Like the young man of Naim, we, too, shall one day be carried to the cemetery, the last resting place. Nothing is more certain than death; and yet nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death. The history of all times tells us that we do not know when death will come. The first family consisted of four persons, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Who would have believed that Abel, the
youngest member of the family, would die first? The people in Noah's time were eating and drinking when the flood came and took them all away. The daily papers report sudden deaths. We read that some people were killed by burglars and robbers, that one man fell from a scaffold and broke his neck, that many persons drowned, others lost their lives by accidents on railroads or by explosions. Are not persons most dear to us snatched away from our side by sickness, or by accidents ?
What lesson should we draw from this? If you are in the state of grace, you must employ all means to persevere in it unto the end. If you depart from the path of virtue and enter upon the road of sin, death may come suddenly upon you in the midst of your sins.
There was one Stephen, a hermit, who, after he had lived a great part of his life in solitude, fasting, watching, and praying, at last fell sick; and when he was at the point of death, the devil set upon him, and suggested many things to him. Sometimes the hermit cried out: "So it is indeed, I confess I did it; but I have lasted and prayed so many years for it." Other times he cried out : "That is a lie, I did not do it," and again he said : "It is so indeed; but I have shed tears for it; yet notwithstanding," said he, "there is need for mercy."
This example, children, ought to make you wary in all your actions, and flee from sin, and all the occasions of sin, since even this holy man, who had lived nearly forty years a retired and holy life, was so hard pressed by the devil at the hour of his death.
We do not know when death will come; it is active everywhere and knows where to find its victims. It penetrates into all places; no wall, no lock, no bolt can keep it out. People generally die when they least expect it. At the invitation of his brother, the unsuspecting Abel goes out into the field, when Cain suddenly falls upon him and slays him. A man has gallows erected for Mardochai; and a few days afterwards he swings on that very gallows himself. Heli sits down in an armchair to rest himself ; he falls backwards over the chair, and breaks his neck.
Children, we must have God everywhere before our eyes and shun injustice and sin. Avoid all places dangerous to life. Do not commit any foolhardy trick: it is better to be living than dead.
A certain holy priest by the name of Father Arnold saw that his end was near and he received the Sacraments with edifying piety. He asked all those who surrounded his bed to pray for him that he might have a happy death. He had scarcely made this request, when a sudden fear came over him and cold sweat covered his face. "O my brethren," he cried out, "do you not see the evil spirits around me, wanting to carry me to hell ? O, ask Mary, my heavenly Mother, to help me." His friends at once recited the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. When they came to the words, "Holy Mary, pray for him," he cried out, "brethren, say those words again; I am standing at God's judgment-seat." It seemed as if he saw the wicked spirits standing there to accuse him, he seemed to hear accusations, for he said: "Yes, but I did penance for that." He constantly pressed the crucifix to his lips, and continued to whisper the holy name of Mary. On a sudden he exclaimed: "I come, my Lady, I come," and while saying these words he tried to raise himself in his bed, but in doing so he expired.
The infinite goodness of God, which sanctifies us on our entrance into the world by Baptism, strengthens and enlightens us by Confirmation, nourishes us with the Holy Eucharist, and heals our spiritual infirmities by Penance, has provided us also with a special Sacrament to assist us in our passage out of this life, and prepare us for a happy eternity. This Sacrament is called Extreme Unction, or the Last Anointing, because in it we are for the last time anointed with Holy Oil. I need not tell you, my dear children, that willfully to omit receiving the Sacrament of Extreme Unction in our last illness, a Sacrament which affords many and such powerful helps towards a good and holy death, would be a sinful neglect and a great ingratitude to God. It would also be wrong willfully to put off receiving this great Sacrament from day to day, when our state has once been declared dangerous ; for we should thereby expose ourselves to the risk of dying without it, or, at least, of receiving it at a time when our strength is so reduced, and our mind so enfeebled, that we could not receive this Sacrament with that spirit of recollection and devout affection which would enable us to reap the full fruit of it. Foolish and ignorant people often imagine that Extreme Unction is like a sentence of death, and that when one has received it, his state may well be despaired) of. On the contrary, there is far more reason to hope for his recovery; for one of the principal effects of this Sacrament is to bless and assist the natural means taken for our bodily cure, whenever God sees this is for our real good.
The virtuous son of Louis XII one day learned that an old servant of his house was in danger of death, and that he would not hear of regulating the affairs of his conscience. He was painfully affected, and thinking that he might do some good in behalf of a man who had spent his life in his service, he went to his house. "Well, my friend," said he, "I am coming to see you, to tell you how sorry I am on your account. I have not forgotten that you always served me with affection ; you would give me, for the first time in your life, the greatest of all sorrows if you did not employ the little while you have yet to live in preparing for death." The poor man was moved to tears by this step of his good master, prepared himself for the Sacraments, and received them with great piety and devotion.
As for you, my dear children, when serious illness overtakes you, earnestly desire to be purified by the grace of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. Do your best to secure the same blessing for your father and mother, your relations and friends, and all to whom you may happen to be near in their last moments. How wicked and cruel are those false friends and unnatural children who allow a sick person or parent to approach to the very gate of eternity without the knowledge of their danger, which would enable them to set their affairs in order, and to make their peace with God! By complying with this instruction you will have the happiness of knowing that you have acquitted yourselves of a duty imposed upon you by filial piety, or, at least, by fraternal charity.
As soon as the priest has fixed the day and hour for administering the last Sacraments, you should prepare beforehand a little altar, on which he may place the holy Eucharist and the consecrated oil. Cover a small table with a clean cloth and place thereon a crucifix, two wax candles, some holy water and some common water, and add a few flowers. Meet the priest at the door with a burning candle and escort him to the bedside of the sick person. Kneel down and pray earnestly to God to bless and pardon the sick person.
Be always prepared for death; keep your conscience undefiled; and if you should have the misfortune to fall into sin, make at once a sincere act of contrition and go as soon as you can to confession, in order to reinstate yourself in the state of grace. Pray every day to God for the blessing of a happy death.
Source: Story Sermonettes for the Children's Mass, Imprimatur 1921