For Thoughts On Death by Robert Bellarmine

—Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine
Today we celebrate the feast of the saint whose portrait you see here. You can read all about his life elsewhere. What I’m interested in is what this Doctor of the Church has to say about death, and as a consequence, his thoughts on life.

I’ve shared Blaise Pascal’s thoughts on death before in this space. Yeah, Frank, we noticed and could you please talk about something else?! Sorry, but I just had a loved one pass away very recently, so death is on my mind. And who better than St. Robert Bellarmine to instruct us on this subject?


It turns out he was a great orator, someone whom Catholics, and Protestants flocked to hear speak. Truthfully, I know next to nothing about him except that he died on this day back in Annos Domini, 1621. 

I could spend a lifetime reading the works of the Doctors of the Church and still barely scratch the surface of the writings of all of those of the Church’s ranks  who are now at home in the Church Triumphant.

But lately, I’ve resolved that I will make an effort to familiarize myself with the writings of those who have gone before us and are in the Communion of the Saints. Especially on their feast day. As such, I invite you to tag along with me now and read the preface to one of St. Robert Bellarimine’s easier to find essays. 


Preface to “The Art of Dying Well”

Being now free from Public business and enabled to attend to myself, when in my usual retreat I consider, what is the reason why so very few endeavour to learn the “Art of dying Well,” (which all men ought to know,) I can find no other cause than that mentioned by the Wise man: “The perverse are hard to be corrected, and the number of fools is infinite. (Ecclesiastes, i. 15) For what folly can be imagined greater than to neglect that Art, on which depend our highest and eternal interests; whilst on the other hand we learn with great labour, and practise with no less ardour, other almost innumerable arts, in order either to preserve or to increase perishable things?

Now every one will admit, that the “Art of dying Well” is the most important of all sciences; at least every one who seriously reflects, how after death we shall have to give an account to God of everything we did, spoke, or thought of, during our whole life, even of every idle word; and that the devil being our accuser, our conscience a witness, and God the Judge, a sentence of happiness or misery everlasting awaits us. We daily see, how when judgment is expected to be given, even on affairs of the slightest consequence, the interested party enjoy no rest, but consult at one time the lawyers, at another the solicitors, now the judges, and then their friends or relations.

But in death when a “Cause” is pending before the Supreme Judge, connected with life or death eternal, often is the sinner compelled, when unprepared, oppressed by disease, and scarcely possessed of reason, to give an account of those things on which when in health, he had perhaps never once reflected. This is the reason why miserable mortals rush in crowds to hell; and as St. Peter saith, “If the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter, iv. 1)

I have therefore considered it would be useful to exhort myself, in the first place, and then my Brethren, highly to esteem the “Art of dying Well.” And if there be any who, as yet, have not acquired this Art from other learned teachers, I trust they will not despise, at least those Precepts which I have endeavoured to collect, from Holy Writ and the Ancient Fathers.

But before I treat of these Precepts, I think it useful to inquire into the nature of death; whether it is to be ranked among good or among evil things. Now if death be considered absolutely in itself, without doubt it must be called an evil, because that which is opposed to life we must admit cannot be good. Moreover, as the Wise man saith:“God made not death, but by the envy of the devil, death came into the world.”Wisdom i. 11. verses 13 24.

With these words St. Paul also agrees, when he saith: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death:and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned.” (Romans v. 12.) If then God did not make death, certainly it cannot be good, because every thing which God hath made is good, according to the words of Moses:“And God saw all things that he had made, and they were very good.” But although death cannot be considered good in itself, yet the wisdom of God hath so seasoned it as it were, that from death many blessings arise.

Hence David exclaims; “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints: ” and the Church speaking of Christ saith:”Who by His death hath destroyed our death, and by His resurrection hath regained life.” Now death that hath destroyed death and regained life, cannot but be very good: wherefore if every death cannot be called good, yet at least some may. Hence St. Ambrose did not hesitate to write a book entitled, “On the Advantages of Death,” in which treatise he clearly proves that death, although produced by sin, possesses its peculiar advantages.

There is also another reason which proves that death, although an evil in itself, can, by the grace of God, produce many blessings. For, first, there is this great blessing, that death puts an end to the numerous miseries of this life. Job thus eloquently complains of the evils of this our present state: ” Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries. Who cometh forth like a flower and is destroyed, and fleeth as a shadow, and never continueth in the same state.” (Job xiv. 2-3)

And Ecclesiastes saith:”I praised the dead rather than the living:and I judged him happier than them both, that is not yet born, nor hath seen the evils that are under the sun” Ecclesiasticus likewise adds:” Great labour is created for all men, and a heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam, from the day of their coming out of their mother s womb, until the day of their burial into the mother of all. (chap, xl.) The Apostle too complains of the miseries of this life: “Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Epistle to Romans, vii. 24.)

From these testimonies, therefore, of Holy Writ it is quite evident, that death possesses an advantage, in freeing us from the miseries of this life. But it also hath a still more excellent advantage, because it may become the gate from a prison to a Kingdom. This was revealed by our Lord to St. John the Evangelist, when for his faith he had been exiled into, the isle of Patmos:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me: Write, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labours; for their works follow them. (Apocalypse xiv. 13)

Truly ” blessed” is the death of the saints, which by the command of the Heavenly King frees the soul from the prison of the flesh, and conducts her to a celestial Kingdom; where just souls sweetly rest after all their labours, and for the reward of their good works, receive a crown of glory. To the souls in purgatory also, death brings no slight benefit, for it delivers them from the fear of death, and makes them certain of possessing one day, eternal Happiness.

Even to wicked men themselves, death seems to be of some advantage; for in freeing them from the body, it prevents the measure of their punishment from increasing. On account of these excellent advantages, death to good men seems not horrible, but sweet; not terrible, but lovely. Hence St. Paul securely exclaims: “For to me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain, having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” And in his first Epistle to the Thessalonians, he saith: “We will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have not hope” (iv. 12.)

There lived some time ago a certain holy lady, named Catherine Adorna, of Genoa; she was so inflamed with the love of Christ, that with the most ardent desires she wished to be “dissolved,” and to depart to her Beloved. Hence, seized as it were with a love for death, she often praised it as most beautiful and most lovely, blaming it only for this that it fled from those who desired it, and was found by those who fled from it. From these considerations then we may conclude, that death, as produced by sin, is an evil; but that, by the grace of Christ who condescended to suffer death for us, it hath become in many ways salutary, lovely, and to be desired.


You can find the rest of this essay (only 46 pages long) here.

To Remember the Fallen

This is a special Memorial Day edition of the YIM Catholic Community Prayer Intentions List.  In the United States, Monday, May 31st is a federal holiday. On this day we honor those who have given their lives while serving in the armed forces of our country during armed conflicts.

As the resident Marine on the blog, writing this post is a duty I must fulfill. Truthfully, I didn’t want to write it. But then I started remembering two Marines who died in an accident that almost killed me. Their names are Sergeant Armando Avila, and Sergeant Michael Vasquez.

They served with me in the artillery unit that I belonged to. Sgt. Avila was a cannoneer and responsible for a team of Marines that manned the 155MM howitzer that we all knew and loved, the M198. Sgt. Vasquez was a Forward Observer, or the eyes of the battery. He would radio back to our Fire Control Center positions and coordinates for targets. I loved these two men as brothers. Their families loved them even more.

I still wasn’t going to write this post though, because my two friends had died in a peace-time accident. Then one of my friends posted the picture and story of a guy I served with when he was a young enlisted Marine. Let me introduce you to my friend and comrade-at-arms, Major Jay Thomas Aubin, USMC.

Jay had always wanted to be a pilot, it was a dream of his. His father owned a little airstrip up in Maine. Little Jay was a lot like me, you see. He knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he knew it at a young age. Also like me, Jay wasn’t born with a silver-spoon in his mouth, but he had a goal, and goal setting is how you actualize dreams. Or maybe he, again like me, was called to the vocation of warrior.

Jay enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school for a four-year enlistment. After graduating from Parris Island, he went to school to learn how to repair communications and navigation equipment on aircraft.  He worked on A-6 Intruders, an all-weather attack aircraft. He was a good kid, a good Marine. He did his four years honorably, and left the Marines with money he had saved and earned. He attended college.

Like me, Jay didn’t go to college to “find himself” either. He went to earn his bachelor’s degree so he could come back into the Marine Corps as an officer and take his shot at flight school. If all this sounds pat and easy, believe me, it is far from that. The entire endeavor was a long-shot if there ever was one. College was the easy part but surviving Quantico (where Marine Officers are made), which is known for many things, is no cakewalk. He did well, made it to flight school, earned his wings of gold. Easy words to write, but extremely difficult tasks to accomplish.

He married a girl named Rhonda, who knew what she was getting into when she met Jay. Military wives are a special breed, and they need to be remembered as well. The Twin Towers were struck, and the machinery of society geared up for war. By this time, Aubin had moved up the ranks and was a Major and an experienced pilot (when I knew him he was a wee Corporal). His country said his unit must go to war, and he said “Aye aye, sir.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom was the name of the deployment. The war began on March 20, 2003. From here, I’ll let Hugo Kugiya of the Associated Press tell the rest.

Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin was among the first casualties of the war. He was piloting a helicopter with three other Marines and eight British Marines aboard when it crashed in Kuwait, two days after the war started.

The chopper was emblazoned with his nickname, Sweet Pea. It was a name given to him by a subordinate, inspired by the way Aubin responded to a favorable report: “Oh, sweet!”

“No one could find a name to suit him,” said his mother, Nancy Chamberlain of Winslow, Maine. “They kept coming up with these macho names, but they didn’t fit.”

He was not an imposing man, possessing a slight build and an easy smile.

Let me break in with a little reality here. Jay was tough as nails. Look at the photograph. He could run 3 miles like a gazelle, doing it in 18 minutes or less. Slight build? He could do 20 dead-hang pull ups. And when I knew him, 80 sit-ups in under 2 minutes. Marines come in two varieties: big and mean, and skinny and mean. OK? Back to the civilians’ write-up,

His was more of a nurturing personality. After the Marine Corps ball, he took his wife home, then checked out a van and drove back to the party, waiting for drunk Marines to exit, offering them a ride home.

Knowing him as I did, I can believe every word of this. He was an outstanding human being.

Aubin, 36, enlisted in the Marines, first, as a way to pay for college where he earned a business degree, then, so he could pursue the dream he had had of learning to fly, ever since he was an infant and his pilot father strapped him into his two-seater.

The crash that killed Sweet Pea was ruled an accident — there was no gunfire. Blowing sand and smoke from burning oil wells were thought to be a factor, his mother said.

“The thing that bothered me the most was I thought he was going to be blamed,” Chamberlain said. “But he wasn’t …

“He always said if he was flying a helicopter that went down, he wanted to go down too. I miss him more than I can tell you, but sometimes there are things worse than death. We’re the ones suffering now. But if he had lived, he would really be suffering.”

And that is how I received my orders to write this post. My buddy, Corporal Jay Aubin became Major Jay Aubin, aka Sweet Pea, and his family lost him at the age of 36. He was survived by his parents,  his wife, Rhonda, and their children, 10-year-old Alicia (now 17) and Nathan, 7 (now 14).

Our Lord said,  this is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12-13). Whether or not you believe that this includes members of the military, let me assure you that it does. Sudden death is an occupational hazard for members of the military. For the rest of us, it is just a hazard. But death, either way, is inevitable, and those who put their lives on the line during combat operations are definitely following Our Lord’s commandment.

In the comment box below, if you would like to offer up a prayer for any of your friends or family members who have given their life while serving in the armed forces, please do so. You can remain anonymous or not, it is up to you. I would only ask that you adhere to our other regular rule, which is to avoid divisive politics.

There are hundreds, thousands,  tens of thousands of stories similar to Jay Aubin’s that I’ve shared with you today. So let us pray for the brave souls of our fallen, and for their families who have borne their sacrificial loss, together as a community. Semper Fidelis.

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.




Because of Blaise Pascal’s Letter upon the Death of his Father

Webster has been serving at funerals lately, one in early December and one just a few days ago. And in a prediction that is all too likely to come to fruition, he believes he will attend the funeral of at least one dear friend this year. Reading these posts, I reflect on the fragility of human life and the sudden impact on our loved ones lives when we depart this mortal coil.

A sudden death, an accidental death, the unexpected death is always a shocker. Others are blessed with an illness—or maybe it’s not a blessing, to see the train enter the station that will inevitably bear them away. There is pain, and suffering in the long drawn-out route to eternity. [Read more...]


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