With Death al Ends..
“An end is come, the end is come.”—Ezek. vii. 6.
Death Deprives us of Everything.
by worldlings they only are esteemed happy who enjoy the pleasures, the riches, and the pomps of this world; but death puts an end to all these earthly goods. For what is your life ? It is a vapor which appeareth for a little while (James iv, 15). The vapors exhaled from the earth, when raised in the air and clothed with light by the sun, make a splendid appearance; but how long does their splendor last? It vanishes before the first blast of the wind. Behold that nobleman: to-day he is courted, feared, and almost adored; to-morrow he is dead, despised, reviled, and trampled upon. At death we must leave all things. The brother of that great servant of God, Thomas a Kempis, took delight in speaking of a beautiful house which he had built for himself: a friend told him that it had one great defect. "What is it?" said he. "It is," answered the other, “ that you have made a door in it.” “ What,” rejoined the brother of a Kempis, “ is a door a defect?” “Yes,” answered the friend; “for through this door you must be one day carried dead, and must leave the house and all things.”
Death, in fine, strips man of all the goods of this world. Oh, what a spectacle to behold a prince banished from his palace, never more to return to it, and to see others take possession of his furniture, of his money, and of all his other goods ! The servants leave him in the grave, with a garment scarcely sufficient to cover his body. There is no longer any one to esteem or flatter him, no longer any one to attend to his commands. Saladin, who had acquired many kingdoms in Asia, gave directions at death, that when his body should be carried to the place of burial a person should go before, holding his winding-sheet suspended from a pole, and crying aloud: “This is all that Saladin brings with him to the grave.”
When the body of the prince is laid in the grave, his flesh drops off; and behold, his skeleton can no longer be distinguished from others. “Contemplate,” St. Basil says, “ the sepulchres of the dead, and see if you can distinguish who has been a servant, and who has been a master” (Hom. II, E. B. app). Diogenes was one day seen by Alexander the Great seeking with great anxiety for something among the bones of the dead. Alexander asked him what he was in search of. “ I am looking,” replied Diogenes, “for the head of Philip your father. I am not able to distinguish it: if you can find it, show it to me.” “Men,” says Seneca, “are born unequal; but after death all are equal” (Ep. 91). And Horace says that death brings down the sceptre to the level of the spade. In a word, when death comes, the end comes; all ends, we leave all things; and of all that we possess in this world, we bring nothing to the grave.
Affections and Prayers,
My Lord! since Thou givest me light to know that whatever the world esteems is smoke and folly, grant me strength to detach my heart from earthly goods, before death separates me from them. Miserable that I have been ! How often, for the miserable pleasures and goods of this earth, have I offended and lost Thee, who art an infinite good! O my Jesus! my heavenly physician, cast Thine eyes on my poor soul, look at the many wounds which I have inflicted on it by my sins, and have pity on me. If Thou wishest Thou canst make me clean (Matt. viii, 2). I know that Thou art able and willing to heal me; but in order to heal me, Thou wishest me to repent of the injuries which I have committed against Thee. I am sorry for them from the bottom of my heart. Heal me, then, now that it is in Thy power to heal me. Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee (Ps. xi, 5). I have forgotten Thee; but Thou hast not forgotten me; and now Thou makest me feel that Thou wilt even forget the injuries I have done Thee, if I detest them. “ But if the wicked do penance ... I will not remember all his iniquities.”—Ezek. xviii. 21. Behold, I detest my sins, I hate them above all things. Forget, then, O my Redeemer, all the displeasures I have given Thee. For the future I will lose all things, even life, rather than forfeit Thy grace. And what can all the goods of this earth profit me without Thy grace ?
Ah, assist me! Thou knowest my weakness. Hell will not cease to tempt me: it already prepares a thousand attacks to make me again its slave. No, my Jesus, do not abandon me. I wish to be henceforth the slave of Thy love. Thou art my only Lord; Thou hast created and redeemed me; Thou hast loved me more than all others; Thou alone hast merited my love; Thee alone do I wish to love.
Glory and Power on the Death-bed.
At the hour of death, Philip II., King of Spain, called his son, and throwing off his royal robe, uncovered his breast, which had been eaten away by worms, and said to him: “Prince, behold how we die ! see how all the grandeur of this world ends !” Theodoret has truly said that death fears not riches, nor satellites, nor sovereigns; and that from princes as well as vassals rottenness and corruption flow (De Prov. S. 6).
Thus the dead, though they be princes, bring nothing with them to the grave: all their glory remains on the bed on which they expire. When he shall die, he shall take nothing away, nor shall his glory descend with him (Ps. xlviii, 18).
St. Antonine relates, that after the death of Alexander the Great a certain philosopher exclaimed: “Behold! the man who yesterday trampled on the earth is now buried in the earth. Yesterday the whole earth was not sufficient for him, and now he is content with seven palms. Yesterday he led his armies through the earth, and now he is carried by a few porters to the grave.” But it is better to listen to the words of God. Why, says the Holy Ghost, is earth and ashes proud ? (Ecclus. X, 9).—O man ! do you not see that you are dust and ashes ? Why are you proud ? Why do you spend so many thoughts and so many years of life in seeking worldly greatness? Death will come; and then all your greatness and all your projects will be at an end. In that day, says David, all their thoughts shall perish (Ps. cxiv, 4).
Oh ! how much more happy was the death of St. Paul the Hermit, who lived sixty years shut up in a cave, than the death of Nero the Emperor of Rome! How much more happy was the death of St. Felix, a Capuchin lay-brother, than that of Henry the Eighth, who lived in the midst of royal magnificence, but at the same time at enmity with God ! But we must remember that, to secure a happy death, the Saints have abandoned all things; they have left their country; they have renounced the delights and the hopes which the world held out to them, and have embraced a life of poverty and contempt. But how can worldlings, living in the midst of sins, in the midst of earthly pleasures and dangerous occasions, expect a happy death ? God warns sinners that at death they shall seek and shall not find him (John vii, 34). He tells us that the hour of death shall be the time, not of mercy, but of vengeance (Deut. xxxii, 35). I will repay them in due time. Reason tells us the same; for, at death, men of the world shall find their understanding weak and darkened, and their heart hardened by the bad habits which they have contracted. Their temptations will then be more violent; how can they resist at death who were almost always accustomed to yield to temptations during life, and to be conquered by them? To change their heart a most powerful grace would be then necessary. But is God obliged to give them such a grace ? Have they merited such a grace by the scandalous and disorderly life which they have led? And on that last hour depends their happiness or misery for eternity. How is it possible that he who reflects on this, and believes the truths of faith, does not leave all to give himself to God, who will judge us all according to our works.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, Lord ! how many nights have I slept in enmity with Thee ? O God! in what a miserable state was my soul during that time. It was hated by Thee, and wished to be hated by Thee. I was condemned to hell: there was nothing wanting but the execution of the sentence. But Thou, my God. hast never ceased to seek after me, and to invite me to pardon. But, who can assure me that Thou hast pardoned me? Must I, O my Jesus ! live in this uncertainty till Thou judgest me? But the sorrow which I feel for having offended Thee, my desire to love Thee, and still more Thy Passion, O my beloved Redeemer, make me hope that Thy grace dwells in my soul. I am sorry for having offended Thee, O Sovereign Good, and I love Thee above all things. I resolve to forfeit everything rather than lose Thy grace and Thy love. Thou wishest that the heart which seeks Thee should be full of joy. Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord (1 Par. xvi, 10). Lord, I detest all the injuries I have offered to Thee. Give me courage and confidence : do not upbraid me with my ingratitude ; for I myself know and detest it. Thou hast said that Thou wilt not the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live (Ezek. xxxiii, 11). Yes, my God, I leave all things and turn to Thee. I seek Thee, I desire Thee, I love Thee above all things. Give me Thy love; I ask nothing else. O Mary, thou, after Jesus, art my hope; obtain for me holy perseverance.
Let us Hasten to Give Ourselves to God.
David calls the happiness of this life a dream of one who awakes from sleep (Ps. lxxii, 20). In explaining these words, a certain author says: The goods of this world appear great, but they are nothing: like a dream, which lasts but a little, and afterward vanishes, they are enjoyed but a short time. The thought, that with death all ends, made St. Francis Borgia resolve to give himself entirely to God. The Saint was obliged to accompany the dead body of the Empress Isabella to Grenada. When the coffin was opened, her appearance was so horrible and the smell so intolerable that all ran away. But St. Francis remained to contemplate in the dead body of his sovereign the vanity of the world; and looking at it, he exclaimed: “Are you then my empress ? Are you the queen before whom so many bent their knee in reverential awe? O Isabella, where is your majesty, your beauty gone ? Thus then,” he said within himself, “end the greatness and the crowns of this world. I will, therefore, henceforth serve a master who can never die.” From that moment he consecrated himself to the love of Jesus crucified; and he made a vow to become a religious, should his wife die before him. This vow he afterward fulfilled by entering into the Society of Jesus.
Justly then has a person who was undeceived written on a skull these words: “ Cogitanti vilescunt omnia.” To him who reflects on death, everything in this world appears contemptible; he cannot love the earth. And why are there so many unhappy lovers of this world ? It is because they do not think of death. O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heort ? Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying ? (Ps. iv, 3). Miserable children of Adam, says the Holy Ghost, why do you not chase away from your heart so many earthly affections, which make you love vanity and lies ? What has happened to your forefathers must befall you. They have dwelt in the same palace which you inhabit, and have slept in your very bed; but now they are no more. Such, too, will be your lot.
My brother, give yourself then to God before death comes upon you. Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly: (Eccles. Ix, 10). What you can do to-day, defer not till tomorrow; for a day once passed never returns, and tomorrow death may come, and prevent you from ever more being able to do good. Detach yourself instantly from everything which removes, or can remove, you from God. Let us instantly renounce in affection the goods of this earth, before death strips us of them by force. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. (Apoc. xiv, 13). Happy they who at death are already dead to all attachment to this world. They fear not, but desire death, and embrace it with joy; for, instead of separating them from the good which they love, it unites them to the Supreme Good, who is the sole object of their affections, and who will render them happy for eternity.
Affections and Prayers.
My dear Redeemer. I thank Thee for having waited for me. What should have become of me had I died when I was at a distance from Thee? May Thy mercy and patience, which I have experienced for so many years, be forever blessed ! I thank Thee for the light and grace with which Thou dost now assist me. I did not then love Thee, and I cared but little to be loved by Thee. I now love Thee with my whole heart, and nothing grieves me so much as the thought of having displeased so good a God. This sorrow tortures my soul; but it is a sweet torment, because it gives me confidence that Thou hast already pardoned me. O my sweet Saviour, would that I had died a thousand times before I sinned against Thee! I tremble lest I should hereafter offend Thee again. Ah! make me die the most painful of all deaths, rather than permit me evermore to lose Thy grace. I have been once the slave of hell; but now I am Thy servant, O God of my soul, Thou hast said that Thou lovest those who love Thee (Prov. viii, 17). I love Thee: then I am Thine, and Thou art mine. I may lose Thee at some future time ; but the grace which I ask of Thee is, to take me out of life rather than suffer me ever to lose Thee again. Unasked, Thou hast bestowed upon me so many graces; I cannot now fear that Thou wilt not hear my prayer for the grace which I now implore. Do not permit me ever to lose Thee. Give me Thy love, and I desire nothing more. Mary, my hope! intercede for me.
Shortness of Life.
“What is your life ? It is a vapor, which appeareth for a little while.”
—James, iv. 15.
Death Comes Quickly.
what is your life? It is like a vapor, which is dissipated by a blast of wind, and is seen no more. All know that they must die; but the delusion of many is, that they imagine death as far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short. Man born of a woman, living for a short time, . . . who cometh forth like a flower, and is destroyed ( This truth the Lord commanded Isaias to preach to the people. Cry. . . . All flesh is grass. . . . Indeed, the people is grass. The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen (Isa. xl, 6). The life of man is like the life of a blade of grass ; death comes, the grass is dried up: behold, life ends, and the flower of all greatness and of all worldly goods falls off.
My days, says Job, have been swifter than a post (Job, ix, 25). Death runs to meet us more swiftly than a post, and we at every moment run towards death. Every step, every breath brings us nearer to our end. "What I write," says Jerome, “is so much taken away from life (Ad Hel. De morte Nep.). “During the time I write, I draw near to death.” We all die, and like the waters that return no more, we fall into the earth (2 Kings, xiv, 14). Behold how the stream flows to the sea, and the passing waters never return! Thus, my brother, your days pass by, and you approach death. Pleasures, amusements, pomps, praises, and acclamations pass away; and what remains ? And only the grave remaineth for me (Job, xviii, 1). We shall be thrown into a grave, and there we shall remain to rot, stripped of all things. At the hour of death the remembrance of the delights enjoyed, and of all the honors acquired in this life, will serve only to increase our pain and our diffidence of obtaining eternal salvation. Then the miserable worldling will say : “ My house, my gardens, my fashionable furniture, my pictures, my garments, will in a little time be no longer mine, 'and only the grave remaineth for me.”
Ah ! at that hour all earthly goods are viewed only with pain by those who have had an attachment for them. And this pain will serve only to increase the danger of their eternal salvation; for we see by experience, that persons attached to the world wish at death to speak only of their sickness, of the physicians to be called to attend them, and of the remedies which may restore their health. When any one speaks of the state of the soul, they soon grow weary, and beg to be allowed repose. They complain of headache, and say that it pains them to hear any one speak. And if they sometimes answer, they are confused, and know not what to say. It often happens that the confessor gives them absolution, not because he knows that they are disposed for the sacrament, but because it is dangerous to defer it. Such is the death of those who think but little of death.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God and Lord of infinite majesty ! I am ashamed to appear before Thee. How often have I dishonored Thee by preferring to Thy grace a sordid pleasure, a little dust, the indulgence of anger, caprice, or vanity ! I adore and kiss, O my Redeemer, Thy holy wounds, which I have inflicted by my sins; but through these wounds I hope for pardon and salvation. Make me, O my Jesus ! understand the great injury I have done Thee in leaving Thee, the fountain of every good, to drink putrid and poisoned waters. Of all the offences I have given Thee nothing now remains but pain, remorse of conscience, and fruits for hell. Father, I am not worthy to be called Thy child (Luke, xv, 21). My Father! do not cast me off. It is true that I no longer merit the grace which would make me Thy child ; but Thou hast died to pardon me. Thou hast said : Turn ye to me, . . . and I will turn to you (Zach., I, 3). I give up all that gratifies me, I renounce all the pleasures that the world can give me, and I turn to Thee. Pardon me for the sake of the blood which has been shed for me; I repent with my whole heart of all the insults I have offered to Thee. I repent, and I love Thee above all things. I am not worthy to love Thee; but Thou dost not refuse the love of a heart that has once despised Thee. Thou didst purposely abstain from taking me out of life when I was in sin, that I might love Thee. I wish to love Thee during the remainder of my life, and I wish to love nothing but Thee. Assist me; give me holy perseverance, and Thy holy love. Mary, my refuge! recommend me to Jesus Christ.
The Lighted Candle at Death.
King Ezechias said with tears: My life is cut off as by a weaver; while I was yet beginning, he cut me off (Isa., xxxviii, 12). Oh, how many have been overtaken and cut off by death, while they were executing and arranging worldly projects devised with so much labor! By the light of the last candle, all things in this world, applause, diversions, pomps, and greatness vanish. Great secret of death ! It makes us see what the lovers of this world do not see. The most princely fortunes, the most exalted dignities, and the most superb triumphs lose all their splendor when viewed from the bed of death. The ideas that we have formed of certain false happiness are then changed into indignation against our own folly. The black and gloomy shade of death then covers and obscures every dignity, even that of kings and princes.
At present, our passions make the goods of this earth appear different from what they are in reality. Death takes off the veil, and makes them appear what they really are—smoke, dirt, vanity, and wretchedness. O God ! of what use are riches, possessions, or kingdoms at death, when nothing remains but a wooden coffin, and a simple garment barely sufficient to cover the body? Of what use are the honors, when they all end in a funeral procession and pompous obsequies, which will be unprofitable to the soul if it be in HELL? Of what use is beauty, when after death nothing remains but worms, stench, and horror, and in the end a little fetid dust?
He hath made me, says Job, as it were a byword of the people, and an example before them (Job, xvii, 6). The rich man, the captain, the minister of state, dies: his death is the general topic of conversation; but if he has led a bad life he will become “a byword of the people, and an example before them.” As an instance of the vanity of the world, and even of the divine justice, he will serve for the admonition of others. After burial his body will be mingled with the bodies of the poor. The small and great are there Job iii, 19). What profit has he derived from the beautiful structure of his body, which is now but a heap of worms? Of what use are the power and authority which he wielded, when his body is now left to rot in a grave, and his soul has, perhaps, been sent to burn in hell ? Oh, what misery! to be the occasion of such reflections to others, and not to have made them for his own profit! Let us then persuade ourselves that the proper time for repairing the disorders of the soul is not the hour of death, but the time of health. Let us hasten to do now what we shall not be able to do at that hour. The time is short. (Tempus breve est). Everything soon passes away and comes to an end: let us therefore labor to employ all things for the attainment of eternal life
Affections and Prayers,
O God of my soul! O infinite goodness ? have mercy on me, who have so grievously offended Thee. I knew that in yielding to sin I should lose Thy grace, and I have voluntarily lost it. Tell me what. I must do in order to recover it. If Thou wishest me to repent of my sins, behold I repent of them with mv whole heart: I wish to die of sorrow for them. If Thou wishest me to hope for Thy pardon, I hope for it through the merits of Thy blood. If Thou wishest me to love Thee above all things, I give up all. I renounce all the pleasures and goods which the world can give me : I love Thee above every good, O my most amiable Saviour ! If Thou wishest me to ask Thy graces, I beg two graces from Thee—do not permit me ever more to offend Thee, and make me love Thee: treat me then as Thou pleasest. Mary, my hope, obtain for me these two graces: through thy intercession I hope to obtain them.
Importance of the Last Moment.
How great, then, the folly of those who, for the miserable and transitory delights of this short life, expose themselves to the danger of an unhappy death, and afterward of an unhappy eternity. Oh! how important is that last moment, that last gasp, the last closing of the scene ! On it depends an eternity either of all delights or of all torments—a life of eternal happiness or of everlasting woe. Let us consider that Jesus Christ submitted to a cruel and ignominious death in order to obtain for us the grace of a good death. That we may at that last moment die in the grace of God, is the reason why he gives us so many calls, so many lights, and admonishes us by so many threats.
Antisthenes, though a pagan, being asked what was the greatest blessing which man could receive in this world, answered, A good death. And what will a Christian say, who knows by faith, that at the moment of death eternity begins, and that at that moment he lays hold of one of two wheels, which draws with it either eternal joy or everlasting torments ? If there were two tickets in a lottery, on one of which might be written HELL and on the other Heaven, what care would you not take to draw that which would give you a right to Paradise, and to avoid the other, by which you would win a place in Hell ! O God ! how the hands of those unhappy men tremble who are condemned to throw the die on which their life or death depends ! How great will be your terror at the approach of that last hour, when you will say : On this moment depends my life or death for eternity; on this depends whether I shall be forever happy or forever in despair ! St. Bernardine of Sienna relates, that at death a certain prince exclaimed, with trembling and dismay: Behold, I have so many kingdoms and palaces in this world; but if I die this night I know not what apartment shall be assigned to me.
Brother, if you believe that you must die, that there is an eternity, that you can die only once, and that if you then err your error will be forever irreparable, why do you not resolve to begin at this moment to do all in your power to secure a good death ? St. Andrew Avellino said with trembling: “Who knows what will be my lot in the next life? Shall I be saved or damned ?” The thought of the uncertainty of being damned or saved filled St. Louis Bertrand with so much terror, that he could not sleep during the night, because of this thought which would suggest itself to him: “Who knows whether thou wilt be lost ?” And will not you, who have committed so many sins, tremble? Oh ! hasten to apply a remedy in time; resolve to give yourself sincerely to God, and begin from this moment a life which, at the hour of death, will be to you a source, not of affliction, but of consolation. Give yourself up to prayer, frequent the Sacraments, avoid all dangerous occasions, and, if necessary, leave the world, secure to yourself eternal salvation, and be persuaded that to secure eternal life no precaution can be too great.
Affections and Prayers.
O my dear Saviour! how great are my obligations to Thee! How hast Thou been able to bestow so many graces on so ungrateful a traitor as I have been ? Thou hast created me ; and in creating me Thou didst see the injuries which I would commit against Thee. Thou didst redeem me by dying for me: and then, too, Thou didst see the ingratitude which I would be guilty of toward Thee. Being placed in the world I turned my back upon Thee by my sins. My soul was dead and rotten, and Thou didst restore me to life. I was blind, and Thou hast enlightened me. I had lost Thee, and Thou didst enable me to find Thee. I was Thy enemy, and Thou hast made me Thy friend. O God of mercy, make me feel the obligations which owe Thee, and make me weep over the offences which I have committed against Thee, Ah ! take vengeance on me by giving me a great sorrow for my sins. Do not chastise me by the privation of Thy grace and love. O eternal Father, I abhor and detest, above all evils, the injuries I have done Thee. Have mercy on me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Look at Thy Son dead on the cross. “ Sanguis ejus super me.” May his blood flow upon me, and wash my soul! O King of my heart! Thy kingdom come. I am resolved to banish every affection which is not for Thee. I love Thee above all things ; come and reign in my soul with undivided sway. Grant that I may love Thee, and love nothing but Thee. I desire to please Thee to the utmost of my ability, and to do Thy will in all things, during the remainder of my life. Bless, O my Father, this my desire, and grant me the grace to keep myself always united to Thee. All my affections I consecrate to Thee, and from this day forward I Wish to belong to Thee alone, my treasure, my peace, my hope, my love, my all. I hope for all graces through the merits of Thy Son. Mary, my queen and mother, assist me by thy intercession. Mother of God ! pray for me.