Monday, 26 October 2009

Preparation for Death - Consideration II

With Death all Ends.
“An end is come, the end is come.” – Ezek. vii. 6.
Death Deprives us of Everything.
By worldlings they only are esteemed happy who enjoy the pleasures, the riches, and the pomps of this world; but death puts an end to all these earthly goods. For what is your life? It is a vapor which appeareth for a little while.1 The vapors exhaled from the earth, when raised in the air and clothed with light by the sun, make a splendid appearance; but how long does their splendor last? It vanishes before the first blast of the wind. Behold that nobleman: to-day he is courted, feared, and almost adored; to-morrow he is dead, despised, reviled, and trampled upon. At death we must leave all things. The brother of that great servant of God, Thomas à Kempis, took delight in speaking of a beautiful house which he had built for himself: a friend told him that it had one great defect. “What is it?” said he. “It is,” answered the other, “that you have made a door in it.” “What,” rejoined the brother of à Kempis, “is a door defect?” “Yes,” answered the friend: “for through this door you must be one day carried dead, and must leave the house and all things.”
Death, in fine, strips man of’ all the goods of this world. Oh, what a spectacle to behold a prince banished from his palace, never more to return to it, and to see others take possession of his furniture, of his money, and of all his other goods! The servants leave him in the grave, with a garment scarcely sufficient to cover his body. There is no longer any one to esteem or flatter him, no longer any one to attend to his commands. Saladin, who had acquired many kingdoms in Asia, gave directions at death, that when his body should be carried to the place of burial a person should go before, holding his winding-sheet suspended from a pole, and crying aloud: “This is all that Saladin brings with him to the grave.”
When the body of the prince is laid in the grave, his flesh drops off; and behold, his skeleton can no longer be distinguished from others. “Contemplate,” St. Basil says, “the sepulchres of the dead, and see if you can distinguish who has been a servant, and who has been a master.”2 Diogenes was one day seen by Alexander the Great seeking with great anxiety for something among the bones of the dead. Alexander asked him what he was in search of. “I am looking,” replied Diogenes, “for the head of Philip your father. I am not able to distinguish it: if you can find it, show it to me.” “Men,” says Seneca, “are born unequal; but after death all are equal.”3 And Horace says that death brings down the sceptre to the level of the spade.4 In a word, when death comes, the end comes; all ends, we leave all things; and of all that we possess in this world, we bring nothing to the grave.
Affections and Prayers.
My Lord! since Thou givest me light to know that whatever the world esteems is smoke and folly, grant me strength to detach my heart from earthly goods, before death separates me from them. Miserable that I have been! How often, for the miserable pleasures and goods of this earth, have I offended and lost Thee, who art an infinite good! O my Jesus! my heavenly physician, cast Thine eyes on my poor soul. look at the many wounds which I have inflicted on it by my sins, and have pity on me. If Thou wishest Thou canst make me clean.5 I know that Thou art able and willing to heal me; but in order to heal me, Thou wishest me to repent of the injuries which I have committed against Thee. I am sorry for them from the bottom of my heart. Heal me, then, now that it is in Thy power to heal me. Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.6 I have forgotten Thee; but Thou hast not forgotten me; and now Thou makest me feel that Thou wilt even forget the injuries I have done Thee, if I detest them. “But if the wicked do penance . . . I will not remember all his iniquities.” – Ezek. xviii. 21. Behold, I detest my sins, I hate them above all things. Forget, then, O my Redeemer, all the displeasures I have given Thee. For the future I will lose all things, even life, rather than forfeit Thy grace. And what can all the goods of this earth profit me without Thy grace?
Ah, assist me! Thou knowest my weakness. Hell will not cease to tempt me: it already prepares a thousand attacks to make me again its slave. No, my Jesus, do not abandon me. I wish to be henceforth the slave of Thy love. Thou art my only Lord; Thou hast created and redeemed me; Thou hast loved me more than all others; Thou alone hast merited my love; Thee alone do I wish to love.
Glory and Power on the Death-bed.
At the hour of death, Philip II., King of Spain, called his son, and throwing off his royal robe, uncovered his breast, which had been eaten away by worms, and said to him: “Prince, behold how we die! see how all the grandeur of this world ends!” Theodoret has truly said that death fears not riches, nor satellites, nor sovereigns; and that from princes as well as vassals rottenness and corruption flow.7
Thus the dead, though they be princes, bring nothing with them to the grave: all their glory remains on the bed on which they expire. When he shall die, he shall take nothing away, nor shall his glory descend with him.8
St. Antonine relates, that after the death of Alexander the Great a certain philosopher exclaimed: “Behold! the man who yesterday trampled on the earth is now buried in the earth. Yesterday the whole earth was not sufficient for him, and now he is content with seven palms. Yesterday he led his armies through the earth, and now he is carried by a few porters to the grave.” But it is better to listen to the words of God. Why, says the Holy Ghost, is earth and ashes proud?9—O man! do you not see that you are dust and ashes? Why are you proud? Why do you spend so many thoughts and so many years of life in seeking worldly greatness? Death will come; and then all your greatness and all your projects will be at an end. In that day, says David, all their thoughts shall perish.10
Oh! how much more happy was the death of St. Paul the Hermit, who lived sixty years shut up in a cave, than the death of Nero the Emperor of Rome! How much more happy was the death of St. Felix, a Capuchin lay-brother, than that of Henry the Eighth, who lived in the midst of royal magnificence, but at the same time at enmity with God! But we must remember that, to secure a happy death, the saints have abandoned all things; they have left their country; they have renounced the delights and the hopes which the world held out to them, and have embraced a life of poverty and contempt. But how can worldlings, living in the midst of sins, in the midst of earthly pleasures and dangerous occasions, expect a happy death? God warns sinners that at death they shall seek and shall not find him.11 He tells us that the hour of death shall be the time, not of mercy, but of vengeance.12 I will repay them in due time. Reason tells us the same; for, at death, men of the world shall find their understanding weak and darkened, and their heart hardened by the bad habits which they have contracted. Their temptations will then be more violent: how can they resist at death who were almost always accustomed to yield to temptations during life, and to be conquered by them? To change their heart a most powerful grace would be then necessary. But is God obliged to give them such a grace? Have they merited such a grace by the scandalous and disorderly life which they have led? And on that last hour depends their happiness or misery for eternity. How is it possible that he who reflects on this, and believes the truths of faith, does not leave all to give himself to God, who will judge us all according to our works.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, Lord! how many nights have I slept in enmity with Thee? O God! in what a miserable state was my soul during that time. It was hated by Thee, and wished to be hated by Thee. I was condemned to hell: there was nothing wanting but the execution of the sentence. But Thou, my God, hast never ceased to seek after me, and to invite me to pardon. But, who can assure me that Thou hast pardoned me? Must I, O my Jesus! live in this uncertainty till Thou judgest me? But the sorrow which I feel for having offended Thee, my desire to love Thee, and still more Thy Passion, O my beloved Redeemer, make me hope that Thy grace dwells in my soul. I am sorry for having offended Thee, O Sovereign Good, and I love Thee above all things. I resolve to forfeit everything rather than lose Thy grace and Thy love. Thou wishest that the heart which seeks Thee should be full of joy. Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.13 Lord, I detest all the injuries I have offered to Thee. Give me courage and confidence: do not upbraid me with my ingratitude; for I myself know and detest it. Thou hast said that Thou wilt not the death of a sinner, but that he be converted and live.14 Yes, my God, I leave all things and turn to Thee. I seek Thee, I desire Thee, I love Thee above all things. Give me Thy love; I ask nothing else. O Mary, thou, after Jesus, art my hope; obtain for me holy perseverance.
Let us Hasten to Give Ourselves to God.
David calls the happiness of this life a dream of one who awakes from sleep.15 In explaining these words, a certain author says: The goods of this world appear great, but they are nothing: like a dream, which lasts but a little, and afterward vanishes, they are enjoyed but a short time.16 The thought, that with death all ends, made St. Francis Borgia resolve to give himself entirely to God. The saint was obliged to accompany the dead body of the Impress Isabella to Grenada. When the coffin was opened, her appearance was so horrible and the smell so intolerable that all ran away. But St. Francis remained to contemplate in the dead body of his sovereign the vanity of the world; and looking at it, he exclaimed: “Are you then my empress? Are you the queen before whom so many bent their knee in reverential awe? O Isabella, where is your majesty, your beauty gone? Thus then,” he said within himself, “end the greatness and the crowns of this world. I will, therefore, henceforth serve a master who can never die.” From that moment he consecrated himself to the love of Jesus crucified; and he made a vow to become a religious, should his wife die before him. This vow he afterward fulfilled by entering into the Society of Jesus.
Justly then has a person who was undeceived written on a skull these words: “Cogitanti vilescunt omnia.” To him who reflects on death, everything in this world appears contemptible; he cannot love the earth. And why are there so many unhappy lovers of this world? It is because they do not think of death. O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying?17 Miserable children of Adam, says the Holy Ghost, why do you not chase away from your heart so many earthly affections, which make you love vanity and lies? What has happened to your forefathers must befall you. They have dwelt in the same palace which you inhabit, and have slept in your very bed; but now they are no more. Such, too, will be your lot.
My brother, give yourself then to God before death comes upon you. Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly.18 What you can do to-day, defer not till tomorrow; for a day once passed never returns, and tomorrow death may come, and prevent you from ever more being able to do good. Detach yourself instantly from everything which removes, or can remove, you from God. Let us instantly renounce in affection the goods of this earth, before death strips us of them by force. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.19 Happy they who at death are already dead to all attachment to this world. They fear not, but desire death, and embrace it with joy; for, instead of separating them from the good which they love, it unites them to the Supreme Good, who is the sole object of their affections, and who will render them happy for eternity.
Affections and Prayers.
My dear Redeemer, I thank Thee for having waited for me. What should have become of me had I died when I was at a distance from Thee? May Thy mercy and patience, which I have experienced for so many years, be forever blessed! I thank Thee for the light and grace with which Thou dost now assist me. I did not then love Thee, and I cared but little to be loved by Thee. I now love Thee with my whole heart, and nothing grieves me so much as the thought of having displeased so good a God. This sorrow tortures my soul; but it is a sweet torment, because it gives me confidence that Thou hast already pardoned me. O my sweet Saviour, would that I had died a thousand times before I sinned against Thee! I tremble lest I should hereafter offend Thee again. Ah! make me die the most painful of all deaths, rather than permit me evermore to lose Thy grace. I have been once the slave of hell; but now I am Thy servant, O God of my soul. Thou hast said that Thou lovest those who love Thee.20 I love Thee: then I am Thine, and Thou art mine. I may lose Thee at some future time; but the grace which I ask of Thee is, to take me out of life rather than suffer me ever to lose Thee again. Unasked, Thou hast bestowed upon me so many graces; I cannot now fear that Thou wilt not hear my prayer for the grace which I now implore. Do not permit me ever to lose Thee. Give me Thy love, and I desire nothing more. Mary, my hope! intercede for me.

1“Quæ est vita vestra? vapor est ad modicum parens.” – James, iv. 15.
2“Contemplare sepulchra, vide utrum poteris discernere quis servus, quis dominus fuerit.” – Hom. ii. E. B. app.
3Impares nascimur, pares morimur. – Ep. 91.
4Sceptra ligonibus æquat.
5Si vis, potes me mundare.” – Matt. viii. 2.
6“Sana animam meam, quia peccavi tibi.” – Ps. xl. 5.
7Nec divitias mors metuit, nec satellites, nec purpuram; putredo sequitur, et sanies defluit. – De Prov. s. 6.
8“Cum interierit, non sumet omnia; neque descendet cum eo gloria ejus.” – Ps. xlviii. 18.
9“Quid superbit terra et cinis?” – Ecclus. x. 9.
10“In illa die peribunt cogitationes eorum.” – Ps. cxlv. 4.
11“Quæretis me et non invenietis.” – John, vii. 34.
12“Ego retribuam in tempore.” – Deut. xxxii. 35.
13“Lætetur cor quærentium Dominum.” – 1 Par. xvi. 10.
14“Nolo mortem impii, sed ut convertatur . . . et vivat.” – Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
15“Velut somnium surgentium.” – Pr. lxxii. 20.
16Somnium, quia sopitis sensibus res magnæ apparent; et non sunt, et cito avolant.
17“Filii hominum, usquequo gravi corde? ut quid diligitis vanitatem et quæritis mendacium?” – Ps. iv. 3.
18“Quodcumque facere potest manus tua instanter operare.” – Eccles. x. 10.
19“Beati mortui, qui in Domino moriuntur.” – Apoc. xiv. 13.
20“Ego diligentes me diligo.” – Prov. viii. 17.

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