Michaelangelo's PIETA

 SPIRITUAL PREPARATION FOR DEATH. 

                                       Excerpted from The Notebooks 1945-1950, (July 14, 1946).

     Jesus says:

     "I have dictated a Holy Hour for those who were wanting it.  I have taken the veil from My Hour of Agony in Gethsemani to give you a great prize, because there is no greater act of confidence between friends than that of revealing to the friend one's own suffering.  The smile and the kiss are not the supreme proof of love, but tears and and pain made known to the friend are.  You, My friend, have known this.  Since you were with Me in Gethsemani.  And now you are on the Cross.  And you feel the pains of death.  Lean on your Lord, while He gives you an Hour of Preparation for Death."

     I.

     "My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from Me."

     This is not one of the seven Words from the Cross.  But it is already a word of passion.  It is the first act of the passion which is beginning.  It is the necessary preparation for the other phases of the holocaust.  It is the calling upon the Giver of life, it is resignation; it is humility.  It is the prayer in which the will of the spirit and the frailty of the creature who loathes death are intertwined, while the flesh becomes enobled and the soul perfected.

     "Father...!"  Oh!  This is the hour when the world distances itself far from the senses and from thought, while, as a descending meteor, the thought of the other life, of the unknown, of judgement, draws near.  And man, ever a little child even if a hundred years old, seeks the bosom of God like a frightened babe left all alone.

     Husband, wife, brothers, children, parents, friends... They were everything, as long as life was far from death, as long as death was a thought hidden under distant mists.  But now that death comes forth from beneath the veil and advances, lo, through an overturning of the situation, it is the parents, the wife who lose their dinstinctive traits, their emotional value, and they grow dim before the imminent advance of death.  Like voices which grow faint due to their remoteness, everything of the earth loses strength, as that grows in strength which is of the beyond, that which up until yesterday appeared so very far away... And a surge of fear strikes the creature.

     If it were not painful and fearsome, death would not be the ultimate chastisement and the ultimate means of expiation granted to man.  Until the Fall, death was not death, but a falling asleep.  And where there was no fall, there was no death, as was the case for Mary Most Holy.  I died because all Sin was upon Me, and I have experienced what it is to loathe death.

     "Father!"  Oh!  This God, so many times not loved, or last to be loved, after the heart has loved relatives and friends, or has had more unworthy loves for ceatures of vice, or has loved things as gods; this God so often forgotten, and has tolerated our forgetting Him, who has left us free to forget Him, who has let us have our way, who has at times been scoffed at, at other times cursed, at others denied; it is He who rises up again in the thought of man and takes back His rights.  He thunders: "I am" and in order not to cause one to die of fear through the revelation of His power, He softens this powerful "I am" with a sweet word: "Father".

     "I am your Father."  There is no longer any terror.  The sentiment which this word produces is abandonment.

     I, I who had to die, who understood what it is to die, after having taught men to live calling the Most High Yahweh "Father", see then that I have taught you to die without terror, calling "Father" the God who rises again or makes Himself more present to the spirit of him who is dying amidst the spasms of agony.

     "Father!"  Do not fear.  You who are dying, do not fear this God who is Father!  He does not approach as a judge, armed with judgment book and axe.  He does not approach as a cynic, snatching you away from life and loves.  He comes opening His arms to you, saying: "Come back to your home.  Come to rest.  I will pay you back with interest for what you are leaving here behind.  And I promise you this: on behalf of those you are leaving behind, in My bosom you will be more active than if you remain here below in a struggle which is frenzied, and not always rewarded with success."

     But death is always sorrow.  Sorrow by virture of the physical suffering, sorrow by virtue of the moral suffering, sorrow by virtue of the spiritual suffering.  Here is something I already said: death must be sorrow for there to be a means of ultimate expiation in time.  And in a swirl of mists, which through alternating events, blot out and reveal what in life has been chrished and what in life made us fearful of the realities beyond, the soul, the mind, and the heart, like a ship seized in a great tempest, pass from calm areas--already in the peace of the imminent port now close at hand, within sight, and so serene that it already gives a blessed tranquility and a sense of repose like that of one who, having come almost to the end of a wearisome labor, anticipates the joy of the rest which is at hand--they pass into a zone where the tempest buffets them, strikes them and causes them to suffer, to fear, to groan.  It is again the world, the frenzied world with all its tentacles: the family, the business.  It is the anguish of the death struggle.  It is the fear of the final step... And then?  And then....?  Darkness overruns and suffocates the light; it hisses its terrors.... Where any longer is heaven?  Why death?  Why must one die?  And a death rattle is already in the throat: "I don't want to die!"

     No, My dying brothers, you die because to die is just, to die is holy, being the will of God.  No.  Do not cry out so!  This shout does not come from your soul.  It is the Enemy who influences your weakness to make you say this.  Change the rebellious and cowardly shout into a cry of love and trust: "Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from me."  Like the rainbow after the storm, look how this cry brings back the light, the calm.  See heaven once again, the holy reasons for dying, the reward of dying, that is, the return to the Father.  Understand that the spirit, too, the spirit indeed has greater rights than the flesh because it is immortal and supernatural in nature, and therefore has precedence over the flesh.  Then speak the word which is absolution for all your sins of rebellion: "Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done."

     This, then, is peace: this, then, is victory.  The angel of God draws close to you, and comforts you because you have won the battle that makes you ready to turn your death into a triumph.

     II.

     "Father, forgive them."

     This is the moment for stripping yourself of all that is heavy in order to fly more surely to God.  You cannot take with you either feelings or riches which are not spiritual and good.  And there will never be a man who dies without having something to forgive one or more of his fellow men, in many things, for many reasons.

     What man arrives at death without having suffered the harshness of a betrayal, the harshness of a dislike, the harshness of a lie, of an extortion, or some sort of injury on the part of relatives, associates, or friends?  Well then: this is the time to forgive in order to be forgiven.  To forgive completely, letting go not only of the rancor, not only the memory, but also the conviction that our reason for indignation was just.  This is the hour of death.  Time, world, business, feelings, are at an end.  Everything becomes "nothing".  One sole truth now exists: God.  What is the use, then, of bringing beyond the doorstep that which belongs on this side?

     Forgive.  And since to arrive at the perfection of love and of pardon--which does not any longer say: "And yet I had good reason"--is very, is too difficult for man, so then, pass on to the Father the task of pardoning for us.  Let us hand over our pardon to Him, to Him who is not man, who is perfect, who is good, who is Father, so that He may place it in His Fire, and give it perfected to whoever merits the pardon.

     Forgive the living and the dead.  Yes.  Even the dead, who have been occasions of pain.  Their death has taken away many painful twinges from the anger caused by the offenses;  sometimes it has taken them all away.  But the memory still lasts.  They made us suffer; and we remember that they made us suffer.  This memory always puts a limit on our forgiveness.  No. Not any longer, now.  Now death is about to take away all limitations to the spirit.  We are entering into the infinite.  Remove, therefore, even this memory which puts a limit on forgiveness.  Forgive, forgive so that the soul may have no weight and torment of memories, and can be at peace with all its brothers, living or suffering, before meeting with the Peaceful One.

     "Father, forgive them."  Holy humility, sweet love of pardon granted, which imples pardon asked of God for trespasses against God and against neighbor, trespasses on the part of him who is asking pardon for his brothers.  Act of love.  To die in an act of love is to have the forbearance of love.  Blessed are those who know how to pardon in expiation for all their hardness of heart and sins of anger.

    

     III.

     "Behold your son."

     Behold your son!  Surrender that which is dear, with farsighted and holy intention.  Give up affections, and surrender yourself to God without resistance.  Do not be envious of those who possess what we are leaving behind.  With a word you can entrust to God all that you cherish and which you are leaving behind, and everything that worries you, even your own spirit.

     Remember the Father who is Father.  Place into His hands the spirit which is returning to the Source.  Say: "Behold! Here I am. Take me with You because I give myself.  I am not surrendering by force of circumstances. I am giving myself because I love You as a son returning to his father."

     And say: "Here then.  These are my dear ones.  I give them to You.  These are my deeds, which sometimes have caused me to be unjust, envious of my neighbor, and which have caused me to forget You, because they seemed to me so important--they actually were, but I believed them to be even more so--they seemed to me to be of capital importance for the well-being of my loved ones, for my honor, for the esteem which they brought to me.  I believed also that I alone was able to look after them.  I believed that I was necessary for their accomplishment.  Now I see... I was nothing more than a microscopic device in the perfect universe of your Providence, and quite often a faulty device, which impaired the work of the perfect universe.  Now that the lights and the voices of the world are ceasing, and all is moving off into the distance, I see....  I hear... How inadequate my works were, how tattered, how incomplete!  How far they were from the Good.  I have presumed to be somebody.  It was you--foreseeing, provident, holy--who corrected my labors and made them useful once again. I have been overconfident.  Sometimes I have even said that You did not love me because I did not succeed in what I wanted to do as did some others whom I envied.  Now I see. Have mercy on me!"

     Humble abandonment, grateful reflection on Providence in reparation for your acts of presumption, greed, envy, and for replacing God with poor human possessions, and with gluttony for sundry riches.

     IV.

     "Remember me!"

     You have accepted the chalice of death, you have pardoned, you have yielded what was yours, even yourselves.  You have greatly mortified the "I" of man, greatly liberated the soul from that which displeases God: from the spirit of rebellion, from the spirit of rancor, from the spirit of greed.  You have yielded life, justice, ownership--poor life, poorer justice, thrice-poor human ownership--to the Lord.  Like the languishing prophet, Job, you lie destitute before God.  And so you are able to say: "Remember me."

     You are no longer anything.  Not health, not dignity, not richness.  You no longer possess even your own selves.  You are like a caterpillar which can become a butterfly or else rot in the prison of your body, to the ultimate and extreme injury of the spirit.  You are dust which returns to dust, or dust which is changing into a star.  According to your choice you can ascend into the vortex of God.  The final hour decides eternal life.  Keep that in mind.  And cry out: "Remember me!"

     God awaits this cry from poor Job to fill him to the brim with blessings of His Kingdom.  It is sweet to a Father to forgive, to intervene, to console.  He awaits only for this cry to say to you:  "I am with you, son.  Do not be afraid."  Say it, to make amends for all the times you may have been forgetful of the Father, or you may have been too proud.

     V.

     "My God, why have You abandoned me?"

     Sometimes it seems that the Father abandons.  This is only so that He may increase expiation and give greater pardon while hidden.  Can man angrily complain of this, man who has an infinite number of times abandoned God?  And must he despair because God tests him?

     How many things have you kept in your heart which were not God!  How many times have you been sluggish with Him!  In how many matters have you rejected Him and driven Him away!  You have filled your heart with everything.  And then you have nailed it closed, and well padlocked.  You were afraid that God, by entering in, might be able to disturb your lazy quietism, might be able to purify His temple by driving away the usurpers.  As long as you were happy, what did it matter to you to have God?  You were saying: "I have everything because, of course, I deserve it.  And then when you were not happy, did you never flee from God, and make Him the cause of all your misfortunes?

     Oh!  Unfair children who drink poison, who walk into labyrinths, who plunge headlong into ravines and into lairs of serpents and other wild beasts, and then say: "It is God who is to blame."  If God were not Father and a holy Father, what should He respond to the lament you utter in your painful hours, if in the hours of contentment you forgot Him?  Oh! Unfair children who, full of faults, would pretend to be treated as the Son of God Himself was not treated in the hour of the holocaust, pray tell, who was the more abandoned?  In order to save you, was not the Christ, the Innocent One, He who accepted absolute abandonment by God after having always loved Him so devotedly?  And is it not you who bear the name of "Christians"?  And do you not have the duty of saving at least yourselves?  There is not salvation in turbid sloth pleased with itself and dreading the annoyance of accepting the Active One.

     Imitate Christ then, by uttering this cry in the moment of greatest anguish.  But make sure that the note of the cry be a note of meekness and humility, not a note of blasphemy and rebuke.  "Why have You abandoned me, You who know that without You I can do nothing?  Come, O Father, come to save me.  Come to give me strength to save myself, because the pangs of death are horrible and the Adversary cunningly increases his power over me.  He hisses to me that You no longer love me.  Make yourself felt, O Father, not through my merits but precisely because I am nothing, without merit, who does not know how to conquer if he is alone, and who understands now that life was work for heaven."

     Woe to him who is alone, it is said.  Woe to him who is alone and the hour of death, alone with himself against Satan and the flesh!  But do not fear.  If you cry out to the Father, He will come.  And this humble calling upon Him will expiate your culpable sluggishness toward God, the false piety, the unruly self-love, which caused you to be slothful.

     VI.

     "I thirst."

     Yes, indeed, when the true value of eternal life is understood as opposed to the false worth of earthly life, when the purification through pain and through death is accepted in holy obedience, when one has grown in wisdom and grace before God in a few hours, sometimes in a few minutes, more than one would have grown in many years of life, there comes a deep thirst for heavenly waters, for heavenly things.  The lusts of all human thirsts are overcome.  There comes the supernatural thirst to possess God.  The thirst for love.  The soul aspires to drink love and to be imbibed by love.  As a rain which has fallen upon the soil and does not want to become dust but to return as mist, the soul now has a thirst to ascend to the place from which it came down.  The walls of the flesh nearly broken, the prisoner feels the gentle breezes from the place of its origin, and longs for it with all its being.

     What sort of exhausted pilgrim, who finally sees close at hand his native place after years, would not gather his forces and journey on, nimbly, tenaciously, heedless of everything but arriving from the place he one day took his leave, where he left behind all his true good?  Now he is certain of finding it and of relishing it much more, because in his exile he has experienced the paltry good which does not satiate.

     "I thirst."  Thirst for You, my God.  Thirst to be with You.  Thirst to possess You.  Thirst to give You.  Because on the threshold between earth and heaven one really knows how to understand love for one's neighbor as it should be understood.  And there comes the desire to act in order to give God to the neighbor we are leaving behind.  This is the holy activity of the saints, dead seeds which become ears of grain.  They pour themselves out in love, in order to give love, and to make God loved by those who are still in the struggles of earth!  "I thirst."  When the soul arrives on the doorstep of Life, there is only one water which slakes the thirst for good:  the Living Water, God Himself.  True Love:  God Himself.  Love opposed to egoism.

     For those who are just, egoism is dead before the flesh, and love reigns.  And love cries out: "I thirst for You and for souls.  To save.  To love.  To die, in order to be free to love and to save.  To die, in order to be born.  To relinquish in order to possess.  To renounce all sweetness, every comfort, because here below everything is vanity, and the soul wants only to plunge into the river, into the ocean of the Divinity, and drink of It, be in It, without further thirst, because the Fount of the Water of Life will have received it.  Have this thirst in order to make reparation for the lack of love, and for lust.

    VII.

     "All is accomplished."

     All the renunciations, all the sufferings, all the trials, the struggles, the victories, the offerings: everything.  There is nothing left but to present oneself to God.  The time granted to the creature to become a god, for Satan to tempt him, is complete.  The pain ceases, the testing ceases.  There remain only the judgment and the loving purification; or there comes, most blessedly, the undelayed abode of heaven.  But whatever is earth, whatever is human will, comes to an end.  All is accomplished!  The word of complete resignation or of joyous recognition at having finished the trial and consummated the holocaust.

     I am not considering those who die in mortal sin.  As regards such, they do not say "All is accomplished", but it is said on their behalf by the victorious angel of darkness with a shriek of victory, and by the defeated angel, with a wail of sorrow.

     I am speaking to penitent sinners, to good Christians, or to those who became heroes of virtue.  These human beings, more and more alive in the spirit as bit by bit death takes over the flesh, murmur or shout, in resignation or in joy: "All is accomplished.  The sacrifice has ended.  Take it as my expiation!  Take it as my offering of love!"  Thus the spirts speak their penultimate word, according to whether they undergo death by virtue of the universal law, or offer it as a voluntary sacrifice from a victim soul.  But no less in the first case than in the second, they now arrive at liberty from matter;  they recline on the bosom of God, saying: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

     Maria, do you know what it is to expire with this sublimity in the heart?  It is to expire in the kiss of God.  There are many preparations for death.  But believe that this one, based on My words, in its simplicity is the holiest."

Written by Maria Valtorta

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