Saint Augustine called the thought of eternity the great thought: Magna cogitatio. This thought has brought the saints to count all the treasures and greatness of this life as nothing more than straw, dust, smoke, and refuse. This thought has sent many anchorites to hide themselves in deserts and caves, and so many noble youths, and even kings and emperors, to shut themselves up in cloisters. This thought has given courage to so many martyrs to endure the torture of piercing nails and heated irons, and even of being burnt in the fire.
No; we are not created for this earth: the end for which God has placed us in the world is this, that with our good deeds we may inherit eternal life. The end is eternal life.1 And, therefore, St. Eucherius said that the only affair that we should attend to in this life is eternity; that is, that we should win a happy eternity, and escape a miserable one. The object for which we struggle is eternity.2 If assured of this end, we are forever blessed; if we fail of it, we are forever miserable.
Happy he who lives ever with eternity in view, with a lively faith that he must speedily die, and enter upon eternity. The just man lives by faith.3 It is faith that makes the just to live in the sight of God, and which gives light to their souls, by withdrawing them from earthly affections, and placing before their thoughts the eternal blessings which God promises to them that love him.
St. Teresa said that all sins had their origin in a want of faith. Therefore, in order to overcome our passions and temptations, we ought constantly to revive our faith by saying: I believe the life everlasting.4 I believe that after this life, which will soon be ended, there is an eternal life, either full of joys, or full of pains, which will befall me, according to my merits or demerits.
St. Augustine also said that a man who believes in eternity, and yet is not converted to God, has either lost his senses or his faith. "O eternity!" (these are his words), "he that meditates upon thee, and repents not, either has not faith, or he has no heart."5 In reference to this, St. John Chrysostom relates that the Gentiles, when they saw Christians sinning, thought them either liars or fools. If you believe not (they said) what you say you believe, you are liars; if you believe in eternity and sin, you are fools.6 "Woe to sinners who enter upon eternity without having known it, because they would not think upon it!" exclaims St. Cæsarius; and then he adds, " But oh, double woe! They enter upon it, and they never come forth."7
St. Teresa said constantly to her disciples, "My children, there is one soul, one eternity." By which she meant to say, My children, we have one soul, and when that is lost, all is lost; and, once lost, it is lost forever. In a word, upon that last breath which we breathe in dying, it depends whether we are forever blessed, or in despair. If the eternity of the next life, if paradise, if hell, were mere fictions of literary men, and things of doubtful reality, even then we ought to bestow all our care to live well, and not to risk our soul forever. But no; these things are not doubtful; they are sure things, they are things of faith; they more surely exist than those things which we see with our bodily sight.
Let us, then, pray to our Lord, Increase our faith;8 for, if we are not strong in faith, we may become worse than Luther or Calvin. On the other hand, one thought of living faith upon the eternity that awaits us may make us saints.
St. Gregory wrote that they who meditate on eternity are neither puffed up by prosperity, nor cast down by adversity; for they desire nothing and they fear nothing in this world.9 When it happens to us to suffer any infirmities or persecutions, let us think of the hell which we have deserved through our sins. When we do this, every cross will seem light, and we shall thank the Lord, and say, It is the mercy of the Lord that we are not consumed.10 We shall say, with David, Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in hell.11 Through myself I was already lost; Thou hast done this, O God of mercy! that Thou hast stretched forth Thy hand, and drawn me forth from hell: Thou hast delivered my soul, that it should not perish.12
O my God ! Thou knowest how often I have deserved hell; but, notwithstanding, Thou biddest me hope, and I desire to hope. My sins terrify me; but Thy death giveth me courage, and Thy promise of pardon to him that repenteth. A contrite and humbled heart, O God! Thou wilt not despise. I have dishonored Thee for the time that is past, but now I love Thee above all things; and I grieve more than for any other evil, that I have offended Thee. O my Jesus! have mercy upon me. Mary, Mother of God, pray for me.
1"Finem vero, vitam æternam." -- Rom. vi. 22.
2Negotium pro quo contendimus, æternitas est.
3"Justus ex fide vivit." -- Gal. iii. 11.
4Credo vitam æternam.
5O æternitas! qui te cogitat, nec poenitet, aut fidem non habet, aut, si habet fidem, cor non habet.
6Exprobrabant gentiles, aut mendaces aut stultos esse Christianos: mendaces, si non crederent quod credere dicebant; stultos, si credebant et peccabant.
7Væ peccatoribus qui incognitam ingrediuntur æternitatem! Sed, væ duplex! ingrediuntur, et non egrediuntur!
8"Adauge nobis fidem." -- Luke, xvii. 5.
9"Quisquis in solo æternitatis desiderio figitur, nec prosperitate attollitur, nec adversitate quassatur: dum nil habet in mundo quod appetat, nihil est quod de mundo pertimescat." -- Mor. l. 10, c. 22.
10"Misericordiæ Domini, quia non sumus consumpti." -- Lam. iii. 22.
11"Nisi quia Dominus adjuvit me, paulo minus habitasset in inferno anima mea." -- Ps. xciii. 17.
12"Tu autem eruisti animam meam, ut non periret." -- Isa. xxxviii. 17.