One thing is needful.1 It is not necessary that in this world we should be honoured with dignities, favoured with riches, with good health, and earthly pleasures; but it is necessary that we should be saved; for there is no middle course,--we must either be saved or be damned. After this short life, we shall be either eternally happy in heaven, or eternally wretched in hell.
O my God! what is it that will befall me? Shall I be saved or be lost? One lot or the other must be mine. I hope to be saved; but who shall assure me of it? I know that I have repeatedly deserved hell. Yes, my Saviour, Thy death is my hope.
How many worldly persons there are who were for a time loaded with riches and honours, and lifted up to high positions, and even to thrones, and who now find themselves in hell, where all their fortune in this world serves only to increase their pains and despair. This is what the Lord warned us of: Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth destroy.2 Every acquisition of earthly goods perishes with death; but the acquisition of spiritual goods is an unrivalled treasure, and is eternal.
God has taught us that he wills the salvation of all.3 And to all he gives the power of being saved. Miserable he who is lost; it is all his own deed: Thou art thy destruction, O Israel; in Me alone is thy help.4 And this will be the greatest pain of the damned, the thought that they were lost through their own fault. Fire and the worm (that is, the remorse of conscience) will be the torturers of the damned, in punishment for their sins;5 but the worm will torment them forever more terribly than the flame. How much pain we suffer in this world from the loss of any object of value, a diamond, a clock, a purse of money, when it happens through our own carelessness! We cannot eat or sleep, for thinking of our loss, so long as there is a hope of repairing it in some other way. What, then, will be the torment of one who is lost, in that, through his own fault, he has lost God and paradise, without a hope of ever recovering them!
We have gone astray.6 This will be the eternal complaint of the miserable damned ones: we have gone astray, destroying ourselves of our own accord, and there is no remedy for our error. In all the misfortunes that occur to most persons in this life, a remedy comes with time, or with a change of state, or, at least, through a holy resignation to the will of God. But none of these remedies will be for us when we have reached eternity, if we have wandered from the path to heaven.
Therefore, the Apostle St. Paul exhorts us to labour for eternal salvation with a continual fear of losing it: Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.7 This fear will cause us to walk in it with caution, and to avoid occasions of evil; it will aid us continually to recommend ourselves to God, and thus we shall be saved. Let us pray the Lord that he will fix this thought in our hearts, that upon that last opening of the lips, which will be our act before death, depends the question whether we shall be eternally blessed, or eternally miserable, without hope of remedy.
My God, many times have I despised Thy grace; I deserve no mercy; but Thy prophet teaches me that Thou showest mercy to all who seek Thee.8 For the past I have fled from Thee; but now I seek nothing, I ask nothing, I love nothing, but Thee. In Thy goodness, despise me not; remember the blood Thou hast shed for me. This blood, and thy intercession, O Mary, Mother of God! are my only hope.
1“Unum est necessarium.” -- Luke, x. 42.
2“Nolite thesaurizare vobis thesauros in terra . . . thesaurizate autem vobis thesauros in cœlo, ubi neque ærugo, neque tinea demolitur.” -- Matt. vi. 19.
3“Omnes homines vult salvos fieri.” -- 1 Tim. ii. 4.
4“Perditio tua, Israel; tantummodo in me auxilium tuum.” -- Osee, xiii. 9.
5“Vindicta carnis impii, ignis et vermis.” -- Ecclus. vii. 19.
6“Ergo erravimus.” -- Wis. v. 6.
7“Cum metu et tremore vestram salutem operamini.” -- Phil. ii. 12.
8“Bonus est Dominus sperantibus in eum, animæ quærenti illum.” -- Lam. iii. 25.