Tag Archives: death

Interview 026 – Reconquest with Brother André on St. Robert Bellarmine

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On 23 March I was on Reconquest! with Br. Andre Marie, MICM of the St. Benedict Center in New Hampshire to talk about the life and holiness of St. Robert Bellarmine. The first segment is a summary by Brother André, and in the rest of the show I join him to talk about his life, his holiness, the life of churchmen in the 16th century, and how Bellarmine, being full of holiness and love for the poor, excelled as a cardinal and as a scholar.

de_romano_pontifice_vol2_frontNB: I am preparing to release volume 2 of On the Roman Pontiff, which contains books 3-5. I am currently taking pre-orders discounted $6 from what the retail price will be. If you would like to pre-order, you can do so here and I will notify you when it is ready to ship.




Missa Papa Marcelli mentioned in the talk.

Interview 021 – Colin Corcoran on Death, Marriage and Family

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Today we are joined by Colin Corcoran, of “The Catholic Husband“, to share his conversion experience, as well as his thoughts on the struggle of Catholics in the trenches to fully live the sacrament of Matrimony in the difficult times. This is especially timely as the Synod continues to roll forward in Rome.

Interview Notes:

Chapters of Colin’s book “Beyond


Now is the hour to rise from sleep

I will salvage something from the Advent and Christmas sermons of St. Robert Bellarmine, which I announced just the other day will not be out this year, due to focusing on his other works. What follows is his sermon from the first Sunday of Advent, posted today to give place to the celebration of St. Andrew yesterday (as well as that I would rather not post on Sunday). NB: When he says briefly in the first line, that is to be taken in a 16th century sense of “brief”.

Sermon on the Epistle for the First Sunday of Advent
Given at the university of Louvain, 1571 (to the students)
Concio II (Opera Omnia)
St. Robert Bellarmine,
Doctor of the Church
Translated by Ryan Grant (see creative commons license for all questions about copying and citing)

Now is the hour we rise from sleep: now indeed, our salvation is nearer than when we believed. -Rom. XIII.

St.Robert-Bellarmine-2We will briefly explicate this beginning of today’s Epistle, by the Lord’s help: that which, in fact, is lead into one end according to the sense of the Apostle, but is adduced to another end by the Church; to be sure it has been proposed and also fittingly established. But what was proposed by Bl. Paul when he wrote, “Now is the hour we rise from sleep: now indeed, our salvation is nearer than when we believed”? The blessed Apostle wrote to the Romans, and also wished to wake them from the sleep of sin and from negligence, but he uses two arguments to carry this out, the second of which is from a due season; the other was taken up from the proximity of the end. How, indeed, if we should wish to wake someone, wouldn’t we say to him, “Hey you! Wake up!, it is time. For the dawn appears.” But what if he should be such a man from that lot which does not care much whether dawn should appear, but rather gladly sleeps until noon, then wouldn’t we say to him: “Hey you! Get up! The time is at hand to carry out a great business – namely lunch.” The Apostle Paul first exhorts the Romans in the same manner, that they should rise, because it is the hour of rising, for “Night has passed, and moreover, day approaches.” Therefore, because the time of that great meal, which is made in heaven, is near,: “Now indeed, is our salvation nearer, than when we believed.

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St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis meditating on death. -Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

St. Francis meditating on death. -Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

St. Francis is perhaps the universal saint of the universal Church. All of the circumstances of his life were directed, by divine providence, to conform completely to the life of our Savior. Here, I’m providing an excerpt from a book I reprinted, The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, by Candide Chalippe, OFM. It is a truly amazing book, and I can’t recommend it enough. I have also kept the price low so that more people can take advantage of it, while maintaining readability with an excellent layout and beautiful art (not to mention retention of the footnotes, which another edition dropped since many of them attack “the heretics” (usually meaning at that time Protestants, and it was deemed to not be ecumenical).

Count Orlando had a church built in Mount Alvernia, according to the plan which the Saint had given him, which, it was confidently said, had been given to him by the Blessed Virgin, who appeared accompanied by St. John Baptist, and St. John the Evangelist.

While they were at work at his building and at the cells for the brethren, Francis explored the mountain on all its sides, to discover the sites best adapted for contemplation. He found one, where there were some large openings in the rock, great masses overhanging them, deep caverns, and frightful pits; and what seemed to him to be most curious, there was a rock so split that the interior formed a room with a smooth flooring, and a sort of ceiling which had a small opening which admitted the light. He was anxious to know whether this was the natural formation of the rock, or whether it was not the effect of an earthquake; and, after having recited the seven penitential Psalms, he begged God to grant him information on this head. An angel acquainted him, in an apparition, that this had happened at the death of Jesus Christ, when the earth shook and the rocks were rent asunder. This circumstance gave Mount Alvernia additional value in the eyes of the servant of Jesus Christ crucified. He never afterwards saw these openings without thinking of the sufferings his Divine Master endured on the cross,1 and without wishing that his feelings of compassion might break his heart. In the opinion of the holy Fathers, the rocks which were rent when Jesus Christ expired were reproaches to the Jews for the hardness of their hearts, and this reproach falls equally on Christians who are insensible to His sufferings.2

We can have no difficulty in thinking, with Cardinal Baronius, that the rocks on Mount Alvernia were split at the death of our Saviour, since the earthquake was universal, according to the opinions of Eusebius, St. Jerome, and many others, and even according to the testimony of pagan authors.

It is also very credible that the Son of God has manifested to His special servants, some of the effects of this motion of the earth, in order to impress more vividly on their minds the remembrance of His passion: and may we not think that the Lord, who is the beholder of all ages,3 as the wise man says, and who had selected Mount Alvernia as the place in which He would do His servant Francis the favor of imprinting the stigmata on him, as we shall see further on, was pleased to give this mountain some resemblance to that of Calvary, where St. Cyril of Jerusalem assures us, that in his time the rents caused by the earthquake were seen?


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Among the masses of rock on Mount Alvernia, there is one much more elevated and much larger than the rest, and which is separated from them by precipices, to which there is no access but by throwing a bridge across. There, as in an insulated citadel, a celebrated brigand had his stronghold, who was called the Wolf; on account of the plunder and murders he committed in the surrounding country, either by himself, or by the gang of which he was the chief. He often, also, by means of a flying bridge, confined travelers in this place, whom he had surprised on the high-roads, and whom he detained till their ransom was paid. The establishment of Francis and his brethren displeased him greatly: people of that sort do not like having neighbors. He gave them several times notice to begone, and he threatened them should they not obey. Their great poverty gave them nothing to fear from thieves, but there was just cause for apprehending that the murderer might massacre them all. Divine Providence, however, saved them by a change which might well be called the word of the Most High. The villain came one day determined upon expelling them, and used the most atrocious language to them. Francis received him with so much mildness, listened to him with so much patience, and induced him by degrees to hear reason, so that his anger entirely fell, and he not only consented to their remaining, but he begged that they would admit him into their poor dwelling. He witnessed during several days their angelic mode of life, and he became so changed, that he determined upon adopting a similar plan. The Saint perceiving that from a ravenous wolf he was become a gentle lamb, gave him the habit of the Order, and the name of Brother Agnello, under which he expiated his crimes by religious penance, of which he rigidly fulfilled all the duties. This fact was of such notoriety, that the rock to which he used to retire has always been called since, and is still known, by the name of Brother Wolf’s prison.

1Matt. XXVII: 51.

2S Hieron. in Amos. cap. 3.

3Ecclus. XXXVI: 19.

Preparing for Death: Ash Wednesday

Originally Published 18 February, 2010

St. Francis meditating on death -Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

ο χρυσαμοιβος δ’ Αρης ςωματων
και ταλαντουχος εν μαχα δορος πυρωθεν εξ Ιλιου
φιλοισι πεμπει βαρου ψηγμα δυσδακρυτον αντηνορος
σποδου γεμιζων λεβητας ευθετους.

Ares, the money changer of bodies, holding his scales in the battle of the spears, sends back from Ilium (Troy) to their dear ones, heavy dust that has been through the fire, to be sadly wept over, filling easily stowed urns with ash given in exchange for men.
-Aeschylus; Αγαμεμνον, 440-445

The Church gives us a most marvelous celebration with a most marvelous symbol, that of ash. Prior to the fall of man the meaning of this would have been far less significant, because God had bestowed upon Adam and Eve the gift of immortality, something they did not have by divine right, but by divine gift. When nature was disfigured through the fall, man lost this gift, and as such became subject to natural corruption, as God confirmed in His solemn admonition to them in Genesis which the Church repeats for us each Ash Wednesday: Memento homo quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

Man was made from the mud, that is the dirt which had been moistened. Without water, the element which brings life, the dirt is little more than dust (pulvis). Dust is little different from ash, and often times in comparison they are made the same. When that which is not proper to corporeal matter, namely the soul, exits the body, the body returns to this form after death. Thus the Church gives us this most excellent symbol of the ultimate end of our earthly existence, which ties in perfectly with the season. The traditional law in practice, before this lax stage of the Church, required Catholics to fast each and every day of the Lenten season. There is a good and salutary reason for this, namely that in the moral tradition, it takes about 3 weeks to corrupt a vice, and 3 weeks to develop a virtue, which is 6 weeks, just short of the normal run of Lent. Thus the Church’s traditional practice fulfills the natural law with respect to the virtue of fasting more perfectly than the current discipline of only fasting two days of the year. This should also be a sombre warning to Traditionalists, that if they are going to adopt the Church’s perennial tradition, they also must adopt the traditional practice during Lent of daily fasting.

Fasting takes us away from the things we like in this world. The hunger we experience in denying ourselves food, leads us readily into other virtues by which we lose a love for created things. When we love the things of the world, we love things that cannot give us life, and as such we create attachments that lead us to sin and death. Those who go to hell get exactly what they deserve, because in choosing created things, they have chosen things that cannot give life, and as such they will not have it. They will have ash, which is all the things of the world really are, ash is the remnant of something which has had all life, all properties and minerals burned out of it, and what remains is nothing, just a speck of dust. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Aeschylus, in the lines from his play Agamemnon which lead this writing, encapsulate perfectly the endeavors of man without a redeemer. He writes that Ares (who is also the god of war) exchanges urns filled with ash for men, to be wept over by their loved ones, thus it is heavy dust because of the grief which it effects. In his beautiful Greek poetry he expresses a central truth, that the endeavors of men come to nothing, that an event so seemingly noble as the war on Troy should reduce stout men to mere ash.

It is thus that the Church opens up a season of fasting with the image of the ultimate parting of man from worldly goods, marked upon his forehead in the shape of the cross, a symbol of death as well as life, of the death that must be made first in this world to rejoice in life in the next. The mark of ash is a reminder to man that death is the end of all things, and what is left in this world is mere dust, while what we take with us, are the virtues of fasting and supernatural fortitude which we habituate our souls to by the activity of this season.

What’s more, every man understands this, even the delusional. This is why so many who are normally absent on holy days of obligation, who sometimes don’t show up every Sunday, will go to Ash Wednesday Mass. Non-Catholics will come to Ash Wednesday Masses in order to get ashes, not just because it is cool to do it (if it were they might do so at home), but also because at some level they understand that they are dust, and the symbol resonates with them although they don’t know why. For us who do know why, how much more a sign these ashes are of our ultimate end, and what the pleasures of this life will bring us. Lastly, where do these ashes come from? They are burned from the Palm Branches with which we formerly bid our Lord entrance into Jerusalem (mystically at the Palm Sunday liturgy of the previous year), and these testaments to our unbelief, and betrayal marked in every sin are burned, because in the act of our Blessed Lord’s redemption, our sins become just as all the things in this world… ash. Ad pulverem reverteris.

The Mystery of Fasting and Lent

Originally published 22 February, 2007

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. (Genesis III:19)

These words from the ceremonies by which we commence Lent is indicative of several things we necessarily must keep in mind.

The First is the Latin words address each of us individually. Memento homo, quia pulvis es, etc. Remember O Man, that thou art dust. Almighty God is speaking to us, to remind us that in the greater scheme of things we don’t matter. We are but a speck of dust which He made out of nothing, something to keep in mind lest we get puffed up or full of ourselves, or think somehow we are great because we have money, or a Theology degree or something. And again we shall return to dust. We will die one day and make an account of ourselves, and there is nothing that can be done to escape it.

God addresses the individual, not some social group, he is not setting an action plan against poverty, or “injustice” or societal discontent. Neither are we hearing that we are perfect and must fight against society now. This is generally the message of today’s Social Gospel or Social Justice Theologians. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said once “It used to be that only Catholics believed in the Immaculate Conception, now every man believes he is Immaculately Conceived.” (Is Christendom dead?) This feature of society, the denial of original sin, the elements of that have sunk into Catholics on both the left and the right. On the left, they deny the doctrine of original sin. We don’t have any sin, it is society, business, the government, those are the evils which we must fight. But we don’t need to go to confession. Then on the right, there is a different evil. Unlike those apostates I have the Traditional Latin Mass, or the equivalent expression on the neo-conservative Catholic end. I am not like that man. I eat fish on Friday and I only go to Mass in Latin, and I pray a rosary and I don’t get drunk and I don’t act like the heathen, so I am better than them. Both of these attitudes suffer from the same problem: The problem isn’t with me, it is with society, it is with someone else. It is the same reality following sin which began in the garden of Eden, Adam, when asked why he failed blamed his wife rather than himself, and Eve blamed the Serpent. No one could say, as King David in the 50th psalm: Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco, et peccatum meam contra me est semper. (Psalm L:4)

However, like any other man, each one of us is dust. We are as weak as dust. We are all equally capable of any crime, and often commit crimes that are as bad as others. I am quite capable of doing a whole host of evils that I can’t even conceive of. I don’t say that because I am likely to do them (God forbid), but because I can do them in light of my fallen human nature, just as any other man. I can lie, cheat, steal, murder, commit adultery, commit idolatry, take the holy name of God in vain, ignore the poor, hate my neighbor, be gluttonous, drunk, use obscene filthy language, just as any other man. There is nothing in my nature to stop that, because even though my will is oriented toward the good, due to my fallen nature it does not distinguish between an immediate good and an eternal good without the light of reason, and faith derived from supernatural grace.

Dom Gueranger says:

When the priest puts the holy emblem of penance [ash] upon you accept in a spirit of submission, the sentence of death, which God Himself pronounces against you: “Remember O Man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return!” Humble yourself, and remember what it was that brought the punishment of death upon us: man wished to be as a god, and preferred his own will to that of his sovereign Master. Reflect too, on that long list of sins, which you have added to the sin of your first parents, and adore the mercy of your God, who asks only one death for all these transgressions. (Liturgical Year vol 4, Ash Wednesday)

It is with this in mind that the Church commences Lent, that we may consider our faults, our nothingness, rather than our pluses or net worth and move toward making ourselves one with Christ on the cross.

To accomplish this, the Church employs several things for this season. Purple, the liturgical color of penance in the liturgy. The organ is practically silenced, whereas normally (in the ideal situation of course) it is present in all the chants of the liturgy. The epistles transform into Old Testament lessons, and the breviary picks up all the ancient prophecies and types of Christ, to prepare us for the resurrection, the fulfillment of everything past, present and future. Outside of the liturgy, the Church exhorts us to fast. Traditionally, the Church ordered us to fast every day of Lent with the exception of Sunday, while abstaining from meat on Fridays. That in and of itself is a simplification of still ancient and stricter regulations, and is comparatively light by the standards of the Eastern Church, where no meat is eaten or dairy, eggs or oil consumed until Easter (except that on Saturday and Sunday all but abstention from meat and dairy is relaxed).

Since Vatican II, the ideal of fasting has been thrown out the window like the proverbial baby in the bath water. The Traditional Ember days, by which in each season the Church instituted days of fast and abstinence for her intentions were eliminated, all fasting in Lent was reduced to Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, and even abstinence is rolled back on those unfortunate Fridays where St. Patrick’s feast day occurs. Fasting or abstinence on vigils of the great feasts has also been eliminated, and it is suggested that those who do so are too rigid, divisive or are engaged in an “unhealthy” spirituality. Much the same way that those who cling to the Traditional Mass are said to be engaging in an unhealthy spirituality or something of that sort, for merely doing what Catholics for over a thousand years did, but I digress……

The reality is fasting and penance are things totally unknown to the world of today, and less known to the Church of today. Even among Traditional Catholics, though not most by far yet enough to be of some concern, the concept of penance and fasting as the fathers understood it tends to be weak, and it is not necessarily their fault. Just as there is a crisis of fatherhood in society, so there is also in the Church, from the Pope down to the parish priest, no one wants to be a Father, just an adviser, (and if a priest dares to do otherwise he is sent off to receive mental help) that way they need not take responsibility and bear blame. Thus, who is there to lead the faithful? Not all the faithful will readily understand theology, or the reason for discipline. The reality is while the modern prelates in the hierarchy are concerned about modern man’s disposition and how to lower the standards to meet his “needs” (which are really wants), the reality is that it is man who must raise his standards to meet God’s.

Fasting in the greater scheme of things, is not as difficult as some would make it seem, yet it is an extremely valuable tool in disciplining our senses, in practicing due modesty, and in laying the foundation for sanctification in our daily lives. Modern man is no more unable to fast than his medieval or ancient predecessors. It is merely a question of priorities. People are always willing to sacrifice and make things happen in order to meet their priorities. For example, a parent that really loves their child will make the sacrifices of time, money, and many other things to make certain their children grow up safe, and are well fed and taken care of. A single mother will work 2 jobs sometimes so that she can afford to provide for her children, because her children are a priority. People are sure to be present loyally at the TV during a given time on a given night for a basketball game, because they make that their priority. People put away money all year around so that they can spend a small fortune on Christmas presents, because they make that their priority.

It should come of no surprise that to accomplish the things of God takes nothing other than one making that their priority. What is important to you? If God is important to you, if Christ and His Church is important to you, than making the necessary sacrifices to conform to Church Law should be a simple matter of priorities, as is mammon. Making a regulated life, where fasting becomes a priority 40+ days of the year, is not an impossibility for moderns, it is just a matter of the will. Thus modern prelates err gravely when they focus on making it easier for the spirit of the age, rather than preaching the conforming of the spirit of the age to Jesus Christ.

Given the modern Church has no interest in calling us back, and that even in the monasteries of the Novus Ordo one can scarcely find days of fast, it is up to those of us who would say we are the remnant of the Church’s discipline and her sacraments to lead by example. Not so that we might say I am better than that man, but so that we might say Lord have mercy on me, a sinner, remembering that we are but dust, just as our brothers in the Novus Ordo, and that we are no less accountable than they, just because we have been fortunate enough to retain the glory of Catholic Tradition.

Building a culture of… death?

Originally published 13 October, 2008

Much is said today about a culture of life, and it is done so rightly. The culture of death is in fact a culture surrounding true death, eternal damnation and the vices that please the devil.

Nevertheless, I’ve chosen a provocative title for this post because as Catholicism is a culture of life, it is also a culture of death, that is holy death, because one can not enter eternal life except through the door opened by death itself. As through the example of our Blessed Lord, we can’t have an Easter Sunday without first having a Good Friday.

Traditionally, death has been quite visible to Catholics, and the saints are often depicted with skulls, by skulls, and at times embracing skeletons or before the Grim Reaper. At Requiem Masses (until about 40 years ago) priests wore black, to symbolize death, the shortness of life, and to remind us that our time is coming, though we know not when. To a modern Catholic, such a visage almost belongs to another religion. The first time I saw a requiem Mass with black vestments, I was still new to the Traditional Liturgy, and truthfully, it was something that almost contrasted with my experience of the liturgy in the Novus Ordo. There, for funerals they wear white vestments and release balloons as a sign the person is in heaven (which is blasphemous since the point of a funeral Mass is to pray for the soul because we don’t know where it is). Black vestments, 100% beeswax candles (a rubric for requiems), pictures in the missal adorned with skulls, all of these and the glorious Dies Irae were something I had never seen in 3 years of being Catholic, and it not only seemed like a relic, but it also seemed alien.

This is because it is alien to modern culture, and only within the Church’s classical Liturgical tradition East and West is the concept incorporated at all, with the exception of those priests who have brought it back into the Novus Ordo. The loss of the concept of death has also led to the loss of its fear, and its preparation. There was some idiotic shirt when I was growing up, which said “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Now, even from a non-religious standpoint, he who dies is just plain dead! He doesn’t get to take anything with him, neither money nor toys.

This became absolutely clear to St. Francis Borgia, a holy Jesuit whose feast we celebrated only a few days ago. He walked with the casket of Queen Isabella of Portugal, Charles V’s wife and mother of the future Philip II on procession. On the way it was opened, exposing her rotting flesh and the stench of her corpse. She was the married to the greatest monarch of all Christendom, the most renowned, the most revered.  She was seen as the ideal of a monarch, and also the incarnation of heavenly glory. When the flesh rotted from her face there wasn’t a bone’s difference between her and a peasant draped in rags. This thought was not lost on St. Francis Borgia, who contemplated the corpse when all others had run away due to the stench. He vowed never again to serve a master who should perish and rot, nor work for glory that will sit here on the earth when he rots, but rather, to serve the Lord of Heaven and Earth who alone shall not die. When his wife died, he renounced his titles and became a Jesuit.

Saints are often depicted with skulls to be a reminder of death. St. Charles Borromeo is said to have kept a skull on his desk, likewise Cardinal Baronius the great Church historian who inscribed into it an expression used by Carthusian monks when greeting each other “memento mori“. Our culture, while on the one hand exulting in death, be it in war, video games, murder, or the mass murder of our unborn children, fears it on the other. No one stops to think that the world will end, that they will end. First and foremost in this category, are the majority of baptized Catholics in our culture. Why do I mention that? Because our empirical experience can verify this. There is not enough thought of death for whatever reason one might gather. Instead, they are worried about ordering the house, investments, jobs, computers, internet, friends, parties, and in the back of their minds Mass on Sunday, and for a smaller segment, confession once in a while. Do they ever stop and think that they might die today? Might you not die from a massive heart attack as you read this? (God forbid)

How many people are there, who not only delay a thought of death until it confronts them, but also, say idiotic things like “I’ll convert on my deathbed!” I can not tell you how many people, be they Catholics or Protestants, justify their evils by claiming they will convert on their deathbed? How many more non-believers who entertain some thought of afterlife, say “well, I’ll convert on my deathbed.” What if there is no deathbed? What if you die in your sleep, a ripe 45, thinking that you’ve got 50 more years? What if you die in a car accident, which is a good chance for Americans since more of us are killed by traffic incidents than by guns, disease and natural disasters put together! There is no time to stop and say as much as “Lord I’m sorry”, and if one dies in mortal sin he will go straight to hell.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri says on this subject:

The time of death is a time of storm and confusion. At that awful hour sinners call on God for assistance; but they invoke his aid through the fear of hell, which they see at hand, and not with true contrition of heart. It is for this reason that God is deaf to their cry; it is for this reason also that they will then taste the fruit of their wicked life. What they have sown they shall reap. Ah! it will not then be enough to receive the sacraments; it is necessary at death to hate sin, and to love God above all things. But how can he, then hate forbidden pleasures, who has loved them till that moment? How can he love God above all things, who has till then loved creatures more than he has loved God? (Preparation for Death, Consideration X)

To bring Catholics back to a holy consideration of death, we must rebuild a culture of holy death, where we present to men the reality of our death, and its cruel inescapable reality. The first step as always is through the re-establishment of sacred signs. By this I mean common requiem Masses, and common does not mean every day, but frequently in a parish. We need a return of black vestments, or at the very least, funeral Masses ought to be said in purple if not black, and white completely banned. The concept of penance and prayer for the dead is essential not only in forming a healthy eschatology but also in preparing the faithful to seriously contemplate their own deaths. How will you stand before your creator? God is merciful, but He will not be mocked, for He is also just.

Lastly, it should be preached upon as often as possible, and parents should follow the lead of the Church and help their children learn to practice preparation for a Holy death. “Oh that’s so morbid!” Yes. Yet if we consider the saints, or better yet, consider the blessed Fatima children. Our Lady showed them Hell and all of its torments. The Mother of God, so pure, so loving, showed to 3 children the terror and torment of hell! If she can do that, there is simply no good reason why we can not prepare our children for a holy death, which is far less dramatic than showing them hell. These are the building blocks by which we can recover the thought of a holy death in Catholic culture, and through it recover society for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, remembering always that this is not our true home, rather, it is a temporary journey to that blessed Patria which is our eternal resting place, to which we can take nothing with us.

Mors Peccatorum Pessima

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