The thought of the vanity of the world, and that all things that the world values are but falsehood and deceit, has made many souls resolve to give themselves wholly to God. What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?1 How many young persons has this great maxim of the Gospel brought to leave relatives, country, possessions, honors, and even crowns, to go to shut themselves up in a cloister or desert, there to think of God alone! The day of death is called the day of loss: The day of loss is at hand.2 It is a day of loss, because all the goods that we have gained on earth must be left, on the day of our death. Wherefore St. Ambrose wisely says that we falsely call these good things our good things, because we cannot carry them with us into the other world, where we must dwell forever. It is our holy deeds alone that accompany us, and they alone will comfort us in eternity.3
All earthly fortunes, the highest dignities, gold, silver, the most precious jewels, when contemplated from the bed of death, lose their splendor; the dark shadow of death obscures even sceptres and crowns, and makes us see that whatever the world values is but smoke, dust, vanity, and misery. And, in truth, at the time of death, what profit is there in all the riches acquired by the dying person, if nothing belongs to him after death, except a box of wood, in which he is placed to grow corrupt? For what will vaunted beauty of body serve, when there remains of it only a little polluted dust and four fleshless limbs?
What is the life of man upon earth? Behold it, as described by St. James: What is your life? It is a smoke which appeareth for a little while, and then will pass away.4 To-day this great man is esteemed, feared, praised; tomorrow he is despised, contemned, and abused. I saw the wicked lifted on high; I went by, and behold he was gone.5 He is no longer to be found in this his beloved house, in this great palace which he built; and where is he? he is become dust in the grave!
A false balance is in his hand.6 In these words the Holy Spirit advises us not to be deceived by the world, because the world weighs its goods in a false balance; we ought to weigh them in the true balance of faith, which will show us what are the true goods of which it can never be said that they speedily finish. St. Teresa said we should not take account of anything that ends with death. O God! what greatness ever remained to these so many first ministers of state, commanders of armies, princes, Roman emperors, now that the scene is changed, and they find themselves in eternity! Their memory has perished with a sound.7 They made a great figure in the world, and their names resounded among all; but when they were dead, for them was changed rank, name, and everything. It is useful here to notice an inscription placed over a certain cemetery in which many gentlemen and ladies are buried: “See where end all greatness, all earthly pomp, all beauty. Worms, dust, a worthless stone, a little sand, close the brief scene at the end of all.”
The form of this world passeth away.8 Our life is but a scene that passes away and speedily ends; and it must end for all, whether nobles or commoners, kings or subjects, rich or poor. Happy he who, in this scene, has played his part well before God. Philip III., King of Spain, died a young man, at the age of forty-two years; and before he died he said to those who stood by, “When I am dead proclaim the spectacle that you now see; proclaim that, in death, to have been a king, serves only to make one feel the pain of having reigned.” And then he ended with a sigh, saying, “Oh that during this time I had been in a desert, becoming a saint, that now I might appear with more confidence before the tribunal of Jesus Christ!”
We know the change of life of St. Francis Borgia at the sight of the corpse of the Empress Isabella, who, in life, was most beautiful, but, after death, struck horror into all who saw her. Borgia, when he saw her, exclaimed, “Thus, then, end the good things of this world!” and he gave himself wholly to God. Oh that we could all imitate him before death comes upon us! But let us haste, because death runs towards us, and we know not when it will arrive. Let us not so act that the light that God will then give us will cause nothing but remorse, when we hold in our hands the candle of death. Let us resolve to do now what we shall then wish to have done, and shall not be able to do.
No, my God, it is enough that Thou hast hitherto borne with me; I do not wish that Thou shouldst wait longer to see me give myself wholly to Thee. Thou hast called me many times to have done with this world, and to give myself all to Thy love. Now Thou turnest to me to call unto Thee; behold me, receive me into Thy arms, while at this moment I abandon myself wholly to Thee. O Spotless Lamb, who at Calvary was sacrificed on a cross for me, wash me first with Thy blood, and pardon all the injuries that Thou hast received from me; and then inflame me with Thy holy love. I love Thee above everything; I love Thee with all my heart. And what object can I find in the world more worthy of love than Thou art, and which has loved me more? O Mary, Mother of God, and my advocate! pray for me; obtain for me a true and lasting change of life. In thee I trust.
1“Quid enim prodest homini, si mundum universum lucretur, animæ vero suæ detrimentum patiatur?” -- Matt. xvi. 26.
2“Dies perditionis.” -- Deut. xxxii. 35.
3“Non nostra sunt quæ non possumus auferre nobiscum; sola virtus comes est defunctorum.” -- In Luke, l. 7.
4“Quæ est enim vita vestra? Vapor est ad modicum parens, et deinceps exterminabitur.” -- James, iv. 15.
5“Vidi impium superexaltatum . . . et transivi, et ecce non erat.” -- Ps. xxxvi. 35.
6“In manu ejus statera dolosa.” -- Osee, xii. 7.
7“Periit memoria eorum cum sonitu.” -- Ps. ix. 7.
8“Praeteriit enim figura hujus mundi.” -- I Cor. vii. 31.