My first postings, 1A to 1D, in the "Servimus Liguorian Series" will focus on the content and teachings of St. Alphonsus, via the first volume of his Ascetical Works. Volume I is called "Preparation for Death" and is self evident as to what that volume is about.
This is the copy of the Ascetic Works that I am using:
de Liguori, A. Ed. Rev. Eugene Grimm. Preparation for Death. Volume I of The Ascetical Works. Comissioned by the Redemptorist Fathers. Reprinted in the 1970's or the 1980's by Our Blessed Lady of Victory Mission in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A.
Should you use or read free copies on the Internet of his works, realize that the translations of the work into English can be different, or even abridged in some format, and that the numbers might not align to the page references I am using.
In this book, one could divide the areas that St. Alphonsus focuses on into three central themes/teachings with regard to this book:
1) What happens to those who do NOT live a holy life, when death comes to take their soul away, as well as on Sin, and what surrounds it in the life they commit to,
2) What happens to those who have lived a holy life, and in essence, WHY one should NOT like be the person in the first topic, and
3) What must we do to prepare for our death so that we do not fear it in the end of our lives.
A fourth posting might also include some prayers that are deep and spiritual, from the volume, but will include a couple of other interesting facets that don't quite fit neatly into the three themes, but support them and deserve their own merit to highlight.
One of the great things I've come to discover in his writings, as I've delved into this book, is that each chapter is moving, deeply probing, and pretty much makes sense to any regular person reading his material. While he doesn't overflow you with lots of theological terms and ambiguous terms, he does use descriptive language in a way to drive a point across. He does so with some variance, but many of the writings tend to tie into a main theme. True to the very style of his preaching, it is simplistic enough, for the common layperson in the pews to get a point across. Liguori also uses many other small quotes and passages from the writings of Saints in Church history, even some famous ones, as well as much scripture, again even some well known passages.
In the first of four parts to my posting series, I will focus on topic 1: What happens to those who aren't prepared for death, including SIN, and what surrounds that sin in the life those lost souls commit to.
LIGUORI AND SIN
To begin with, one should examine Sin itself, before we move into what the unfortunate soul who chooses a habitual, sinful life, experiences at death.
Should you need a reminder from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."121
1850 Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight."122 Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods,"123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God."124 In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125
Liguori, of course, strays not from the doctrine of sin presented in the Catechism. He says the following of sin:
".... In committing sin, man dares to declare himself the enemy of God, and to content dingle-handed with the Lord .... In consenting to sin, the sinner stretches out his arms against the Lord .... He raises his neck, that is, he swells with pride, and runs to insult God; he arms himself with a fat neck, that is, with ignorance; for a fat neck is the symbol of ignorance .... What an Insult! What temerity! What blindness! .... When the sinner deliberates whether he will give or refuse his consent to sin ... when he consents to sin, he declares that his passion, vanity, or pleasure is of greater value than the friendship of God. Behold the Lord covered with shame by the sinner!" (Preparation for Death, 154-156)
There are two kinds of sin that one commits, the venial, and the mortal. While Liguori does not focus heavily on the venial sin in of itself (thought it will be tied to obstinate sinners later on,) he does expand much on Mortal Sin. Liguori does not mince words and clearly follows the line of Catholic doctrine and the CCC. When a man sins in such a profound manner (or one could say, habitually without care ...):
".... He insults God, he dishonours him, he afflicts him .... God punishes sin with the pains of hell ; ... [Man] says to God, Lord, I will not serve Thee. "Thou hast broken My yoke, thou has burst My bonds." (Jeremiah II:20.) .... The sinner says the same -- "Lord, I know Thee not, I will do what I please; in a word, he insults the Lord to his face, and turns his back upon Him. Mortal sin is precisely a turning away from God. (152-154)
LIGUORI AND MERCY
I must say, those prior words cut deep with fear into your heart, the fear of the Lord. But always, with justice, its companion is mercy. What do we say, on the mercy of God (Christ) to forgive sin? On that note, St. Alphonsus comments as such:
" Dearly beloved Christian, how often have you been deaf to the calls of God? You deserved that He should call you no more; but your God has not ceased to call you, because He wishes to make peace with you, and to save you .... Oh! with what love and tenderness does God embrace the sinner that returns to Him! This love and tenderness Jesus Christ wished to give us to understand by the parable of the sheep ... "Rejoice with me; because I have found my sheep that was lost." (St. Luke XV: 5) .... This tenderness the Saviour declared more fully in the parable of the prodigal son; in which he tells us that He is the Father who, when he saw His lost son returning, runs to meet him, and before he his son utters a word, embraces and kisses him ..." (165, 168-169)
Does Liguori score once again with the Teachings of the Catholic Church? Yes he does, in the Catechism's 1864:
1864 "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven."136 There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit.137 Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.
Clearly, our God is merciful ... to a point. Right after the chapter on God's Mercy (Consideration XVI,) Liguori brings us back to serious thought on our souls, by explaining how we can all too easily abuse Our Lord's Divine Mercy, as well as speaking "Of the Number of Sins" in Consideration XVIII. St. Alphonsus comments on the "time limit" for forgiveness of sin AND the number of sins that God can forgive as follows:
" ... O Sinner! you must tremble even on account of the sins which I have forgiven you; for if you add another, it may happen that this new sin, along with those which have been pardoned, may complete the number, and then there will be no more mercy for you; .... God waits till the measure of iniquities is filled up, and then he chastises the sinner. (183)
What you say? There is a fixed number of sins that God can forgive???? So I only get X tries and then I am predestined for Hell???? Now stop right there!!! Before you accuse St. Alphonsus of being a heretic, there are a number of things to consider.
- Remember, that predestination, and the LITERAL forgiveness of only X sins, betrays the Divine Mercy of Christ, and is heresy in the Church. This would be a subset of heresy under Calvanism. Were St. Alphonsus to be a practitioner of heresy, he would NOT be a saint, never mind a doctor of the Church.
- When a priest, up to the Pope, speaks of matters that are not 100% dogma and doctrine of the Church, it is in our spiritually best interest to interpret the action/speech in the MOST orthodox light, with exception to outright, formal heresy, and moral evil. Otherwise, what respect or trust can we give to our clergy on any matter at all? It would be utter disobedience, as some questionable groups, societies, and internet trolls or Radicals Misrepresenting Traditionalists, express, even today.
- Further, St. Alphonsus, and the establishment of the Redemptorists, were not to uphold predestination and heresy, but to COUNTER them, particularly those who expressed elements of, or were absolutely practicing the heresy of, Jansenism.
- Finally, St. Alphonsus, when speaking about the Mercy of Christ to forgive sins, clarifies his stance on this "number" of sins himself: ".... " (189).
Now, how can this be understood, in the best possible way a Catholic should? Remember that the preaching of the past could be easily claimed to be "fire and brimstone." Generally speaking, priests spoke in such a matter and were not afraid to instill, (rightly so,) the fear of hell and committing sin to place you in Hell. St. Alphonsus rightly did so, because he genuinely cared about the salvation of souls in his duty to the Church, not because he was a profound heretic.
As for what to make of said passages, it could be said in this manner:
- We all have a finite existence on this Earth. We have a limited lifespan only titling X days. That number is different for everyone.
- Death knows no boundary of age, and even children could meet their demise at an early age. Yes, a child could commit such a mortal sin to separate their souls from Christ, around and before their age of reason, particularly if their parents fail to raise their child in the teachings of the Church, willingly, or lacking resolve to deepen their faith (sloth, laziness).
- Children might know simply, but they DO know of such sins in their innocence. Everyone, YOU are responsible for the lifelong formation of you and your children, ensuring that all of you live a Holy Life in Christ, so as not to make that fatal error of sin, or to become habitually chronic in a lifetime of sin.
- Do so, for death comes whenever he pleases to claim one's life. Be it 5 from cancer, 12 from an accident or teen suicide, or 102 from old age.
LIGUORI AND RELUCTANT SINNERS
Next, what does sin do to the reluctant sinner who refuses the Mercy of the Lord, pleasing themselves in wanton ways of the carnal pleasures of life? Obstinate sin, or reluctance to curb sin:
"... blinds the understanding, hardens the heart, and thus makes the sinner obstinate till death. (Chapter XXII: pp. 221 - 228).
" ... A bad habit hardens the heart. And this hardness of heart God justly permits in punishment of resisting his calls .... According to St. Augustine, ... he subtracts his graces in punishment of their ingratitude for past favours, and thus their hart becomes hard like a stone. ...." (225)
" .... instead of regretting his sins, he rejoices at them, he laughs at them, and boasts of them. ``They are glad when they have done evil.`` .... Proverbs II: 14) .... They are ... all signs of damnation." (226)
"... would it not be the extreme of folly to play for ... to lose, all your property, with the hope of winning it back at the last game? Such is the folly of the man who continues to live in the midst of sins, and hopes at the last moment of life to repair all the evil he has done ... the habitual sinner, in the end, abandons himself to despair. such is the manner in which his life terminates." (228)
Looks like once again Liguori and the Catechism agree, or perhaps ... the Catechism is leaning on Liguori's writings?
1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin ....
1865 Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.
Allow me to add my own personal reflection to St. Liguori's, perhaps, trying as best to imitate his style, especially on that last passage.
Our age is awash in sin and men, weaker than before, attracted to our ever aggressive world, their flesh, and the Evil one. In its wake, those holy and virtuous men are missing, with fewer alter Christi abound, and even fewer men listening to the Call of the Lord to His Holy Priesthood. Many of us in our age of social excess, expect life's amenities to be there, material and spiritual, including a confessor for Last Rites/Anointing of the Sick with viaticum.
But I awaken thee to the truth .... there will not always be that Alter Christus available. It is ever more possible in this age of the busy, the tired, the sinful, the weak ... that even Christ's workers do not tend his vineyard. Perhaps they care not or limit their "work," or they are spread as the sole priest for multiple parishes, with too few opportunity for calls, or are too busy to attend the banquet of the King on invitation for they have "other duties." Lest you are a noble and good practicing Catholic with but one mortal sin ... the circumstances of the world are such your priest may not arrive, and your death is unpredictable or unpresident! Then you are judged, guilty of the first degree of that one mortal sin!
And what if a priest is available, but your physical disease is one that strips you of conscience and voluntary function, such as Alzheimer's or dementia, or you experience a traumatic incident that turns you into the mentally disabled? How will you be able to remember, and/or communicate your sins to the merciful doctor, when you cannot even tell him? Alas, confession is not laboratory science, whereby despite unconsciousness, one can analyze and spiritually test the soul for abnormality, and the doctor can treat you in absentia with intravenous liquid medicine.
The Church may be referred to as a "hospital" by modern clerics, but it is of no use if one cannot tell the doctor your symptoms, or you never visit the clinic or emergency room to begin with! And in more cases today, there are closures of said hospitals, due to the staff shortages, with the next available hospital possibly being miles away! One's spiritual "health" then, should not be taken lightly, but with the same observance and value we place on our physical health to remain alive!
LIGUORI AND CHRONIC SINNERS AT THEIR DEATH BEDS
Now, what becomes one whose life is of chronic sin, or has not TRUTHFULLY repented of their ways by their deathbed? We can start with St. Alphonsus' writings on the dying person's thoughts and seeking of medical remedy to buy them time:
"Ah! at that hour all earthly goods are viewed only with pain by those who have had an attachment for them. And this pain will serve only to increase the danger of their eternal salvation; for we see by experience, that persons attached to the world wish at death to speak only of their sickness, of the physicians to be called to attend them, and of the remedies which may restore their health. When any one speaks of their soul, they soon grow weary, and beg to be allowed repose." (44)
Perhaps in modern time, have you heard of people having regrets on their death bed? Yes, that regret, if not materially based/success based, is truthfully them saying, "I've sinned so much. I can't make it up to myself, X, Y, ..... etc." The person laments that they cannot at least remedy their past situations to the ones they have offended in their selfish sin. Another way of saying these regrets, are as St. Alphonsus tells us, is the is the torment of their inner souls:
"Poor sinners! They seek for happiness in their sins, but they find nothing but bitterness and self remorse .... The torture of the remorse of conscience is so great even in this life, that to free themselves from it, some have committed suicide. (pp. 214-216)
"He will then say, O unhappy me! I have had so many lights from God, so much time to tranquilize my conscience and have not done so .... What would it have cost me to have avoided such an occasion of sin, to have broken off such a friendship, to have frequented the tribunal of pennace ... Oh! if I had put into execution the good resolutions which I made on such an occasion; if I had continued the good works which I began at such a time, how happy should I now feel! But these things I have not done, and now there is no more time to do them ...." (80)
LIGUORI AND JUDGEMENT AT THE MOMENT OF DEATH
As for the soul at Death, St. Alphonsus describes the fate that we meet at our death's instance. Yes people .... it's one of the four final things ... JUDGEMENT:
"... the particular judgement takes place at the very moment of death; and that on the very spot where the soul is separated from the body, it is judged by Jesus Christ, who will not send, but will come himself to judge it according to its works .... Oh! how great will be the terror of the soul the first time it sees the Redeemer, and sees his countenance full of wrath! .... The wounds of the Redeemer will console the just and terrify the wicked .... Now what answer will the sinner make to Jesus Christ? .... He will behold an angry judge above; hell opem below; on one side his own sins accusing him; on the other, the devils ready to inflict chastisement; and within, the remorse of his conscience...." (241-243)
And of course, our CCC does not ignore what the Church always teaches on that here: meaning that St. Alphonsus is in congruence with the Church's teaching!
1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification594 or immediately,595 -- or immediate and everlasting damnation.596
1023 Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face:598
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1039 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man's relationship with God will be laid bare.626 The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:
Sorry fellas, not everyone goes to heaven, and as there are good judgments, there must be bad judgments. In addition, this judgement process is perfectly in line with scripture in the Old Testament, for There will be no arguing with God (Job 40:1-2; cf. 42:3) when one is being judged about their salvation.
LIGUORI WAS JUST LIKE TODAY ON DESCRIBING WHAT IS HELL?
So when a soul goes to hell, what is it like? Perhaps you have heard an analogy used by your parish priest of an "eternal darkness." Guess what? They aren't the first people to use it, though they might do so, in order to stray away from making it "bad" or sounding like a fire and brimstone preacher.
Liguori actually described Hell with this analogy,of eternal darkness, but he is darn serious about it and doesn't water it down the way modern preaching does. It is actually moving to make a person quite frightful of Hell and despairing of all hope should that be their final destination:
"What is this Hell? .... A place of torments, where all the senses and powers of the damned will have their proper torment, and where the more a person has offended God by any sense, the more he will be tortured in that sense .... The sight will be tormented with darkness ... Hell is a dungeon closed up on every side, into which a ray of the sun, or of any other light, shall never enter ..." (263)
Or perhaps an illusion of light is more your fancy? This is also another analogy that has been used in modern preaching about Hell, should you be lucky to have encountered such preaching. But this light, or this "fire" of Hell, is not radiantly happy ... no ... rather ...
" ... St. Basil says, that the Lord will separate the light from the fire, so that this fire will burn, but will not illuminate ... In that glimmering light they will see the deformity of their associates, and of the devils, who will assume horrible forms in order to increase the terrors of the damned. (263)
The way modern preaching has described it, is that the light of the Lord will be radiant to the joyful, hopeful and joyful, and purifying. To the sinner who damned themselves, it will burn even hotter than scalding water or a five-alarm fire, and be like poison to them.
FINALE: NO ONE IS SAFE FROM DEATH
When we are at death, we all are death's property. When death come for us, our status, wealth, money, and such, DO NOT MATTER! We are all going to die. What kind of legacy, myself included, of our lives, will you leave at the moment of lifelessness?
Will you leave yourself a legacy of "wealth," built on material and spiritual corruption in your treasury of sin?
Should that be what is stored in the vault of your soul, it doesn't matter whether you are a corrupt politician or businessman, a cleric, a layperson affiliated with the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, or a Novus Ordo Catholic who is part of the Knights of Columbus/CWL and serves soup kitchens every winter. Christ looks past all your good deeds. His only currency: That upon your soul.
When He finds your "treasury" do you think He will be pleased? He will discover a foul stench and horrid sight, and ye will be judged for the dark and plunging depths of Hell.
I shall leave you with some of Liguori's words,
"Death, in time, strips man of all the goods of the world .... The servants leave him in a grave ,,, There is no longer anyone to esteem or flatter him, no longer anyone to attend to his commands ... his flesh drops off; and behold his skeleton can no longer be distinguished from others .... In a word, when death comes, the end comes; all ends, we leave all things; and of all that we possess in this world, we bring nothing to the grave." (36)
Pax Tibi Christi, Julian Barkin.
NEXT POST: Liguorian Series Post 1B: Souls who are in Sanctifying Grace and are "Saintly" with God