Some time ago I joyfully participated in the exercise for a Happy death, which Salesians practice monthly to continue persevering in their journey of fidelity to God, the Church and the children and youths they lovingly serve.
I was deeply touched by what Saint John Bosco said regarding the exercise for a Happy death, or, in its Latin appellative goes, Bona Mors.
To his Salesian brothers Don Bosco used to urge them: “Make the Exercise for a Happy Death every month; make it well, make it unfailingly well!” This was so because he strongly believed that a person consecrated to God should be prepared for the time when s/he will be meeting the divine Bridegroom for the eternal wedding feast. He said: “I believe that the salvation of a religious can be assured, if every month he receives the Holy sacraments and adjusts the matters of his conscience as if he had, in fact, to leave this life for eternity.” Don Bosco’s solicitude for the souls of others extended to the children and youth as well. He said: “I think that we can be reasonably sure that a boy will save his soul if he makes his confession and receives Communion every month as though they were his last.” And, finally, to his beloved spiritual brothers, the Salesians, Don Bosco ardently reminded them: “Do not neglect the Exercise for a Happy Death once a month and examine your conscience to see what you should acquire, correct, or take away, so that you might be a good soldier of Christ”.
The structure for the Bona Mors exercise that Saint John Bosco highly recommended for his religious brethren that he founded and for the students attending Salesian schools includes the following steps: (1) monthly confession; (2) a meditation or conference the evening before or on the day itself of the Exercise for a Happy Death; (3) a half-hour’s reflection or examination of conscience made in common, according to the prescribed formulary on the progress or retrogression made in virtue during the past month; (4) the reading at table or elsewhere of the whole or at least part of the Constitution (Rule of the Salesian Order for Salesians); (5) the choosing of a Saint as protector for the month.
Pope Francis, imbued as he is with the thought of Saint John Bosco because he studied in Salesian schools and owes his vocation to a Salesian priest, Fr. Pozzoli, speaks alot about the importance of frequent confession. For Pope Francis the pentinent “ought to reflect on the truth of his life, of what he feels and what he thinks before God. He ought to be able to look earnestly at himself and his sin. He ought to feel like a sinner, so that he can be amazed by God”. Because, for the Argentinian Pontiff, “the most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is always to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds. The Lord of mercy always forgives me; he always offers me the possibility of starting over”.
Why not taking seriously the exercise for a Happy death by approaching this great sacrament of mercy, confession, at least once a month? Let me recall Pope Francis’ words: “Confessing to a priest is a way of putting my life into the hands and heart of someone else, someone who in that moment acts in the name of Jesus. It’s a way to be real and authentic: we face the facts by looking at another person and not in the mirror”.
O God, great and omnipotent judge of the living and the dead, we are to appear before You after this short life to render an account of our works. Give us the grace to prepare for our last hour by a devout and holy life, and protect us against a sudden and unprovided death. Let us remember our frailty and mortality, that we may always live in the ways of Your commandments. Teach us to “watch and pray” (Luke 21, 36), that when Your summons comes for our departure from this world, we may go forth to meet You, experience a merciful judgment, and rejoice in everlasting happiness. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.