CERTAINTY OF DEATH
“It is appointed unto men once to die.”
The sentence of death has been written against all men; you are a man: you must die. “Our other goods and evils,” says St. Augustine, “are uncertain; death alone is certain.” It is uncertain whether the infant that is just born shall be poor or rich, whether he shall have good or bad health, whether he shall die in youth or in old age. But it is certain that he shall die. The stroke of death shall fall on all the nobles and monarchs of the earth. When death comes, there is no earthly power able to resist it. Fire, water, the sword, and the power of princes, may be resisted; but death cannot be resisted. “Resistitur,” says St. Augustine, “ignibus, undis, ferro, resistitur regibus; venit mors: quis ei resistit?” (cf Psalm 49]. Belluacensis relates that, at the end of his life, a certain king of France said, “Behold, with all my power, I cannot induce death to wait for me a single hour longer.” When the term of life arrives, it is not deferred a single moment. “Thou hast appointed his bounds, which cannot be passed” (Job 14:5).
Dearly beloved reader, though you should live as many years as you expect, a day shall come, and on that day an hour, which shall be the last for you. For me, who am now writing, and for you, who read this little book, has been decreed the day and the moment when I shall no longer write, and you shall no longer read. “Who is the man that shall live, and not see death?” (Psalm 89:49). The sentence has already been passed. There never has been a man so foolish as to flatter himself that he should never die. What has happened to your forefathers shall also happen to you. Of the immense numbers that lived in this country in the beginning of the last century, there is not one now living. Even the princes and monarchs of the earth have changed their country; of them nothing now remains but a marble mausoleum and an elegant epitaph, which only serve to teach us, that of the great ones of this world nothing is left but a little dust shut up within a few stones. “Tell me,” says Bernard, “where are the lovers of the world? Of them nothing has remained but ashes and worms.”
Since our souls shall be eternal, we ought to procure, not a fortune which soon ends, but one which will be everlasting. What would it profit you to be happy here (if it were possible for a soul to be happy without God), if thereafter you should be miserable for all eternity? You have had great satisfaction in the house which you have built; but remember that you must soon leave it, and must go to rot in a grave. You have obtained a dignity which raises you above others; but death will come and reduce you to an equality with the poorest peasant.
Affections and Prayers
Ah! Unhappy me, who have spent so many years only in offending thee, O God of my soul. Behold, these years are already past: death is perhaps at hand; and what do I find but pains and remorse of conscience! O that I had always served thee, O my Lord! Fool that I have been! I have lived so many years on this earth, and, instead of acquiring merits for heaven, I have loaded my soul with debts to the divine justice. Ah, my dear Redeemer, give me light and strength now to adjust my accounts. Death is perhaps not far off. I wish to prepare for that great moment, which will decide my eternal happiness or misery. I thank thee for having waited for me till now; and since thou hast given me time to repair the past, behold me, O my God; tell me what I am to do for thee. Dost thou wish me to weep over the offenses I have offered to thee? I am sorry for them, and detest them with my whole soul. Dost thou wish me to spend the remaining years and days of my life in loving thee? I desire to do so, O God; I have even hitherto frequently resolved to do it; but I have violated my promises. O my Jesus, I will be no longer ungrateful for the great graces thou hast bestowed upon me. If I do not now change my life, how shall I be able at death to hope for pardon and for paradise? Behold, I now firmly resolve to begin to serve thee in earnest. But give me strength; do not abandon me. Thou didst not abandon me when I offended thee; I therefore hope more confidently for thy aid, now that I purpose to renounce all things in order to please thee. Accept me, then, as one of thy lovers, O God, worthy of infinite love. Receive the traitor that now casts himself with sorrow at thy feet–that loves thee and asks thy mercy. I love thee, O my Jesus; I love thee with my whole heart: I love thee more than myself. Behold, I am thine; dispose of me, and of all that I possess, as thou pleasest. Give me perseverance in obeying thy commands give me thy love; and then do with me whatsoever thou wishest. Mary, my mother, my hope, my refuge, to thee I recommend myself, to thee I consign my soul; pray to Jesus for me.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art: Az özvegy [Widow], József Borsos, 1853, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.