The Vanity of the World.
“What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” – Matt. xvi. 26.
The Goods of this World are Useless.
The Goods of this World are Useless.
An ancient philosopher called Aristippus was once shipwrecked, and lost all his goods. When he reached the shore, the people, through respect for his great learning, presented him with an equivalent of all he had lost. He wrote to his friends, exhorting them to imitate his example, and to seek only the goods which cannot be wrested from them by shipwreck. Now, our relatives and friends who are in eternity exhort us from the other world to attend only to the acquisition of goods which even death cannot take from us. Death is called the day of destruction.1 It is the day of destruction, because on that day we shall lose all the goods of this earth—its honors, riches, and pleasures. Hence, according to St. Ambrose, we cannot call the things of this life our goods, because we cannot take them with us to eternity. Our virtues alone accompany us to the next life.2
What then, says Jesus Christ, does it profit us to gain the whole world, if, at death, by losing the soul, we lose all? Ah! how many young men has this great maxim sent into the cloister! how many anchorets has it sent to the desert! and how many martyrs has it encouraged to give their life for Jesus Christ! By this maxim St. Ignatius of Loyola drew many souls to God, particularly the soul of St. Francis Xavier, who was then in Paris, attached to the things of the world. “Francis,” said the saint one day, “reflect that the world is a traitor, which promises but does not perform. And though it should fulfil all its promises, it can never content your heart. But let us grant that it did make you happy, how long will this happiness last? Can it last longer than your life; and after death what will you take with you to eternity? Where is the rich man that has ever brought with him a piece of money, or a servant to attend him? What king has ever carried with him a shred of the purple as a badge of royalty?” At these words St. Francis abandoned the world, followed St. Ignatius, and became a saint.
Solomon confessed that whatsoever his eyes desired he refused them not;3 but, after having indulged in all the pleasures of this earth, he called all the goods of the world vanity of vanities—“vanitas vanitatum.” Sister Margaret of St. Anne, a Discalced Carmelite, and daughter of the Emperor Rudolph the Second, used to say: “Of what use are kingdoms at the hour of death?” The saints tremble at the thought of the uncertainty of their eternal salvation. Father Paul Segneri trembled, and, full of terror, said to his confessor: “Father, what do you think—shall I be saved?” St. Andrew Avellino trembled, and, with a torrent of tears, said: “Who knows whether I shall be saved or lost?” St. Louis Bertrand was so much terrified by this thought, that, during the night, in a fit of terror, he sprang out of bed, saying: “Perhaps I shall be lost! And sinners, while they live in a state of damnation, sleep, and jest, and laugh!”
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, Jesus, my Redeemer! I thank Thee for making me see my folly and the evil I have done in turning my back on Thee who hast given Thy blood and Thy life for me. Thou didst not deserve to be treated by me as I have treated Thee. Behold! if death now came upon me, what should I find but sins and remorse of conscience, which would make me die with great disquietude! My Saviour! I confess that I have done evil, and committed a great error in leaving Thee, my Sovereign Good! for the miserable pleasures of this world. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. Ah! through the sorrow which killed Thee on the Cross, give me a sorrow for my sins, which will make me weep during the remainder of my life over the injuries I have done Thee. My Jesus! pardon me; I promise to displease Thee no more, and to love Thee forever. I am not worthy of Thy love, which I have hitherto so much despised. But Thou hast said that Thou lovest him who loves Thee. I love Thee; love me, then, O Lord! I do not wish to be any longer in enmity with Thee. I renounce all the grandeurs and pleasures of the world, provided Thou lovest me. Hear me, O my God! for the love of Jesus Christ. He entreats Thee not to banish me from Thy heart. To Thee I consecrate my whole being; to Thee I consecrate my life, my pleasures, my senses, my soul, my body, my will, and my liberty. Accept me; reject not my offering, as I have deserved for having so often refused Thy friendship; cast me not away from Thy face. Most holy Virgin, my Mother, Mary! pray to Jesus for me. In thy intercession I place unbounded confidence.
The Goods of this World are Contemptible.
The Goods of this World are Contemptible.
There is a deceitful balance in his hand.4 We must weigh things in the balance of God, and not in the deceitful balance of the world. The goods of this life are miserable goods; they do not content the heart; they soon end. My days have been swifter than a post: they have passed by as ships carrying fruits.5 The days of our life pass and fly away; and of all the pleasures of this earth, what remains? They have passed like a ship, which leaves no trace behind. As a ship that passeth through the waters, whereof, when it is gone by, the trace cannot be found.6 Ask so many of the rich and learned of the world, so many princes and emperors who are now in eternity, what they possess of all the pomps, and delights, and grandeur which they enjoyed in this life? They all answer, Nothing, nothing. “O man,” says St. Augustine, “you attend to what he had here; but attend to what he brings with him.”7 “You,” says the saint, “regard only the goods which the rich man possessed; but observe what he takes with him at death—a fetid body and a rag of a garment to rot with him.”
After death the great ones of the world are spoken of for a little while; but they are soon forgotten. Their memory hath perished with a noise.8 And if they have gone to hell, what do they do and say in that place of woe? They weep and say, What hath pride profited us, or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? all those things are passed away like a shadow.9 What have our pomps and riches profited us, now that they are passed away like a shadow, and for us nothing remains but eternal torments, wailing and despair?
The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.10 How prudent are worldlings in earthly affairs! What toil do they endure in order to obtain a situation, or to acquire an estate? With what care do they attend to the preservation of bodily health! They adopt the safest means; they select the best physicians, the best remedies, and the purest air. But how careless are they about the concerns of the soul! And it is certain that health, situations, and possessions will one day end; but the soul and eternity are everlasting. What do not the unjust, the vindictive, and voluptuous endure in order to attain their wicked objects? And will they refuse to suffer anything for the soul? O God! by the light of the death-candle, at that time of truth, worldlings know and confess their folly. Then they say, Oh, that I had left the world and led a life of sanctity! Pope Leo XI said at the hour of death, It were better for me to have been porter in my convent than to be Pope.” Honorius III also said in his last illness, “It would have been better for me to have remained in the kitchen of my monastery to wash the plates than to be chosen head of the Church.” In his dying moments, Philip II, King of Spain, sent for his son, and throwing off his royal robes, showed him his breast eaten away by worms, and said to him, “Prince, behold how we die, and how the grandeurs of this world end. Oh,” he exclaimed, “that I had been a lay-brother in some religious community, and had hot been king!” He then ordered a cross to be fastened to his neck by means of a cord, and, having made all his arrangements for death, he said to his son: “I wished you to be present at this scene, that you may see how the world treats monarchs in the end. Their death is like that of the poorest peasant. In short, he who leads the most holy life is in the greatest favor with God.” This same son, who was afterward Philip III., dying at the age of forty-three years, said: “My subjects, in the sermon to be delivered at my funeral, preach nothing but this spectacle which you behold: say that to have been king serves at death but to excite regret and pain.” He then exclaimed, “Oh, that I had never been a king! Oh, that I had lived in a desert to serve God! I should now go with greater confidence to present myself at his tribunal, and should not now find myself in so much danger of being damned forever.” But these desires at the hour of death serve only to increase the anguish and despair of those who have not loved God. Then, says St. Teresa, “we should make no account of what ends with life; the true life consists in living in such a manner as not to have any reason to fear death.” If then we wish to see the true value of earthly things, let us look at them from the bed of death and say, These honors, these amusements, these revenues will one day have an end; we ought then to labor to become saints, and rich in goods which will accompany us to the other world, and which will make us content and happy for all eternity.
Affections and Prayers.
Ah. my Redeemer! Thou hast suffered so many pains and ignominies for my sake; and I have loved the pleasures and vanities of this earth to such an excess, that, for the sake of them. I have often trampled on Thy grace. But, since Thou didst not cease to seek after me when I despised Thee, I cannot, O my Jesus! fear that Thou wilt now cast me away, when I seek and love Thee with my whole heart, and am more sorry for having offended Thee than I should be for having suffered every other misfortune. O God of my soul! from this day forward I wish never to offend Thee, even by a venial fault. Make known to me what is displeasing to Thee. I will not, for any earthly good, do what I know to be offensive to Thee. Make known to me what I must do in order to please Thee. I am ready to do it. I wish to love Thee with a true love. I embrace, O Lord! all the pains and crosses which may come to me from Thy hands give me the resignation I stand in need of: here burn, here cut. Chastise me in this life, that in the next I may be able to love Thee for eternity. Mary, my Mother! to thee I recommend my soul! do not ever cease to pray to Jesus for me.
We must Work for Heaven.
We must Work for Heaven.
The time is short: it remaineth that . . . they that use this world, be as if they used it not; for the fashion of this world passeth away.11 What is our life on this earth but a scene, which passes away and ends very soon? The fashion of this world passeth away.12 “The world,” says Cornelius à Lapide,” is like a stage; one generation passes away, another comes.” He who acts the part of a king, takes not the purple with him. Tell me, O villa, O house, how many masters have you had? When the comedy is over, the king is no longer king; the master ceases to be master. You at present are in possession of such a villa and palace; but death will come, and they will pass to other masters.
The affliction of an hour maketh one forget great delights.13 The gloomy hour of death brings to an end and makes us forget all the grandeur, nobility, and pomp of the world. Casimir, king of Poland, while he sat at a table with the nobles of his kingdom, died in the act of raising a cup to take a draught; and the scene ended for him. In seven days after his election, the Emperor Celsus was killed, and the scene closed for Celsus. Ladislaus, king of Poland, in his eighteenth year, while he was preparing for the reception of his bride, the daughter of the king of France, was suddenly seized with a violent pain, which soon deprived him of life. Couriers were instantly despatched to announce to her that the scene was over for Ladislaus, and that she might return to France. By meditating on the vanity of the world, Francis Borgia became a saint. At the sight of the Empress Isabella, who had died in the midst of worldly grandeur and in the flower of youth, he, as has been already said, resolved to give himself entirely to God. “Thus, then,” he said, “end the grandeurs and crowns of this world: I will henceforth serve a master who can never die.”
Let us endeavor to live in such a manner that what was said to the fool in the Gospel may not be said to us at the hour of death: Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee: and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?14 Hence, the Redeemer adds: So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.15 Again he tells you to acquire the riches, not of the world, but of God;—of virtues and merits, which are goods which shall remain with you for eternity in heaven. Lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume.16 Let us then labor to acquire the great treasure of divine love. “What,” says St. Augustine, “has the rich man, if he has not charity? What does the poor man want, if he has charity?”17 If a man had all the riches in the world, and has not God, he is the poorest of men. But the poor man who possesses, God, possesses all things. And who are they that possess God? He, says St. John, that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.18
Affections and Prayers.
Ah, my God! I do not wish that the devil should have any longer dominion over my soul: I wish that Thou alone be the lord and master of it. I will renounce all things in order to acquire Thy grace. I esteem it more than a thousand thrones and a thousand kingdoms. And whom shall I love but Thee, who art infinitely amiable, who art an infinite good, infinite beauty, bounty, and love? Hitherto I have abandoned Thee for the sake of creatures; this is, and always will be, to me a source of sorrow, which will pierce my heart with grief for having offended Thee, who hast loved me with so much tenderness. But since Thou hast favored me with so many graces, I can no longer bear to see myself without Thy love. O, my Lord! take possession of my whole will, and of all that I possess, and do with me what Thou pleasest. If I have hitherto been impatient under adversity, I ask pardon. O, my Lord! I will never complain of Thy arrangements; I know that they are all holy, all for my welfare. Treat me, O my God! as Thou wishest; I promise to be always content, always to thank Thee. Make me love Thee, and I ask no more. What goods, what honors, what world can I love? O God! O God! I wish only for God. Happy thou, O Mary! who didst love nothing in the world but God. Obtain for me the grace to imitate thee, at least during the remainder of my life. In thee I trust.
1“Dies perditionis.” – Deut. xxxii. 35.
2“Non nostra sunt, quæ non possumus auferre nobiscum; sola virtus comes est defunctorurn.” – in Luc. l. 7.
3“Omnia gum desideraverunt oculi mei, non negavi eis.” – Eccles. ii. 10.
4“In manu ejus statera dolosa.” – Osee, xii. 7.
5“Dies mei velociores fuerunt cursore; pertransierunt quasi naves poma portantes.” – Job, ix. 25.
6“Tanquam navis quæ pertransit fluctuantem aquam, cujus, cum præterierit, non est vestigium invenire.” – Wis. v. 10.
7“Quid hic habebat, attendis; quid secum fert, attende.” – Serm. 13.
8“Periit memoria eorum cum sonitu.” – Ps. ix. 7.
9“Quid nobis profuit superbia? aut divitiarum jactantia quid contulit nobis? transierunt omnia illa tanquam umbra.” – Wis. v. 8.
10“Filii hujus sæculi prudentiores filiis lucis sunt.” – Luke, xvi. 8.
11“Tempus breve est: qui utuntur hoc mundo, tanquam non utantur; præterit enim figura hujus mundi.” – 1 Cor. vii. 29.
12Est mundus instar scenæ: “Generatio præterit, et generatio advenit.”
13“Malitia horæ oblivionem facit luxurim magnæ.” – Ecclus. xi. 29.
14“Stulte, hac nocte animam tuam repetunt a te; quæ autem parasti, cujus erunt?” – Luke, xii. 20.
15“Sic est, qui sibi thesaurizat et non est in Deum dives.” – Ibid. 21.
16“Thesaurizate vobis thesauros in cœlo, ubi neque ærugo neque tinea demolitur.” – Matt. vi. 20.
17“Dives, si charitatem non habet, quid habet? Pauper, si charitatem habet, quid non habet?” – Serm. 112, E. B. app.
18“Qui manet in charitate, in Deo manet, et Deus in eo.” – I John, iv. 16.