Man’s necessities and sufferings on earth are many and manifold. One such trial is the lot of all. We all belong to the confraternity of death, just as we all are subject to sin. Death is the sad penalty of sin; no one escapes it.
Death is a hard and bitter lot for our poor nature. Above all it is the end of our corporal, physical life. The intimate union of soul and body that conditions and constitutes our earthly life is dissolved by death. The separation is violent and painful because the body, through weakness and dissolution, abandons the soul and forces it to leave its crumbling dwelling place.
The separation is furthermore a humiliating one because it is a punishment of sin, a sort of execution that separates body and soul, the two guilty associates in sin. The soul is handed over to eternity, the body to the earth, where by degrees it crumbles to dust and becomes something without a name. Death, then, is a bitter trial, a profound humiliation, the most stubborn of struggles, and the keenest of sufferings.
Death, moreover, is not only the end of our earthly life but also the beginning of the life beyond, the entrance into eternity and the commencement of our everlasting, unchangeable destiny, of the nature, greatness, and immensity of which, as regards punishments as well as rewards, we have no adequate concept. Death, finally, is the occasion of our meeting with God, before whom we must appear to be judged, punished or rewarded, justly, strictly, irrevocably, for all eternity.
In a word, to die is a lonely, helpless, and joyless thing. No one of our loved ones can help us. No human hand can penetrate into the inner sanctuary where the last, desperate struggle is being waged. We are alone, all alone. Only Heaven can come to our assistance.
Need For a Patron
At such an hour it is truly an important matter to have a kind patron who will aid and console us, and who can furnish us the means to die a good, edifying, peaceful, and holy death. Hardly a better patron than Saint Joseph could be found, for what deathbed was ever as beautiful as his must have been? All the conditions necessary to render his departure from earth a most happy and consoling one were united there.
The past showed the saint a life of innocence and purity; a life of the most genuine and sublime virtue; a life of untold merit in the service of Jesus, of Mary, of the Church, and of the whole of mankind; a life of labor, fatigue, and suffering, borne in the spirit of patience, of faith, and with the noblest love. This retrospect gave him no cause for regret or fear, but all was full of hope. We learn from his life what his death was. Does not everything combine to render his death not only good, but consoling and even joyful?
Joseph died in the arms of Jesus, his Son and God, and in the arms of Mary; both, especially at that moment, compensated all his endeavors for them with unheard of graces. They were helpers and consolers who not only supported his frail body, but who with powerful, soothing graces refreshed and rejoiced the heart and soul of the dying saint, while the Holy Spirit replenished him with a Heaven of consolation and joy.
The glimpse into the future reveals to our saint his happy meeting with his gloriously risen Son after a short stay in the quiet abode of Limbo, where the saintly souls of the Old Testament awaited their transfiguration; he sees the kingdom of eternal joy, where the Heavenly Father receives his worthy representative and faithful administrator, ministers to him, and sets him over all His treasures (Luke 12:37).
There was something extraordinarily grand and majestic in his departure from life, like the quiet effulgence of the setting sun, which at the end of a day’s work gazes back with rapturous joy on all it has accomplished and quietly sinks to rest in the bosom of God. There exists no more precious masterpiece of grace, no incense more fragrant before the Lord, than the death of a saint (Ps. 115:15).
Seeing Death Anew
Saint Joseph’s death is also a touching and desirable example for us. He can help us to make our death similarly beautiful, and that in a threefold way. First, the example of his passing encourages us not to fear a death in Christ and with Christ, full of faith, hope, and love of Him. The holy protecting powers that hovered near the saint’s deathbed and consoled him are at our command also in the means of grace given us by Mother Church, among these being Christ Himself in holy Viaticum. It was in the shadow of death that Christ had His Cross erected, and now He Himself comes to assist us mightily in our last struggle. With Him and in Him we are to make the last, hard sacrifices. He accepts them mercifully and unites them to His.
Secondly, Saint Joseph helps us to prepare for a good and consoling death by the example of his holy life, which teaches us the proper preparation for dying happily. The last act of our lives must be prepared just as carefully as any other work. Nothing is more certain than death and nothing more important, since at that moment our eternity is decided. Hence it must be prepared for in life and by means of our lives.
Death is not merely the end of life, but the echo of life. Indeed we should not only prepare for death, but should be always in a state of preparation; for death comes soon, quickly, and unexpectedly, and only once. The beautiful life of our saint, his freedom from sin; his pious, devout life; his constant, meritorious self-denial, filled with love for Jesus and Mary, teaches us in what this preparation consists.
Thirdly, Saint Joseph obtains for us a happy, trustful, consoling death by our devotion to him. These pious practices in his honor are so many compacts formed, indeed, in life, but having their efficacious reward and blessing at the hour of death.
Hence, it is well for us frequently to recommend our last hour to Saint Joseph. He will not be wanting in his clients on that important occasion. How happy we shall be to have Saint Joseph close our eyes in death (see Gen. 46:4)!