from the annals of history unto our current day
Considerations by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
from the book, 'Preparation for Death'
The Uncertainty of the Hour of Death
"Be ye therefore ready also : for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." St. Luke xii. 40.
It is certain that we must all die, but it is uncertain when. The author, who styles himself Idiota, observes, "Nothing is more certain than death, but nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death."
My brother, already is the year, the month, the day, the hour, and even the moment fixed, in which both you and I will have to leave this earth, and to enter upon eternity; but this time is not known by us. Therefore, that we may ever be prepared, the Apostle tells us that death will come "as a thief in the night." (i Thess. v. 2.) Our Blessed Lord tells us to be watchful, for when least we" expect it, He will come to judge us. (St. Luke xii. 40.) St. Gregory observes, that God, for our good, keeps the hour of bur death hidden from us, so that we may ever be found prepared for death. Since, therefore, at any time, and in any place, death may deprive us of life, St. Bernard remarks, that at every time, and in every place, we must stand awaiting it, if we would die a happy death and be saved.
Every one knows that he or she must die, but the mistake that so many make, is to imagine that death is so far off, that they, as it were, lose sight of it. Even old men, who are most infirm, and people who are very sickly, flatter themselves that they have at least three or four years more to live. But, on the contrary, I say, how many have we not known during our lifetime, who have died suddenly; some sitting, some walking, and some lying upon their beds? And certainly none of those who have died thus suddenly, ever thought to die in that way, or upon that day upon which they died. And, moreover, I say how many who have this year passed on to another life, and who have died from some slight illness, never for once imagined that then: days were this year to come to an end. Few indeed are the deaths which do not happen unexpectedly. Therefore, dear Christian brother, when the devil tempts you to sin, saying, that to-morrow, after the sin has been committed, you will go to confession; answer him in this manner, "And how do I not know that to-day may not be the last of my days upon earth?" If that hour or that moment in which I sinned against God were to be the last for me, so that there would be no time to implore forgiveness for it, what would become of me in eternity? To how many poor sinners has it not happened, that in the same moment in which they have been yielding to some wicked passion, death has overtaken them suddenly, and they have been cast into hell? "As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time." (Eccles. ix. 12.) The "evil time" is precisely that, in which the sinner actually offends God. The devil tells you that it will not happen in this way with you; but you ought to say, if it should happen, thus what will become of me for all eternity?
Affections and Prayers
Dear Lord, the place where I ought now to be, is not here where I now am but in hell, where I have deserved to be so many times, because of my many transgressions. "Hell is my house." But St. Peter tells us, that "the Lord. . . is longsuffering to us-ward, hot willing that any should perish, but that
all should come to repentance." (i St. Pet. iii. 9.) Therefore it is, that Thou hast had so much patience with me, and hast waited so long for.me, because Thou didst not wish me to be lost, but Thou didst wish me to come to repentance. Yes, my God, I come to Thee, I cast myself at Thy feet, I crave for mercy. "Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness." O Lord, great and extraordinary mercy is needed for me, because I have offended Thee, although Thou hast blessed me with Thy light. Many are the sinners who have offended Thee but they have not had the light which Thou hast graciously given to me. And yet for all that, still Thou dost command me to repent of my sins, and I hope for pardon from Thee. Yes, my dear Redeemer, I repent with all my heart for having offended Thee, and I look for pardon through the merits of Thy Passion. Thou, my Jesus, being innocent, was willing to die like a guilty one upon the cross, and to shed all Thy Blood to wash away my sins. "O Blood of the Innocent, wash away the sins of the penitent." O Eternal Father, pardon me, for the love of Jesus Christ, listen to the prayers that He makes for me, now that He is interceding for me, and making Himself my Advocate. But it is not sufficient for me to be pardoned. O God, Thou who art worthy of infinite love, I want the grace to love Thee. I do love Thee, O my Sovereign Good, and I offer Thee from henceforth my soul, my body, my will, and my liberty. From this time I will avoid, not only grave offences, but also slight ones. I will fly from all dangerous occasions. "Lead us not into temptation." Deliver me, for the love of Jesus Christ, from these occasions in which I might chance to offend Thee. "But deliver us from evil." Deliver me from sin, and then punish me as Thou wilt. I accept all the infirmities, griefs, and losses which it may please Thee to send me, there is nothing that I mind, if I do not lose Thy grace, and Thy love. Thou dost promise to give me whatsoever I ask, "Ask and it shall be given you." I ask Thee for these two graces, holy perseverance, and the grace to love Thee.
The Lord does not wish us to be lost, therefore He never ceases to warn us to change our habit of life, by threatening to punish us. "If a man will not turn, He will whet His sword," (Ps. vii. 13.) "Behold," He says in another place, "how many, because they would not leave off sinning when they were least expecting it, and were living in peace, thinking to live for many long years, have been surprised by death, which has suddenly come upon them." "For when they shall say peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them." (i Thess. v. 3.) Likewise He says: "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (St. Luke xiii. 3.) Why, therefore, does He give us so many warnings before He sends the punishment if He does not wish that we should amend our lives, and so avoid dying an unhappy death. St. Augustine well observes that he who says to thee "Take care," wishes thee no ill.
It is therefore necessary to prepare our account before the day of reckoning may arrive. My Christian brother, if before this night arrives you should die, and your eternal welfare should be decided, what do you think? Would your reckoning be right; or would you not indeed be rather willing to give anything to obtain from God one year, one month, or at least one day more? And wherefore, now that God does give you this time, do you not seek to make your conscience free from everything? Is it because you cannot think this day can be the last 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." (Ecclus. v. 8, 9.) If you wish to be saved, my brother, sin must be left; therefore, as a day will come when you must leave it, why do you not leave it now? inquires St. Augustine. Perhaps you are expecting death; but for those who are obstinate, death is not the time for pardon, but for vengeance. "In the time of vengeance He will destroy thee." (Ecclus. v. 9.)
When some one owes you a large sum of money, you immediately take the precaution to provide yourself with a written security, saying to yourself,
"Who knows what may happen?" And why do you not use the same precaution concerning your immortal soul, which is of much more importance than the large sum of money? Why do you not say of your soul, "Who knows what may happen?" If you were to lose that money, you would not lose everything; and even if in losing it you should lose all your patrimony, still you would have the hope of regaining it. But if in death you should lose your soul, then indeed would you lose all, and there would be no hope of ever again rescuing it. You are so diligent in keeping an account of your money, lest
by chance any should be lost if a sudden death were to befall you; and if death should come upon you unawares, while you are at enmity with God, what would become of your soul for all eternity?
Affections and Prayers
All, my Redeemer, Thou hast shed all Thy Blood. Thou hast given Thy life to save my soul, and I have so often lost it, hoping in Thy mercy; and in this way have I so often made use of Thy great goodness, for what? to offend Thee more. For this, I did deserve that Thou shouldst suddenly deprive me of life, and then send me to everlasting punishment. I have as it were been striving with Thee; but Thou hast striven, by showing mercy towards me, and I by offending Thee; Thou by seeking me, and I by flying from Thee; Thou by giving me time to implore pardon for all the offences committed against Thee, and I by using that time to add offence to offence. Gracious Lord, make me feel the great wrong I have done against Thee, and make me feel that it is my greatest duty to love Thee. Ah, my Jesus, how couldst Thou love me so much, Thou who didst seek me so many times when I strove to drive Thee from me? How couldst Thou show so many favours to one who has so often given Thee offence? From all this I feel how desirous Thou art for me not to be lost. I repent with all my heart for having offended Thee, O God of infinite goodness. Ah, receive this ungrateful sheep who returns repentant to Thy feet; receive it, and bind it to Thy shoulders, so that it may never more stray from Thee. No, I will never more fly from Thee. I would love Thee, I would be Thine, and if only I am Thine I am content with every pain, for what greater pain can I feel, than to live without Thy grace, separated from Thee,Who art my God, Who hast created me, and my God Who has died for me? Ah, hateful sins, what have you
done ? You have made me displease my dear Saviour, Who hast loved me so much. Ah, my Jesus, as Thou hast died for me, even so ought I to die for Thee. Thou didst die for love of me, and I ought to die of grief for having so much displeased Thee.
I accept death when and in what manner it may please Thee to send it to me but until now I have not loved Thee, or I have not loved Thee enough; it is not thus that I would die. Oh grant me a little more time, so that I may indeed love Thee before I die. Therefore, change my heart, wound it, inflame it with Thy holy love. Grant this, through that exceeding love which made Thee die for me. I love Thee with all my soul, and I am indeed desirous to love Thee. Never let me lose Thee more. Give me holy perseverance, and give me Thy most holy love.
"Be ye ready." The Lord does not say that we must prepare ourselves when death comes upon us, but that death, when it comes, must find us prepared. When death comes, as it will do, in as it were a great tempest and confusion, it will be almost impossible to give ease to a troubled conscience. Even thus does reason argue. But God warns us by saying that He will not then come to give pardon, but to avenge the scorn which
the wicked have shown concerning His favours. "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." (Rom. xii. 19.)
St. Augustine observes that this will be a just punishment for that one who, when able, has not wished to be saved, and who, when willing to be saved, will not be able. But some will say, "Perhaps even then it will be possible for me to be converted and live." But would you throw yourself into a well, saying, Perhaps even though I throw myself in, I may live and not die? O God! what a thing is this, that sin should so darken the mind as to make it lose even reason. When men speak of the body, they speak like wise men; but when they speak of the soul, they speak like fools.
My brother, perhaps this point that you are now reading may be the last warning that God may send you. Let us hasten to prepare for death, so that it may not overtake us being unprepared. St. Augustine says that God keeps the last day of our lives secret from us, so that at any, and every day, we may be prepared to die. St. Paul teaches us that it is not only necessary to work out our salvation with fear, but even with trembling. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. ii. 12.) St. Antoninus tells us of a certain king of Sicily who, in order to make one of his subjects understand the fear in which he occupied the throne, made him sit at table with a sword suspended by a slender thread over his head, so that being thus situated, he could hardly eat any food. We are all standing in the same danger, for at any moment the sword of death may fall upon us, upon which our eternal salvation depends.
It is indeed a question of eternity. "If the tree fall toward the south or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth there it shall be." (Eccles. xi. 3.) If when death comes, it should find us in the grace of God, Oh, what joy will it be for the soul then to exclaim, "I have secured all things, never again can I lose God; I shall be happy for ever." But, on the contrary, if when death comes it should find the soul in a state of sin, with what despair will it then cry out, "Thus have I sinned, and my sin can never be reclaimed for all eternity." Oh, wherefore did I err? and my sin will never be pardoned throughout all eternity! This fear made the venerable Father Avila, when the announcement was brought to him that he was dying, cry out and say,
"Oh that I had a little more time to prepare myself for death!" This fear also made the Abbot Agathe exclaim, although he died after many years of repentance, "What will become of me; for who can understand the judgments of God?" St. Arsenius also trembled when the hour of death arrived, and being asked why he was in such fear, answered, "This fear is not new to me, I have felt it all my life." Especially did holy Job tremble, saying, "What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when He visiteth, what shall I answer Him?" (Job xxxi. 14.)
Affections and Prayers
Ah, my God, there is no one who has ever loved me as Thou hast loved me? and yet there is no one whom I have ever displeased more than I have displeased Thee. My only hope is in Thy Blood, O my Jesus. Eternal Father, look not upon my sins, but look upon the blessed wounds of Jesus Christ; look upon thy well-beloved Son, Who is grieving for me, and beseeching Thee to pardon me. I am very sorry, O my Creator, for having displeased Thee; it grieves me more than any other evil that I have done. Thou didst create me to love Thee, and I have been living as if Thou hadst created me to offend Thee. For the love of Jesus Christ pardon me, and give me grace to love Thee. At one time I resisted Thy will; now I will no longer resist it; I will do all that Thou dost command me. Thou dost wish me to detest all the offences which I have committed against Thee. I do indeed detest them with all my heart. Thou dost command me to resolve never more to offend Thee; then I do indeed resolve to lose my life rather than to lose Thy grace. Thou dost wish me to love Thee with my whole heart, then indeed I will love Thee with all my heart, and will love none other than Thee; and Thou shalt be, from this day forth, my only loved one, my only love. Thou dost command me to have holy perseverance, but it is from Thee alone that I can hope to obtain it. For the love of Jesus Christ, let me ever be faithful to Thee; and that I may always say to Thee with St. Bonaventure, "My beloved is one, my love is one." No, I do not want my life to be spent any longer in giving Thee even the slightest offence. I would spend it only in weeping over the displeasure I have given Thee, and in loving Thee.
Return to the Fourth Meditation . . .
Proceed to the Sixth Meditation