WITH DEATH ALL ENDS
“An end is come; the end is come.”
(cf Ezekiel 7:6)
By worldlings, they only are esteemed happy, who enjoy the pleasures, the riches, and pomps of this world; but death puts an end to all these earthly goods. “For what is your life? It is a vapor which appeareth for a little while” (cf James 4:15). The vapors exhaled from the earth, when raised in the air and clothed with light by the sun, make a splendid appearance; but how long does their splendor last? It vanishes before the first blast of the wind. Behold that grandee! Today he is courted, feared, and almost adored; tomorrow he is dead, despised, reviled, and trampled on. At death we must leave all things. The brother of that great servant of God, Thomas Ã Kempis, took complacency in speaking of a beautiful house which he had built for himself: a friend told him that it had one great defect. “What is it?” said he. “It is,” replied the other, “that you have made a door in it.” “What?” rejoined the brother of Ã Kempis, “is a door a defect?” “Yes,” answered the friend, “for through this door you must be one day carried dead, and must leave the house and all things.”
Death, in fine, strips man of all the goods of this world. O, what a spectacle to behold a prince banished from his palace, nevermore to return to it, and to see others take possession of his furniture, of his money, and of all his other goods! The servants leave him in the grave, with a garment scarcely sufficient to cover his body. There is no longer anyone to esteem or flatter him, no longer anyone to attend to his commands. Saladin, who had acquired many kingdoms in Asia, gave directions, at death, that, when his body should be carried to the place of burial, a person should go before holding his winding-sheet suspended from a pole, and crying aloud, “This is all that Saladin brings with him to the grave.”
When the body of the prince is laid in the tomb, his flesh falls in pieces; and behold, his skeleton can be no longer distinguished form that of others. “Contemplare sepulchra,” says St. Basil, “vide utrum poteris discernere quis servus, quis dominus fuerit.” “Contemplate the sepulchres of the dead, and see if you can distinguish who has been a servant and who has been master.” Diogenes appeared one day, in the presence of Alexander the Great, to seek with great anxiety for something among the bones of the dead. Alexander asked him what he was in search of. “I am looking,” replied Diogenes, “for the head of Philip, your father. I am not able to distinguish it: if you can find it, show it to me.” “Si tu potes, ostende.” Men are born unequal; but after death, all are equal, “Impares nascimur,” said Seneca, “pares morimur.” And Horace says that death brings down the sceptre to the level of the mattock. “Sceptra ligonibus aequat.” In a word, when death comes, the end comes, all ends; we leave all things; and of all that we possess in this world, we bring nothing to the grave.
My Lord, since thou givest me light to know that whatever the world esteems is smoke and folly, grant me strength to detach my heart from earthly goods, before death separates me from them. Miserable that I have been! How often, for the miserable pleasures and goods of this earth, have I offended and lost thee, who art an infinite good! O my Jesus, my heavenly Physician, cast thy eyes on my poor soul, look at the many wounds which I have inflicted on it by my sins, and have pity on me. If thou wishest, thou canst make me clean. “Si vis potes me mundare.” I know that thou art able and willing to heal me; but, in order to heal me, thou dost wish me to repent of the injuries which I have committed against thee. I am sorry for them from the bottom of my heart. Heal me, then, now that it is in thy power to heal me. “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee” (Psalm 41:5). I have forgotten thee; but thou hast not forgotten me; and now thou makest me feel that thou wilt even forget the injuries I have done thee, if I detest them. “But, if the wicked do penance…I will not remember all his iniquities” (cf Ezekiel 18:21-22). Behold, I detest my sins, I hate them above all things. Forget, then, O my Redeemer, all the displeasure I have given thee. For the future, I will lose all things, even life, rather than forfeit thy grace. And what can all the goods of this earth profit me without thy grace?
Ah, assist me; thou knowest my weakness. Hell will not cease to tempt me: it already prepares a thousand attacks to make me again its slave. No, my Jesus, do not abandon me. I wish to be henceforth the slave of thy love. Thou art my only Lord: thou hast created and redeemed me; thou hast loved me more than all others; thou alone hast merited my love; thee alone do I wish to love.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art for this post “With Death All Ends”: El Angel de la muerte [The Angel of Death], Domenico Morelli, 1897, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.