The sufferings of the dying are very great, on account of their remorse for sins committed, their dread of approaching judgment, and the uncertainly of eternal salvation.
At that moment especially, the devil puts forth all his power to gain the soul that is passing into eternity; knowing that the time is short in which he may win her, and that if he loses her, he has lost her forever. “The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.” [Apoc. xii. 12.]
And therefore the devil, who has always tempted her in life, will not be satisfied to tempt her alone in death, but calls companions to his aid: “Their houses shall be filled with serpents.” [Isa. xiii. 21.] When any one is at the point of death, his house is filled with demons, who unite to accomplish his ruin.
It is related of St. Andrew Avellino, that at the time of his death, ten thousand devils came to tempt him; and we read in his life, that at the time of his agony he had so fierce a struggle with hell, that it caused all his good religious who were present to tremble.
They saw the face of the saint swell from agitation, so that it became black; they saw all his limbs trembling, and greatly agitated, rivers of tears flowed from his eyes, and his head shook violently; all these were signs of the horrible assault he was suffering from the powers of hell.
All the religious wept in compassion, redoubled their prayers, and trembled with fear when they saw that a saint died thus. Yet they were consoled by seeing that the saint often turned his eyes, as if seek ing help, towards a devout image of Mary, for they remembered that he had often said in life, that in the hour of his death, Mary must be his refuge.
It finally pleased God to terminate this struggle by a glorious victory, for the agitation of his body ceased, his countenance gained its natural shape and color, and fixing his eyes tranquilly on that image, he devoutly bowed his head to Mary, who, it is believed, then appeared to him, as if to thank her, and quietly breathed forth in her arms his blessed soul, with heavenly peace depicted on his countenance. At the same time a Capuchin nun, in her agony, turned to the religious who were with her and said: “Say an Ave Maria, for a saint has just died.”
Ah, how these rebels flee before the presence of their queen! If, in the hour of death, we have Mary on our side, what fear can we have of all the powers of hell?
David, in dread of the agony of death, comforted himself with confidence in the death of his future Redeemer, and in the intercession of the Virgin mother: “For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I fear no evils, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they have comforted me.” [Psal. xxii. 4.]
Cardinal Hugo understands the staff to signify the tree of the Cross, and the rod the intercession of Mary, who was the rod foretold by Isaias: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” [Isa. xi. 1.]
This divine mother, says St. Peter Damian, is that powerful rod by which the fury of the infernal enemies is conquered.* Hence St. Antoninus encourages us, saying: If Mary is for us, who is against us?"*
Father Manuel Padial, of the Society of Jesus, being at the point of death, Mary appeared to him, and said, to comfort him: “The hour has at length come when the angels, rejoicing, say to thee, Oh happy labors! oh mortifications well recompensed!” At which words an army of devils was seen taking flight in despair, crying: “Alas! we have no power, for she who is without stain defends him.”*
In like manner, the devils assailed Father Jasper Haywood, when he was dying, with great temptations against faith; he immediately commended himself to the most holy Virgin, and then was heard to exclaim: “I thank thee, oh Mary, that thou hast come to my aid.”*