that legal proceedings would certainly follow [abortion was still against the law in Germany, and would remain so until the Nazis legalized it]. Then he too, began to storm-about lawyers, who had nothing better to do than to poke their noses into other people’s married life, instead of looking after their own. While he was cursing, the poor woman who was still partly under the influence of narcotic, began to count once more. The man ran away as though the Furies were after him.
The poor woman screamed and groaned for three days and three nights. Not even the strongest doses of narcotic could procure her rest and oblivion for any length of time. Again and again she saw her thirteen children who had been murdered in her womb come to her with their wailings and reproaches and entreaties. She never recovered consciousness sufficiently to enable us to try and bring her to repentance and guide her back to God, or to ease her of this dreadful torment by reminding her of God’s mercy and goodness. And yet her anguish and distress would not let her die.
After four days her mind suddenly cleared; or at any rate, so it appeared. We sent word to the priest to come once more; and we also sent for the husband. The priest came, but after he had spoken a few words she broke in:
“There are thirteen of them, yes. There is no need to ask…” and as he was to speak of God’s mercy, she said with a last effort: “Let me go…I want to go to hell…I want to pay back the dirty scoundrel for all eternity….” “Dirty scoundrel,” she repeated with her last breath as her husband entered-and with that she died.
–All for the Love of Mothers, pg. 242-247
Our Lord spoke of this when he said: “Behold, the days shall come wherein they shall say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us, and to the hills: Cover us. (Luke XXIII:28)
Mors peccatorum pessima