from the annals of history unto our current day
Considerations by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
from the book, 'Preparation for Death'
The Certainty of Death
It is appointed unto men once to die." Heb. ix. 27.
The sentence of death is written against all men; thou art man, thou hast to die. St. Augustine observes that "our good things and our evil things are uncertain death alone is certain." It is uncertain, whether that new-born infant will be poor or rich, whether it will have good or bad health, whether it will die young or old but it is quite certain that it will have to die. Every noble, every monarch, will be cut off by death. And when death arrives, there is no strength able to resist it. Fire may be resisted, water may be resisted, the sword may be resisted, the power of princes may be resisted, but when death comes there is no power able to resist that. Belluacensis relates that a certain king of France whose last moment was fast approaching, exclaimed, "Behold that I, with all my power, am unable to make death wait one more hour for me!" When the end of life is indeed come, not even for one moment can it be deferred. "Thou hast appointed his bounds, that he cannot pass." (Job xiv. 5.)
Should you therefore live, dear reader, for all the years that you hope to, still one day must come, and one hour of that day, which will be the last for you. For me who am now writing, and for you who will read this little book, there is a day, and there is a moment decreed, in which I shall no longer write, neither will you read." What man is he that liveth and shall not see death?" (Ps. cxxxix. 47.) The sentence is passed. There has never been a man so foolish as to flatter himself he will not have to die. That which happened to your ancestors will also happen to you. Of all those, who, at the beginning of the last century were living in your country, behold not one of them remains. Even these princes, the kings of the world, have passed away; nothing remains of them but a marble mausoleum with a grand inscription, which now serves to warn us that a little dust confined within the tomb is all that remains of the grand ones of this world. St. Bernard asks, "Tell me where are the lovers of the world?" and he replies, "Nothing remains of them
save ashes and worms." Therefore, we must endeavour to obtain, not that happiness which has an end, but that which is eternal, for our souls are eternal; for of what use would it be to be happy, (even were it possible for true happiness to be felt by that soul which is at enmity with God) I repeat, to be happy in this life, if in the life to come you must be unhappy for all eternity? You have built that house to your satisfaction, but you must reflect and think, that soon you will have to leave it, to remain corrupting in a tomb. You have obtained that dignity which renders you superior to others; but death will soon come, and will make you lower than the lowest peasant on the earth.
Affections and Prayers
Alas, wretched one that I am, who for so many years have only offended Thee, O God of my soul. Alas, that those years have already passed away, and perchance death is drawing nigh, and I feel my conscience troubled and filled with remorse. Oh, that I had ever served Thee my Lord! How foolish have I not been, to have lived so many years, and instead of trying to fit myself for the other world, I have laden myself with debts to the Divine Justice. My dear Redeemer, give me light and strength now to make my reckoning sure with Thee. Death for me, perhaps, now stands nigh at hand. I should like to prepare myself for that great moment in which my everlasting happiness, or unhappiness depends. I thank Thee for having waited so long for me; and since Thou dost give me time to atone for what I have done amiss, look upon me, O my God, and tell me what I must do for Thee. Dost Thou wish me to grieve over the offences. I have committed against Thee? I do grieve over them they do displease me very much indeed. Dost Thou wish me to spend the years and days which may remain to me, in loving Thee? Yes; then I will do so. O God, during the years that are past, many times have I desired to do this, but my desires have afterwards proved failures. No, my Jesus, I will no longer be ungrateful for the many favours Thou hast bestowed upon me. If now, at least, I do not try to love Thee, how shall I be able when the hour of death approaches to hope for pardon in Paradise? Behold now I do really firmly resolve to place myself in Thy service. But Thou must give me strength, Thou must not abandon me. But Thou didst not abandon me when I offended Thee, therefore do I indeed greatly hope for Thy gracious assistance, now that I have resolved to leave all, in order to please Thee. Accept me, therefore, and love me, O God, Thou who art worthy of infinite love. Accept the traitor, who being now repentant, embraces Thy feet, and loves Thee, and asks Thee for mercy. I love Thee, O my Jesus, I love Thee with all my heart, I love Thee much more than I love myself. Behold I am Thine alone. Dispose of me, and all that is mine, as ft may please Thee; give me perseverance in obeying Thee; give me Thy love, and then do with me as Thou wilt.
"It is appointed." It is, therefore, quite certain that we are all condemned to die. St. Cyprian says that we are all born with the halter round our neck, and we approach nearer to death at every step we take. My brother, as your name has one day been entered in the register of baptism, so it will one day be entered in the register of deaths. As you now speak of your forefathers, even so will your descendants speak of you. As you have often heard the death-bell toll for others, even so will others hear it toll for you.
But what would you say, if you were to see a condemned man going to the scaffold jesting, laughing, looking about him, thinking only of plays, festivities, and amusements? And are not you advancing on the road to death? And of what are you thinking ? Look into that grave, and see your friends and your relations upon whom justice has already been executed. What fear do those feel who are condemned to die, when they behold their companions suspended on the gallows, and dead! Behold, then, those corpses, each one of which repeats to you, "Yesterday for me, and to-day for thee." (Ecclus. xxxviii. 23.) The portraits of those of your friends even, say the same to you, as do their memoranda-books, their houses, their beds, and even the clothes they have left behind them.
What greater folly, therefore, can there be than to know we must die, and that after death an eternity of joy or an eternity of pain awaits us; to know that upon that moment our eternal happiness or our eternal unhappiness depends, and yet not to care to make our reckoning sure, and to use all the means we can, to make our death a happy one. We pity all these who die suddenly, and who are not prepared for death; and why, therefore, do we not strive to be ever prepared to die, because the same sudden death may happen to us? But sooner or later, either with warning or without it whether we think it or whether we do not think it, we shall have to die; and at every hour, at every moment, we approach nearer to our gallows even to that last illness, which will be the cause of our death.
At every age the houses, the streets, and the cities, are again inhabited by fresh people, and the old inhabitants are borne to the grave their last resting-place. As the days of life are for ever finished for these, so will the time come in which neither I nor you, nor any of those who are now living, will be any more living upon this earth. Our "memorial is perished with us." (Ps. ix. 6.) We shall all then be living in eternity, which will be for us either an eternity of endless joy, or an eternity of endless woe. There is no middle way; this is certain, and is an article of faith that either one lot or the other will be ours.
Affections and Prayers
My beloved Redeemer, I should not have the courage thus to appear before Thee, did I not behold Thee hanging upon that Cross, wounded, derided, and dead for me. My ingratitude has been great, but Thy mercy has been still greater. My sins have been very great, but Thy merits are greater. Thy wounds, Thy blood, Thy death, are my hope. I deserved hell from the moment I committed my first sin; how many times afterwards have I not again offended Thee; and not only hast Thou preserved my life, but with so much pity and so much love, Thou hast offered me pardon and peace; how, therefore, can I fear being driven from Thee, now that I love Thee, and now that I have no other desire than Thy blessed favour. Yes, I love Thee with all my heart, my dearest Lord, and I desire nothing else than to love Thee. I love Thee, and am very sorry for having scorned Thee, not so much because I have rendered myself worthy of hell, as for having offended Thee, my God. Who hast loved me so much. Take me to Thy bosom, O my
Jesus, and add mercy to mercy. Let me never more be ungrateful to Thee, and change my heart entirely. Grant that my heart, which at one time esteemed Thy love of no account, and which has so often exchanged it for the miserable gratifications of this world, may be wholly Thine; and grant that it may burn in continual flames of love for Thee. I hope to come to Paradise, there to love Thee for ever; I cannot hope for a place there, among the innocent; my place will be amongst the penitent; but amidst those I will love Thee more than the innocent. For the glory of Thy name, let a sinner be seen by heaven to burn with a great love for Thee a sinner who has so often offended Thee. I resolve, from this day forward, to be Thine only, and to think of nothing but of loving Thee. Assist me with Thy light and with Thy grace, that strength may be given to me to fulfil this my desire, which Thou Thyself hast given me through Thy love.
Death is certain. But, O God, many Christians already know this; they believe it, they see it; how then can they live so forgetful of death as if they would never. have to die? If after this life there were neither a heaven nor a hell, could they think less of it than they do now? And it is on this account that they lead such wicked lives. My brother, if you wish to lead a proper life, endeavour to live during the days which may remain to thee, keeping death ever in view. "O death, thy judgment is good." (Ecclus. xli. 3.) Oh how well does he who judges of things and regulates his actions act; who judges and regulates them, with death ever in view. The memory of death makes us lose the affection which we feel for things that are earthly.
"Let the end of this life be thought upon, and there will be nothing in this world to be loved," observes St. Lawrence Justinian. "For all that is in the world: the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." (i St. John ii. 16.) All the pleasures of the world may be reduced to the pleasures of sense, the pleasures of riches and honours; but he who thinks that within a short time he will be reduced to ashes, and that he will be food
for worms under the earth, despises all the pleasures the world can give him.
And the saints, indeed, who have kept death ever in view, have despised all the goods of this world. To keep death ever in view, St. Charles Borromeo kept a skull upon a little table, so that he might continually contemplate it. Cardinal Baronius had these words inscribed upon his ring: "Remember death!" The Venerable Father Juvenal Ancina, Bishop of Saluzzo, had this motto written on a skull, "What thou art I was once; what I am thou wilt be." Another saint, a hermit, being asked when dying why he was so rejoiced, answered, "I have kept death ever before my eyes, and therefore, now that it is come, I see nothing new in it."
What folly would it not be for a traveller, if when travelling, he were only to think of making himself great in that country through which he only has to pass, without minding the being reduced to live miserably in that country where he will have to spend his whole life? And is he not foolish, who seeks his happiness in this world, where he has to remain but a few days, and who by so doing, runs the risk of being unhappy in the world to come, where he will have to remain for ever?
He who possesses anything that is borrowed does not place his affections on it, knowing, as he does, that within a short time he will have to restore it. All the goods of this world are but given to us as a loan; it is indeed foolish to place our affections on them, being obliged within so short a time to leave
them. Death will come and deprive us of all. All the gains and the riches of this world will end in a dying gasp, a funeral, and a descent into the grave. The house which you have built, within a short time you will have to give up to some one else. The tomb will be the place where your body will have to dwell until the day of judgment, and from the tomb your body will have to pass either to heaven or to hell, whither your soul will have gone before.
Affections and Prayers
Therefore, will all be finished for me in death? I shall find nothing else, O my God, than that little which I have done through my love for Thee. And what am I waiting for? Am I waiting until death shall come and find me miserable and defiled with sin as I am now? If I were now to die, I should
die restlessly, and should be very dissatisfied with my past life. No, my Jesus, I do not wish to die so dissatisfied. I thank Thee that Thou hast given me time to mourn over my sins, and to love Thee. I will begin from this moment. But, above all things, I grieve for having offended Thee, O my Sovereign
Good; but I love Thee more than anything, more than my life itself. I yield myself entirely to Thee; my Jesus, from this hour I attach myself wholly to Thee. I would press Thee to my heart; and from this moment I deliver my soul into Thy keeping. "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." I will not wait
to give my soul into Thy keeping until the time shall come when it shall be commanded to leave this world with that summons, "Go forth, Christian soul." I will not wait until that moment arrives to beg Thee to save me. "O Jesus, be a Jesus to me." Save me now, O my Saviour, by giving me Thy pardon, and by giving me the grace of Thy holy love. If this consideration which I have this day read should be the last warning which Thou shouldst give me, and the last mercy thou shouldst show me, then stretch forth Thy hand and take from me all my indifference; give me fervour; grant that I may obey Thee with great love in all that Thou mayst require of me. Eternal Father, for the love of Jesus Christ give me holy perseverance, and the grace to love Thee, and to love Thee, and Thee only, during the life that may yet remain to me.
Return to the Third Meditation . . .
Proceed to the Fifth Meditation