God’s Unfathomable Mercy: Deathbed Conversions

*If you do not have time to read the introduction, please skip to the conversion stories. They start with this symbol +

“Pray as much as you can for the dying. By your entreaties, obtain for them trust in My mercy, because they have most need of trust, and have it the least.”

– Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary, 1777

St. Bernard, St. Benedict and others remind us that the surest way to ensure a happy death is to live a good life (Eccles. 11:3). St. Francis of Assisi welcomed “sister death.” He came to see death as an entrance into eternal joy with his Beloved. This is what death will be like for those who- following St. Francis and others- live prayerful lives, bear their sufferings patiently, and avoid deliberate sin.  

To those who do not do this, I repeat the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori: “Some would wish to be saved and to become saints, but never resolve to adopt the means of salvation, such as meditation, the frequentation of the sacraments, detachment from creatures; or, if they adopt these means, they soon give them up. In a word, they are satisfied with fruitless desires, and thus continue to live in enmity with God, or at least in tepidity, which, in the end, leads them to the loss of God. Thus in them are verified the words of the Holy Ghost, desires kill the slothful.”

Does this sound like a description of our life thus far? If so, join me in saying “thanks be to God!” for having shown us the narrow path that leads to Heaven! What a blessing! There is still time to change our course!

Many are unaware of what they must do to be saved. For these souls we must pray and offer sacrifices. This is the grave obligation of every Christian. The Mass, which is a mystical renewal of the sacrifice at Calvary, is the most powerful offering for the conversion of sinners. If we cannot attend Mass frequently, we can at least offer our actions and prayers for sinners- especially the Rosary.

If we do not pray for sinners, we cannot say that we are following Christ, Whose entire life was offered for sinners. We must continue His work of redemption. “I have need of your sufferings to rescue souls”, said Our Lord to St. Faustina (Diary 1612). He repeats the same words to us. If we are attentive, we will ‘hear’ them resounding in the depths of our hearts.

Here are some beautiful anecdotes that should encourage us to pray and hope for the salvation of souls- including those who appear to have rejected God:

+ Even when we see no sign of contrition, we can still not affirm that, at the last moment, just before the separation of soul from body, the soul is definitively obstinate. A sinner may be converted at that last minute in such fashion that God alone can know it. The holy Cure of Ars, divinely enlightened, said to a weeping widow: “Your prayer, Madame, has been heard. Your husband is saved. When he threw himself into the Rhone, the Blessed Virgin obtained for him the grace of conversion just before he died. Recall how, a month before, in your garden, he plucked the most beautiful rose and said to you, ‘Carry this to the altar of the Blessed Virgin.’ She has not forgotten.” (Garrigou Lagrange, Life Everlasting)

+ St. John Bosco came to the bed of a dying Freemason. This Freemason said to him: “Don’t speak to me of religion. Otherwise here is a revolver whose bullet is for you and another one whose bullet is for me.” “Well, then” said the saint, “let us speak of something else.” Then Bosco spoke to him of Voltaire, relating the latter’s life. Toward the end of his account, Bosco said: “Some say that Voltaire never repented and had a bad death. This I do not say, because I do not know.” “You mean,” said the Freemason, “that even Voltaire could repent?” “Oh, certainly.” “Then I, too, could repent.” Thus this man who was in despair seems to have had a good death.  (Garrigou Lagrange, Life Everlasting)

+God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God absolution of sins and remission of punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy! But – horror! – There are also souls who voluntarily and consciously reject and scorn this grace!” (St. Faustina, Diary, 1698)

+ “In the lowest and most painful (degree of Purgatory)… here there are the sinners who have committed terrible crimes during life and whose death surprised them in that state. It was almost a miracle that they were saved, and often by the prayers of holy parents or other pious persons. Sometimes they did not even have time to confess their sins and the world thought them lost, but God, whose mercy is infinite, gave them at the moment of death the contrition necessary for their salvation on account of one or more good actions which they performed during life.” (Revelation from a soul in Purgatory to Sister M. de L.C, from “An Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory”)

+ Here is a beautiful story taken from the Transalpine Redemptorists’ website: http://papastronsay.blogspot.com.au/

Father Hermann Cohen’s mother died without receiving Holy Baptism. In the eyes of the unwise ‘she died as an unconverted Jewess’ in spite of the many prayers offered for her by her priestly son…

The last moments for Mrs. Cohen arrived on 13 December 1855. Father Hermann was preaching Advent in Lyons at the time and he announced this sad news to his friend in these terms: “God has struck a terrible blow to my heart. My poor mother is dead … and I remain in incertitude! However we have so much prayed that we must hope that something has passed between her soul and God during these last moments that we cannot know about.” We can easily imagine the pain of Father Hermann in learning of the death of his mother. He had so much prayed and so much had prayers said for her conversion, and she came to appear before the tribunal of God without having received holy Baptism!

“I also have a mother,” would he write one day, “I have left her to follow Jesus Christ, she no longer calls me her ‘good son’. Already her hair is silvered, already her brow is furrowed, and I am afraid to see her die. Oh! no I would not like to see her die before loving Jesus Christ, and already for many years I await for my mother that which Monica awaited for Augustine…” God seemed to have despised all his prayers and rejected his loving and legitimate desires. His faith and his love were put through a harsh trial. Nevertheless, if his sorrow was deep, his hope in the infinite goodness of God would not allow itself to be struck down…

A short time later, he confided to the Curé of Ars (St. John Vianney) his disquiet about the death of his poor mother who died without the grace of Baptism. “Hope!” replied the man of God, “hope; you will receive one day, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception a letter that will bring you great consolation.”

These words were almost forgotten, when, on the 8th December 1861, six years after the death of his mother, a Father of the Company of Jesus handed to Father Hermann the following letter. (The person who wrote this letter died in the odour of sanctity; she was well known in the religious and ascetical world by her written works on the Eucharist.) The letter read:

On the 18th October, after Holy Communion, I found myself in one of those moments of intimate union with Our Lord, where he made me so feel his presence in the sacrament of His love that Faith seemed no longer necessary to believe him there. After a short time, He had me hear His voice and He wanted to give me some explanations relative to a conversation that I had had the night before. I remember that, in that conversation, one of my friends had manifested her surprise that Our Lord, who has promised to accord everything to prayer, had however remained deaf to those of Reverend Father Hermann who had so many times addressed Him to obtain the conversion of his mother; her surprise went almost as far as discontentment, and I had had difficulty in having her understand that we must adore the justice of God and not to seek to penetrate its secrets (a good tip for those who fear God excessively). I dared to ask of my Jesus how it was that He, who was goodness itself, had been able to resist the prayers of Father Hermann, and not grant the conversion of his mother. This was His (Our Lord’s) response:

“Why does Anna always want to sound the secrets of my justice and why does she seek to penetrate mysteries that she cannot comprehend? Tell her that I do not owe my grace to anyone, that I give it to whom I please and that in acting in this way I do not cease to be just, and justice itself. But that she may know that, rather than not keep the promises that I have made to prayer, I will upset heaven and earth, and that every prayer that has my glory and the salvation of souls for object is always heard when it is clothed in the necessary qualities.

(Our Lord said to Sr. Mary of the Trinity that we must desire what we pray for. We must also pray perseveringly. If we are unwilling to make sacrifices for others, perhaps we do not truly desire that for which we pray?)

He added:

“And to prove to you this truth, I willingly make known that which passed at the moment of the death of the mother of Father Hermann.”

My Jesus then enlightened me with a ray of His divine light and had me understand or rather to see in Him that which I want to try to relate. At the moment where the mother of Father Hermann was on the point of rendering her last breath; at the moment that she seemed deprived of awareness, almost without life; Mary, our good Mother, presented Herself before Her Divine Son, and prostrate at His feet, She said to Him:

“Pardon and mercy, o my Son! for this soul who is going to perish. Yet another instant and she will be lost, lost for eternity. I beseech you, do for the mother of my servant Hermann, that which you would like to be done for your own, if She was in her place and if you were in his. The soul of his mother is his most precious good; he has consecrated her to me a thousand times; he has consecrated her to the tenderness and solicitude of my heart. Could I suffer her to perish? No, no, this soul is mine; I will it, I claim it as an inheritance, as the price of your blood and of my sufferings at the foot of your Cross.”

Hardly had the sacred suppliant ceased speaking, when a strong, powerful grace, came forth from the source of all graces, from the adorable Heart of our Jesus, and came to enlighten the soul of the poor dying Jewess; instantly triumphing over her stubbornness and resistances. This soul immediately turned herself with loving confidence towards Him whose mercy had pursued her as far as the arms of death and said to Him: “O Jesus, God of the Christians, God whom my son adores, I believe, I hope in Thee, have pity on me.” In this cry, heard by God alone and which came from the intimate depths of the heart of the dying woman, were enclosed the sincere sorrow for her obstinacy and for her sins, the desire of baptism, the express will to receive it and to live according to the rules and precepts of our holy religion, if she had been able to return to life.

This leap of faith and hope in Jesus was the last sentiment of that soul; it was made at the moment when she brought towards the throne of the divine mercy. Breaking away the weak bonds which held her to her mortal casing, she fell at the feet of Him who had been her Saviour (a moment) before being her Judge.” After having showed me all these things, Our Lord added:

“Make this known to Father Hermann; it is a consolation that I wish to accord to his long sorrows, so that he will bless, and have blessed everywhere, the goodness of the heart of my Mother and Her power over mine.”

After admonishing sinners, Our Lord addresses the following words to sinners (through St. Bridget):

“MY MERCY, HOWEVER, IS THAT NONE OF MY ENEMIES IS SO THOROUGH OR SO GREAT A SINNER THAT I WOULD DENY HIM MY FORGIVENESS IF HE WERE TO ASK FOR IT HUMBLY AND WHOLEHEARTEDLY.” 

 

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