Thursday, 22 October 2009

Preparation for Death - Consideration I

Description of a Man who has recently gone into the Other World.
“Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” – Gen. iii. 19.
The Body on the Death-bed.
Consider that you are dust, and that you shall return to dust. A day will come when you shall die, and rot in a grave, where worms shall be your covering.1 The same lot awaits all, the nobleman and the peasant, the prince and the vassal. The moment the soul leaves the body, it shall go to eternity, and the body shall return to dust. Thou shalt send forth their breath, and they shall fail and shall return to their dust.2
Imagine that you behold a person who has just expired. Look at that body still laid on the bed, the head fallen on the chest, the hair in disorder and still bathed in the sweat of death, the eyes sunk, the cheeks hollow, the face the color of ashes, the lips and tongue like iron, the body cold and heavy. The beholders grow pale and tremble. How many, at the sight of a deceased relative or friend, have changed their life and retired from the world!
Still greater horror will ‘be excited when the body begins to putrefy. Twenty-four hours have not elapsed since the death of that young man, and his body has already begun to exhale an offensive smell. The windows must be opened; a great quantity of incense must be used; and, to prevent the communication of disease to the entire family, he must soon be transferred to the church, and buried in the earth. “If he has been one of the rich or nobles of the earth, his body shall send forth a more intolerable stench,”3 says Saint Ambrose.
Behold the end of that proud, of that lewd and voluptuous man! Before death desired and sought after in conversations, now become an object of horror and disgust to all who behold him. His relatives are in haste to remove him from the house; they hire men to shut him up in a coffin, to carry him to the church-yard and throw him into a grave. During life, the fame of his wit, of his politeness, of the elegance of his manners, and of his facetiousness, was spread abroad; but after death he is soon forgotten. Their memory hath perished with a noise.4
On hearing the news of his death, some say, He was an honor to his family; others say, He has provided well for his children. Some regret his death because he had done them some service during life; others rejoice at it because it is an advantage to them. But in a little time no one speaks of him. In the beginning, his nearest relatives feel unwilling to hear his name, through fear of renewing their grief. In the visits of condolence, all are careful to make no mention of the deceased; and should any happen to speak of him, the relatives exclaim, For God’s sake, do not mention his name!
Consider that as you have acted on the occasion of the death of friends and relatives, so others will act on the occasion of your death. The living take part in the scene. They occupy the possessions and offices of the deceased; but the dead are no longer remembered—their name is scarcely ever mentioned. In the beginning, their relatives are afflicted for a short time; but they will soon be consoled by the share of the property of the deceased which falls to them.
Thus in a short time your death will be rather a source of joy; and in the very room in which you have breathed forth your soul, and in which you have been judged by Jesus Christ, others will dance, and eat, and play, and laugh as before. And where will your soul then be?
Affections and Prayers.
O Jesus. my Redeemer! I thank Thee for not having taken me out of life when I was Thy enemy. For how many years have I deserved to be in hell! Had I died on such a day or such a night, what should be my lot for all eternity? Lord, I thank Thee; I accept my death in satisfaction for my sins, and I accept it in the manner in which Thou shalt be pleased to send it. But since Thou hast borne with me until now, wait for me a little longer. Suffer me, therefore, that I may lament my sorrow a little!5 Give me time to bewail, before Thou judgest me, the offences I have offered to Thee. I will no longer resist Thy calls. Who knows but the words which I have just read may be the last call for me? I acknowledge that I am unworthy of mercy. Thou hast so often pardoned me. and I have ungratefully offended Thee again. A contrite and humble heart, O God Thou wilt not despise.6 Since, O Lord, Thou knowest not how to despise a contrite and humble heart, behold the penitent traitor who has recourse to Thee. For Thy mercy’s sake, cast me not away from Thy face. Thou hast said: Him that cometh to me I will not cast out.7 It is true that I have outraged Thee more than others, because I have been favored more than others with Thy lights and graces. But the blood Thou hast shed for me encourages me, and offers me pardon if I repent. My Sovereign Good! I am sorry with my whole soul for having insulted Thee. Pardon me, and give me grace to love Thee for the future. I have offended Thee sufficiently. The remainder of my life I wish to spend, not in offending Thee, but only in weeping unceasingly over the insults I have offered to Thee, and in loving with my whole heart a God worthy of infinite love. O Mary, my hope! pray to Jesus for me.
The Body in the Grave.
But, Christian soul, that you may see more clearly what you are, follow the advice of St. Chrysostom: “Go to the grave; contemplate dust, ashes, worms; and sigh.”8 Behold how that corpse first turns yellow, and then black. Afterwards, the entire body is covered with a white, disgusting mould; then comes forth a clammy, fetid slime, which flows to the earth. In that putrid mass is generated a great multitude of worms, which feed on the flesh. Rats come to feast on the body; some attack it on the outside; others enter into the mouth and bowels. The cheeks, the lips, and the hair fall off. The ribs are first laid bare, and then the arms and legs. The worms, after having consumed all the flesh, devour one another; and, in the end, nothing remains but a fetid skeleton, which in the course of time falls to pieces; the bones separate from one another and the head separates from the body. They became like the chaff of a summer’s threshing-floor, and they were carried away by the wind.9 Behold what man is: he is a little dust on the threshing floor, which is blown away by the wind.
Behold a young nobleman, who was called the life and soul of conversation: where is he now? Enter into his apartment: he is no longer there. If you look for his bed, his robes, or his armor, you will find that they have passed into the hands of others. If you wish to see him, turn to the grave, where he is changed into corruption and withered bones. O God! that body, pampered with so many delicacies, clothed with so much pomp, and attended by so many servants, to what is it now reduced? O ye saints! who knew how to mortify your bodies for the love of that God whom alone you loved on this earth, you well understood the end of all human greatness, of all earthly delights; now your bones are honored as sacred relics, and preserved in shrines of gold, and your souls are happy in the enjoyment of God, expecting the last day, on which your bodies shall be made partners of your glory, as they have been partakers of your cross in this life. The true love for the body consists in treating it here with rigor and contempt, that it may be happy for eternity; and in refusing it all pleasures, which might make it miserable forever.
Affections and Prayers.
Behold, then, O my God! to what my body, by which I have so much offended Thee, must be reduced! to worms and rottenness. This does not afflict me; on the contrary. I rejoice that this flesh of mine, which has made me lose Thee, my Sovereign Good, will one day rot and be consumed. What grieves me is, that, to indulge in these wretched pleasures. I have given so much displeasure to Thee. But I will not despair of Thy mercy. Thou hast waited for me in order to pardon me. The Lord waiteth, that He may have mercy on you.10 Thou wilt forgive me if I repent. O Infinite Goodness, I repent with my whole heart of having despised Thee. I will say with St. Catharine of Genoa, “My Jesus, no more sins! no more sins!” I will no longer abuse Thy patience. O my crucified Love, I will not wait till the confessor places the crucifix in my hands at the hour of death. From this moment I embrace Thee; from this moment I recommend my soul to Thee. Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.11 My soul has been so many years in the world, and has not loved Thee. Give me light and strength to love Thee during the remainder of my life. I will not wait to love Thee at the hour of death. From this moment I love Thee; I embrace Thee, and unite myself to Thee; and I promise never more to depart from Thee. O most holy Virgin! bind me to Jesus Christ, and obtain for me the grace never to lose him more.
Let us Labor to Save our Souls.
My brother, in this picture of death behold yourself and what you must one day become. “Remember that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” Consider that in a few years, and perhaps in a few months. or days, you will become rottenness and worms. By this thought Job became a saint. I have said to rottenness: Thou art my father: to worms, my mother, and my sister.12
All must end; and if, after death, you lose your soul all will be lost for you. Consider yourself already dead, says St. Laurence Justinian, since you know that you must necessarily die.13 If you were already dead, what would you not desire to have done? Now that you have life, reflect that you will one day be among the dead. St. Bonaventure says, that, to guide the vessel safely, the pilot must remain at the helm; and in like manner, to lead a good life, a man should always imagine himself at the hour of death. Says St. Bernard, “Look to the sins of your youth, and be covered with shame.”14 “Remember the sins of manhood and weep.”15 Look to the present disorders of your life; tremble,16 and hasten to apply a remedy.
When St. Camillus de Lellis saw the graves of the dead, he said within himself: If these return to life, what would they not do for eternal glory? And what do I do for my soul, who have time? This the saint said through humility. But my brother, you, perhaps, have reason to fear that you are the fruitless fig-tree of which the Lord said: Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and I find none.17 You have been in this world for more than three years; what fruit have you produced?, Remember, says St. Bernard, that the Lord seeks not only flowers, but fruits; that is, not only good desires and resolutions, but also holy works. Learn then to profit of the time which God in his mercy gives you: do not wait until you desire time to do good, when time shall be no more. Do not wait till you are told, Time shall be no longer; depart;18 the time for leaving this world has arrived; what is done, is done.
Affections and Prayers.
Behold me, O my God! I am that tree which deserved for so many years to hear from Thee, Cut it down—why cumbereth it the ground?19 Yes; for so many years during which I have been in the world, I have brought forth no other fruit than the briers and thorns of sin. But, O Lord! Thou dost not wish that I despair. Thou hast said to all, that he who seeks Thee shall find Thee. Seek and you shall find.20 I seek Thee, O my God! and wish for Thy grace. For all the offences I have offered to Thee I am sorry with my whole heart; I would wish to die of sorrow for them. Hitherto I have fled from Thee; but now I prefer Thy friendship to the possession of all the kingdoms of the earth. I will no longer resist Thy invitations. Dost Thou wish me to be all Thine? I give Thee my whole being without reserve. Thou gavest Thyself entirely to me on the Cross. I give myself entirely to Thee.
Thou hast said: If you shall ask me anything in my name, that I will do.21 My Jesus, trusting in this great promise, I ask, in Thy name and through Thy merits, Thy grace and Thy love. Grant that Thy grace and Thy holy love may abound in my soul, in which sin has abounded. I thank Thee for having given me grace to make this petition by inspiring the prayer, Thou showest that Thou dost intend to hear it. Hear me, O my Jesus; give me a great love for Thee; give me a great desire to please Thee, and give me strength to do Thy will. O Mary, my great advocate! do thou also listen to my cry, and pray to Jesus for me.

1“Operimentum tuum erunt vermes.” – Isai. xiv. 11.
2“Auferes spiritum eorum, et deficient, et in pulverem suum revertentur.” – Ps. ciii. 29.
3“Gravius fœtent divitum corpora.” In Hexamer. l. 6, c. 8.
4“Periit memoria eorum cum sonitu.” – Ps. ix. 7.
5“Dimitte ergo me, ut plangam paululum dolorem meum.” – Job x. 20.
6“Cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.” – Ps. l. 19.
7“Eum qui venit ad me non ejiciam foras.” – John vi. 37.
8“Perge ad sepulchrum, contemplare pulverem, cineres, vermes, et aspira.” – A d Theod. paræn. 1.
9“Redacta quasi in favillam æstivæ areæ, quæ rapta sunt vento.” – Dan. ii. 35.
10“Expectat Deus, ut misereatur vestri.” – Isa. xxx. 18.
11“In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.” – Ps. xxx, 6.
12“Putredini dixi: Pater meus es;—Mater mea, et soror mea, vermibus.” – Job, xvii. 14.
13“Considera te jam mortuum, quem scis de necessitate moriturum.” – Lign. vit. de hum. c. 4.
14Vide prima, et erubesce.
15Vide media, et ingemisce.
16“Vide novissima, et contremisce.” – De Divers. s. 12.
17“Ecce anni tres sunt, ex quo venio quærens fructum in ficulnea hac et non invenio.” – Luke, xiii. 7.
18“Tempus non erit amplius: proficiscere.” – Apoc. x. 6.
19“Succide ergo illam; ut quid etiam terram occupat?” – Luke, xiii. 7.
20“Quærite et invenietis.” – Matt. vii. 7.
21“Si quid petieritis me in nomine meo, hoc faciam.” – John, xiv. 14.

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