‘Devotion for the Dying’: The Most Pleasing Devotion to Jesus and Mary

‘He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.’ (James 5:20)

In her absolutely remarkable work, ‘Devotion for the Dying: Mary’s Call to Her Loving Children,’ Ven. Mother Mary Potter (d. April 9, 1913) demonstrates, beyond question, that we can and must pray for the salvation of dying sinners. (*Chapter 10 alone is worth the price of the book*).

How pleasing this devotion is to Our Lord, Who is Love Incarnate, and to Our Lady, who is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit! The Saints tell us that we can do nothing more charitable than pray and offer sacrifices for the dying. Who are in greater need than the dying? They are on the threshold of eternity; the state in which they die will determine their eternity; for ‘in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.’ (Eccles. 11:3)

An All-Important Task

Make no mistake: if we neglect this all-important work, many unfortunate souls, who need our prayers, will be damned. “Francisco,” said Bl. Jacinta Marto to her older brother; “are you praying with me? We must pray very much to save souls from hell, so many go there. So many!” This need not be the case!

“Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.”

– Our Lady of Fatima

‘Do unto others…’

Put yourself in the place of the dying sinner, and ask yourself this simple question: “If we traded places, would I hope that they would pray and make sacrifices for my eternal salvation?” If your answer is “yes”, as I’m sure it is, then you are bound to do the same for dying sinners. ‘All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them.’ (Mt. 7:12)

The Smallest Acts Suffice to Save Souls

We must not underestimate God’s mercy. Even the smallest acts, offered with a pure intention to Love, can be of great benefit to souls. “To pick up a pin for love,” exclaims St. Therese, “can convert a soul.” Glorious words.

“We of ourselves, it is true,” writes Ven. Mother Mary Potter, “could not by the offering of our whole lives make satisfaction to God for even one of the venial sins we think so lightly of when we commit them, but God views our good actions as the fruit of the Passion of His Beloved Son; and thus it is that a good action is more pleasing, necessarily so, to Him than a bad action is displeasing.” (p. 157–158)

“This is the consideration of God’s fairness, for, though my justice is so great that I leave nothing unexamined or unpunished, yet I am also so merciful and fair that I demand nothing beyond what nature can bear. Moreover, I forgive great punishment for the sake of a good intention and great sin in return for a little reparation.”

– Jesus to St. Bridget of Sweden (Book 4, Ch 89)

Some Sage Advice from Ven. Mother Mary Potter

Each day, offer everything you do in reparation for dying sinners. If you read the Bible, for example, offer it for those who have spent their time reading ungodly literature; if you eat, offer this act for those who have been given in to sins of gluttony; and so on. Renew this intention frequently; you will save many souls thereby. This is an extremely powerful means of sanctifying our every act. The treasury of merits and graces that we amass by acting thus is incomprehensible. ‘And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.’ (Mt. 10:42)

The Two Thieves

Jesus, King of Love, was crucified between two thieves. One, it seems, was damned; the other responded to God’s call and was saved. He is now known as St. Dismas.

Perhaps we have not considered this before – but the thieves represent us. How often have we robbed God of glory by squandering the unfathomable gift of Divine Grace, which He purchased with the price of His Precious Blood? How often have we proudly attributed to ourselves the good that is within us? How often have we, like Judas, delivered Jesus over to the hands of His crucifiers, so that we might indulge in some carnal sin? Alas, I am guilty of this myself! “My Jesus, mercy! The sins of my youth and my ignorances do not remember. According to thy mercy remember thou me: for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.” (Ps. 25:7)

Ultimately, our death will resemble one of the two thieves. It is for us to ensure that we die like St. Dismas. Furthermore, we must do what we can do ensure that others are converted, especially those “in most need of [God’s] mercy,” namely, dying sinners. St. Dismas, pray for us!

An Invitation from Jesus and Mary

Jesus tells us: ‘love one another, as I have loved you.’ (Jn. 13:34) These are the words of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, ‘Who gave himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present wicked world, according to the will of God and our Father.’ (Gal. 1:4) In imitation of our Lord, we too must lay down our lives for our brethren – especially our dying brethren.

Look at our sweet Mother, Mary, at the foot of the Cross; look at her whose soul was pierced with a sword for the sake of her Son, and for that great multitude who will be forever separated from His loving embrace (Lk. 2:35). What a perfect example she is for us all! There she prayers for her Son’s crucifiers, for us; there she offers her own sufferings for the salvation of a prodigious number of sinners. If thousands were saved by Bl. Alexandrina’s sufferings (united to the sufferings and merits of Jesus) – as Our Lord confided to her – then think of how many souls were, and are, saved through the prayers and sufferings of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God!

“Our Blessed Lady told me that many souls escape Hell through her intercession. She often obtains the grace of repentance for a soul when it is just leaving the body. In that moment of extremity she obtains for the soul a feeling of love of God, a feeling of repentance.”

-SG. Père Lamy (p. 141 of his biography)

In thanksgiving to Jesus and Mary, let us firmly resolve, from this day forward, to cultivate a tender devotion to the dying; let us entrust this intention to our Blessed Mother, to our patrons Saints, and to our Guardian Angel. Let us have recourse to Mary, the Mother of Mercy; let us pray her Rosary; let us offer her our indulgences at the beginning of each day; let us offer her our merits, and she will see to it that we stay close to her Son; she will see to it that our prayers and sufferings are not wasted; she herself will offer them to God, bathed in the Precious Blood of Jesus, and united to her own merits. Do this and many, very many souls will be saved!

“Our Lady offers our prayers to God; she beautifies them; she makes them [more] pleasing in His sight… The recitation of the Rosary – that is what Lucifer hates.”

– SG. Père Lamy (p. 140, p. 157)

“… the imitation of both of our lives [Jesus and Mary] must be simultaneous on earth; Mary’s life was modeled on Mine… The souls who love her most and who are most like to her, are the souls who are most like to Me most perfectly. You must imitate her in the practice of virtues, I always told you, especially in her humility and her purity of heart. Observe the virtues she practiced in her solitude, in the last stage of her life, her outlook, and her soul wholly turned toward heaven, and her self effacement, glorifying Me on earth.”

(Jesus to Ven. Concepcion Cabrera de Armida, Diary, Feb. 18, 1917 – a few months before Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima)

The Power of Prayer

The following anecdote beautifully captures the essence of this “devotion for the dying.” It is taken from p. 294 of ‘St. Vincent Ferrer, His Life, Spiritual Teaching, and Practical Devotion.’

“The Saint passing to Pampeluna, and his sanctity being well known to all the inhabitants, they besought him to interest himself in behalf of the spiritual needs and conversion of a person of notoriously bad character, who would continue impenitent to the last day of her life. The charity of St. Vincent, which desired nothing so much as the salvation of souls, drew him promptly and with joy into the presence of this poor sinner. He unhappily found her completely hardened. She was obstinate and so despairing of her salvation that she exclaimed, blaspheming:

“It is impossible for me to be saved; God cannot pardon either the multitude or the enormity of my sins.”

The Saint began, then, with all the energy of his soul to offer her powerful reasons which might encourage her to hope for a generous pardon from God. But it was useless, that soul was hardened in evil. Seeing this, St. Vincent raised up his heart to God, made a short prayer, and led by a divine inspiration, he promised the sinner that her absolution should come in writing from heaven, if she would promise to make her confession. The wretched woman began to ridicule a pledge so extraordinary and which appeared to her impossible; yet she said to the Saint:

“If it be so, I am very willing to (p. 293) confess.”

Then, the Saint procured pen and paper, and wrote these words:

“Brother Vincent Ferrer beseeches the most Holy Trinity to grant the sinner here present the absolution of her sins.”

He then folded the paper, and cast it into the air; the document flew out of the house; but some minutes afterwards it returned folded and closed. Wonderful to relate, on opening it, St. Vincent found the following promise written in letters of gold:

“We, the most Holy Trinity, at the request of our Vincent, grant the sinner of whom he speaks, the pardon of her faults; We dispense her from all the punishment which she ought to undergo; and if she confesses, she shall be carried to heaven in half an hour, where she shall reign eternally with us… From heaven… We, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

St. Vincent read the answer, and without delay the happy woman made her confession; in half an hour afterwards her soul took its flight to heaven. Oh! happy sinner! If so extraordinary a favour was obtained for this great sinner at the prayer of our Saint, while he was yet living, what ought not we to expect from him – great sinners as we are, but who are devoted to him – now that, consumed with charity, he rejoices in God Whom he beholds face to face, and who being near to Him, continually intercedes for those who have recourse to his prayers!” (p. 294)

‘God is wonderful in his saints: the God of Israel is he who will give power and strength to his people. Blessed be God.’

(Ps. 69:35)

My Own Experience of Fatima

On May 13, 2012, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima (and the anniversary of the First Apparition), I received a strong inspiration to start this blog. It was only after I started writing that I realised it was May 13.

This, I believe, was no coincidence. I believe Our Lord was effectively telling me this: “My son, I have suffered much on your account; so, too, has my Mother. But do not despair. I have given her to be your Mother, a most merciful Mother. In gratitude for so much love, of which you have been the object, entrust yourself to her, love her; rest in her arms like a little child, and teach others to do the same.”

I am not claiming that I had a locution or anything of the kind. I did not. But I did receive an impression that, in response to so much love from Jesus and Mary, I must share at least a little of that immeasurable love with others – many, if not all, of whom have abused fewer graces than I have.

Over the years, the truth of Mary’s love for me has only increased, and she has helped me on countless occasions to renew my trust in the infinite love of her Divine Son. On one such occasion, I was in Church, praying, but with great difficulty (I think it was the year 2013). I was quite discouraged at the time. As I had my head down, a young man came up to me. I had never seen him before; I have never seen him since. “Here,” he said, handing me some Rosary beads; “these are for you.” How kind, I thought! I looked carefully at these beautiful Rosary beads, which were marked with a single word: FATIMA.

Our Lady has been very good to me.

On December 3, 2015, I had an opportunity to visit Fatima. It was incredible. I cannot attempt to describe it. One truly feels her presence there, just like at Lourdes.

Please join me, dear friend, in honouring Jesus and Mary by making our lives a constant sacrifice of praise and love.

“Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners? … Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and the end of the war.”

– Our Lady of Fatima (May 13, 1917)

“Do not be afraid to love the Immaculata (Mary) too much because we could never equal the love that Jesus has for Her, and His imitation is our sanctification.”

– St. Maximilian Kolbe

A Final Word

Stay close to Mary, Help of Christians, and you will be saved; not only that: you will become a Saint; you will save many souls, and your death will be a most glorious one, a cause of delight to the Courts of Heaven!

‘… precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.’

(Ps. 116:15)

Custody of the Eyes: A Commentary on St. Alphonsus

‘And Jesus looking on him, loved him…’ (Mk. 10:21)

In his excellent work, ‘The True Spouse of Jesus Christ’, St. Alphonsus speaks to religious about custody of the eyes. Mark these words, to religious. His advice is not to be applied to one and all without distinction; this could have disastrous repercussions. Also, his writings must be read with prudence. Overly literal interpretations and St. Alphonsus do not always mix.

One must know that religious have been called by Our Lord to be His spouse (this is to be understood in a spiritual sense). It is for this reason that they are called to practice custody of the eyes in a particular way.

The purpose of this commentary is to clarify some points that might be a source of confusion and scruples for some. Do not think that I am correcting St. Alphonsus! Far from it; I am merely clarifying what he has said, for the sake of those who will misread him. At times I am only stating the obvious. Furthermore, I am explaining his words (or the words that he quotes) in relation to non–religious individuals. This is a very important point.

The format of this commentary needs no explanation.

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“A deliberate glance at a person of a different sex often enkindles an infernal spark, which consumes the soul.”

[Comment: True; but this does not amount to saying that all deliberate glances are sinful. A deliberate glance is sinful when done for the sake of sexual pleasure, or when there is a near occasion of sin, namely lust (i.e. “seeking venereal pleasure not in accordance with right reason” – Aquinas).]

St. Gregory says, that “the eyes, because they draw us to sin, must be depressed.”

[Comment: In other words, we should mortify our desire to look at everything that pleases us. We are not forbidden to appreciate all beauty. Have you ever found words like these in an examination of conscience: ‘Did I look at a sunset?’ There is a reason for that. If it were wrong to appreciate all beauty, the Popes would long ago have asked for the removal of several sculptures at the Vatican, which depict naked men and women. The fact is, not all beauty excites lust. Take the beauty of Our Lady, for example.]

“He that looks at a dangerous object,” continues the saint, “begins to will what he wills not.”

[Comment: A dangerous object is something that is likely to lead us to lust.]

“Gaze not about,” says the Holy Ghost, “upon another’s beauty… hereby lust is enkindled as a fire.”  Gaze not upon another’s beauty; for from looks arise evil imaginations, by which an impure fire is lighted up.

[Comment: That is, don’t gaze with the intention of arousing sexual pleasure, or when there is a near occasion of sin e.g. when you are likely to experience unlawful sexual pleasure. Many of the Saints had visions of Our Lord, Our Lady and the Saints, and they often appreciated and commented on their great beauty. In his work, ‘The Ladder of Divine Ascent,’ St. John Climacus – no liberal – writes: “A certain man (St. Nonnus, Bishop), on seeing a beautiful woman, thereupon glorified the Creator; and from that one look, he was moved to the love of God and to a fountain of tears. And it was wonderful to see how what would have been a cause of destruction for one was for another the supernatural cause of a crown.” (These words are even included in Dom Maurus Wolter’s classic text, ‘The Principles of Monasticism,’ p. 365, which is specifically for religious)]

“Hence, to avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects.

[Comment: Some saints, not all. When asked by a Sister why she was looking so intently at her, St. Therese answered: “No, I just love looking at you!” (p. 120 of ‘Her Last Conversations’, Clarke)]

“After being a novice for a year, St. Bernard could not tell whether his cell was vaulted. In consequence of never raising his eyes from the ground, he never knew that there were but three windows to the church of the monastery, in which he spent his novitiate.”

[Comment: This was not the practice of St. Padre Pio, for example. Some who met him, such as Fr. Vincenzo (cf. padrepiodevotions.org ‘Newsletter archive’) , have commented on his penetrating gaze, which, at times is a source of consolation.]

“St. Hugh, bishop, when compelled to speak with women, never looked at them in the face.”

[Comment: Perhaps this was necessary for him in order to maintain purity. Priests are permitted to look at those who they are talking to. Dom Marie–Gabriel Sortais (d. 1963), Abbot General of the Trappist Order (O.C.S.O.) – and a very holy and penitential man – shared an intimate bond with Mother Yvonne Aimee (Servant of God), and he even kept a picture of her on his desk.]

“St. Aloysius never looked at his own mother in the face.”

[Comment: Supposedly. Hagiographers have been known to embellish things from time to time. Besides, if this is true, it is not necessary. ‘When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. (Jn. 19:26) A holy priest and mystic, Pere Lamy (Servant of God), was once given a statue of Our Lady, which depicted her with her head bent. Pere Lamy asked the sculptor why this was the case. “She looks mystical like that,” was the reply. “Oh,” he said; “Well, she does not look at all mystical. She stands there. She looks at you straight in the face; and that is as it should be, straight in the face.” (Words taken from ‘Pere Lamy’ by Biver)]

“For having once looked deliberately at a woman who was gathering ears of corn, the Abbot Pastor was tormented for forty years by temptations against chastity.”

[Comment: Then, for him, it must have been a dangerous look. Also, he seems to have been called to a very high degree of sanctity, as all Abbots are.]

“If,” says St. Augustine, “our eyes should by chance fall upon others, let us take care never to fix them upon any one.”

[Comment: These words do not apply to holy images, nor to Our Lord and Our Lady. They cannot possibly apply to those who are married. They do not forbid us from looking at our parents or siblings. What do they mean, then? It means, again, that when there is a near occasion of sexual impurity, we must restrain our glance.]

“But I do not see how looks at young persons of a different sex can be excused from the guilt of a venial fault, or even from mortal sin, when there is proximate danger of criminal consent.”

[Comment: Note the words, “when there is proximate danger of criminal consent”, thereby implying that the look itself is not sinful.]

“It is not lawful,” says St. Gregory, “to behold what it is not lawful to covet.”

[Comment: This must be read in the light of a true understanding of what lust is. Taken literally, this would mean that we can look at almost nothing, for Scripture says: ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house… nor any thing that is his.’ Surely this is not what St. Gregory meant!]

“To practise modesty of the eyes is the duty of a religious, not only because it is necessary for her own improvement in virtue, but also because it is necessary for the edification of others.”

[Comment: Very true. Even so, it is still possible for the religious to look at others in a pure way.]

“From the moment we awake in the morning, let us pray continually in the words of holy David: Turn away my eyes, that they may not behold vanity.”

[Comment: We should ask God to be kept from impurity. Looking at swimsuit calendars, for example, is hardly going to lead to an increase in virtue.]

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Summary

– If certain writings leave us scrupulous and confused, we should avoid them.

– God’s creation is good and beautiful (Gen. 1:31). Immodest dress, impure glances and the like are a misuse of this goodness.

– Everything must be framed in relation to Church teaching. The Catechism is the official summary of Church teaching; therefore we are safe in following it.

“Q. 881. WHAT is lechery, or lust?

An inordinate desire of carnal sin, or delights of the flesh.” (The Douay Catechism of 1649)

“Immodest looks. Bold [daring] looks are forbidden, because they lead to sin, just as a parent forbids his child to play with edged tools.” (‘The Catechism Explained’, 1899, p. 393)

“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.” (# 2391, Current ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’)

In the words of the Liturgy, Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (The peace of the Lord be with you always)!