Father Faber (Spiritual Conferences)
I. The Aspects of Death
The act of dying is, moreover, a punishment, and the most ancient of all punishments. It is the Creator’s first punishment of the sinning creature, invented by the Creator himself, the first promulgated invention of his vindictive justice.
A punishment, the oldest punishment, the punishment of God’s own pure invention, -we may not do otherwise than tremble at it. It is a surprising mercy that we are even bidden to be hopeful.
There is no doubt that where death is busy the evil spirits are busy also. A death-bed is a choice time and place for their presence and their machinations.
Death is also not infrequently a secret chamber in which God appoints a private and special interview with his failing creature. Sometimes it is to praise, and cheer, and to give us an assurance and a foretaste of our bliss. Sometimes it is to punish, mercifully, very mercifully, yet also, considering time and place, very severely, - as if he partially judges us before the time, that he might punish s on this die the grave. He has perhaps been offended with particular acts of our past life, and he has said nothing, but waited till now, and now he punishes.
Either he sends panics into our souls, or gives us a piercing vision of these particular faults, or permits temptations, such temptations as are congenial to those faults; or in some other way he chastises us, and it is hard to bear, though it is a mighty love. He thus makes death doubly a punishment, - a private punishment as well as a public one. In many cases the death-bed is thus a double one.
III. Preparation for Death
Life, as no one can doubt, is more important than death. If death has a great influence on life, the influence of life on death is still greater. In fact, the work of death can only be done safely in life. There are exceptions, to show how God can stretch his mercy, and alos to magnify the efficacy of grace. But as the good life is worth nothing, so far as eternity is concerned, unless it is crowned by a good death, so a good death, though not impossible, is the exception where the life has not been good. Still, though an exception, it is possible, and therefore from one point of view we may sat that death looks more important than life. Nevertheless it may only be a seeming; for who knows whether some good thing among much evil, something striven for and clung to, even where there appeared no signs of strife, may not be the secret course of those prodigious interventions of grace which occur sometimes in the death of sinners? Perhaps also such interventions have never happened to those who presume upon them beforehand and deliberately delayed turning to God through a profane confidence in the graces and opportunities of death. But the practical truth is that which teaches us at once the most sober an solemn view of life, - that every single thing we do is actually making death either harder or easier.
The second thing I alluded to is perpetual thanksgiving for the death of Christ. All holy deaths come out of his. If he had not died, how should we dare to die? He is the Creator. He invented the punishment of death. He also must suffer it. It was his own law of love,. He has enlarged the gates of death and hung lamps over them. It is strange how the elder saints dared to die. No wonder they speak of it so awfully, as if it led into such terrible darkness, and looked like an end of all things, almost like an extinguishing of immortality. Great was their faith, these old patriarchs, kings, and prophets, But how different is death to us! Christ has died. A new creation were surely a less change. AS death was the peculiar punishment invented by God for sin, so was the death of our Lord – precisely his death, and nothing else – the peculiar price exacted by the Father for the redemption of the world.
Not to fear death is a slight to him who made it our special punishment.
Not to desire death is an indifference to him whom we can only reach by passing through it.
The fear of death, which is desirable, the fear of it which is almost indispensable to holiness, is rather the fear of God that the fear of death, the fear of God localized as in a shrine, determined to a particular time, as if it were a ritual in which he would make some dread but gracious manifestation of himself. This fear is full of grace and hardly capable of excess.
There is a quiet, sweet anxiety to die, which makes our lives more diligent, and is exceeding happiness.
The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales (1622)
Proper Fear of Death
The first remark, then, concerns whether we must fear death or not. Some ancient philosophers maintain that we must not fear it, and that those who do lack either understanding or courage. Our holy Fathers disagree with them. Even though Christians perhaps ought not to fear death, since they ought always to be ready to die will, yet, for all that, they cannot be exempt from this fear. For after all, who is there who really knows for certain if he is in the proper spiritual condition to make this passage well, since to die well, we must be good? And who is absolutely certain of being good, that is, of having the charity to be judged such at the hour of his death? No one can know this unless he has received a special revelation. But even those so favored by God’s revelation are not exempt for the fear of death.
Stoics used to teach that we must not be apprehensive of death and that to fear
it was a sign of lack of understanding and of courage. One wonders how they could have held such a
position when the most courageous and learned philosophers among them, while on
board a ship, blanched and became paralyzed with fear when they saw the waves
on a storm-tossed sea and were threatened with imminent death.
We must fear it. Indeed, who would not be apprehensive about it, since all the saints have dreaded it, and even the Saint of Saints, Our Saviour? For death is not natural to us. We are condemned to die only because of sin.
our ancient fathers teach that we ought to fear death without fearing it. What does this mean? It means that although we must fear it, it
must not be with an excessive fear, but on accompanied by tranquility; for
Christians ought to walk under the standard of Gods’
Think of it without fear or excessive dread. But let us resolve to die, since it is something we must do, and with a peaceful, tranquil heart always keep ourselves in the same state in which we would wish to be found at the hour of death.