from the annals of history unto our current day
Considerations by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
from the book, 'Preparation for Death'
The Shortness of Life
"For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time." St. James iv. 14.
WHAT is your life? It is like unto a vapour, which is dispersed by a breath of wind, and is no more. All know that they must die; but the mistake that so many make is, that they imagine that death is so far off, that it will never overtake them. But no; for Job warns us that the life of man is short: "Man is of few days. . . He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down." (Job xiv. i, 2.) The Lord commanded Isaiah to preach this same truth: "Cry," He said to him, "All flesh is grass. . . The grass withereth, the flower fadeth." (Isa. xl. 6, 7.) The life of man is like the life of a blade of grass; death comes, the
blade is dried up, and behold life is finished, and the flower of all grandeur and of all earthly possessions is cut-down. "My days are swifter than a post." (Job ix. 25.) Death comes; to meet us more quickly than a messenger, and we at every moment run towards death. At every step we take, at every breath we draw, we approach death. During the time I write, observes St. Jerome, I am approaching death. "For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again." (2 Sam. xiv. 14.) Thou seest how that stream flows to the sea; and these running waters, they will never return again; thus, my brother, do thy days pass, and thou drawest near to death: so do thy pleasures pass thy amusements, pomps, praises, acclamations and what remains? "The graves are ready for me." (Job xvii. I.) We shall be cast into a grave, and there we shall have to lie deprived of
everything. At the moment of death the remembrance of all the delights enjoyed in life, of all the honours we have acquired, will only serve to increase the grief and the mistrust that we shall feel as to obtaining eternal salvation. The miserable worldly one will then exclaim, Alas! my house, my gardens, that furniture, those paintings, those garments, within a short time will no longer be mine! "The graves are ready for me." Alas! for at that time no earthly possession will be regarded except with sorrow, by him who has loved it with, such devotedness. And this grief will only serve to place the salvation of the soul in greater danger; for we know that those people who are so fond of the world, at the time of death, will only permit their infirmities, the physicians who are to be called in, and the remedies which may relieve them, to be discussed; and when the condition of their souls is spoken of, they immediately grow weary, and desire that they may be left to repose, because they have a headache, and they cannot bear the noise of conversation; and when sometimes they answer, they get confused, neither do they know what to say. Even so do those die who think but little upon death.
Affections and Prayers
Ah, my God and Lord of infinite greatness, I blush to appear before Thee. How often have I esteemed Thy friendship of less moment than a base pleasure, a passion of anger, a little earth, a vain whim, a vapour? I adore and kiss Thy holy wounds, which I, nevertheless, have inflicted on Thee by my sins, but, through which, however, I hope for pardon and salvation. Make me to feel, O my Jesus, the grievous wrong I have done Thee in leaving Thee Thou Who art the Fountain of all good to drink of waters which are putrid and poisonous. What do I now feel, because of all my many offences against Thee, except remorse of conscience and fruits for hell? "Father, . . . I am no more worthy to be called Thy son." (St. Luke xv. 21.) My Father, do not cast me from Thee. It is true that I do not deserve Thy love, that I may become Thy son; but Thou hast died to give me pardon. Thou hast said, "Turn ye unto me, . . . and I will turn unto you." (Zach. i. 3.) I leave every gratification, I renounce all the pleasures that the world can give me, and I turn to Thee. Pardon me through that Blood which Thou hast shed for me, for I repent with all my heart, for all the offences which I have done against Thee. I repent, for I love Thee beyond all other things. I am not worthy to love Thee, but Thou art indeed worthy to be loved; let me love Thee, do not turn from me, let that heart which once neglected Thee now love Thee. Thou didst not leave me to die, when I was living in sin, in order that I might come to love Thee yes, I do indeed desire to love Thee during the remainder of my life, and I would love none but Thee. Help me, give me holy perseverance, and Thy most holy love.
King Hezekiah wept and said, "I have cut off like a weaver my life; . . . from day even to night wilt Thou make an end of me." (Isa. xxxviii. 12.) Oh! how many who are busy weaving, that is, planning and executing their worldly designs, which they have undertaken with such care, are overtaken by death, which cuts off all. At the hour of death, all the glory of everything that is worldly vanishes away, applause, amusements, pomps, and grandeur. Great secret of death! which makes us see that which the lovers of the world do not see. Fortunes which have been envied, the grandest dignities, the proudest triumphs, lose all their splendour when they are reviewed from the bed of death. The notions of certain false happiness, which we have formed in our own minds, these are changed into exceeding great indignation, against our own folly. The black and gloomy shadow of death covers and obscures all dignities even though they be royal.
Our passions, now make the things of this earth appear different from what they really are; death unveils them, and makes us see what in truth they are nothing but smoke, dust, vanity, and misery. O my God! of what avail are riches, possessions, and kingdoms in death, when nothing is needed but a coffin, and a simple robe to cover the body? Of what avail are honours, when nothing remains of them but a funeral train and a pompous burial, which will assist the soul in no way if it be lost? Of what avail is beauty, if nothing remains of it but worms, corruption, and horror, even before death, and afterwards nothing but a little foul dust?
"He hath made me also a byword of the people." (Job xvii. 6.) That rich man dies, that minister, that captain, and then he will be spoken of everywhere; if he has led a wicked life, he will become a byword of the people, and he will serve as a warning to others, being an example of the vanity of the world, and also an example of Divine justice. In the grave his ashes will be mingled with the ashes of the poor. "The small and great are there." (Job iii. 19.) Of what use has the beautiful form of his body been to him, if now he is only a mass of corruption? What has the authority he possessed availed him, if his body is now thrown into a grave to corrupt, and his soul has been cast into hell to burn? Oh! what misery to be the object of these sad reflections to others, instead of making them for his own profit. Let us, therefore, be persuaded that the proper time for satisfying the stings of a remorseful conscience, is during the time of life, and not at the hour of death. Let us hasten now to do that which at that time we shall not be able to do. "The time is short." All things quickly pass away and end therefore, let us so act, that all we do, may serve towards obtaining our eternal salvation.
Affections and Prayers
O God of my soul, O Infinite Goodness, have mercy upon me, who have so often offended Thee. I did indeed know that by sinning I should lose Thy grace, and I did not mind losing it; but teach me what I can do to regain it. If Thou desirest that I should repent of my sins, I do repent with my whole heart; I would even like to die for grief at having once sinned. If it is Thy wish that I should hope for pardon from Thee, I do truly hope for it, through the merits of Thy blood. If Thou desirest that I should love Thee above all things, I will leave all; I will renounce all the joys and the riches which the world can give me; and I will love Thee beyond all other things, O ray most adorable Saviour. If Thou willest that I should demand graces of Thee, I ask for these two that Thou wilt never let me offend Thee more, and that Thou wilt make me to love Thee, and then do with me whatsoever Thou wilt.
Therefore, is it not folly for the short and paltry pleasures of this brief life to incur the risk of dying a miserable death? and with that death to begin a wretched eternity? Oh, of how much importance is that last moment, that last gasp, that last closing of the scene! It is an eternity either of every joy, or of every pain that is at stake a life for ever happy or for ever miserable. Let us think that Jesus Christ was willing to die a bitter and cruel death, in order to obtain for us a peaceful and happy death. For this end He calls us so many tunes; He gives us so many lights; He admonishes us with so many threats, that we may be induced to spend that last moment in the grace of God.
Even the Pagan Antisthenes, when he was asked what was the greatest blessing in this world, answered, "A happy death." And what ought a Christian to say, who knows by faith, that from the moment of death, eternity begins; so that in that moment he lays hold of one of the two wheels which draws with it, either eternal happiness or eternal suffering? If there were two tickets in a lottery, upon which hell might be written on one, and heaven on the other, with what care would you not try to draw out that one, upon which Paradise was written? O God, how must those unhappy wretches tremble who are condemned to throw the die upon which their life or death depends! What fear will be yours when you will find yourself near to that last moment when you will say, "Upon this moment, which is drawing so near, depends my eternal life or death! Now, it is to be decided whether I shall be for ever blessed or for ever miserable." St. Bernardine, of Sienna, tells of a certain prince who when dying, in great terror, exclaimed, "I have many lands and palaces in this world; but if I should die during this night, I know not what lodging will be mine."
My brother, if thou believest that thou hast to die, and that there is an eternity, and that once only thou canst die, so that if thou once makest a mistake, the mistake will be for ever without any hope of remedy why is it that thou dost not begin, from this moment in which you read these words, to do all that liest in thy power to secure for thyself a happy death? St. Andrew Avellino said tremblingly, "Who knows what will be my lot in the life to come? Whether I shall be saved or condemned to eternal death?" St. Louis Bertrand also trembled so much that he was unable to take rest because of this thought which would suggest itself to him, "Who knows whether thou wilt be lost?" And thou, who has committed so many sins, dost thou not tremble? Be quick and make amends in time; resolve to give thyself indeed to God, and begin, at least from this time, a life the remembrance of which may not grieve, but may fill thee with joy at the hour of death. Give thyself to prayer, frequent the Sacraments, quit dangerous occasions, and if necessary, leave even the world, so that thou mayest secure to thyself an eternal salvation; and understand, that to secure this eternal life no precaution can be too great.
Affections and Prayers
O my dear Saviour, how much am I not indebted to Thee! How couldst Thou bestow so many favours upon one so ungrateful; upon such a traitor as I have been to Thee? Thou hast created me, and in creating me Thou didst foresee all the offences that I should commit against Thee. Thou didst redeem me by dying for me, and even then Thou didst know of all the ingratitude I should show towards Thee. When I was placed in this world, I turned away from Thee, and thus was I dead indeed in sin, until Thou with Thy grace didst restore me to life. I was blind, and Thou didst enlighten me. I had lost Thee, and Thou didst enable me to find Thee. I was Thy enemy, and Thou didst make me Thy friend. O God of mercy, grant me to feel how deeply I am indebted to Thee, and make me mourn over my offences against Thee. Avenge Thyself upon me by making me very sorry for my sins; but do not punish me by depriving me of Thy grace and of Thy love. O Eternal Father, I detest and abhor more than any other evil, the offences I have committed against Thee. Have mercy upon me, for the love of Jesus Christ. Behold Thy Son upon the Cross. "His Blood be upon me." May that Divine Blood flow down and wash my soul. O King of my heart, "Thy kingdom come." I am resolved to drive away every affection that is not felt for Thee. I love Thee more than anything; come and reign alone in my soul. Let me love Thee, and let me love Thee only. I would please Thee as much as it is possible for me to do; and I would give Thee entire satisfaction during the life that remains to me. Bless, O my Father, this my desire, and give me grace ever to be one with Thee. I consecrate all my affections to Thee, and from this day forward I would be Thine alone, Who art my Treasure, my Peace, my Hope, my Love, my All; and all this I hope for through the merits of Thy dear Son.
Return to the Second Meditation . . .
Proceed to the Fourth Meditation