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.
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.
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.
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.