Monday, 30 November 2009

Meditations for Every Day of Advent - First Monday

Meditation II.
Grandeur of the Mystery of Incarnation.
Et verbum caro factum est.
“And the Word was made flesh.” – St. John, i. 14.

Our Lord sent St. Augustine to write upon the heart of St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi the words, And the Word was made flesh. Oh, let us also pray the Lord to enlighten our minds, and to make us understand what an excess and what a miracle of love this is, that the eternal Word, the Son of God, should have become man for the love of us.
The holy Church is struck with awe at the contemplation of this great mystery: I considered Thy works and was afraid.1 If God had created a thousand other worlds, a thousand times greater and more beautiful than the present, it is certain that this work would be infinitely less grand than the incarnation of the Word: He hath showed might in His arm.2 To execute the great work of the Incarnation, it required all the omnipotence and infinite wisdom of God, in order to unite human nature to a divine person, and that a divine person should so humble himself as to take upon him human nature. Thus God became man, and man became God; and hence, the divinity of the Word being united to the soul and body of Jesus Christ, all the actions of this Man-God became divine: his prayers were divine, his sufferings divine, his infant cries divine, his tears divine, his steps divine, his members divine, his very blood divine, which became, as it were, a fountain of health to wash out all our sins, and a sacrifice of infinite value to appease the justice of the Father, who was justly offended with men.
And who, then, are these men? Miserable, ungrateful, and rebellious creatures. And yet for these God becomes man; subjects himself to human miseries; suffers and dies to save these unworthy sinners: He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.3 O holy faith! If faith did not assure us of it, who would believe that a God of infinite majesty should abase himself so far as to become a worm like us, in order to save us at the cost of so much suffering and disgrace, and of so cruel and shameful a death?
“O grace! O power of love!”4 cries St. Bernard. O grace, which men could not even have imagined, if God himself had not thought of granting it to us! O divine love, which can never be fathomed! O mercy! O infinite charity, worthy only of an infinite bounty!
Affections and Prayers.
O soul, O body, O blood of my Jesus! I adore you and thank you; you are my hope; you are the price paid to save me from hell, which I have so often merited. O my God! what a miserable and hopeless life would await me in eternity, if Thou, my Redeemer, hadst not thought of saving me by Thy sufferings and death! But how is it that souls, redeemed by Thee with so much love, knowing all this, can live without loving Thee, and can despise the grace which Thou hast acquired for them with so much suffering? And did not I also know all this? How, then, could I offend Thee, and offend Thee so often? But, I repeat it, Thy blood is my hope. I acknowledge, my Saviour, the great injuries that I have done to Thee. Oh that I had rather died a thousand times! Oh that I had always loved Thee! But I thank Thee that Thou yet givest me time to do so. I hope in the time that remains to me in this life, and for all eternity, to sing forever Thy praises for the mercies Thou hast shown me. I have deserved, on account of my sins, to be more and more in darkness; but Thou hast given me more and more light. I deserved that Thou shouldst abandon me; but Thou, with calls still more loving, didst come to me and seek me. I deserved that my soul should remain more hardened; but Thou hast softened and touched it with compunction, so that by Thy grace I now feel great sorrow for the offences that I have committed against Thee; I feel within me an ardent desire of loving Thee; I feel fully resolved to lose everything rather than Thy friendship; I feel a love towards Thee that makes me abhor everything that displeases Thee. And this sorrow, this desire, this resolution, and this love, who is it that gives them to me? It is Thou, O Lord, in Thy great mercy. Therefore, my Jesus, this is a proof that Thou hast pardoned me; it is a proof that Thou now lovest me, and that Thou willest me at all costs to be saved; Thou willest that I should be saved, and I will save myself principally to give Thee pleasure. Thou lovest me, and I also love Thee; but my love is but little. Oh, give me more love; Thou deservest more love from me, for I have received from Thee more special favors than others; I pray Thee, do Thou increase the flames of my love. Most holy Mary, obtain for me that the love of Jesus may consume and destroy in me every affection that has not God for its object. Thou dost listen to the prayers of all that call on thee; listen to me also, obtain for me love and perseverance.

1“Consideravi opera tua et expavi.” In Circ. Dom. resp. 6.
2“Fecit potentiam in brachio suo.”
3“Humiliavit semetipsum, factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis!” – Phil. ii. 8.
4“O gratiam, O amoris vim!”


Meditations for Every Day of Advent - First Sunday

Meditation I.
Goodness of God in the Work of the Redemption.
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto. . . . Et homo factus est.
“And was incarnate of the Holy Ghost, and was made man.” — Symbol. Const.

Consider that God, having created the first man, in order that he might serve him and love him in this life, and be conducted afterwards to reign with him forever in Paradise, enriched him for this end with knowledge and grace. But ungrateful man rebelled against God, refusing him the obedience which he owed him in justice and gratitude; and thus, miserable sinner, was he left with all his posterity as a rebel, deprived of divine grace, and forever excluded from paradise. Behold, then, after this ruin, caused by sin, all men lost! All were living in blindness, or in the darkness of the shadow of death. The devil had dominion over them, and hell destroyed innumerable victims amongst them.
But God, seeing men reduced to this miserable state, was moved with pity, and resolved to save them. And how? He did not send an angel, a seraph; but to show to the world the immense love that he bore to these ungrateful worms, He sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.1 He sent his own Son to become man, and to clothe himself with the same flesh as sinful men, in order that, by his suffering and death, he might satisfy the divine justice for their crimes, and thus deliver them from eternal death; and, reconciling them with his divine Father, might obtain for them divine grace, and might render them worthy to enter into life eternal.
Consider, on the one hand, the immense ruin that sin brings upon souls, as it deprives them of the friendship of God and of Paradise, and condemns them to an eternity of pain. And, on the other hand, consider the infinite love which God showed in this great work of the incarnation of the Word, causing his only-begotten Son to sacrifice his divine life by the hands of executioners on a cross, in a sea of sorrows and of infamy, to obtain for us pardon and life eternal. Oh, in contemplating this great mystery and this excess of divine love, how can we do otherwise than exclaim: O infinite goodness! O infinite mercy! O infinite love! for a God to become man, and to die for me!
Affections and Prayers.
But how is it my Jesus, that after Thou hast repaired this ruin of sin by Thy own death, I have so often wilfully renewed it again by the many offences I have committed against Thee? Thou hast saved me at so great a cost, and I have so often chosen to damn myself, in losing Thee, O infinite Good! But what Thou hast said gives me confidence that when the sinner who has turned his back upon Thee is converted to Thee, Thou wilt not refuse to embrace him: Turn ye to Me, and I will turn to you.2 Thou hast also said, If any man shall . . . open to Me the door, I will come in to him.3 Behold, Lord, I am one of these rebels, an ungrateful traitor, who have often turned my back upon Thee, and driven Thee from my soul; but now I repent with all my heart for having thus ill-used Thee and despised Thy grace; I repent of it, and love Thee above everything. Behold, the door of my heart is already open; enter Thou, but enter never to leave it again. I know well that Thou wilt never leave me, if I do not again drive Thee away; but this is my fear, and this is the grace which I ask of Thee, and which I hope always to ask; let me die rather than be guilty of this fresh and still greater ingratitude. My dearest Redeemer, I do not deserve to love Thee, after all the offences that I have committed against Thee; but for Thy own merits sake I ask of Thee the gift of Thy holy love, and therefore I beseech Thee make me know the great good Thou art, the love Thou hast borne me, and how much Thou hast done to oblige me to love Thee. Ah, my God and Saviour, let me no longer live ungrateful to Thy great goodness. My Jesus, I will never leave Thee again; I have already offended Thee enough. It is only right that I should employ the remaining years of my life in loving Thee and pleasing Thee. My Jesus, my Jesus, help me; help a sinner that wishes to love Thee. O Mary, my Mother, thou hast all power with Jesus, seeing thou art his Mother; beg of him to forgive me; beg of him to enchain me with his holy love. Thou art my hope; in thee do I confide.

1“Deus Filium suum mittens in similitudinem carnis peccati.” – Rom. viii. 3.
2“Convertimini ad me . . . , et convertar ad vos.” – Zach. i. 3.
3“Si quis . . . aperuerit mihi januam, introibo ad illum.” – Apoc. iii. 20.


Friday, 27 November 2009

Preparation for Death - Consideration V

Uncertainty of the Hour of Death.
“Be you then also ready; for at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.” – Luke xii. 40.
The Moment is Fixed, but it is Unknown.
It is certain that we shall die; but the time of death is uncertain. “Nothing,” says the author who styles himself Idiota, “is more certain than death; but nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death.”1 My brother, God has already fixed the year, the month, the day, the hour, and the moment when I and you are to leave this earth and go into eternity; but the time is unknown to us. To exhort us to be always prepared, Jesus Christ tells us that death will come unawares, and like a thief in the night. The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night.2 He now tells us to be always vigilant; because, when we least expect him, he will come to judge us. At what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.3 St. Gregory says that, for our good, God conceals from us the hour of death, that we may always be prepared to die.4 “Since, then,” says St. Bernard, “death may take away life at all times and in all places, we ought, if we wish to die well and save our souls, to live always in expectation of death.”5
All know that they must die: but the misfortune is, that many view death at such a distance, that they lose sight of it. Even the old, the most decrepit, and the most sickly, flatter themselves that they will live three or four years longer. But how many, I ask, have we known, even in our own times, to die suddenly—some sitting, some walking, some sleeping? It is certain that not one of these imagined that he should die so suddenly, and on that day on which he died. I say, moreover, that of all who have gone to the other world during the present year, no one imagined that he should die and end his days this year. Few are the deaths which do not happen unexpectedly.
When, therefore, Christian soul, the devil tempts you to sin by saying, To-morrow you will go to confession, let your answer be, How do I know but this will be the last day of my life? If this hour, this moment, in which I would turn my back on God, were the last of my life, so that I would have no time for repentance, what would become of me for all eternity? To how many poor sinners has it happened, that in the act of feasting on the poison of sin they were struck dead and sent to hell? As fishes are taken with the hook, says Ecclesiastes, so men are taken in the evil time.6 The evil time is that in which the sinner actually offends God. The devil tells you that this misfortune will not happen to you; but you should say to him, in answer; If it should happen to me, what will become of me for all eternity?
Affections and Prayers.
Lord! the place in which I ought to be at this moment is not that in which I find myself, but in hell, which I have so often merited by my sins. “Infernus domus mea est.” (Hell is my house.) St. Peter says: The Lord waiteth patiently for your sake, not willing that any one should perish, but that all should return to penance.7 Then Thou hast had so much patience with me, and hast waited for me, because Thou wishest me not to be lost, but return to Thee by repentance. My God, I return to Thee; I cast myself at Thy feet, and supplicate mercy. Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.8 Lord, to pardon me requires a great and extraordinary act of mercy, because I offended Thee after I had been favored with a special light. Other sinners also have offended Thee, but they have not received the light which Thou gavest to me. But, in spite of all my sinfulness and ingratitude, Thou commandest me to repent of my sins, and to hope for pardon. Yes, my Redeemer, I am sorry with my whole heart for having offended Thee, and I hope for pardon through the merits of Thy Passion. Thou, my Jesus, though innocent, wished to die like a criminal on the cross, and to shed all Thy blood in order to wash away my sins. “O sanguis innocentis lava, culpas pœnitentis.” O blood of the innocent, wash away the sins of the penitent. O eternal Father! pardon me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Hear his prayers, now that He intercedes for me and makes himself my advocate. But it is not enough to receive pardon; I desire also, O God! worthy of infinite love, the grace to love Thee: I love Thee, O Sovereign Good! and I offer Thee henceforth my body, my soul, my liberty, and my will. I wish henceforth to avoid not only grievous, but also venial offences. I will fly from all evil occasions. Lead us not into temptation.9 For the love of Jesus Christ, preserve me from the occasions in which I would offend Thee. But deliver us from evil: Deliver me from sin, and then chastise me as Thou pleasest. I accept all infirmities, pains, and losses which Thou mayest be pleased to send me: it is enough for me not to lose Thy grace and Thy love. Ask, and you shall receive.10 Thou promisest to grant whatsoever we ask; I ask these two graces—holy perseverance and the gift of Thy love. O Mary, mother of mercy! thou dost pray for me: in thee do I put my trust.
We Should Make up Our Accounts.
The Lord does not wish us to be lost; and therefore, by the threat of chastisement, he unceasingly exhorts us to a change of life. Except you will be converted, He will brandish His sword.11 Behold, he says in another place, how many, because they would not cease to offend me, have met with a sudden death, when they were least expecting it, and were living in peace, secure of a life of many years. For when they shall say: Peace and security: then shall sudden destruction come upon them.12 Again he says: Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.13 Why so many threats of chastisement before the execution of vengeance? It is because he wishes that we amend our lives, and thus avoid an unhappy death. “He,” says St. Augustine, “who tells you to beware, does not wish to take away your life.”14 It is necessary, then, to prepare our accounts before the day of account arrives. Dearly beloved Christians, were you to die, and were your lot for eternity to be decided before night, would your accounts be ready? Oh! how much would you give to obtain from God another year or month, or even another day, to prepare for judgment? Why then do you not now, that God gives you this time, settle the accounts of your conscience? Perhaps it cannot happen that this shall be the last day for you? Delay not to be converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day; for His wrath shall come on a sudden, and in the time of vengeance He will destroy thee.15 My brother, to save your soul you must give up sin. “If then you must renounce it at some time, why do you not abandon it at this moment?” says St. Augustine. Perhaps you are waiting till death arrives? But, for obstinate sinners, the hour of death is the time, not of pardon, but of vengeance. In the time of vengeance He will destroy thee.
When any one borrows from you a large sum of money you take care to get a written security for it. Who knows, you say, what may happen? Why are you not equally careful about the salvation of your soul, which is of far greater importance to you than all the riches of the earth? When eternity is at stake, why do you not say: Who knows what may happen? If you were to lose a sum of money, all would not be lost; and though in losing it your entire property would be lost, you would have the hope of recovering it. But if at death you lose your soul, then you will truly have lost all, and can never hope to regain it. You are careful to keep an exact account of all the goods you possess, lest, by dying suddenly, any of them might be lost; and if you meet with a sudden death, and find yourself at enmity with God, what will become of your soul for all eternity?
Affections and Prayers.
Ah! my Redeemer! Thou hast spent all Thy blood, and hast given Thy life in order to save my soul; and I have often lost it by confidence in Thy mercy. I have, then, so often abused Thy goodness to offend Thee. By doing so, I have deserved to be suddenly struck dead, and to be cast into hell. In a word, I have been engaged in a contest with Thee. Thou didst treat me with mercy, and I offended Thee; Thou didst seek after me, and I fled away from Thee; Thou gavest me time to repair the evil I had done, and I employed that time in adding insults to insults. Lord, make me understand the injustice I have done Thee, and the obligation by which I am bound to love Thee. Ah! my Jesus! how could I be so dear to Thee, who sought after me so often when I chased Thee away? How hast Thou been able to bestow so many graces on one who has given Thee so much displeasure? From this I see the ardor of Thy desire to save me from perdition. I am sorry with my whole heart for having offended Thee, O infinite goodness! Ah, receive this ungrateful sheep, that casts itself sorrowful at Thy feet; receive it and bind it on Thy shoulders, that I may never more fly away from Thee. I will never again abandon Thee. I wish to love Thee; I wish to be Thine; and provided I belong to Thee, I am content to suffer every pain. And what greater punishment can fall upon me than to live without Thy grace, to be separated from Thee, who art my God, who hast created me and died for me? O accursed sins! what have you done? You have made me displease my Saviour, who has loved me so tenderly. Ah, my Jesus, as Thou hast died for me, so I ought to die for Thee. Thou hast died through love for me—I should die through sorrow for having despised Thee. I accept death in whatever manner and at whatever time Thou pleasest to send it. Hitherto I have not loved Thee, or I have loved Thee too little. I do not wish to die in this state. Ah, grant me a little more time, that I may love Thee before I die. Change my heart; wound it; inflame it with Thy holy love. Through that affection of charity which made Thee die for me, grant me this favor. I love Thee with my whole heart. My soul is enamored of Thee. Do not permit me to lose Thee. Give me holy perseverance; give me Thy holy love. Most holy Mary, my refuge and my mother! perform the office of advocate in my behalf.
We Must Always be Ready.
Be ye ready. The Lord does not tell us to prepare ourselves, but to be prepared, when death arrives. When death comes, it will be almost impossible, in that tempest and confusion, to give ease to a troubled conscience. This, reason tells us: this, God threatens, saying that then he will come, not to pardon, but to avenge, the contempt of his graces. Revenge is mine, I will repay.16 It is, says St. Augustine, a just punishment, that he who was unwilling, when he was able to save his soul, will not be able when he is willing.17 But you will say: Perhaps I may still be converted and saved. Would you throw yourself into a deep well, saying, Perhaps I may not be drowned? O God! how sin blinds the understanding, and deprives the soul of reason. When there is question of the body, men speak rationally; but when the soul is concerned, they speak like fools.
My brother, who knows but this point which you read is the last warning that God may send you? Let us immediately prepare for death, that it may not come upon us without giving us time to prepare for judgment. St. Augustine says that God conceals from us the last day of life, that we may be always prepared to die.18 St. Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation, not only with fear, but also with trembling.19 St. Antonine relates that a certain king of Sicily, to make one of his subjects understand the fear with which he sat on the throne, commanded him to sit at table with a sword suspended over him by a slender thread. The apprehension that the thread might give way filled him with so much terror that he could scarcely taste food. We are all in like danger; for the sword of death, on which our eternal salvation depends, may at each moment fall upon us.
It is indeed a question of eternity. If the tree fall to the south or to the north, in which plate soever it shall fall, there shall it lie.20 If, when death comes, we are found in the grace of God, oh! with what joy shall we say: I have secured all; I can never again lose God; I shall be happy forever. But, if death finds the soul in sin, with what despair will it exclaim, “Ergo erravimus!”—therefore have I erred; and for my error there will be no remedy for all eternity. The fear of an unhappy eternity made the venerable Father Avila, apostle of Spain, say, when the news of death was brought to him: Oh! that I had a little more time to prepare for death This fear made the Abbot Agatho, who spent so many years in penance, say at death: What will become of me? Who can know the judgments of God? St. Arsenius, too, trembled at the hour of death; and being asked by his disciples, why he was so much alarmed, he said: “My children this fear is not new to me; I have had it always during my whole life.” Above all, holy Job trembled when he said: What shall I do when the Lord shall rise to judge? and when he shall examine, what shall I answer him?21
Affections and Prayers.
Ah my God! who has ever loved me more than Thou hast? and whom have I despised and insulted more than I have insulted Thee? O blood! O wounds of Jesus, you are my hope. Eternal Father, look not upon my sins, but look at the wounds of Jesus; behold Thy Son dying through pain for my sake, and asking Thee to pardon me. I repent, O my Creator! of having offended Thee. I am sorry for it above all things. Thou didst create me that I might love Thee; and I have lived as if Thou didst create me to offend Thee. For the love of Jesus Christ, pardon me and give me grace to love Thee. I have hitherto resisted Thy will, but I will resist no longer, and will do whatsoever Thou commandest. Thou commandest me to detest the outrages I have offered Thee; behold, I detest them, with my whole heart. Thou commandest me to resolve to offend Thee no more; behold, I resolve to lose my life a thousand times, rather than forfeit Thy grace. Thou commandest me to love Thee with my whole heart; yes, with my whole heart I love Thee, and I wish to love nothing else but Thee. Thou wilt henceforth be my only beloved, my only love. From Thee I ask, and from Thee I hope for holy perseverance. For the love of Jesus Christ, grant that I may be always faithful to Thee, and that I may always say to Thee, with St. Bonaventure: “Unus est dilectus meus, unus est amor meus.” My beloved is one, my love is one. I do not wish that my life be employed any longer in giving Thee displeasure; I wish to spend it only in weeping over the offences I have committed against Thee, and in loving Thee. Mary, my Mother! pray for all who recommend themselves to thee,—pray to Jesus also for me.

1“Nihil certius est morte, hora autem mortis nihil incertius.” – De Cont. Mort. c. 3.
2“Sicut fur in nocte ita veniet.” – 1 Thess. v. 2.
3“Qua hora non putatis, Filius hominis veniet.” – Luke xii. 40.
4“De morte incerti sumus, ut ad mortem semper parati inveniamur.” – Mort. l. 12 c. 20.
5“Mors ubique te expectat: tu ubique eam expectabis.” – Medit. c. 3.
6“Sicut pisces capiuntur hamo . . . sic capiuntur homines in tempore malo.” – Eceles. ix. 12.
7“(Deus) patienter agit propter vos, nolens aliquos perire sed omnes ad pœnitentiam reverti.” – 2 Peter iii. 9.
8“Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.”
9Ne nos inducas in tentationem.
10“Petite, et accipietis.” – John, xvi. 24.
11“Nisi conversi fueritis, gladium suum vibrabit.” – Ps. vii. 13.
12“Cum dixerint pax, et securitas, tunc repentinus eis superveniet interitus.” – 1 Thess. v. 3.
13“Nisi pœnitentiam habueritis, omnes similiter peribitis.” – Luke, xiii. 3.
14“Nemo, volens ferire, dicit: observa!” – Serm. 22 E.B.
15“Non tardes converti ad Dominum, et non differas de die in diem: subito enim veniet ira illius, et in tempore vindictæ disperdet te.” – Eccles. v. 8.
16“Mihi vindicta; ego retribuam, dicit Dominus.” – Rom. xii. 19.
17“Justa pœna est ut qui recte facere, cum posset, noluit, amittat posse cum velit.” – De Lib. Arb. l. 3, c. 13.
18“Latet ultimus dies, ut observentur omnes dies.” – Serm. 39 E. B.
19“Cum metu et tremore vestram salutem operamini.” – Phil. ii. 12.
20“Si ceciderit lignum ad austrum, aut ad aquilonem, in quocumque loco ceciderit, ibi erit.” – Eccles. xi. 3.
21“Quid enim faciam, cum surrexerit ad judicandum Deus; et cum quæsierit, quid respondebo illi?” – Job, xxxi. 14.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Preparation for Death - Consideration IV

The Certainty of Death.
“It is appointed unto men once to die.” – Hebr. ix. 27.
All Must Die.
The sentence of death has been written against all men: you are a man; you must die. “Our other goods and evils,” says St. Augustine, “are uncertain; death alone is certain.”1 It is uncertain whether the infant that is just born will be poor or rich, whether he will have good or bad health, whether he will die in youth or in old age. But it is certain that he will die. The stroke of death will fall on all the nobles and monarchs of the earth. When death comes there is no earthly power able to resist it. St. Augustine says, “Fire, water, the sword, and the power of princes may be resisted but death cannot be resisted.”2 Belluacensis relates that at the end of his life a certain king of France said: “Behold, with all my power, I cannot induce death to wait one more hour for me.” When the term of life arrives, it is not deferred a single moment. Thou hast appointed his bounds, which cannot be passed.3
Dearly beloved reader, though you should live as many years as you expect, a day will come, and on that day an hour, which will be the last for you. For me, who am now writing, and for you, who read this little book, has been decreed the day and the moment when I will no longer write, and you will no longer read. Who is the man that shall live and not see death?4 The sentence has been already passed. There never has been a man so foolish as to flatter himself that he will not have to die. What has happened to your forefathers, will also happen to you. Of the immense numbers that lived in this country in the beginning of the last century there is not one now living. Even the princes and monarchs of the earth have changed their country: of them nothing now remains but a marble mausoleum with a grand inscription, which only serves to teach us, that of the great ones of this world nothing is left but a little dust inclosed in the tomb. “Tell me,” says Bernard, “where are the lovers of the world? Of them nothing remains save ashes and worms.”5
Since our souls will be eternal, we ought to procure, not a fortune which soon ends, but one that will be everlasting. What would it profit you to be happy here (if it were possible for a soul to be happy without God), if hereafter you must be miserable for all eternity? You have built that house to your entire satisfaction; but remember that you must soon leave it to rot in a grave. You have obtained that dignity which raises you above others; but death will come and reduce you to the level of the poorest peasant.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah unhappy me, who have spent so many years only in offending Thee, O God of my soul. Behold these years are already past: death is perhaps at hand; and what do I find but pains and remorse of conscience? Oh, that I had always served Thee, O my Lord! Fool that I have been! I have lived so many years on this earth, and instead of acquiring merits for heaven, I have laden my soul with debts to the divine justice. Ah, my dear Redeemer, give me light and strength now to adjust my accounts. Death is perhaps not far off. I wish to prepare for that great moment, which will decide my eternal happiness or misery. I thank Thee for having waited for me till now; and since Thou hast given me time to repair the past, behold me, O my God! tell me what I am to do for Thee. Dost Thou wish me to weep over the offences I have offered to Thee? I am sorry for them, and detest them with my whole soul. Dost Thou wish me to spend the remaining years and days of my life in loving Thee? I desire to do so, O God; I have even hitherto frequently resolved to do so; but I have violated my promises. O my Jesus, I will be no longer ungrateful for the great graces Thou hast bestowed upon me. If I do not now change my life, how shall I be able at death to hope for pardon and for Paradise? Behold, I now firmly resolve to begin to serve Thee in earnest. But give me strength; do not abandon me. Thou didst not abandon me when I offended Thee; I therefore hope more confidently for Thy aid, now that I purpose to renounce all things to please Thee. Accept me, then, as one of Thy lovers. O God worthy of infinite love! Receive the traitor that now casts himself with sorrow at Thy feet—that loves Thee, and asks Thy mercy. I love Thee, O my Jesus: I love Thee with my whole heart; I love Thee more than myself. Behold, I am Thine: dispose of me, and of all that I possess, as Thou pleasest. Give me perseverance in obeying Thy commands; give me Thy love; and then do with me whatsoever Thou wishest. Mary, my mother, my hope, my refuge, to thee I recommend myself, to thee I consign my soul: pray to Jesus for me.
Every Moment we Approach Death.
It is appointed. It is certain, then, that we are all condemned to death. We are born, says St. Cyprian, with the halter round our neck; every step we take brings us nearer to death. My brother, as your name has been one day entered in the register of baptisms, so it will be one day entered in the register of deaths. As in speaking of your ancestors you say: God be merciful to my father, to my uncle, to my brother, so others shall say the same of you. As you have heard the death-bell toll for many, so others shall hear it toll for you.
But what would you say if you saw a man on his way to the place of execution jesting, laughing, looking about in every direction, and thinking only of comedies, festivities, and amusements? And are not you now on your way to death? What is the object of your thoughts? Behold in that grave your friends and relatives, on whom justice has already been executed. How great is the terror and dismay of a man condemned to die, when he beholds his companions suspended on the gallows! Look then at these dead bodies. Each of them says to you: Yesterday for me; to-day for thee.6 The same is said to you by the portraits of your deceased relatives, by the memoranda-books, the houses, the beds, the garments, which they have left.
To know that you must die, that after death you will enjoy eternal glory or suffer eternal torments, that on death depends your eternal happiness or eternal misery, and, with all this before your eyes, not to think of settling your accounts, and of adopting every means of securing a happy death, is surely the extreme of folly. We pity those who meet with a sudden and unprovided death; why then do we not endeavor to be always prepared? We too may die suddenly and without preparation. But, sooner or later, with or without warning, whether we think or do not think of it, we shall die; and every hour, every moment, brings us nearer to our end, which shall be the last illness that will send us out of the world.
At every age, the houses, the streets, and the cities are filled with new people; the former inhabitants are borne to the grave, their last resting-place. As the days of life have ended for them, so a time will come when neither I nor you, nor any one alive, will live any longer on this earth. Days shall be formed and no one in them.7 We shall all then be in eternity, which shall be for us either an eternal day of delights, or an eternal night of torments. There is no middle way; it is certain and an article of faith, that either one lot or the other will be ours.
Affections and Prayers.
My beloved Redeemer! I would not dare to appear before Thee, did I not see Thee hanging on the cross, lacerated, despised, and lifeless, for the love of me. My ingratitude has been great; but Thy mercy is still greater. My sins have been very grievous; but Thy merits exceed their enormity. Thy wounds, Thy blood, and Thy death are my hope. I deserved hell by my first sin: to that sin I have added so many other offences. And Thou hast not only preserved my life, but Thou hast also invited me to pardon, and hast offered me peace with so much mercy and so much love. How can I fear that Thou wilt drive me away, now that I love Thee and desire nothing but Thy grace? Yes, my dear Lord, I love Thee with my whole heart, and I desire only to love Thee. I love Thee, and I am sorry for having despised Thee, not so much because I have deserved hell, as because I have offended Thee, my God, who hast loved me so tenderly. O my Jesus, open to me the bosom of Thy goodness; add mercies to mercies. Grant that I may be no longer ungrateful to Thee: change my whole heart. Grant that my heart, which has once despised Thy love, and has exchanged it for the miserable delights of this earth, may now be entirely Thine, and may burn with continual flames for Thee. I hope to gain Paradise, that I may always love Thee. I cannot enjoy in that kingdom a place among the innocent—I must remain among the penitents; but though among these, I wish to love Thee more than the innocent. For the glory of Thy mercy, make all heaven behold so great a sinner inflamed with an ardent love. I resolve henceforth to be all Thine, and to think only of loving Thee. Assist me with Thy light and with Thy grace to execute this desire, which Thou in Thy goodness hast inspired. O Mary! thou who art the mother of perseverance, obtain for me the grace to be faithful to this my promise.
We should Think Continually of Death.
Death is certain. But, O God! this truth Christians know, this they believe and see: and how can they still live so forgetful of death as if they would never have to die? If after this life there were neither hell nor heaven, could they think less of it than they do at present? It is this forgetfulness that makes them lead so wicked a life. My brother, if you wish to live well, spend the remaining days of life with death before your eyes. O death, thy sentence is welcome.8 Oh! how correct the judgments, how well directed the actions, of the man whose judgments are formed, and whose conduct is regulated in view of death! “Consider the end of life;” says St. Laurence Justinian, “and you will love nothing in this world.”9 All that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, of the eyes and the pride of life.10 All the goods of this earth are reduced to the pleasures of sense, to riches and to honors. But all these are easily despised by the man who considers that he will be soon reduced to ashes, and that he will be soon buried in the earth to be the food of worms.
And in reality it was at the sight of death that the saints despised all the goods of this earth. St. Charles Borromeo kept on his table a skull, in order that he might continually contemplate it. Cardinal Baronius had inscribed on his ring the words, Memento mori. (Remember death.) The Venerable P. Juvenal Ancina, Bishop of Saluzzo, had this motto written on a skull, “What you are, I was; and what I am, you shall be.” A holy hermit being asked when dying how he could be so cheerful, said; “I have always kept death before my eyes; and therefore, now that it has arrived, I see nothing new in it.”
What folly would it not be for a traveller, who would think only of acquiring dignities and possessions in the countries through which he had to pass, and should reduce himself to the necessity of living miserably in his native land, where he must remain during his whole life! And is not he a fool who seeks after happiness in this world, where he will remain only a few days, and exposes himself to the risk of being unhappy in the next, where he must live for eternity? We do not fix our affections on borrowed goods, because we know that they must soon be returned to the owner. All the goods of this earth are lent to us: it is folly to set our heart on what we must soon quit. Death shall strip us of them all. The acquisitions and fortunes of this world all terminate in a dying gasp, in a funeral, in a descent into the grave. The house which you have built for yourself you must soon give up to others. The grave will be the dwelling of your body till the day of judgment; thence it will go to heaven or to hell, whither the soul will have gone before.
Affections and Prayers.
Then, at death, all shall be at an end for me. I shall then find only the little I have done for Thee, O my God! and what do I wait for! Do I wait till death come and find me as miserable and defiled with sin as I am at present? Were I now called to eternity I should die with great disquietude on account of my past sins. No, my Jesus; I will not die so discontented. I thank Thee for having given me time to weep over my iniquities, and to love Thee. I wish to begin from this moment. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart for having offended Thee, O Sovereign Good! and I love Thee above all things—I love Thee more than my life. My Jesus! I give myself entirely to Thee. From this moment I embrace and unite Thee to my heart. I now consign my soul to Thee. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit. I will not wait to give it to Thee when that proficiscere, “Depart, O soul,” will announce my departure from this world. I will not wait till then to ask Thee to save me. “Jesu sis mihi Jesus.” My Saviour, save me now by granting me pardon and the grace of Thy holy love. Who knows but this consideration which I have read may be the last call which Thou wilt give me, and the last mercy which Thou wilt show me? Extend Thy hand, O my love, and deliver me from the mire of my tepidity. Give me fervor, and make me do with great love all that Thou dost demand of me. Eternal Father, for the love of Jesus Christ, give me holy perseverance, and the grace to love Thee, and to love Thee ardently, during the remainder of my life. O Mary! through the love which thou bearest to thy Jesus, obtain for me these two graces—perseverance and love.

1“Cetera nostra, et bona et mala, incerta sunt; sola mors certa est.” – Serm. 97. E. B.
2“Resistitur ignibus, undis, ferro, resistitur regibus venit mors: quis ei resistit?” – In Ps. cxxi.
3“Constituisti terminos ejus, qui præteriri non poterunt.” – Job, xiv. 5.
4“Quis est homo, qui vivet, et non videbit mortem?” – Ps. lxxxviii. 49.
5“Dic mihi, ubi sunt amatores mundi? Nihil ex eis remansit, nisi cineres et vermes.” – Medit. c. 3.
6“Mihi heri, et tibi hodie.” – Ecclus. xxxviii. 23.
7“Dies formabuntur, et nemo in eis.” – Ps. cxxxviii. 16.
8“O mors! bonum est judicium tuum.” – Ecclus. xli. 3.
9“Consideretur vitæ terminus, et non erit in hoc mundo quod ametur.” – Lign. Vit. de Hum. c. 4.
10“Omne quod est in mundo, concupiscentia carnis est, concupiscentia oculorum, et superbia vitæ.” – 1 John, ii. 16.


Friday, 20 November 2009

Preparation for Death - Consideration III

Shortness of Life.
“What is your life? It is a vapor, which appeareth for a little while.” – James, iv. 15.
Death Comes Quickly.
What is your life? It is like a vapor, which is dissipated by a blast of wind, and is seen no more. All know that they must die; but the delusion of many is, that they imagine death as far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short. Man born of a woman, living for a short time, . . . who cometh forth like a flower, and is destroyed.1 This truth the Lord commanded Isaias to preach to the people. Cry. . . . All flesh is grass. . . . Indeed, the people is grass. The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen.2 The life of man is like the life of a blade of grass; death comes, the grass is dried up: behold, life ends, and the flower of all greatness and of all worldly goods falls off.
My days, says Job, have been swifter than a post.3 Death runs to meet us more swiftly than a post, and we at every moment run towards death. Every step, every breath brings us nearer to our end. “What I write,” says Jerome, “is so much taken away from life.”4 “During the time I write, I draw near to death.” We all die, and, like the waters that return no more, we fall into the earth.5 Behold how the stream flows to the sea, and the passing waters never return! Thus, my brother, your days pass by, and you approach death. Pleasures, amusements, pomps, praises, and acclamations pass away; and what remains? And only the grave remaineth for me.6 We shall be thrown into a grave, and there we shall remain to rot, stripped of all things. At the hour of death the remembrance of the delights enjoyed, and of all the honors acquired in this life, will serve only to increase our pain and our diffidence of obtaining eternal salvation. Then the miserable worldling will say: “My house, my gardens, my fashionable furniture, my pictures, my garments, will in a little time be no longer mine, ‘and only the grave remaineth for me.’ ”
Ah! at that hour all earthly goods are viewed only with pain by those who have had an attachment for them. And this pain will serve only to increase the danger of their eternal salvation; for we see by experience, that persons attached to the world wish at death to speak only of their sickness, of the physicians to be called to attend them, and of the remedies which may restore their health. When any one speaks of the state of the soul, they soon grow weary, and beg to be allowed repose. They complain of headache, and say that it pains them to hear any one speak. And if they sometimes answer, they are confused, and know not what to say. It often happens that the confessor gives them absolution, not because he knows that they are disposed for the sacrament, but because it is dangerous to defer it. Such is the death of those who think but little of death.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God and Lord of infinite majesty! I am ashamed to appear before Thee. How often have I dishonored Thee by preferring to Thy grace a sordid pleasure, a little dust, the indulgence of anger, caprice, or vanity! I adore and kiss, O my Redeemer, Thy holy wounds, which I have inflicted by my sins; but through these wounds I hope for pardon and salvation. Make me, O my Jesus! understand the great injury I have done Thee in leaving Thee, the fountain of every good, to drink putrid and poisoned waters. Of all the offences I have given Thee nothing now remains but pain, remorse of conscience. and fruits for hell. Father, I am not worthy to be called Thy child.7 My rather! do not cast me off. It is true that I no longer merit the grace which would make me Thy child; but Thou hast died to pardon me. Thou hast said: Turn ye to me, . . and I will turn to you.8 I give up all that gratifies me, I renounce all the pleasures that the world can give me, and I turn to Thee. Pardon me for the sake of the blood which has been shed for me; I repent with my whole heart of all the insults I have offered to Thee. I repent, and I love Thee above all things. I am not worthy to love Thee; but Thou dost not refuse the love of a heart that has once despised Thee. Thou didst purposely abstain from taking me out of life when I was in sin, that I might love Thee. I wish to love Thee during the remainder of my life, and I wish to love nothing but Thee. Assist me; give me holy perseverance, and Thy holy love. Mary, my refuge! recommend me to Jesus Christ.
The Lighted Candle at Death.
King Ezechias said with tears: My life is cut of as by a weaver; while I was yet beginning, he cut me off.9 Oh, how many have been overtaken and cut off by death, while they were executing and arranging worldly projects devised with so much labor! By the light of the last candle, all things in this world, applause, diversions, pomps, and greatness vanish. Great secret of death! It makes us see what the lovers of this world do not see. The most princely fortunes, the most exalted dignities, and the most superb triumphs lose all their splendor when viewed from the bed of death. The ideas that we have formed of certain false happiness are then changed into indignation against our own folly. The black and gloomy shade of death then covers and obscures every dignity, even that of kings and princes.
At present, our passions make the goods of this earth appear different from what they are in reality. Death takes off the veil, and makes them appear what they really are—smoke, dirt, vanity, and wretchedness. O God! of what use are riches, possessions, or kingdoms at death, when nothing remains but a wooden coffin, and a simple garment barely sufficient to cover the body? Of what use are the honors, when they all end in a funeral procession and pompous obsequies, which will be unprofitable to the soul if it be in hell? Of what use is beauty, when after death nothing remains but worms, stench, and horror, and in the end a little fetid dust?
He hath made me, says Job, as it were a byword of the people, and an example before them.10 The rich man, the captain, the minister of state, dies: his death is the general topic of conversation; but if he has led a bad life he will become “a byword of the people, and an example before them.”11 As an instance of the vanity of the world, and even of the divine justice, he will serve for the admonition of others. After burial his body will be mingled with the bodies of the poor. The small and great are there.12 What profit has he derived from the beautiful structure of his body, which is now but a heap of worms? Of what use are the power and authority which he wielded, when his body is now left to rot in a grave, and his soul has, perhaps, been sent to burn in hell? Oh, what misery! to be the occasion of such reflections to others, and not to have made them for his own profit! Let us then persuade ourselves that the proper time for repairing the disorders of the soul is not the hour of death, but the time of health. Let us hasten to do now what we shall not be able to do at that hour. The time is short.13 Everything soon passes away and comes to an end: let us therefore labor to employ all things for the attainment of eternal life.
Affections and Prayers.
O God of my soul! O infinite goodness! have mercy on me, who have so grievously offended Thee. I knew that in yielding to sin I should lose Thy grace, and I have voluntarily lost it. Tell me what I must do in order to recover it. If Thou wishest me to repent of my sins, behold I repent of them with my whole heart: I wish to die of sorrow for them. If Thou wishest me to hope for Thy pardon, I hope for it through the merits of Thy blood. If Thou wishest me to love Thee above all things. I give up all, I renounce all the pleasures and goods which the world can give me: I love Thee above every good, O my most amiable Saviour! If Thou wishest me to ask Thy graces, I beg two graces from Thee—do not permit me ever more to offend Thee, and make me love Thee: treat me then as Thou pleasest. Mary, my hope, obtain for me these two graces: through thy intercession I hope to obtain them.
Importance of the Last Moment.
How great, then, the folly of those who, for the miserable and transitory delights of this short life, expose themselves to the danger of an unhappy death, and afterward of an unhappy eternity. Oh! how important is that last moment, that last gasp, the last closing of the scene! On it depends an eternity either of all delights or of all torments—a life of eternal happiness or of everlasting woe. Let us consider that Jesus Christ submitted to a cruel and ignominious death in order to obtain for us the grace of a good death. That we may at that last moment die in the grace of God, is the reason why he gives us so many calls, so many lights, and admonishes us by so many threats.
Antisthenes, though a pagan, being asked what was the greatest blessing which man could receive in this world, answered, A good death. And what will a Christian say, who knows by faith, that at the moment of death eternity begins, and that at that moment he lays hold of one of two wheels, which draws with it either eternal joy or everlasting torments? If there were two tickets in a lottery, on one of which might be written Hell and on the other Heaven, what care would you not take to draw that which would give you a right to Paradise, and to avoid the other, by which you would win a place in Hell! O God! how the hands of those unhappy men tremble who are condemned to throw the die on which their life or death depends! How great will be your terror at the approach of that last hour, when you will say: On this moment depends my life or death for eternity; on this depends whether I shall be forever happy or forever in despair! St. Bernardine of Sienna relates, that at death a certain prince exclaimed, with trembling and dismay: Behold, I have so many kingdoms and palaces in this world; but if I die this night I know not what apartment shall be assigned to me.
Brother, if you believe that you must die, that there is an eternity, that you can die only once, and that if you then err your error will be forever irreparable, why do you not resolve to begin at this moment to do all in your power to secure a good death? St. Andrew Avellino said with trembling: “Who knows what will be my lot in the next life? Shall I be saved or damned?” The thought of the uncertainty of being damned or saved filled St. Louis Bertrand with so much terror, that he could not sleep during the night, because of this thought which would suggest itself to him: “Who knows whether thou wilt be lost?” And will not you, who have committed so many sins, tremble? Oh! hasten to apply a remedy in time; resolve to give yourself sincerely to God, and begin from this moment a life which, at the hour of death, will be to you a source, not of affliction, but of consolation. Give yourself up to prayer, frequent the sacraments, avoid all dangerous occasions, and, if necessary, leave the world, secure to yourself eternal salvation, and be persuaded that to secure eternal life no precaution can be too great.
Affections and Prayers.
O my dear Saviour! how great are my obligations to Thee! How hast Thou been able to bestow so many graces on so ungrateful a traitor as I have been? Thou hast created me; and in creating me Thou didst see the injuries which I would commit against Thee. Thou didst redeem me by dying for me: and then, too, Thou didst see the ingratitude which I would be guilty of toward Thee. Being placed in the world I turned my back upon Thee by my sins. My soul was dead and rotten, and Thou didst restore me to life. I was blind. and Thou hast enlightened me. I had lost Thee, and Thou didst enable me to find Thee. I was Thy enemy, and Thou hast made me Thy friend. O God of mercy, make me feel the obligations which I owe Thee, and make me weep over the offences which I have committed against Thee. Ah! take vengeance on me by giving me a great sorrow for my sins. Do not chastise me by the privation of Thy grace and love. O eternal Father, I abhor and detest, above all evils, the injuries I have done Thee. Have mercy on me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Look at Thy Son dead on the cross. “Sanguis ejus super me.” May his blood flow upon me, and wash my soul! O King of my heart! Thy kingdom come. I am resolved to banish every affection which is not for Thee. I love Thee above all things; come and reign in my soul with undivided sway. Grant that I may love Thee, and love nothing but Thee. I desire to please Thee to the utmost of my ability, and to do Thy will in all things, during the remainder of my life. Bless, O my Father, this my desire, and grant me the grace to keep myself always united to Thee. All my affections I consecrate to Thee, and from this day forward I wish to belong to Thee alone, my treasure, my peace, my hope, my love, my all. I hope for all graces through the merits of Thy Son. Mary, my queen and mother, assist me by thy intercession. Mother of God! pray for me.

1“Homo brevi vivens tempore . . .; quasi flos egreditur et conteritur.” – Job, xiv. 1.
2“Clama. . . . Omnis caro fenum. . . . Vere fenum est populus; exsiccatum est fenum et cecidit flos.” – Isa. xl. 6.
3“Dies mei velociores fuerunt cursore.” – Job, ix. 25.
4“Quod scribo, de mea vita tollitur.” – Ad Hel. de morte Nep.
5“Omnes morimur, et quasi aquæ dilabimur in terram, quæ non revertuntur.” – 2 Kings, xiv. 14.
6“Et solum mihi superest sepulchrum.” – Job, xvii. 1.
7“Pater, non sum dignus vocari filius tuus.” – Luke, xv. 21.
8“Convertimini ad me . . . et convertar ad vos.” – Zach. i. 3.
9“Præcisa est velut a texente vita mea: dum adhuc ordirer, succidit me.” – Isa. xxxviii. 12.
10“Posuit me quasi in proverbium vulgi, et exemplum sum coram eis.” – Job, xvii. 6.
11Proverbium vulgi, et exemplum.
12“Parvus et magnus ibi sunt.” – Job, iii. 19.
13Tempus breve est.


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