The business of our eternal salvation is for us that affair which is not only the most important, but the only thing that ought to trouble us; because, if this goes wrong, all is lost. One thought upon eternity, well weighed, is enough to make a saint. The great servant of God, F. Vincenzo Carafa, was wont to say that if all men thought with a living faith upon the eternity of another life, the world would become a desert, for no one would attend any more to the affairs of this life.
Oh, that all had ever before their eyes the great truth taught us by Jesus Christ! What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?1 This truth has taught many a man to leave the world; many noble virgins, and even those of royal blood, to shut themselves up in a cloister; many anchorites to live in deserts, and many martyrs to give their lives for the faith; because they considered that if they lost their souls, all the good things of the world would profit them nothing in the eternal state.
Therefore the Apostle wrote to his disciples: We entreat you, brethren, that ye attend to your own business.2 And of what business did St. Paul speak? He spoke of that business which, if it fail, implies that we lose the eternal kingdom of Paradise, and are cast into an abyss of torments that never end. It is an affair of eternal punishments, and of the loss of the heavenly kingdom, says St. John Chrysostom.3
St. Philip Neri, therefore, had good reason for calling all those persons mad who bestow pains in this life for gaining riches and honors, and give little heed to the salvation of the soul. “All such,” said the venerable John Avila, “deserve to be shut up in an asylum for lunatics.” How can this be? This great servant of God meant to say, “You believe that there is an eternity of joys for those who love God, and an eternity of pains for those who offend him; and do you offend him?”
Every loss of property, of reputation, of relatives, of health, can be repaired in this life, at least by a good death, and by the acquisition of eternal life, as it happened to the holy martyrs; but for what good things of the world, with fortune even the greatest, can be given the loss of the soul? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?4
He that dies in the wrath of God, and loses his soul, loses with this every hope of repairing his ruin. To the wicked, when he is dead, there is no hope more.5 O God! if the doctrine of eternal life were but a simple, doubtful opinion of divines, we ought surely to give all our care for gaining a happy eternity, and avoiding a miserable one. But no; it is not a doubtful thing; it is certain, it is of faith, that we must come to one or the other.
But what do we see? Every one who has faith, and thinks upon this truth, says, “So it is we must attend to the salvation of the soul;” but few are they who truly give heed to it. They devote themselves with all their energies to win this cause, or to obtain this situation, but lay aside the care of eternal salvation. “Truly, it is the greatest of errors to neglect the business of eternal salvation,”6 said St. Eucherius; it is an error that exceeds all others; for to lose the soul is a mistake without a remedy.
Oh, that they would be wise, and would understand, and consider the last things! Miserable are those learned men who labor at many things, and know not how to take forethought for their souls, that they may obtain a favorable sentence in the day of judgment!
O my Redeemer! Thou hast given Thy blood to purchase my soul, and I have so often lost it, and given it to destruction! I give Thee thanks that Thou hast given me time to recover it, by recovering Thy grace. O my God! would that I had died before I had offended Thee! It comforts me to know that Thou knowest not how to despise a heart that humbles itself and repents of its sins. O Mary, refuge of sinners! help me a sinner, who recommends himself to thee, and trusts in thee.
1“Quid enim prodest homini, si mundum universum lucretur, animæ vero suæ detrimentum patiatur?” -- Matt. xvi. 26.
2“Rogamus autem vos, fratres . . . ut negodum vestrum agatis.” -- 1 Thess. iv. 10.
3“De immortalibus suppliciis, de cœlestis regni amissione, res agitur.” -- In Matt. hom. 25.
4“Quam dabit homo commutationem pro anima sua?” -- Matt. xvi. 26.
5“Mortuo homine impio, non erit ultra spes.” -- Prov. xi. 7.
6“Sane supra omnem errorem est dissimulare negotium salutis suæ.” -- De Contemptu m.