The Certainty of Death. “It is appointed unto men once to die.”—Hebr. ix. 27. FIRST POINT.
All Must Die.
the sentence of death has been written against all men: you are a man; you must die. “Our other goods and evils,” says St. Augustine, “are uncertain; death alone is certain” (Serm.97, E.H.). It is uncertain whether the infant that is just born will be poor or rich, whether he will have good or bad health, whether he will die in youth or in old age. But it is certain that he will die. The stroke of death will fall on all the nobles and monarchs of the earth. When death comes there is no earthly power able to resist it. St. Augustine says, “Fire, water, the sword, and the power of princes may be resisted ; but death cannot be resisted” (In Ps. cxxi). Belluacensis relates that at the end of his life a certain king of France said “ Behold, with all my power, I cannot induce death to wait one more hour for me.” When the term of life arrives, it is not deferred a single moment. Thou hast appointed his bounds, which cannot be passed (Job,xiv, 5). Dearly beloved reader, though you should live as many years as you expect, a day will come, and on that day an hour, which will be the last for you. For me, who am now writing, and for you, who read this little book, has been decreed the day and the moment when I will no longer write, and you will no longer read. Who is the man that shall live and not see death ? (Ps. lxxxviii, 49). The sentence has been already passed. There never has been a man so foolish as to flatter himself that he will not have to die. What has happened to your forefathers, will also happen to you. Of the immense numbers that lived in this country in the beginning of the last century there is not one now living. Even the princes and monarchs of the earth have changed their country: of them nothing now remains but a marble mausoleum with a grand inscription, which only serves to teach us, that of the great ones of this world nothing is left but a little dust inclosed in the tomb. “Tell me," says Saint Bernard, “ where are the lovers of the world ? Of them nothing remains save ashes and worms” (Medit. C. 3).
Since our souls will be eternal, we ought to procure, not a fortune which soon ends, but one that will be everlasting. What would it profit you to be happy here (if it were possible for a soul to be happy without God), if hereafter you must be miserable for all eternity? You have built that house to your entire satisfaction; but remember that you must soon leave it to rot in a grave. You have obtained that dignity which raises you above others; but death will come and reduce you to the level of the poorest peasant.
Affections and Prayers. Ah ! unhappy me, who have spent so many years only in offending Thee, O God of my soul. Behold these years are already past: death is perhaps at hand ; and what do I find but pains and remorse of conscience? Oh, that I had always served Thee, O my Lord! Fool that I have been ! I have lived so many years on this earth, and instead of acquiring merits for heaven, I have laden my soul with debts to the divine justice. Ah, my dear Redeemer, give me light and strength now to adjust my accounts. Death is perhaps not far off. I wish to prepare for that great moment, which will decide my eternal happiness or misery. I thank Thee for having waited for me till now; and since Thou hast given me time to repair the past, behold me, O my God! tell me what I am to do for Thee. Dost Thou wish me to weep over the offences I have offered to Thee ? I am sorry for them, and detest them with my whole soul. Dost Thou wish me to spend the remaining years and days of my life in loving Thee? I desire to do so. O God ; I have even hitherto frequently resolved to do so, but I have violated my promises. O my Jesus, I will be no longer ungrateful for the great graces Thou hast bestowed upon me. If I do not now change my life, how shall I be able at death to hope for pardon and for Paradise? Behold, I now firmly resolve to begin to serve Thee in earnest. But give me strength ; do not abandon me. Thou didst not abandon me when I offended Thee ; I therefore hope more confidently for Thy aid, now that I purpose to renounce all things to please Thee. Accept me, then, as one of Thy lovers, O God worthy of infinite love ! Receive the traitor that now casts himself with sorrow at Thy feet—that loves Thee, and asks Thy mercy. I love Thee, O my Jesus; I love Thee with my whole heart; I love Thee more than myself. Behold, I am Thine ; dispose of me, and of all that I possess, as Thou pleasest. Give me perseverance in obeying Thy commands ; give me Thy love ; and then do with me whatsoever Thou wishest. Mary, my mother, my hope, my refuge, to thee I recommend myself, to thee I consign my soul: pray to Jesus for me.
Every Moment we ApproachDeath. Itis appointed. It is certain, then, that we are all condemned to death. We are born, says St. Cyprian, with the halter round our neck ; every step we take brings us nearer to death. My brother, as your name has been one day entered in the register of baptisms, so it will be one day entered in the register of deaths. As in speaking of your ancestors you say: God be merciful to my father, to my uncle, to my brother, so others shall say the same of you. As you have heard the death-bell toll for many, so others shall hear it toll for you.
But what would you say if you saw a man on his way to the place of execution jesting, laughing, looking about in every direction, and thinking only of comedies, festivities, and amusements? And are not you now on your way to death ? What is the object of your thoughts ? Behold in that grave your friends and relatives, on whom justice has already been executed. How great is the terror and dismay of a man condemned to die, when he beholds his companions suspended on the gallows ! Look then at these dead bodies. Each of them says to you: Yesterday for me; today for thee (Ecclus. xxxviii, 23). The same is said to you by the portraits of your deceased relatives, by the memoranda-books, the houses, the beds, the garments, which they have left.
To know that you must die, that after death you will enjoy eternal glory or suffer eternal torments, that on death depends your eternal happiness or eternal misery, and, with all this before your eyes, not to think of settling your accounts, and of adopting every means of securing a happy death, is surely the extreme of folly. We pity those who meet with a Sudden and unprovided death ; why then do we not endeavor to be always prepared ? We too may die suddenly and without preparation. But, sooner or later, with or without warning, whether we think or do not think of it, we shall die ; and every hour, every moment, brings us nearer to our end, which shall be the last illness that will send us out of the world.
At every age, the houses, the streets, and the cities are filled with new people ; the former inhabitants are borne to the grave, their last resting-place. As the days of life have ended for them, so a time will come when neither I nor you, nor any one alive, will live any longer on this earth. Days shall be formed and no one in them (Ps. cxxxviii, 16). We shall all then be in eternity, which shall be for us either an eternal day of delights, or an eternal night of torments. There is no middle way ; it is certain and an article of faith, that either one lot or the other will be ours.
Affections and Prayers. My beloved Redeemer! I would not dare to appear before Thee, did I not see Thee hanging on the cross, lacerated, despised, and lifeless, for the love of me. My ingratitude has been great; but Thy mercy is still greater. My sins have been very grievous ; but Thy merits exceed their enormity. Thy wounds, Thy blood, and Thy death are my hope. I deserved hell by my first sin: to that sin I have added so many other offences. And Thou hast not only preserved my life, but Thou hast also invited me to pardon, and hast offered me peace with so much mercy and so much love. How can I fear that Thou wilt drive me away, now that I love Thee and desire nothing but Thy grace ? Yes, my dear Lord, I love Thee with my whole heart, and I desire only to love Thee. I love Thee, and I am sorry for having despised Thee, not so much because I have deserved hell, as because I have offended Thee, my God, who hast loved me so tenderly. O my Jesus, open to me the bosom of Thy goodness; add mercies to mercies. Grant that I may be no longer ungrateful to Thee : change my whole heart. Grant that my heart, which has once despised Thy love, and has exchanged it for the miserable delights of this earth, may now be entirely Thine, and may burn with continual flames for Thee. I hope to gain Paradise, that I may always love Thee. I cannot enjoy in that kingdom a place among the innocent—I must remain among the penitents ; but though among these, I wish to love Thee more than the innocent. For the glory of Thy mercy, make all heaven behold so great a sinner inflamed with an ardent love. I resolve henceforth to be all Thine, and to think only of loving Thee. Assist me with Thy light and with Thy grace to execute this desire, which Thou in Thy goodness hast inspired. O Mary! thou who art the mother of perseverance, obtain tor me the grace to be faithful to this my promise.
We should Think Continually of Death.
Death is certain. But, O God ! this truth Christians know, this they believe and see: and how can they still live so forgetful of death as if they would never have to die ? If after this life there were neither hell nor heaven, could they think less of it than they do at present? It is this forgetfulness that makes them lead so wicked a life. My brother, if you wish to live well, spend the remaining days of life with death before your eyes. O death, thy sentence is welcome (Ecclus. Xli, 3). Oh! how correct the judgments, how well directed the actions, of the man whose judgments are formed, and whose conduct is regulated in view of death! “ Consider the end of life,” says St. Laurence Justinian, “and you will love nothing in this world” (Lign. Vit. De Hum. c. 4). All that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John, ii, 16). All the goods of this earth are reduced to the pleasures of sense, to riches and to honors. But all these are easily despised by the man who considers that he will be soon reduced to ashes, and that he will be soon buried in the earth to be the food of worms.
And in reality it was at the sight of death that the Saints despised all the goods of this earth. St. Charles Borromeo kept on his table a skull, in order that he might continually contemplate it. Cardinal Baronius had inscribed on his ring the words, Memento mori. (Remember death.) The Venerable P. Juvenal Ancina, Bishop of Saluzzo, had this motto written on a skull, “What you are, I was; and what I am, you shall be.” A holy hermit being asked when dying how he could be so cheerful, said: “I have always kept death before my eyes; and therefore, now that it has arrived, I see nothing new in it.”
What folly would it not be for a traveler, who would think only of acquiring dignities and possessions in the countries through which he had to pass, and should reduce himself to the necessity of living miserably in his native land, where he must remain during his whole life! And is not he a fool who seeks after happiness in this world, where he will remain only a few days, and exposes himself to the risk of being unhappy in the next, where he must live for eternity ? We do not fix our affections on borrowed goods, because we know that they must soon be returned to the owner. All the goods of this earth are lent to us: it is folly to set our heart on what we must soon quit. Death shall strip us of them all. The acquisitions and fortunes of this world all terminate in a dying gasp, in a funeral, in a descent into the grave. The house which you have built for yourself you must soon give up to others. The grave will be the dwelling of your body till the day of judgment; thence it will go to heaven or to hell, whither the souls will have gone before.
Affections and Prayers. Then, at death, all shall be at an end for me. I shall then find only the little I have done for Thee, O my God ! and what do I wait for! Do I wait till death come and find me as miserable and defiled with sin as I am at present? Were I now called to eternity I should die with great disquietude on account of my past sins. No, my Jesus ; I will not die so discontented. I thank Thee for having given me time to weep over my iniquities, and to love Thee. I wish to begin from this moment. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart for having offended Thee, O Sovereign Good ! and I love Thee above all things—I love Thee more than my life. My Jesus! I give myself entirely to Thee. From this moment I embrace and unite Thee to my heart. I now consign my soul to Thee. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit. I will not wait to give it to Thee when that proficiscere, “ Depart, O soul.” will announce my departure from this world. I will not wait till then to ask Thee to save me. “ Jesu sis mihi Jesus.” My Saviour, save me now by granting me pardon and the grace of Thy holy love. Who knows but this consideration which I have read may be the last call which Thou wilt give me, and the last mercy which Thou wilt show me ? Extend Thy hand, O my love, and deliver me from the mire of my tepidity. Give me fervor, and make me do with great love all that Thou dost demand of me. Eternal Father, for the love of Jesus Christ, give me holy perseverance, and the grace to love Thee, and to love Thee ardently, during the remainder of my life. O Mary! through the love which thou bearest to thy Jesus, obtain for me these two graces: perseverance and love.
Uncertainty of the hour of Death. “ Be you then also ready;for at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.”—Luke xii. 40. FIRST POINT. The Moment is Fixed, but it is Unknown. it is certain that we shall die; but the time of death is uncertain “ Nothing, “ says the author who styles himself Idiota, “ is more certain than death; but nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death” (De Cont. Mort. C. 3). My brother, God has already fixed the year, the month, the day, the hour, and the moment when I and you are to leave this earth and go into eternity; but the time is unknown to us. To exhort us to be always prepared, Jesus Christ tells us that death will come unawares, and like a thief in the night. The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night (1 Thess. v. 2). He now tells us to be always vigilant; because, when we least expect him, he will come to judge us. At what hour you think not, the Son of man will come (Luke xii, 40). St. Gregory says that, for our good, God conceals from us the hour of death, that we may always be prepared to die.(Mort. 1, 12 c. 20). “Since, then,” says St. Bernard, “death may take away life at all times and in all places, we ought, if we wish to die well and save our souls, to live always in expectation of death” (Medit. C. 3).
All know that they must die: but the misfortune is, that many view death at such a distance, that they lose sight of it. Even the old, the most decrepit, and the most sickly, flatter themselves that they will live three or four years longer. But how many, I ask, have we known, even in our own times, to die suddenly—some sitting, some walking, some sleeping? It is certain that not one of these imagined that heshould die so suddenly, and on that day on which he died. I say, moreover, that of all who have gone to the other world during the present year, no one imagined that he should die and end his days this year. Few are the deaths which do not happen unexpectedly.
When, therefore, Christian soul, the devil tempts you to sin by saying, Tomorrow you will go to confession, let your answer be, How do I know but this will be the last day of my life ? If this hour, this moment, in which I would turn my back on God, were the last of my life, so that I would have no time for repentance, what would become of me for all eternity? To how many poor sinners has it happened, that in the act of feasting on the poison of sin they were struck dead and sent to hell? As fishes are taken with the hook, says Ecclesiastes, so men are taken in the evil time (Eccles. Ix, 12). The evil time is that in which the sinner actually offends God. The devil tells you that this misfortune will not happen to you; but you should say to him, in answer: If it should happen to me, what will become of me for all eternity?
Affections and Prayers. Lord the place in which I ought to be at this moment is not that in which I find myself, but in hell, which I have so often merited by my sins. “ Infernus domus mea est.” (Hell is my house). St. Peter says: The Lord waiteth patiently for your sake, not willing that any one should perish, but that all should return to penance (2 Peter iii, 9). Then Thou hast had so much patience with me, and hast waited for me, because Thou wishest me not to be lost, but return to Thee by repentance. My God, I return to Thee; least myself at Thy feet, and supplicate mercy Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy. Lord, to pardon me requires a great and extraordinary act of mercy, because I offended Thee after I had been favored with a special light. Other sinners also have offended Thee, but they have not received the light which Thou gavest to me. But, in spite of all my sinfulness and ingratitude, Thou commandest me to repent of my sins, and to hope for pardon. Yes, my Redeemer, I am sorry with my whole heart for having offended Thee, and I hope for pardon through the merits of Thy Passion. Thou, my Jesus, though innocent, wished to die like a criminal on the cross, and to shed all Thy blood in order to wash away my sins. “O sanguis innocentis lava, culpas poenitentis.” O blood of the innocent, wash away the sins of the penitent. O eternal Father! pardon me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Hear his prayers, now that He intercedes for me and makes himself my advocate. But it is not enough to receive pardon ; I desire also, O God ! worthy of infinite love, the grace to love Thee : I love Thee, O Sovereign Good ! and I offer Thee henceforth my body, my soul, my liberty, and my will. I wish henceforth to avoid not only grievous, but also venial offences. I will fly from all evil occasions. Lead us not into temptation. For the love of Jesus Christ, preserve me from the occasions in which I would offend Thee. But deliver us from evil: Deliver me from sin, and then chastise me as Thou pleasest. I accept all infirmities, pains, and losses which Thou mayest be pleased to send me: it is enough for me not to lose Thy grace and Thy love. Ask, and you shall receive. (John, xvi, 24). Thou promisest to grant whatsoever we ask ; I ask these two graces—holy perseverance and the gift of Thy love. O Mary, mother of mercy! thou dost pray for me: in thee do I put my trust.
We Should Make up Our Accounts.
The Lord does not wish us to be lost; and therefore, by the threat of chastisement, he unceasingly exhorts us to a change of life. Except you will be converted, He win brandish His sword (Ps. vii, 13). Behold, he says in another place, how many, because they would not cease to offend me, have met with a sudden death, when they were least expecting it, and were living in peace, secure of a life of many years. For when they shall say : Peace and security: then shall sudden destruction come upon them (1 Tess. v. 3). Again he says: Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish (Luke, xiii, 3). Why so many threats of chastisement before the execution of vengeance ? It is because he wishes that we amend our lives, and thus avoid an unhappy death. “ He,” says St. Augustine, “ who tells you to beware, does not wish to take away your life.” (Serm. 22 E.B.). It is necessary, then, to prepare our accounts before the day of account arrives. Dearly beloved Christians, were you to die, and were your lot for eternity to be decided before night would your accounts be ready? Oh! how much would you give to obtain from God another year or month, or even another day, to prepare for judgment ? Why then do you not now, that God gives you this time, settle the accounts of your conscience? Perhaps it cannot happen that this shall be the last day for you ? Delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day; for His wrath shall come on a sudden, and in the time of vengeance He will destroy thee (Eccles. V. 8). My brother, to save your soul you must give up sin. “If then you must renounce it at some time, why do you not abandon it at this moment ?” says St. Augustine. Perhaps you are waiting till death arrives ? But, for obstinate sinners, the hour of death is the time, not of pardon, but of vengeance. Jn the time of vengeance He will destroy thee. When any one borrows from you a large sum of money you take care to get a written security for it. Who knows, you say, what may happen ? Why are you not equally careful about the salvation of your soul, which is of far greater importance to you than all the riches of the earth ? When eternity is at stake, why do you not say: Who knows what may happen? If you were to lose a sum of money, all would not be lost; and though in losing it your entire property would be lost, you would have the hope of recovering it. But if at death you lose your soul, then you will truly have lost all, and can never hope to regain it. You are careful to keep an exact account of all the goods you possess, lest, by dying suddenly, any of them might be lost; and if you meet with a sudden death, and find yourself at enmity with God, what will become of your soul for all eternity ?
Affections and Prayers. Ah! my Redeemer ! Thou hast spent all Thy blood, and hast given Thy life in order to save my soul; and I have often lost it by confidence in Thy mercy. I have, then, sooften abused Thy goodness to offend Thee. By doing so, I have deserved to be suddenly struck dead, and to be cast into hell. In a word, I have been engaged in a contest with Thee. Thou didst treat me with mercy, and I offended Thee; Thou didst seek after me, and I fled away from Thee ; Thou gavest me time to repair the evil I had done., and I employed that time in adding insults to insults. Lord, make me understand the injustice I have done Thee, and the obligation by which I am bound to love Thee. Ah! my Jesus! how could I be so dear to Thee, who sought after me so often when I chased Thee away ? How hast Thou been able to bestow so many graces on one who has given Thee so much displeasure? From this I see the ardor of Thy desire to save me from perdition. I am sorry with my whole heart for having offended Thee, O infinite goodness! Ah, receive this ungrateful sheep, that casts itself sorrowful at Thy feet; receive it and bind it on Thy shoulders, that I may never more fly away from Thee. I will never again abandon Thee. I wish to love Thee; I wish to be Thine; and provided I belong to Thee, I am content to suffer every pain. And what greater punishment can fall upon me than to live without Thy grace, to be separated from Thee, who art my God, who hast created me and died for me? O accursed sins! what have you done? You have made me displease my Saviour, who has loved me so tenderly. Ah, my Jesus, as Thou hast died for me, so I ought to die for Thee. Thou hast died through love for me—I should die through sorrow for having despised Thee. I accept death in whatever manner and at whatever time Thou pleasest to send it. Hitherto I have not loved Thee, or I have loved Thee too little. I do not wish to die in this state. Ah, grant me a little more time, that I may love Thee before I die. Change my heart ; wound it; inflame it with Thy holy love. Through that affection of charity which made Thee die for me, grant me this favor. I love Thee with my whole heart. My soul is enamored of Thee. Do not permit me to lose Thee. Give me holy perseverance; give me Thy holy love. Most holy Mary, my refuge and my mother! perform the office of advocate in my behalf.