SHORTNESS OF LIFE
“What is your life? It is a vapor which appeareth for a little while.”
(cf James 4:14)
What is your life? It is like a vapor, which is dissipated by a blast of wind, and is seen no more. All know that they must die; but the delusion of many is, that they imagine death as far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short. “Man born of a woman, living for a short time…who cometh forth like a flower, and is destroyed” (cf Job 14:1,2). This truth the Lord commanded Isaiah to preach to the people. “Cry…All flesh is grass. Indeed, the people is grass. The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen” (cf Isaiah 40:6-7). The life of man is like the life of a blade of grass; death comes, the grass is dried up: behold, life ends, and the flower of all greatness and of all worldly goods falls off.
”My days,” said Job, “have been swifter than a post” (cf Job 9:25). Death runs to meet us more swiftly than a post, and we at every moment run to death. Every step, every breath brings us nearer to our end. “What I write,” says [Saint] Jerome, “is taken away from my life.” During the time I write, I draw near to death. “We all die, and, like the waters that return no more, we fall into the earth” (cf 2 Samuel 14:14). Behold how the stream flows to the sea, and the passing waters never return. Thus, my brother, your days pass by, and you approach to death. Pleasures, amusements, pomps, praises, and acclamations pass away; and what remains? “And only the grave remaineth for me” (cf Job 17:1). We shall be thrown into a grave, and there we shall remain to rot, stripped of all things. At the hour of death, the remembrance of the delights enjoyed, and of all the honors acquired in this life, shall serve only to increase our pain and our diffidence of obtaining eternal salvation. Then the miserable worldling shall say, “My house, my gardens, my fashionable furniture, my pictures, my garments, shall in a little time be no longer mine, ‘and only the grave remaineth for me.’ ”
Ah! At that hour all earthly goods are viewed only with pain by those who have had an attachment for them. And this pain shall serve only to increase the danger of their eternal salvation; for we see by experience, that persons attached to the world wish at death to speak only of their sickness, of the physicians to be called to attend them, and of the remedies which may restore their health. When any one speaks of the state of the soul, they soon grow weary, and beg to be allowed repose. They complain of headache, and say that it pains them to hear any one speak. And if they sometimes answer, they are confused, and know not what to say. It often happens that the confessor gives them absolution, not because he knows that they are disposed for the sacrament, but because it is dangerous to defer it. Such the death of those who think but little of death.
Affections and Prayers
Ah! My God and Lord of infinite majesty, I am ashamed to appear before thee. How often have I dishonored thee by preferring to thy grace a sordid pleasure, a little dust, the indulgence of anger, caprice or vanity! I adore and kiss, O my Redeemer, thy holy wounds, which I have inflicted by my sins; but through these wounds I hope for pardon and salvation. Make me, O my Jesus, understand the great injury I have done thee in leaving thee, the fountain of every good, to drink putrid and poisoned waters. Of all the offenses I have given thee, nothing now remains but pain, remorses of conscience, and merits for hell. Father, I am not worthy to be called thy child. My Father, do not cast me off. It is true that I no longer merit the grace which would make me thy child; but thou hast died to pardon me. Thou hast said, “Turn ye to me and I will turn to thee” (Zechariah 1:3). I give up all my satisfactions, I renounce all the pleasures which the world can give me, and I turn to thee. Pardon me for the sake of the blood which has been shed for me; I repent with my whole heart of all the insults I have offered thee. I repent, and I love thee above all things. I am not worthy to love thee; but thou doest not refuse the love of a heart that has once despised thee. Though didst purposely abstain from taking me out of life when I was in sin, that I might love thee. I wish to love thee during the remainder of my life, and I wish to love nothing but thee. Assist me: give me holy perseverance, and thy holy love. Mary, my refuge, recommend me to Jesus Christ.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art: Detail of Funeral of Firstborn, Nikolay Alexandrovich Yaroshenko, 1893, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.