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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