We Must Always be Ready.
Be ye ready. The Lord does not tell us to prepare ourselves, but to be prepared, when death arrives. When death comes, it will be almost impossible, in that tempest and confusion, to give ease to a troubled conscience. This, reason tells us: this, God threatens, saying that then he will come, not to pardon, but to avenge, the contempt of his graces. Revenge is mine, I will repay (Rom. xii, 19). It is, says St. Augustine, a just punishment, that he who was unwilling, when he was able to save his soul, will not be able when he is willing (De Lib. Arb. 1. 3, c. 13). But you will say: Perhaps I may still be converted and saved. Would you throw yourself into a deep well, saying, Perhaps I may not be drowned ? O God ! how sin blinds the understanding, and deprives the soul of reason. When there is question of the body, men speak rationally; but when the soul is concerned, they speak like fools.
My brother, who knows but this point which you read is the last warning that God may send you ? Let us immediately prepare for death, that it may not come upon us without giving us time to prepare for judgment. St. Augustine says that God conceals from us the last day of life, that we may be always prepared to die (Serm. 39 E. B.). St. Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation, not only with fear, but also with trembling (Phil. Ii, 12). St. Antonine relates that a certain king of Sicily, to make one of his subjects understand the fear with which he sat on the throne, commanded him to sit at table with a sword suspended over him by a slender thread. The apprehension that the thread might give way filled him with so much terror that he could scarcely taste food. We are all in like danger; for the sword of death, on which our eternal salvation depends, may at each moment fall upon us.
It is indeed a question of eternity. If the tree fall to the south or to the north, in which place soever it shall fall, there shall it lie (Eccles. xi, 3). If, when death comes, we are found in the grace of God, oh! with what joy shall we say: I have secured all; I can never again lose God; I shall be happy forever. But, if death finds the soul in sin, with what despair will it exclaim, “Ergo erravimus !”—therefore have I erred; and for my error there will be no remedy for all eternity. The fear of an unhappy eternity made the venerable Father Avila, apostle of Spain, say, when the news of death was brought to him: Oh! that I had a little more time to prepare for death ! This fear made the Abbot Agatho, who spent so many years in penance, say at death: What will become of me ? Who can know the judgments of God ? St. Arsenius, too, trembled at the hour of death; and being asked by his disciples, why he was so much alarmed, he said: “My children this fear is not new to me; I have had it always during my whole life.” Above all, holy Job trembled when he said: What shall I do when the Lord shall rise to judge ? and when he shall examine, what shall I answer him ? (Job xxxi, 14).
Affections and Prayers.
Ah my God! who has ever loved me more than Thou hast ? and whom have I despised and insulted more than I have insulted Thee ? O blood! O wounds of Jesus, you are my hope. Eternal Father, look not upon my sins, but look at the wounds of Jesus; behold Thy Son dying through pain for my sake, and asking Thee to pardon me. I repent, O my Creator! of having offended Thee. I am sorry for it above all things. Thou didst create me that I might love Thee ; and I have lived as if Thou didst create me to offend Thee. For the love of Jesus Christ, pardon me and give me grace to love Thee. I have hitherto resisted Thy will, but I will resist no longer, and will do whatsoever Thou commandest. Thou commandest me to detest the outrages I have offered Thee; behold, I detest them, with my whole heart. Thou commandest me to resolve to offend Thee no more ; behold, I resolve to lose my life a thousand times, rather than forfeit Thy grace. Thou commandest me to love Thee with my whole heart; yes, with my whole heart I love Thee, and I wish to love nothing else but Thee. Thou wilt henceforth be my only beloved, my only love. From Thee I ask, and from Thee I hope for holy perseverance. For the love of Jesus Christ, grant that I may be always faithful to Thee, and that I may always say to Thee, with St. Bonaventure: “ Unus est dilectus meus, unus est amor meus.” My beloved is one, my love is one. I do not wish that my life be employed any longer in giving Thee displeasure ; I wish to spend it only in weeping over the offences I have committed against Thee, and in loving Thee. Mary, my Mother! pray for all who recommend themselves to thee,—pray to Jesus also for me.
The Death of the Sinner.
“ When distress cometh upon them, they will seek for peace, and there shall be none. Trouble shall come upon trouble.”—Ezek. vii. 25.
The Sinner will Seek God at Death, but He will not find
at present sinners banish the remembrance and thought of death ; and thus they seek after peace, though they never find it, in the sinful life which they lead. But when they are found in the straits of death, on the point of entering into eternity, they shall seek peace, and there shall be none. Then they will not be able to fly from the torture of their sinful conscience. They will seek peace; but what peace can be found by a soul loaded with sins that sting it like so many vipers ? What peace can the sinner enjoy when he sees that he must in a few moments appear before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ, whose law and friendship he has till then despised? Trouble shall come upon trouble. The news of death, which has been already announced, the thought of being obliged to take leave of everything in this world, the remorse of conscience, the time lost, the want of time at present, the rigor of the divine judgment, the unhappy eternity which awaits sinners—all these things will form a horrible tempest, which will confuse the mind, will increase his apprehensions; and thus, full of confusion and distrust, the dying sinner will pass to the other world.
Trusting in the divine promise, Abraham, with great merit, hoped in God, against human hope (Rom. iv, 18). But sinners, with great demerit, hope falsely and to their own perdition, not only against hope but also against faith; because they despise the menaces of God against all who are obstinate in sin. They are afraid of a bad death, but they fear not to lead a wicked life. But who has assured them that they will not suddenly be deprived of life by a thunderbolt, by apoplexy, or by the bursting of a blood-vessel ? And were they at death even allowed time for repentance, who assures them that they will sincerely return to God ? To conquer bad habits, St. Augustine had to fight against them for twelve years. How will the dying man, who has always lived in sin, be able, in the midst of the pains, the stupefaction, and the confusion of death, to repent sincerely of all his past iniquities ? I say sincerely, because it is not enough to say and to promise with the tongue: it is necessary to promise with the heart ? O God ! what terror and confusion will seize the unhappy Christian who has led a careless life, when he finds himself overwhelmed with sins, with the fears of judgment, of hell, and of eternity ! Oh ! what confusion will these thoughts produce when the dying sinner will find his reason gone, his mind darkened, and his whole frame assailed by the pains of approaching death. He will make his confession; he will promise, weep, and seek mercy from God, but without understanding what he does; and in this tempest of agitation, of remorse, of pains and terrors, he will pass to the other life. The people shall be troubled, and they shall pass (Job, xxxiv, 20). A certain author says that the prayers, the wailings, and promises of dying sinners are like the tears and promises of a man assailed by an enemy who points a dagger to his throat to take away his life. Miserable the man who takes to his bed at enmity with God, and passes from the bed of sickness to eternity.
Affections and Prayers.
O wounds of Jesus! you are my hope. I should despair of the pardon of my sins, and of my eternal salvation, did I not behold you, the fountains of mercy and grace, through which a God has shed all his blood, to wash my soul from the sins which I have committed. I adore you, then, O holy wounds! and trust in you. I detest a thousand times, and curse those vile pleasures by which I have displeased my Redeemer, and have miserably lost his friendship. Looking then at Thee, I raise up my hopes, and turn my affections to Thee. My dear Jesus, Thou deservest to be loved by all men, and to be loved with their whole heart. I have so grievously offended Thee, I have despised Thy love; but, notwithstanding my sinfulness, Thou hast borne with me so long, and invited me to pardon with so much mercy. Ah, my Saviour, do not permit me evermore to offend Thee, and to merit my own damnation. O, God ! what torture should I feel in hell at the sight of Thy blood and of the great mercies Thou hast shown me. I love Thee, and will always love Thee. Give me holy perseverance. Detach my heart from all love which is not for Thee, and confirm in me a true desire, a true resolution henceforth, to love only Thee, my sovereign good. O Mary, my Mother! draw me to God, and obtain for me the grace to belong entirely to him before I die.
Anguish of the Dying Sinner.
The poor dying sinner will be assailed, not by one, but by many causes of distress and anguish. On the one band, the devils will torment him. At death these horrid enemies exert all their strength to secure the perdition of the soul that is about to leave this world. They know that they have but little time to gain it, and that if they lose it at death, they shall lose it forever. The Devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time (Apoc. xii, 12). The dying man will be tempted, not by one, but by innumerable devils, who will labor for his damnation. Their houses shall be filled with serpents (Isa. xiii, 21). One will say: Fear not; you will recover. Another: You have been deaf to the inspirations of God for so many years, and do you now expect that he will have mercy on you ? Another will ask: How can you make satisfaction for all the injuries you have done to the property and character of your neighbors ? Another: Do you not see that your confessions have been null, that they have been made without sorrow or a purpose of amendment ? How will you now be able to repair them ?
On the other hand, the dying man will see himself surrounded by his sins. Evils, says David, shall catch the unjust man unto destruction (Ps. cxxxix, 12). These sins, says St. Bernard, like so many satellites, shall keep him in chains, and shall say unto him: “ We are your works; we shall not desert you “ (Medit. C. 2). We are your offspring; we will not leave you; we will accompany you to the other world, and will present ourselves with you to the Eternal Judge. The dying man will then wish to shake off such enemies; but, to get rid of them, he must detest them, he must return sincerely to God. His mind is darkened, and his heart hardened. A hard heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish in it (Ecclus, iii, 27). St. Bernard says that the man who has been obstinate in sin during life, will make efforts, but without success, to get out of the state of damnation; and that, overwhelmed by his own malice, he will end his life in the same unhappy state. Having loved sin till death, he has also loved the danger of damnation. Hence the Lord will justly permit him to perish in that danger in which he has voluntarily lived till the end of his life. St. Augustine says that he who is abandoned by sin before he abandons it, will scarcely detest it as he ought; because what he will then do will be done through necessity (De vera poenit. c. 17).
Miserable the sinner that hardens his heart and resists the divine calls: His heart shall be as hard as a stone and as firm as a smith's anvil (Job, xli, 15). Instead of yielding to the graces and inspirations of God, and being softened by them, the unhappy man becomes more obdurate, as the anvil is hardened by repeated strokes of the hammer. In punishment of his resistance to the divine calls, he will find his heart in the same miserable state at the very hour of death, at the moment of passing into eternity. A hard heart shall fare evil at the last. Sinners, says the Lord, you have, for the love of creatures, turned your back upon me. They have turned their back upon me, and not their face; and in the time of their affliction they will say: Arise, and deliver us. Where are the gods thou hast made thee? Let them arise and deliver thee (Jer. Ii, 27). They will have recourse to God at death; but he will say to them: Why do you invoke me now? Call on creatures to assist you; for they have been your gods. The Lord will address them in this manner, because, in seeking him, they do not sincerely wish to be converted. St. Jerome says that he holds, and that he has learned from experience, that they who have to the end led a bad life, will not die a good death (Hoc teneo, hoc multiplici experientia didici, quod ei non bonus finis, cui mala simper vita fuit. – In Epis. Euseb. Ad Dam.).
Affections and Prayers.
My dear Saviour! assist me ; do not abandon me. I see my whole soul covered with the wounds of sin, my passions attack me violently, my bad habits weigh me down. I cast myself at Thy feet; have pity on me and deliver me from so many evils. In Thee, O Lord! I have hoped; may I not be confounded forever (Ps. xxx, 6). Do not suffer a soul that trusts in Thee, to be lost. Deliver not up to beasts the souls that confess to Thee (Ps. lxxiii, 19). I am sorry for having offended Thee, O infinite Goodness. I have done evil, I confess my guilt. I wish to amend my life, whatsoever it may cost me. But if Thou dost not help me by Thy grace, I am lost. Receive, O my Jesus! the rebel who has so grievously outraged Thy majesty. Remember that I have been purchased by Thy blood and Thy life. Through the merits then of Thy Passion and death, receive me into Thy arms, and give me holy perseverance. I was lost, Thou hast called me back: I will resist no longer: to Thee I consecrate myself; bind me to Thy love, and do not permit me evermore to lose Thee by losing Thy grace again. My Jesus! do not permit it. Mary, my queen ! do not permit it: obtain for me death, and a thousand deaths, rather than that I should again forfeit the grace of thy Son.
We Must Seek God when we can Find Him.
It is a marvellous thing that God unceasingly threatens sinners with an unhappy death. Then they shall call upon me, and I will not hear (Prov. I, 28). Will God hear his cry when distress shall come upon him? (Job, xxvii, 9). I also will laugh in your destruction, and will mock (Prov. i, 26). According to St. Gregory, God laughs when he is unwilling to show mercy (Mor. 1, 9, c. 20). Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time: (Deut. xxii, 35).
The Lord pronounces the same threats in so many other places: and sinners live in peace as securely as if God had certainly promised to give them, at death, pardon and paradise. It is true that at whatsoever hour the sinner is converted God promises to pardon him. But he has not promised that sinners will be converted at death: on the contrary, he has often protested that they who live in sin shall die in sin. You shall die in your sins (John, viii, 21-24). He has declared that they who seek him at death shall not find him. You shall seek me, and shall not find me (John, vii, 34). We must, therefore, seek God while he may be found (Isa. iv, 6). A time shall come when it will not be in our power to find him. Poor blind sinners ! they put off their conversion till death, when there will be no more time for repentance. “ The wicked,” says Oleaster, “have never learned to do good unless when the time for doing good is no more.” “ God wills the salvation of all: but he takes vengeance on obstinate sinners. Should any man in a state of sin be seized with apoplexy and be deprived of his senses, what sentiments of compassion would be excited in all who should see him die without the sacraments and without signs of repentance ! And how great should be their delight, if he recovered the use of his senses, asked for absolution, and made acts of sorrow for his sins ! But is not he a fool who has time to repent and prefers to continue in sin? or who returns to sin, and exposes himself to the danger of being cut off by death without the sacraments, and without repentance ? A sudden death excites terror in all; and still how many expose themselves to the danger of dying suddenly, and of dying in sin ?
Weight and balance are the judgments of the Lord (Prov. xvi, 11). We keep no account of the graces which God bestows upon us; but he keeps an account of them, he measures them; and when he sees them despised to a certain degree, he then abandons the sinner in his sin, and takes him out of life in that unhappy state. Miserable the man who defers his conversion till death. St. Augustine says: “The repentance which is sought from a sick man is infirm.” (Serm. 255, E.B. App). St. Jerome teaches, that of a hundred thousand sinners who continue in sin till death, scarcely one will be saved (In Ep. Eus. Ad Dam.) St. Vincent Ferrer writes that it is a greater miracle to bring such sinners to salvation, than to raise the dead to life (De Nat, V, S. 1).
What sorrow, what repentance, can be expected at death from the man who has loved sin till that moment? Bellarmine relates that when he exhorted to contrition a certain person whom he assisted at death, the dying man said that he did not know what was meant by contrition. The holy Bishop endeavored to explain it to him; but he said: Father, I do not understand you; these things are too high for me. He died in that state, leaving, as the venerable Cardinal has written, sufficiently evident signs of his damnation. St. Augustine says that by a just chastisement the sinner who has forgotten God during life shall forget himself at death (S. 257 E.B. App)
Be not deceived, says the Apostle, God. is not mocked. For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall he reap corruption (Gal. vi, 7). It would be a mockery of God to live in contempt of his laws, and afterward to reap remuneration and eternal glory. But God is not mocked. What we sow in this life, we reap in the next. For him who sows the forbidden pleasures of the flesh, nothing remains but corruption, misery,, and eternal death.
Beloved Christian, what is said for others is also applicable to you. Tell me: if you were at the point of death, given over by the physicians, deprived of your senses, and in your last agony, with what fervor would you ask of God another month or week to settle the accounts: of your conscience ! God at present gives you this time: thank him for it, and apply an immediate remedy to the evil you have done; adopt all the means of finding yourself in the grace of God when death comes; for then there will be no more time to acquire his friendship.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God ! who would have borne with me so patiently as Thou hast? If Thy goodness were not infinite, I would despair of pardon. But I have to deal with a God who has died for my salvation. Thou commandest me to hope, and I will hope. If my sins terrify and condemn me, Thy merits and Thy promises encourage me. Thou hast promised the life of Thy grace to all who return to Thee. Return ye and live (Ezek. xviii, 32). Thou hast promised to embrace him who is converted to Thee. Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you (Zach. I, 3). Thou hast said that Thou knowest not how to despise a contrite and humble heart (Ps. 1, 19). Behold me, O Lord; I return to Thee ; I acknowledge that I deserve a thousand hells ; I am sorry for having offended Thee. I firmly promise never again to offend Thee voluntarily, and to love Thee forever. Ah ! do not suffer me any longer to be ungrateful to such unbounded goodness. O eternal Father, through the merits of the obedience Of Jesus Christ, who died to obey Thee, grant that I may till death be obedient to all Thy wishes. I love Thee, O Sovereign Good ! and through the love which I bear Thee, I desire to obey Thee. Give me holy perseverance, give me Thy love; I ask nothing more. Mary, my Mother! intercede for me.
Sentiments of a Dying Christian, who has been Careless about the Duties of Religion and has thought but little of Death.
“ Take order with thy house; for thou shall die, and shall not live,”—Isa. xxxviii, 1.
Sad State of the Worldling at Death.
imagine yourself at the bedside of a negligent Christian, who is overpowered by sickness, and has but a few hours to live. Behold him oppressed by pains, by swoons, by suffocation, by want of breath, by cold perspirations, his reason so impaired, that he feels but little, understands little, and can speak but little. The greatest of all his miseries is, that though at the point of death, instead of thinking of his soul and of preparing accounts for eternity, be fixes all his thoughts on physicians, on the remedies by which he may be rescued from sickness, and from the pains which will soon put an end to life. “They are unable to have any other thought of themselves,” (De Cont. Mundi, c. 15) says St. Laurence Justinian, speaking of the condition of negligent Christians at the hour of death. They can think only of themselves. Surely his relatives and friends will admonish the dying Christian of his danger? No; there is not one among all his relatives and friends who has the courage to announce to him the news of death, and to advise him to receive the last sacraments. Through fear of offending him, they all refuse to inform him of his danger.—O my God ! from this moment I thank Thee, that at death I shall, through Thy grace, be assisted by my beloved brothers of my Congregation, who will then have no other interest than that of my eternal salvation, and will all help me to die well.
But though he is not admonished of his approaching death, the poor sick man, seeing the family in disorder, the medical consultations repeated, the remedies multiplied, frequent, and violent, is filled with confusion and terror. Assaulted by fears, remorse, and distrust, he says within himself: Perhaps the end of my days has arrived. But what will be his feelings when he is told that death is at hand ? “ Take order with thy house; for thou shall die, and shall not live.” What pain will he feel in hearing these words : Your illness is mortal: it is necessary to receive the last sacraments, to unite yourself to God, and to prepare to bid farewell to the world. What! exclaims the sick man; must I take leave of all—of my house, my villa, my relatives, friends, conversations, games, and amusements ? Yes, you must take leave of all. The lawyer is already come, and writes this last farewell: I bequeath such-a-thing and such-a-thing, etc. And what does he take away with him ? Nothing but a miserable rag, which will soon rot with him in the grave.
Oh ! with what melancholy and agitation will the dying man be seized at the sight of the tears of the servants, at the silence of his friends, who have not courage to speak in his presence. But his greatest anguish will arise from the remorse of his conscience, which in that tempest will be rendered more sensible by the remembrance of the disorderly life he has until then led, in spite of so many calls and lights from God, of so many admonitions from spiritual Fathers, and of so many resolutions made, but never executed, or afterward neglected. He will then say: O unhappy me ! I have had so many lights from God, so much time to tranquillize my conscience, and have not done so. Behold, I am now arrived at the gate of death. What would it have cost me to have avoided such an occasion of sin, to have broken off such a friendship, to have frequented the tribunal of penance ? Ah, very little; but, though they had cost me much pain and labor, I ought to have submitted to every inconvenience in order to save my soul, which is of more importance to me than all the goods of this world. Oh ! if I had put into execution the good resolutions which I made on such an occasion; if I had continued the good works which I began at such a time, how happy should I now feel! But these things I have not done, and now there is no more time to do them. The sentiments of dying sinners who have neglected the care of their souls during life, are like those of the damned who mourn in hell over their sins as the cause of their sufferings, but mourn without fruit and without remedy.
Affections and Prayers.
Lord! if it were at this moment announced to me that my death was at hand, such would be the painful sentiments that would torture my soul. I thank Thee for giving me this light, and forgiving me time to enter into myself. O my God! I will no longer fly from Thee. Thou hast sought after me long enough. I have just reason to fear that Thou wilt abandon me, if I now refuse to give myself to Thee, and continue to resist Thy calls. Thou hast given me a heart to love Thee, and I have made so bad use of it. I have loved creatures and have not loved Thee, my Creator and Redeemer! who hast given Thy life for the love of me. Instead of loving Thee, ,how often have I offended, how often have I despised Thee, and turned my back upon Thee ? I knew that by such a sin I insulted Thee, and still I have committed it. My Jesus! I am sorry for all my sins; they displease me above all things. I wish to change my life. I renounce all the pleasures of the world in order to love and please Thee, O God of my soul ! Thou hast given me strong proofs of Thy love. I too would wish before death to give Thee some proof of my love. From this moment I accept all the infirmities, crosses, insults, and offences that I receive from men ; give me strength to submit to them with peace. I wish to bear them all for the love of Thee. I love Thee, O infinite goodness! I love Thee above every good. Increase my love, give me holy perseverance. Mary, my hope! pray to Jesus for me.