from the annals of history unto our current day
Considerations by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
from the book, 'Preparation for Death'
The Death of the Sinner
"Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none. Mischief shall come upon mischief." Ezek. vii. 25, 26.
It is now that sinners try, as far as they can, to drive away the memory and the thought of death, and thus to find peace, although they never will do so, by leading a life of sin; but when in the agonies of death, they must enter into eternity when "destruction cometh and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none;" then they will try to fly from the stings of their troubled consciences; they will seek peace, but what peace can a soul find which is laden with sin, which bites it like so many vipers? What peace, knowing that in so short a time it will have to appear before Jesus Christ the Judge, whose law and friendship, until that moment, it has esteemed of so little worth? "Mischief shall come upon mischief." The intelligence that the sinner has just received, that he is dying, the thought that he must bid farewell to everything in this world, the stings of a troubled conscience, the time that is for ever lost, the time that he is now in want of, the severity of the Divine Judge, the miserable eternity which awaits all sinners the thought of all these things will come upon him in terrible confusion, which will greatly trouble his mind and increase his apprehensions, and thus confused, and being filled with fear, the soul of the dying man will pass into the other life. Abraham, to whom great praise is due, hoped in God against all human hope, believing in the Divine promise, "who against hope believed in hope." But sinners, with great demerit, and who are the cause of their own ruin, falsely hope, not only against hope, but even against faith, whilst they pay no attention whatever to the warning which God gives to those who are obstinate. They dread an unhappy death, but they have no fear in leading a wicked life. But who is able to assure them, that their death will not suddenly be caused by a thunderbolt, by an apoplectic fit, or by the bursting of a blood vessel? And even should they have time, when they are dying, to be converted, who can assure them, that their conversion will then be a true one? St. Augustine had to strive against his evil habits for twelve years, in order to overcome them. How then will one, who is dying, who has ever had a conscience stained with sin, who will be tormented with pain, with dreadful feelings in the head, and who will be in the confusion of death, how will he, then, I repeat, be possibly able to be truly converted? I say truly, because at that time the saying and promising will be of no use, it will be necessary to say and to promise from the depth of the heart. O God, into what terror will not the miserable sufferer be thrown, whose conscience, when remorseful, has been blighted, when he finds himself oppressed by his sins, and by the fears of the coming judgment, by the thought of hell and of eternity? Into what dreadful confusion will not these thoughts throw him, when he finds that his memory is failing him, his mind becoming darkened, and his body overcome with the pains of death which is already fast approaching ? He will confess, he will promise, he will weep, he will cry to God for mercy, but without knowing what he is doing; and in that tempest of agitation, of remorse, of anguish, and of fear, his soul will pass into the other world." The people shall be troubled at midnight and pass away." (Job xxxiv. 20.) It is well said by an author, that the prayers, the tears, and the promises of a dying sinner, are like the tears and promises of a man who finds himself assailed
by his enemy, who puts a dagger to his throat to take away his life. He who lies down on his bed, and whose soul passes from it to eternity, is indeed a wretched man, if he lies down in the great displeasure of Almighty God.
Affections and Prayers
The wounds of Jesus are my only hope. I should despair of pardon for my sins, did I not look upon you, ye fountains of pity and of mercy, through which my God has shed all His Blood to wash my soul from the many sins which it has committed. I adore you, O ye holy wounds, and in you confide. I detest and abhor those unworthy pleasures through which I have displeased my dear Redeemer, and through which I have lost His holy friendship. Looking then upon you, my hopes are raised, and therefore I turn my affections towards you. My beloved Jesus, it is only right that all men should love Thee, and that they should love Thee with their whole heart. But I have so often offended Thee, and counted Thy holy love of no moment; and yet. notwithstanding all my shortcomings, Thou hast borne with me so long, and hast so often offered me pardon. Ah, my Saviour, never more let me offend Thee, and by so doing lose my soul for ever. O God! what dreadful pain it would give me to see Thy dear Blood, and to remember Thy many mercies which Thou hast shown to me, if I should ever be cast into everlasting punishment. I love Thee now, and I would love Thee for ever. Give me holy perseverance. Take away from my heart every love that is not Thine, and establish in me a real desire and resolution to love Thee alone. Thou Who art my Sovereign Good, may I do this from henceforth and for ever.
The agonies of the dying sinner will not be one agony only, but they will be many. It will be one agony to be tormented by the devil. When the hour of death comes, that dreadful enemy uses all his strength to ruin that soul which is on the point of launching into eternity. The devil knows that at that
hour, there is but little time to gain that soul, and that if it is lost to him then, it will be lost for ever. "The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." (Rev. xii. 12.) There will not only be one devil, but many devils, who will surround the dying man, who will do all that lies in their power to gain his soul. "Their houses shall be full of doleful creatures." (Isa. xiii. 21.) One will say, "Fear not, thou wilt soon be well." Another will say, "How is it that thou, who for so many years hast been deaf to the voice of God, canst expect Him now to show thee mercy?" And another, "How canst thou now remedy those evils that are done, and the reputations thou hast ruined?" And another, "Dost thou not see that thy confessions have been of no avail, without true grief; without any intention to do better for the future? How then canst thou now repair the evil which is done?" Besides all this, the dying man will behold himself surrounded by his sins: "Evil shall hunt the wicked person to overthrow him." (Ps. cxl. ii.) St. Bernard observes that these sins, like so many watchful guards, shall hold him in their grasp, and shall say to him, "We are thy works; we will not leave thee; we will go with thy soul to the other world, and with it present ourselves to the Eternal Judge." Then the dying man will want to rid himself of these enemies; but to get rid of them it would be necessary to hate them; it would be necessary for his heart to become converted to God. Whereas his mind is darkened, and his heart is hardened. "hard heart shall fear evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish in it." (Ecclus. iii. 27.) St. Bernard says, that heart which has been so obstinate in sin during life, will use every means to free itself when dying from this state of condemnation, but will be unable to do so; and being oppressed with its own wickedness, will pass from life in this state. Until the hour of death arrived, the sinner always loved sin; he has also loved the danger of his own damnation; very justly therefore will the Lord allow him to perish in that peril in which he has loved to live until the time of his death. St. Augustine believes, that "he who is left by sin before he himself leaves it, at the hour of death will hardly dislike it as much as he ought, because whatever he does at that time will be done through necessity."
Miserable indeed is that sinner who is so hardened that he resists the voice of God when He calls him! "His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone." (Job xli. 24.) Instead of yielding and being softened by the voice of God, he becomes more hardened; even as the anvil is hardened by the strokes of the hammer. As a punishment for all this, he will find himself in the same obstinate frame of mind at the hour of death, although he may be on the point of passing into eternity. "A hard heart shall fear evil at the last." Sinners, saith the Lord, "have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us. But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee." (Jer. ii. 27, 28.) The miserable sinners when dying will fly unto God, and God will say to them, "Now you can come to me. Call upon creatures to help you, for they have been your gods." Even thus will the Lord answer those who at that time seek Him, because they will not seek Him with any sincere wish to become converted. St. Jerome has said, that he fully believes, and has learnt from experience, that he who has led a wicked life until the hour of death, will never be happy when the hour of death arrives.
Affections and Prayers
My dear Saviour, help me, and do not abandon me, for I see my soul all wounded with my sins; my passions do violence to me, and my evil habits oppress me. I throw myself at Thy feet; have mercy upon me, and deliver me from all my evil passions. "In Thee, O Lord, have I put my trust : let me never be put to confusion." (Ps. Ixxi. i.) Do not permit a soul that trusts in Thee to be lost. I repent of having offended Thee, O God of Infinite Goodness; I have done evil, and I confess it. I wish to amend, at any price. But unless Thou dost assist me with Thy grace, I am lost. Receive, O my Jesus, this rebellious one, who has displeased Thee so much. Remember that Thou didst spend Thy Blood and Thy Life for me. Through the merits, therefore, of Thy Passion and of Thy Death, receive me into Thy arms, and give me holy perseverance. I was almost lost, but Thou didst call me; behold, I will no longer resist; I consecrate myself to Thee; bind me to Thy love, and never more allow me to lose myself by again losing Thy grace. Do not, my Jesus, allow it.
It is a marvellous thing that God does nothing but threaten sinners with an unhappy death: "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer." (Prov. i. 28.) "Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him?" (Job xxvii. 9.) "I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock." (Prov. i. 26.) God laughs when He will not show mercy. "To Me belongeth vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time." (Deut. xxxii. 35.) In many other places God threatens the same, and yet sinners live in peace, and are as secure, as if God had certainly promised to give them pardon when dying, and after death, to give them Paradise. It is quite true that, in whatever hour the sinner is converted, God has promised to pardon him; but He has not said that the sinner shall be converted in death. On the contrary, He has often declared that he who lives in sin shall die in sin: "Ye. . . shall die in your sins." (St. John viii. 21.) He has said in another place that he who seeks Him in death shall not find Him. "Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me." (St. John vii. 34.) Therefore, it is indeed necessary to seek God when He can be found. " Seek ye the Lord while He may be found." (Isa. Iv. 6.) Yes, because there will be a time when He will no longer be found. Poor sinners poor blind ones who put off their conversion until the hour of their death, when there will be no more time to be converted! Oleaster well says, that "the wicked will never have learned to do well save when there is no time in which to do it." God wishes all men to be saved; but He will punish those who are obstinate in their sins.
If some miserable sinner living in sin should be seized with an apoplectic fit, and thus be deprived of his senses, what pity all those would feel who would see him die thus, without the Sacraments, and without any sign of repentance! and, on the contrary, what great joy would not every one experience, if this poor sinner should recover from his fit, seek for absolution, and become repentant? But is not he indeed mad who, having time to repent, continues in a state of sin, or else returns to sin, and so places himself in danger of being surprised by death, at the same time that he is perhaps committing sin? It is very fearful to see any one die suddenly, and yet so many put themselves in danger of dying thus, and in danger of dying in sin.
"A just weight and balance are the Lord's." (Prov. xvi. II.) We do not take any account of the favours which the Lord bestows upon us; but the Lord takes the account and measures them; and when He sees them despised up to a certain point, lie allows the sinner to remain in his sin, and in this state to die. Miserable indeed is that one who defers his repentance until the day of his death. St. Augustine remarks that "the repentance which is demanded of the infirm is infirm." St. Jerome says, that amongst a hundred thousand sinners who remain in a state of sin until the day of their death, hardly one will be saved. St. Vincent Ferrer declares that it would be a greater miracle for one who has lived in habitual sin all his life to be saved, than
it would be to raise one who is dead, to life. What sorrow or what repentance could be felt at the hour of death by him who until that time, has loved sin? Bellarmine tells us that, having gone to assist a dying person, and having exhorted him to make one act of contrition, the dying one answered that he did not understand what contrition meant. Bellarmine tried to explain to him, but the sick one said, "I do not understand you, father; I am not capable of these things." And thus he died, "leaving clear signs of his condemnation." St. Augustine observes that it will be a just punishment to that sinner who has been unmindful of God during his life, to be unmindful of himself in death. The apostle warns us, saying, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked:
for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: for he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." (Gal. vi. 7, 8.) It would indeed be mocking God for any one to live, despising his love, and then to reap a reward and everlasting glory; but "God is not mocked." That which is sown
in this life, shall be reaped in the next. He who loves the forbidden pleasures of this life, shall reap corruption, misery, and eternal death in the life to come. Christian brother, what is said for others is also said for you. Tell me, if you were now at the point of death, despaired of by the doctors, and already in great pain, would you not pray to God to grant you one more month, one more week, in order to make your conscience clear in His sight? But God does give you that time now. Return thanks to Him, and quickly try to atone for the evil you have done, and use every means to be found in a state of grace whenever death shall come, because then there will be no time to atone for past evils.
Affections and Prayers
Ah, my God, and who is there who would have had so much patience with me as Thou hast! If Thy goodness were not infinite, I should cease to hope for pardon. But I have to do with a God who died to pardon and to save me. Thou dost command me to hope, and I will hope. If my sins affright and
condemn me, Thy merits and Thy promises give me courage. Thou hast promised the life of Thy grace to him who returns to Thee, "Turn yourselves and live ye." (Ezek. xviii. 32.) Thou hast promised to embrace him who turns to Thee. "Turn ye unto Me, . . . and I will turn unto you." (Zee. i. 3.) Thou hast said that Thou wilt not despise him who humbles himself and repents. "A broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise." (Ps. ci. 17.) Behold, O Lord, I return and come to Thee; I confess myself worthy of condemnation, and I repent of having offended Thee. I sincerely promise never more to offend Thee willingly, and I would wish to love Thee for evermore. Ah, do not allow me to be any more ungrateful towards such goodness. Eternal Father, through the merits of the obedience of Thy Son Jesus Christ, Who died in obedience to Thy will, let me obey Thee in all things until death. I love Thee, O Thou Highest Good, and because of the love I bear for Thee, I would obey Thee in all things. Give me holy perseverance, Thy holy love, and I ask for nothing more.
Return to the Fifth Meditation . . .
Proceed to the Seventh Meditation