Corona Stories: Ten Short Saints’ Sayings on Facing Death

James Forbes (1749-1819). "Entrées de la crypte de la lampe sépulcrale et de la crypte du sarcophage du lacrymatoire, aux catacombes, 1816". Plume, lavis d'encre de chine rehaut d'aquarelle. Paris, musée Carnavalet.

With the corona virus, everyone who expected many more years of life must face the possibility that they don’t have all the time they expected. We could enjoy perfect health today, fall sick tomorrow, and die in a week or two. Man always faces death, but few of us live our lives as if we do. The saints did. They tended to be very insistent on the fact of inevitable death and our need to live as if we should meet God at any moment. 

Here are just ten quotes from eight saints, of the thousands that could be offered. The quotes are arranged roughly in order of increasing cheerfulness. For more insights from the saints and others, see the sayings collected in the “Five Insights” series.

 

If a man is with God and God is with him, clearly he is able to say, “Though I walk through the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” “The shadow of death” is human life.

— St. Maximos the Confessor

We do not fix our affections on borrowed goods, because we know that they must soon be returned to the owner. All the goods of this earth are lent to us.

— St. Alphonsus Liguori

Death, properly speaking, is this: for the soul to be unharnessed from divine grace and to be yoked to sin. . . . He who is frightened of this death and has preserved himself from it will not be alarmed by the oncoming death of the body, for in him the true life dwells, and bodily death, so far from taking true life away, renders it inalienable.

— St. Gregory Palamas

Live in such a way that when you die, you don’t die.

— St. Augustine

The good God does not wish us to despair. He shows us the good thief, touched with repentance, dying near Him on the cross. But he is the only one. See, he dies near the good God. Can we hope to be near Him at our last moment? . . . See, my children, to die well we must live well. To live well, we must seriously examine ourselves. . . . By this means, my children, we cannot fail to correct ourselves, and to become fervent Christians in a short time. Then, when death comes, we are quite ready; we are happy to go to Heaven.

— St. Jean Vianney

The best way to prepare for death is to spend every day of life as though it were your last.

— St. Philip Neri

A holy hermit being asked when dying how he could be so cheerful, said: “I have always kept death before my eyes; and therefore, now that it has arrived, I see nothing new in it.”

— St. Alphonsus Liguori

“We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. . . . You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.”

– Saint Ephrem the Syrian

The devil will come to tempt the dying Christian, but his angel-guardian will come to strengthen him. His holy advocates will come: St. Michael, whom God has appointed to defend his faithful servants in their last combat with Hell, will come; the divine Mother will come to chase away the devils, and to protect her servant; above all, Jesus Christ will come to guard against every temptation of Hell, the innocent or penitent sheep for whose salvation he has given his life.

— St. Alphonsus Liguori

It is not Death that will come to fetch me, it is the good God. Death is no phantom, no horrible specter, as presented in pictures. In the catechism it is stated that death is the separation of soul and body, that is all! Well, I am not afraid of a separation which will unite me to the good God forever.

— St. Therese of Lisieux

 

The picture shows the entrance to the Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp, one of the most famous places in Paris’s catacombs. The column in the middle is the Rotonde des Tibias, constructed out of skulls, tibiae, and femora. It is used with permission from the collection of the Carnavelet Museum in Paris.

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