Light and Life – Jan-Feb 2019, Vol 72, No 1 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
You die the way you live. Over the past month, I had spent much time with Fr. Paul Aquinas Duffner, OP, the former long-time director of the Rosary Center and its most influential figure, who died on November 29, 2018 at 103 years-old and in his 78th year of priesthood. Each time I came to visit Fr. Duffner, the two things that he looked for—even hungered for—were the Holy Eucharist and the praying of the Rosary. Both gave him such consolation. He had spent his life with a great love and devotion for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and for the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, as he approached that final uphill climb back to the Lord, he counted on receiving Holy Communion and praying the Rosary.
Receiving the Holy Eucharist is the most important thing that we can do in our preparation to leave this world. Holy Viaticum is that Bread of Angels that connects us to our Lord in that most critical time. It is literally food for the journey as we die, and with God’s grace, arrive upon the shores of eternal life in heaven.
Our Lord says,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” (John 6:53-58)
Fr. Duffner understood the importance of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ and thus was always grateful to receive Holy Communion. Each time he received it, he would say, “Thank-you very very much.” As his final days approached, as he grew weaker and weaker, it became more difficult for him to receive Holy Communion. In the end, I was breaking off a small piece of the host; yet, each time he
Fr. Duffner had prayed the Rosary every day for most of his life. His love and devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary was palpable. When one prays the Rosary devoutly they connect with her in a singular way. There was a bond between them. In my visits, upon giving him Holy Communion, we moved to pray the Rosary. No matter how sick he was, or how much pain he had, he still was always eager to pray the Rosary. It meant that She would be there. The consolation of her presence was very reassuring for him.
In his last weeks, I always led the Rosary and he would respond with his half of the Our Father and the Hail Mary. As his death approached he became more frail and feeble. Yet, he always tried to join me in this Gospel prayer. Two days before he died, he was no longer responsive to any form of communication—not even with doctors. So, I said to myself that I would say both parts out loud; yet, to my surprise, as his part came, he suddenly spoke and prayed his part.
On the day before he died, when he was still nonresponsive, I prayed the Rosary, and even though he was in a coma-like state, I watched as his lips moved in response to this prayer. Fr. Duffner had gone to the Blessed Mother his entire life, and he would not stop asking for her intercession now as he faced his own impending death. Those words, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” reminded me that he understood what he was praying and asking from her, and now that he was in his final hours, there was the great consolation of hearing those words, even though he could no longer speak them.
With a few notable exceptions (e.g., St. Paul), most people die the way they live. It is foolish to think that we can live a sinful lifestyle, or a life that is lukewarm, with the mindset that we can put things off and change our lives later. It is not so easy. Nor do we know when death will come. It is better to recognize our human frailty as we lean on the Lord’s grace and go to his Mother for help and consolation. When death approaches, the best thing we can do is to fall into the good habits that we have already begun.
But perhaps we don’t have our lives ordered properly; in fact, maybe our lives are a complete mess. What are we to do? Where do we begin? Go to the sacraments and start praying the Rosary. Begin by going to confession—and go back again if you are struggling with serious sin, and again and again if it is needed. Go to Mass as much as possible, and when you have no mortal sins on your soul and are properly prepared, receive Holy Communion. If you cannot receive Holy Communion because of mortal sin or due to other circumstances, go to Mass anyway and ask for the grace of conversion. Go every day if you can. In addition, pray the Rosary every single day, even if you are overwhelmed by sin, addiction, depression, or other tumultuous circumstances. Go to Mary. Call on Mary. She will be with you.
Perhaps most of us have not lived the virtuous life of Fr. Paul Aquinas Duffner, OP; however, we can take his practice and make it our own, by frequenting Mass and receiving Holy Communion, and praying the Rosary each day of the rest of our lives. I promise you—it will pay dividends at your hour of death.
“The heart of Jesus with all its treasures is my portion. I shall live and die there in peace, even in the midst of suffering.” St. Bernadette
[Br. Columban Mary Hall, OP is a student brother of the Western Dominican Province in simple vows. He currently is on his residency year at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska.]
Humility is a virtue we instinctively associate with the Blessed Virgin, who twice refers to herself as the “handmaid” of the Lord (Lk. 1: 38 and 48). Both occasions, the Annunciation and the Visitation to St. Elizabeth, are remembered in the Rosary, and provide wonderful opportunities for meditating on the humility of the Blessed Virgin.
What would Mary herself say about humility? Her Magnificat says it all. Though some have seen in the Magnificat Mary’s pronouncement of her own greatness (“henceforth, all generations will call me blessed”), it is principally about the greatness of God, our sovereign good and final goal.
St. Thomas writes that humility is a virtue that helps us properly order ourselves to the difficult good, tempering and restraining the mind against presumption or overconfidence. Its counterpart is magnanimity, a part of fortitude which prevents us from despairing of the difficult good. Both of these are shown in Mary’s Magnificat: recognizing that she has everything from God, Mary magnifies Him and lays claim to her role and responsibility as mother of the Messiah. Assured of God’s grace, she puts her faith in Him; hence Elizabeth calls her blessed for believing.
I think Mary would say that putting ourselves down is not humility, neither is discounting the gifts, talents, and blessings God has given us. We never see her do this. On the other hand, the humble do not admire themselves, nor seek to be admired, despite the gifts they acknowledge. They put them at the service of God and neighbor. When the angel called her “full of grace,” Mary was troubled, and did not understand “what sort of greeting this was” (Lk. 1: 28-29). I cannot think the immaculate Virgin was ever under the illusion she had sinned, yet that does not mean she guessed the profundity of her own holiness or thought much of herself. She thought of God and blessed God. She did not tarry to congratulate herself on being chosen, she rose in haste to visit Elizabeth.
Mary would tell us that, acknowledging their nothingness before God, the humble do not cease to strive for great things; but they strive for them with confidence in God, asking them from God, as things ordered to God, hidden in God. It is not earthly greatness or outward exaltation for which they strive, for these hinder the desire for heavenly things. The humble strive for more: nothing less than God Himself, that their souls may magnify Him. May the Rosary be for us a school of humility, a means of glorifying God, and a catalyst of charity.
Dear faithful supporters of the Rosary Center & Confraternity, we are grateful for your support. We could not fulfill our Mission if not for our benefactors. After decades of constant use, the Rosary Center, the home of the Rosary Confraternity, is greatly in need of renovation. Please consider making a special gift to help make badly needed repairs, and to refurbish the offices, chapel and kitchen. Thank you for your generosity! Fr. Joseph Sergott, O.P.