from the annals of history unto our current day
Considerations by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
from the book, 'Preparation for Death'
Sentiments of One who has Reflected little upon Death
"Set thine house in order: for thou shall die and not live." Isa. xxxviii. i.
IMAGINE yourself at the bed-side of some sick person, to whom a few hours of life alone remain. Poor creature, see how much he is overcome with pain, with fainting fits, with suffocation, with want of breath, with cold perspirations, with a weakness of the brain, that he can scarcely hear, understand, or speak. But the greatest misery he endures is, that he feels death is approaching, and instead of thinking about his soul, and of making his reckoning sure, he thinks alone about his physicians, and the remedies which can be applied to free him from the disease, and from the pains which are killing him. St. Laurence Justinian, speaking of people who are thus dying, observes that "Nothing, save themselves, suffices to occupy their thoughts."
His relations and friends should, at least, warn him of the dangerous state in which he is; but no, there is not one amongst them who has the courage to tell him that he is dying, and instead of advising him to take the Holy Sacrament, all refuse to tell him, lest they should give him offence by so doing. O my God from this moment, I indeed thank Thee that when I am dying Thou wilt allow me to be assisted by the dear brothers of my congregation, whose only interest will then be my eternal salvation, and who will all endeavour, as far as they can, to make my death a glorious one But although they do not warn him that death is approaching, nevertheless, the sick man, seeing the family in such confusion, the number of doctors who are so busily talking, the many and numberless remedies that are tried, is filled with terror and confusion, and amidst the continued attacks of fear, remorse, and distrust, says within himself, "Alas! perhaps the end of my days is already come." What then will be the feelings of the dying man when he is told that
he is dying? "Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die and not live." With what fear, will he not be told that his illness is mortal, that he must make his peace with God, and receive the Blessed Sacrament, and bid farewell to the world? What! he exclaims, must I leave the world, and all I possess, that house, that villa, those relations, friends, conversations, games, and amusements? He is told that he must, for already is the lawyer come, and then he has to sign this document, "I bequeath, I bequeath." And what does he take away with him? Nothing, except what he is covered with, which, within a very short time will decay with him in the grave.
Oh what grief and sadness will the dying man feel, when he sees the tears of his household, and the silence of his friends who keep silence, not having the heart to speak in his presence! But the greatest punishment that he will have to bear, will be the dreadful stings of conscience which in that tempest, as it were, will be felt so much more, because of the corrupt life which he has led, up to the hour of his death notwithstanding the seasonable advice of his spiritual fathers, and the many resolutions made, which have been either never performed or else entirely neglected. He will then exclaim,
"O wretched one that I am, God has granted me so many lights, I have had so much time to make my conscience clear in his sight, and yet I have not
done it; and at length death has overtaken me! What would it have cost me to fly from that occasion to sin, to keep myself from that friendship, and to avail myself of confession? And even though it should have cost me much, nevertheless I ought to have done everything I could, to save my immortal soul which was all-important. Oh, that I had carried that good resolution into practice. Oh, that I had continued as I began. Then indeed should I be happy now! But I did not do it, and now there is no time. The feelings of dying men, such as I have described, who have been during life so forgetful of their conscience, resemble the feelings of those who are for ever lost, who, when in hell, lament over their sins as being the cause of their punishment, but they lament without finding any relief or remedy.
Affections and Prayers
O Lord, if at this moment the news of my approaching death were to be brought to me, such would be my sentiments of grief. But I thank Thee for giving me this light and this time to amend. No, my God, I do not wish to fly again from Thee; it is so many times that Thou hast sought me. Justly indeed ought I now to fear, lest, if I do not return to Thee again and come to Thee, Thou wilt altogether abandon me. Thou didst give me a heart to love Thee, but I have put it to so bad a use; I have loved the creature, but I have not loved Thee, Who art my Creator and my Redeemer, and Who didst give Thy life for me! Instead of loving Thee, Oh, how many times have I not displeased Thee, and turned away from following Thee! I was fully aware that in committing that sin, I should displease Thee, and yet I did commit it. My Jesus, I am truly sorry for it; I mourn over it with all my heart: I would indeed become changed. I renounce all the pleasures of the world, so that I may love, and please Thee, O God of my soul. Thou hast given me so many proofs of Thy love, that I should wish to give Thee some proofs of my love before I die. From this time I will accept every infirmity, and every cross, every scorn, and every vexation, that I must receive from men only give me strength to endure the same in peace, for I wish to endure them all to gain Thy love. I love Thee, O Infinite Goodness, more than anything, only give me more love, and holy perseverance.
Oh, how clearly, when the hour of death arrives, do the truths of faith make themselves felt only to add greater torment to that dying man who has lived a wicked life, and particularly if he is one who has been consecrated to God, and so has had much opportunity of serving Him, much time, many good examples, and much inspiration. O God, with what grief will he then reflect and say, "I once admonished others, and afterwards have committed more grievous sin than they. I once left the world, and afterwards have become more attached to its pleasures, vanities, and love." With what remorse will he then reflect upon the light which he has received from God, such as would have changed a heathen into a saint! With what remorse will he then recall to mind that he had despised the practices of piety in others as weakness of mind, and had praised certain worldly maxims of self-esteem and self-love; such as not liking other people to take precedence of us, to avoid suffering, and to enjoy every pleasure which may present itself.
"The desire of the ungodly shall perish." (Ps. cxii. 10.) When the hour of death arrives, how much will the time which we waste now be coveted? St. Gregory tells us in his Dialogues, of a certain rich man, named Chrysantius, - who had led a very wicked life, and who, when the hour of death came, cried out against the devils who visibly appeared to him to seize him, "Give me time, give me until "to-morrow." And these answered him, saying, "O fool, dost thou now seek time? Thou hast had so much and wasted it, and spent it in sin; and now dost thou ask for it? Now there is no more time for thee." The wretched man continued to cry and to implore help. A son of his, whose name was Massimo, and who was a monk, was with him, to whom the dying man said, "My son, help me; Massimo, my son, help me." And in the meantime, throwing himself from one side of the bed to the other, and thus agitated, and with cries of despair, he breathed forth his wretched soul. Alas, that these foolish ones should so love their folly in life, but should put off until the hour of death to open their eyes to their folly, and then confess that they have been so unwise! For at that time it only serves to increase the difficulties which they feel in trying to atone for the sins which they have committed; and dying in this frame of mind, the salvation of these souls is very doubtful. My brother, perhaps whilst reading this you are saying to yourself, "Yes, it is very doubtful." But if it is so doubtful, your folly and your misfortune is much greater still if, as you know and understand these truths in life, you do not try during life to make amends for past sins. These words, even, which you have just read, would be a sword of sorrow for you in death.
Arise, therefore, for as there is time to avoid a death so frightful, hasten to make amends for the past, and wait not until there will be no fit time for reparation. Wait not for another month, another week. It may be that this light which God now grants to you in mercy, may be the last light and the last call for you. It is foolish, indeed, not to wish to think upon death, which is absolutely certain, and on which eternity depends; but it is greater folly to think upon it, and not to prepare for it. Make those reflections and resolutions now, which you would make if you were dying now with profit, but at that time very uselessly; now in the hope of being saved, but at that time in great fear, lest you should not be saved. A gentleman of the court of Charles XI., when leaving court, being asked by the emperor for what reason he was leaving, answered, that in order to be saved it is necessary that some interval should elapse between the time of repentance from a sinful life and the hour of death, so that a period of repentance may be passed through.
Affections and Prayers
No, my God, I will no longer abuse Thy mercy. I thank Thee for the light which Thou art now giving me, and I promise Thee to change my life, to amend my life. I can see plainly that Thou wilt not bear with me much longer. And shall I wait until Thou wilt be constrained to condemn me to everlasting death? or until Thou wilt give me up to a life utterly lost, which would be a greater punishment to me than death itself? Look upon me at Thy feet; receive me into Thy favour. I know I do not deserve it; but Thou hast said that "the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness." (Ezek. xxxiii. 12.) If, therefore, my Jesus, in the time that is past, I have offended Thy infinite Goodness,
now I repent with all my heart, and I hope for pardon from Thee. With St. Anselm, I will say to Thee, "Suffer not my soul to be lost through its sins, for Thou hast redeemed it with Thy Blood." Look not upon my ingratitude, look only upon that love which caused Thee to die for me. If I have lost Thy grace, Thou hast not lost the power to give it back to me. Have pity therefore upon me, my dear Redeemer. Pardon me, and give me the grace to love Thee; whilst I, from this day forward, promise to love none other than Thee. Thou hast chosen me from amongst so many of Thy creatures to love Thee; therefore I choose Thee, O my Sovereign Good, to love Thee above every other thing. Thou dost go before me with Thy Cross I will not cease to follow Thee with that cross which Thou dost give me to carry. I embrace every mortification and every trouble which may come to me from Thee. It is enough that I am not deprived of Thy grace, for with that I am indeed content.
To the dying man, who during life has been forgetful concerning his soul's good, there will be thorns in everything that presents itself to him. There will be a thorn in the memory of pleasures that are past a thorn in the remembrance of rivalries overcome, and of pomps displayed a thorn in the friends who will come to see him, with everything that they bring back to his memory a thorn in the spiritual fathers, who by turns will assist him a thorn in the last Sacraments which he will receive.
The poor sufferer will then exclaim, "O fool that I have been! I ought to have become a saint, with all the lights, and opportunities, which God granted to me; I ought to have led a life of happiness, in the favour of God; and now, what is remaining to me of the many years that are past, except torments, distrust, fears, stings of conscience, and an account which I shall have to render up to God? And it is indeed doubtful whether my soul will be saved." And when will he say all this? Not until the oil in his lamp is nearly consumed, and the scene of this world is about to close upon him for ever not until he has both eternities in view: the one an eternity of everlasting joy; the other an eternity of everlasting woe not until the tune is approaching for that last gasp, upon which depends his everlasting blessedness, or his everlasting despair even as long as God is God. What would he not then give, to have one more year, one more month, or at least one more week, with a clear head? For suffering then, as he will do, with distraction of the head, oppression at the chest, and failing breath, he will be able to do nothing; he will not be able to reflect, nor to employ his mind in doing one good action; he finds himself shut up as it were in a dark pit of confusion, where he can imagine nothing else but that there is a great ruin hanging over him from which he feels himself unable to flee away. Therefore he will long for time; but it will be said to him, "Proficiscere," depart, make haste, put your accounts in order as best you can, during the short time which remains to you, and depart; for dost thou not know that death neither waits for, nor respects any one? Oh what terror will it then be for him to think and to say, "I am alive this morning; very likely this evening I shall be dead! To-day I am lying in this room; perhaps to-morrow I may be in my grave! And where will my soul be?" When he feels the cold sweat of death coming upon him when he hears his relations go from the room, never more to return during his life when his sight begins to grow dim and his eyes become darkened but what will be the use of understanding these truths then, when the tune for profiting by the understanding, is past?
Affections and Prayers
Ah, my God, Thou dost not wish me to die; but Thou desirest that I should be converted and live. I thank Thee for having waited for me until now, and I thank Thee for the light which Thou art now giving me. I know the error I have committed in neglecting Thy friendship, the vile and miserable pleasures through which I have accounted Thee of so little value. I repent and I grieve with all my heart, for having done Thee so grievous a wrong. Ah, do not cease, in the life which may remain to me, to assist me with Thy light and Thy grace, so that I may know how to do that which I must do, in order to amend my life. Of what use will it be for me to understand this truth, when the time for reparation will be taken from me? "Deliver not up to beasts the souls that trust in Thee." When the devil shall tempt me again to offend Thee, I beseech Thee, my Jesus, through the merits of Thy Passion, to stretch forth Thy hand and to deliver me from falling into sin, and from again remaining a slave of the enemy. Grant, that then I may ever flee unto Thee, and that I may never cease to entreat Thy protection as long as the temptation may last. Thy Blood is my hope, and Thy Goodness is my love. I love Thee, my God. Thou Who art worthy of infinite love, grant that I may ever love Thee. Let me know from what things I must separate myself so that I may be Thine alone, for I would be Thine alone; but do Thou give me the strength to fulfil the same.
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