The Certainty of Death.
“It is appointed unto men once to die.” – Hebr. ix. 27.
All Must Die.
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.
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.
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.